Essential Sports Nutrition


Basil and Garlic tomato stir-fry and brown basmati rice

This week has been a success in terms of training. Monday was the "official" start date of my Kona training and with 14 weeks to go, I have a lot of work to do. While I love pushing hard and seeing performance gains, I have always kept the same IM goals with my training.
1) Balance
2) Quality
3) Reduce risk for injury
4) Focus speed, endurance, power and strength - not volume
5) Save my best effort for race day

Through these 5 goals, I reduce the chance for illness/sickness, I welcome my 2 week taper without feeling overtrained and I arrive to the starting line ready to put my training to the test.

While last Monday may have been the first day of my Kona training, there were no crazy workouts like 5+ hour rides or 2+ hour runs. Karel (who designs my weekly schedule as well as giving me bike-specific sets...I coach myself for swim and run workouts) is always careful to work backward from race day and progress in a way that allows me to adapt to the physiological demands placed on my body. So while the winter and spring were designed to build a good endurance base and develop power, sets are specific to where my HR and Power is TO DATE.
I find that many athletes have a start date to long distance training and jump right into it way too soon. I believe that IM training should be between 9-12 weeks (depending on your endurance base) with those 9-12 weeks specific to the IM (build, peak and taper). However, as athletes we are always training (building our base) so it isn't likely that most athletes will go from doing nothing for months and then jump in to long distance training with only 3 months to go. With a well-designed plan, athletes should assess where they want to be on race day and where they are at this moment in time. Thus, a carefully designed training plan will be easy to execute thus allowing gradual performance gains without added stress on the body (as well as reducing the risk for injury during the peak of IM training). While an IM does require a good base or endurance foundation, I don't believe that high volume training will allow athletes to feel better prepared to race or finish an Ironman. Most triathletes have the drive and motivation to train for an IM. However, the smart athletes will focus on all areas of their life (not just training) in order to maintain balance throughout the entire IM journey.

Although my training is now structured and specific (in contrast to the last few months) my diet has not changed very much. I focus on balance, keeping a healthy relationship with food and I prioritize nutrient timing. The biggest change in that I focus more on my pre and post training nutrition. I always emphasize quality nutrition in my diet so I don't find it hard to transition from fitness enthusiast to Ironman athlete. I don't train and eat for a body composition goal but I know that when my body receives quality nutrition, it feels better and becomes much stronger.

I made the most delicious dinner last night for both Karel and myself. I made a delicious garlic butter glaze for Karel's fish and hard-boiled some eggs for my protein choice.

As part of my balanced diet, I strive for whole grains both for the vitamins and for a healthy dose of carbohydrates (good for my brain, muscles and heart). Now a days, it is a lot easier to choose whole grains as many packaged foods are labeled "good or excellent source" of whole grains. But in my opinion, let's emphasize the most wholesome nutrients so that we can get the most bang for our buck.
Check out some great whole grains:
100% wheat
wild rice
brown rice
whole oats/oatmeal
whole rye
whole-grain corn
bulgur (cracked wheat)
popcorn (YES..popcorn is a whole grain!!)
whole-grain barley

What's your favorite whole grain??
Whole grains (which include the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran and germ are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats) are a great source of B vitamins and help us meet our 25-35 grams of recommended daily fiber. Long-term studies have showed a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as well as demonstrating positive outcomes for those with diabetes and obesity. Whole grains are not just for athletes as they are also beneficial in helping all individuals lose and maintain weight. Plus, they are a perfect component of a balanced diet. Just like any food, portion control is important as too much of any one thing is not a good thing for our balanced lifestyle. We like to eat a little of everything (balance) rather than a lot of one thing.
Hope you enjoy my latest recipe..YUM!
Basil and Garlic tomato stir-fry and brown basmati rice

Green pepper
Olive oil

1. Steam broccoli, mushrooms and green peppers for 3-5 minutes (until soft).
2. In a large skillet on low heat, cook tomatoes, garlic and chives for 10 minutes (stir occasionally) in 1 tbsp olive oil. Add chopped basil at the end of cooking and toss lightly.
3. Prepare your choice of protein (for the butter garlic glaze I melted 1 tbsp butter and added chopped garlic and a splash of olive oil. Soaked the fish in the glaze and cooked on medium heat to a minimum temp of 145 degrees. Topped with parsley).
4. Mix together tomatoes and broccoli and serve with your choice of whole grain (I cooked the basmati rice for 45 minutes according to the bag).


Sugar and Sodium

It's Friday and I love my new credentials behind my name. I will never forget the hard work that was put forth in order to become Marni Sumbal, MS, RD and I am enjoying every day and the emails, questions and comments that come my way.
I recently accepted a PRN position at Baptist Beaches Hospital and I am really looking forward to learning more in the acute care setting, specifically dealing with the clinical side of dietetics. While the position doesn't provide me with a lot of weekly hours, I am very blessed that I was given the opportunity to interview (prior to becoming a RD) and get accepted for the job (after I passed my exam) as there are very few open job positions in the Jacksonville, FL area.
I found this quote today and thought it was very appropriate:
“We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”

I had two triathletes contact me for questions regarding to sodium and sugar. My good friend Ange ( was my very first athlete by which I helped her with her nutrition, back in 2006. She has excelled in so many ways, both in her personal life and with training/racing and she is an amazing mother of 3 boys as well as a dedicated wife. She posts great blogs about her training and daily life and how she balances it all with a great attitude. What I also enjoy is that she is a planner and really thinks through things, even if she makes a mistake here and there with training. There is nothing better than an athlete that learns from his/her mistakes rather than feeling like a failure. As we are all athletes/fitness enthusiasts, reaching for a goal, it is important that we find ways in our life (nutrition, exercise and personal life) to move forward, becoming stronger, healthier and smarter for the future.

Ange asked me to review her hydration concerns with her last big block prior to IM Lake Placid and I wanted to share my response as it may help out other athletes who are confused with sodium surrounding training.

Hey Ange!
Thanks for reaching out to me. First off, you are doing so many great things with your training. Preparing is the biggest thing you can do to improve performance. Don't count yourself out for the next 2 weeks as this was a learning opportunity. Race day is about putting all the training sessions to the test..not just one workout.
Here are my thoughts. I think that you overhydrated on water before the run. I think it was great that your coach had you bike before the run as I am a big fan of warming up the legs before a long run. With good daily hydration status, it is likely that you will go into the run well hydrated with 1 bottle of your sport drink (1 scoop) and to sip on that every 10-15 min.I also encourage being consistent with gels as well (taking a little bit every 10-15 minutes rather than 1 gel every 30-40 min). For athletes training in the summer, over an hour (or running off the bike), I suggest just sticking with sport drinks. It can be really easy to guzzle water which can lead to overhydration/hyponatremia in excess. Because we need both calories and liquids during workouts, liquid calories will meet both requirements. As for having too much sodium during workouts, our diet contains plenty of sodium for hot workouts (unless you consume a raw diet), thanks to processed food. Table salt is only 40% sodium and 60% chloride but 1 tsp. of table salt contains 1,500 mg of sodium. It's super easy to meet daily recommendations (i don't count training calories into daily calories). I wouldn't be too concerned about salt in the diet but rather getting in a wide spectrum of electrolyts. Although sodium is essential in small quantities, in order to maintain fluid balance and control the contraction and relaxation of muscles, during and post workout we want to focus on sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. As far as exercising in the heat, you are depleting both sodium and electrolyte stores when sweating. The concern with a high sodium diet (or high sodium intake during or after exercise) is that sodium will accumulate in the blood if the kidneys cannot regulate the amount of sodium in the body. When sodium levels are high, the kidneys excrete sodium in the urine and then sodium levels are low, the kidneys conserve sodium. In the case of sodium-loading before and during exercise, blood volume increases to sodium’s attraction to water. As blood volume increases, the heart pumps harder to circulate blood throughout the body thus increasing the pressure in the arteries. ALl of this combined can make you feel weezy and lightheaded. Although the body can regulate itself to get into a balanced state (in your case, you likely depleted your sodium levels from drinking too much water and then trying to take in gels and sport drinks to maintain energy which made you feel extremely lethargic and likely confused), focus on fruits post workout (in your protein post workout smoothie) in addition to consuming sport drinks during exercise. You can get all of your vitamins and minerals from a plant-based, balanced diet but a daily Multi Vitamin is good health insurance as well. Also, listen to your body so if it wants pretzels after a workout, eat them. You will be just fine :)

Another friend and triathlete in the Jacksonville area asked me about yogurt after I shared a link for an article on yogurt on facebook:
I also shared an article on milk that was a great read:

Here question was as followed:
What yogurts do you recommend Marni? I like Stoneyfield Farms lowfat Vanilla and Strawberry because they don't taste as sweet as some of others and have the active cultures and plain non-fat greek yogurt with fresh fruit or a little honey and walnuts. Article did not give any guidance on grams of sugar.

My response:
Since I believe in emphasizing foods with little to no ingredients, I recommend a yogurt that has 1 main ingredient - cultured milk. They may add pectin (gelling agent made from plant cells) or vitamin D. As for many yogurts, added sugars ...will be added so it's best to check the label. Greek yogurt 0% and Dannon Natural Plain are my two top choices in our house and we sweeten them just like you - with nuts, fruit, honey or whole grain cereals.
Food labels are not required to list how much is "added sugar" so when you check labels for all foods, you can simply tell if a food has added sugar by reading the ingredients. Recommendations are 25 grams a day (around 100 calories or 6 tsp) for women and around 35 grams a day for men (around 150 calories or 9 tsp) of ADDED sugar. Because dairy contains Lactose, which is a natural sugar (disaccharide), you will notice 11-13grams of sugar on most food labels for milk but no "sugar" has been added. In contrast you may find added sugar in chocolate milk (like yoohoo) may have 20-30+grams sugar (and a long list of ingredients).
manufactures will try to trick you and put things like organic sugar, raw sugar, cane sugar/juice, brown sugar, dextrose, fructose (or High fructose corn syrup), but all sugar is similar to white sugar in terms of calories and sugar-content. I am not an encourager of sweeteners in the diet so if you need to add sweetness to something, just add a tsp of sugar (15 calories).
Does this all make sense? Hope I helped.

Please let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share your thoughts/experiences with any of the above information.


Hip Strength and Total Immersion

"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."
Henry Ford

Life is all about the journey....I suppose this is my motto and the way I want to live my life. While many people want results immediately, I love putting together all the little pieces in order to create the big picture. Not only do you discover amazing things about yourself when you work towards an end goal but you learn how to live a more balanced life. Sometimes there is no end goal but you welcome a new outlook on life at every stage in the journey. For every day we are making choices that impact tomorrow and the future.

Last night I attended the monthly Hammerhead Triathlon Club meeting and listened to a talk on Total Immersion (TI). Familiar with the concept, it was interesting to hear a certified coach discuss the results of TI and how athletes and new swimmers are benefiting from the program.

From the website (
TI teaches you to swim with the effortless grace of fish by becoming one with the water. Swimmers come to us with the goal of swimming faster. They quickly learn that it’s far more beneficial and satisfying to swim with grace, flow, and economy…and that speed will surely follow when they master ease. You’ll feel the difference from your very first lap of intelligent, purposeful TI practice and get more satisfaction from every lap that follows.

This video demonstrates the efficiency and skill of using TI. For all of us triathletes as well as future triathletes who are afraid of the swim, I have always said that it's all about efficiency. You don't have to be a fast swimmer to complete a triathlon. By swimming efficient, you will have more energy for the bike, thus more energy throughout the entire triathlon.

As for those of you who enjoy staying on land, I had briefly discussed on my blog, my past issues with my hips. For it was just a few months ago that I began running for the first time after not running for over 10 weeks during the last few months of my dietetic internship. Struggling with rt. hip pain and weak glutes for the past 3 years, I was very shocked when I became injured on my left side...the side of my body that never seemed to get injured.

Because I am not perfect and do not strive to be perfect, I had my share of downs throughout my internship. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed from the demands of my internship, it saddened me not to run as I find exercise a necessary component of my lifestyle.
However, recognizing that I do not have to "train" to be healthy, I stuck to the elliptical, pool (swimming and water jogging) and weight room in order to exercise. Most workouts lasted around an hour and compared to my liking of a hard push during workouts, I knew it was important to focus on my internship and finding the root of my problem. While many athletes believe that rest is the answer to an injury, I believe in taking the necessary steps to build strength and confidence in order to return to activity. With balance in mind, a 15 minute strength workout (most days a week) helped me return to running with a stronger body than before and no fears of re-injury.

The hips are often an overlooked component of exercise/training, specifically with triathletes. Often we blame our quads, hamstrings or ITB but don't pay much attention to the working horse of most of our movements. While the core is the foundation of a strong body, the hips are used on a daily basis, no matter what the activity. Whether we are sitting for long periods or training for running/triathlons, we need to strengthen and lengthen our hip flexors.

I believe that many athletes have incredibly weak or tight hip flexors, as well as surrounding muscles. Specifically, the Iliopsoas (consisting of the Iliacus and the Psoas Major) as well as the piriformis. To start my rehab program (which I designed myself), I made sure I progressed with exercises that did not give me pain. It was a LONG journey, but I knew where I wanted to be and I was willing to be patient and smart.

Starting with flexibility work (yoga/pilates) I made sure I stretched my hip flexors as often as possible. With all the sitting that I was doing in the hospital, I was getting extremely tight and sore (particularly, in my lower back). Ever night I would come home and do the following basic exercises found on this page:
Hip Strength
I would do #3, #5 (I modified this by marching with my legs in a bridge position) and #6 almost immediately when I returned from home and I would do several 5-second holds for 1-2 minutes. I then progressed to #4 (with a light weight behind my knee) and did 10-20 reps on each leg (2-3 sets). I do not do standard crunches any more and avoid doing motions that force my body to "crunch" together. My focus is on opening the hips, not closing them (like in sitting - although I stand up and stretch a lot when I sit).

My goal was to get as close as I could to gaining equal strength in both of my legs as my past injury in my rt leg left me a little weaker on one side of my body (thus my left side was used a lot more when running and cycling).
Once I felt stronger, I resisted the urge to run as I still had a lot more work to do in the weight room in order to reduce the risk of re-injury.
3 times a week I would do the following (in addition to the above hip stretches) for around 30 minutes:
Bench step-ups (progressed from a bosu to a step at knee-height)
Single leg deadlifts
Single leg curl
Single leg extension
Standing leg abduction on bosu (lifting leg away from the body)
Side planks with leg adbuction (lifting top leg up and down)

I would do 10-15 reps and would repeat the cycle 2-3 times. Although the exercises got easier, it was important that I focused on good form in order to really target the glutes as well as my weak hamstrings. I'm happy to say that I am running pain-free and really enjoying running off the bike (all of my runs are off the bike, 3-4 days a week). I still focus on my daily hip exercises and I never take for granted how important it is to spend a little time in the weight room (or at home) strengthening the body. Plus, I just love having another great reason to enjoy my post workout milk or yogurt as my body, muscles and bones LOVE the calcium and protein.

Here are two interesting articles that you may enjoy reading. If you have any questions or would like to provide your feedback (what has helped you?) I'd love to hear your comments (or send me an email).
Hamstring dominance
Too much sitting

*While strength training, massage and flexibility work are vital components in an every-day exercise or training routine, it is important that you consult a doctor and/or a physical therapist rather than trying to self-diagnose and treat your injury. In the long run, you will save more money, time and stress by consulting with an expert rather than googling forums.


Getting a bit nutty with a plant-based diet

One of the many wonderful aspects of being active is enjoying your passion with others. Alongside the occasional suffering and sweat-dripping, challenging workouts/exercises, there is nothing I love more than meeting people who share my enjoyment for health and fitness. While not everyone I meet is an athlete, I believe that you don't have to be an athlete and "train" in order to live a fun and healthful life. For you must respect your body, listen to it, feed it with quality nutrients and keep it moving....It'll thank you in a big way throughout the aging process.

Meeting people is one thing but I love getting to know people.
A while back I met Veronica at a cycling event (while watching Karel). She was training for the 2010 Great Floridian Ironman Triathlon and we got to talking about training and nutrition. I could feel her passion for nutrition and we both shared a common interest. In her words, she enjoys "the benefits of eating the right foods to maximize my potential". I totally agree.

Veronica created her own product called "Veronica's Health Crunch....where healthy meets delicious" which is licensed with the Dept of Agriculture. Each 1 ounce serving contains 160 calories and meets almost a third of the daily value (per 2000 calorie diet) of fiber. Not only are nuts packed with heart healthy fats but most nuts contain a healthy dose of protein, B-vitamins, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin E and selenium. Not to mention...FIBER (1/4 cup almonds contain 2.4 grams fiber comparable to the 3 grams of fiber in a small apple).

Veronica was gracious enough to send Karel and me a few 8 ounce sample bags of her nutty creation and I will admit that this is the most delicious nut mixture that I have ever tasted. I am not sure if it is the hint of sea salt, sweetness from honey the touch of shredded coconut but Veronica's Health Crunch is certainly one of a kind and super yummy as a snack or with a meal. The best part about her product is that each bag contains no artificial sweeteners, food dyes or preservatives. The all natural ingredients are straight from the Earth....
Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Cranberries, Honey, Pumpkin seeds, Almond Oil, Shredded Coconut, Sea Salt.

Check out her website for more information and I invite you to order either a 2lb bag or 8 ounce (half lb) bag.
Veronica's Health Crunch

I made the most delicious summer fruit salad this weekend and topped it with my new favorite nut mixture. Enjoy!

Feta cheese
Honey Wheat Germ


Staying Hydrated

I found this drink super refreshing after my 84 mile bike + 3 mile (2.3 solo miles + .8 Campy mile) run on Sunday (preceding my whey protein milk, yogurt and fruit smoothie topped with cereal). I filled a glass with crushed ice and water and added a squirt of lime juice as well as watermelon, blueberries and strawberries. It was perfect after my workout and I used it to help cool myself as I stretched out my hips in my backyard on my yoga mat.
I think we would all agree that it's getting warm outside....more like it's really HOT and HUMID! My latest article from could not have come at a more appropriate time. July is super hot for most of us around the US and we still have to see what August will bring for us active individuals.
I am always excited to share my articles with my blog readers and for the first time...I could not be more excited to see the "RD" behind my name. Three years and a lot of hard work, time and money....those two letters are even more beautiful than I ever imagined. :)

"Marni was recently eligible to take the Registration Exam for Dietitians, after meeting specific educational eligibility requirements by the Commission of Dietetic Registration. It is with great excitement that we can share that Marni (aka Iron Girl "nutritionist") is officially a Registered Dietitian after recently passing the Registration Exam. RD's are protected by law to provide nutrition information in order to assess, diagnose and treat medical conditions. Dietitians must practice in accordance to the ADA (American Dietetic Association) Code of Ethics, abiding by a set of standards and laws that protect the public."

Staying Hydrated
Depending on where you live, it is likely that a summer triathlon or running event will bring hot and humid race day conditions. If you are training for an upcoming Iron Girl event, you are likely aware of the importance of staying hydrated both during training/racing and on an every-day basis.

While a sweaty body may make you feel uncomfortable, it is important that you embrace your summer "glow," especially during exercise. When there is an increase in outdoor temperature and your body is active, you can thank the hypothalamus (in the brain) for responding quickly. Sweating is the result of an increase in core body temperature, resulting when the heart quickly pumps blood away from organs and to the skin for cooling. While low humidity (as well as a breeze or windy day) will encourage water to easily evaporate from the skin, you will likely notice a challenge to feel cool when you are sweating in high humidity.

Based on the duration and intensity of your workout, as well as environmental conditions, it is important to replace lost fluids at periodic intervals throughout the duration of activity. Significant loss in fluids will lead to a drop in blood volume, causing a gradual increase in heart rate and an unwelcomed decrease in performance.

No matter the caliber of athlete, adequate fluid intake is critical to your daily health. While there are numerous guidelines as to how much water to drink on a daily basis (ex. 8x8 cups a day according to and 9-13 cups a day for women and men, respectively, according to the Institute of Medicine), most professionals will recommend letting thirst be your guide.

Here at Iron Girl, we have a healthy relationship with food. Although there are no "bad or off-limit" foods, there are certainly foods that we want to emphasize and de-emphasize, when it comes to performance gains and improving health. On the topic of beverages targeted to athletes and fitness enthusiasts, many sport and health manufactures use engaging words, gimmicks, sneaky labeling and creative advertising to steer you to the product that is "better than the rest". Even though the current hype involves coconut water, zero-calorie sport drinks, energy drinks, cola, V8 and flavored water as "alternative" sport drinks, nothing beats a refreshing, ice cold water to really quench your thirst.

The cheapest and most effective beverage for your athletic lifestyle is none other than water. Because hydration, just like sleep, diet and body composition, is different from one individual to the next, keep your hydration strategy simple as you find what works for you and your current fitness routine.


Aim to drink a glass of water at each meal, as well as sipping on a bottle of water (16-24 ounces) between meals. Within the two hours prior to exercise, pre-hydrate with approximately two cups of water (16 ounces) in order to hydrate your cells. If your workout is less than an hour, sip on a bottle of water throughout the duration of exercise in order to help replace fluids that are lost during sweating. For workouts around one to two hours, pass on the processed high-fructose corn syrup, sodium-rich or energy drinks and choose a sport drink (from a reputable company) that contains around 90-120 calories per serving (per 20-24 ounces of water) in order to offset fatigue. Most sport drinks will provide sodium and potassium to cover your basic electrolyte needs. However, search around and compare products, as the most advantageous sport drinks will provide a full panel of electrolytes (ex. sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride) to keep you hydrated, regulate blood pH and control proper nerve and muscle function. After exercise, how about a 2-for-1? Repair damaged tissues and re-hydrate with eight ounces of your favorite calcium-rich, low fat milk.

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD
Marni is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology. She is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and holds a certification by the American Dietetic Association in Adult Weight Management. Marni is a Level-1 USAT Coach, a 4x Ironman finisher and is an Oakley Women ambassador. Marni is currently training for the 2011 Ironman World Championship. Marni enjoys public speaking and writing, and she has several published articles in Lava Magazine, Hammer Endurance News, CosmoGirl magazine and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes monthly to and Any questions, Email or visit


Red, White and Blue inspired

Last night I had a friend over in our new place and couldn't wait to prepare a yummy summer dinner, in honor of fourth of July.

During the Beaches Lodge group ride on Sat, I was craving Watermelon. 53 miles later...still craving a juicy watermelon. I just LOVE summer fruits! Many of my TriMarni creations come to me while training, usually second to listening to what my body is craving. I suppose the TriMarni recipes comes to me while swimming because my inner fish causes me to zone out every time I swim.

After my bike ride, I had 4 VERY hot and humid running miles to dream up a watermelon creation for Karel and my friend Nicole. Watermelon Salad!!!

I looked on the internet for some recipes. I rarely follow recipes but I often get inspired by what I see either on TV, in ads, in restaurant and in cookbooks.

I hope you enjoy my Red, White and Blue inspired dessert (great idea Nicole!!) as well as my Watermelon Salad and Fresh Bean Salad.

Watermelon Salad
Watermelon - cubed
Lime juice - a few tbsp
Parsley (chopped)
Feta cheese (crumbled)

Fresh Bean Salad
Black Beans
Green pepper
Orange pepper
(Salad was served on a bed of spinach, topped with a serving of cooked rice)

Red, White and Blue shortcake
1 small scoop yogurt ice cream (Karel's favorite - Blueberry Pomegranate from Publix)
Mini shortcakes