Essential Sports Nutrition


Do you have time for an injury?

It concerns me that athletes think that stress fractures are simply a natural occurrence of being an athlete and training for an event (or trying to become more physically fit). I have never had a stress fracture and will do anything in my power not to get one. However, I have had my battles with long-term painful muscular injuries and I am constantly finding myself learning how to be a more proactive athlete.

 I realize that many injuries are accidents in that as athletes, we have a hard time recognizing a normal ache from painful, injury-provoking ache. And sometimes, accidents do happen such as rolling an ankle when running on uneven surfaces or crashing on the bike. But as athletes we are always teetering on the edge of getting injured because we like to push to see our limits and with a natural tendency to think "if some is good, more is better", simple decisions often come with major consequences.

As age group athletes, we are not paid to do a sport which ultimately keeps us physically fit. So, when it comes to an activity that you enjoy, that helps you burn calories, relieve stress, spend time with others and occupy your free time, why do you let your love for consistency outweigh your ability to be flexible and to be proactive? Sure, you can come up with a dozen reasons as to why you need to do that race or that training session but I have a feeling if you were to ask an athlete who is now injured or is rehabbing from an injury if he/she could have had a do-over, they would likely be jealous that you are not the one in pain or painfully having to sit on the sidelines for an undisclosed number of weeks/months. I'm sure they could easily answer, "was it worth it?"

 If only they would have listened to their instinct (or created one) and to not let a moment of  being in the now come ahead of thinking about the future.

As an athlete, I get it. It's tough to dedicate time, training and money for a race and then have to think about the possibility of not doing a race. Despite dedicating every training session to mentally and physically preparing your mind and body for the race, an injury causes you to stay in the present and regret the past. The future only goes so far as a finishing line and determination to get there outweighs any long-term consequences of your decision to do a race (or upcoming training sessions) with a body that is not physically and mentally healthy.

Without removing my athlete status, I will put on my coaching hat to help you decide if it is really worth it to train and race injured (or on the verge of an injury).

But I told everyone I was doing it and all my training buddies are doing the race. I don't want to miss out.
The one who has to live with an injury is yourself. Race with your training buddies injured, miss out on the upcoming weeks or months of training because you were caught up with peer-pressure or race-hype.  Consider your family, job, friends and your daily responsibilities which require a healthy body and mind to perform optimally on a daily basis. There will always be another race and you can still stay involved by cheering or volunteering at the race. More often than not, a missed race may only cause you to be out for 1/2 the time compared to doing the race. Thus, the quicker you will be back at it with your friends.

But I trained so hard for this race.
You trained to perform with a strong, healthy body and a strong race day performance comes when your mind is your only limiter. Put your ego aside and keep in mind that there will be other races. If you want to impress yourself with your fitness, do so with a body that is in not in pain before or during a race.

But I paid for the race and I don't want to lose my money.
Consider the time lost from training and exercise after you are rehabbing yourself to good health again. Time does not have a price tag. When you are injured you wish time would rush by so you can be back at it again. But when you are in good health you wish you had more time to enjoy the things you love. Consider next time to not register for a race until the day before, if possible. Decide if the price difference between registering early vs the day before is worth it when it comes to losing your money for early registration or having to not worry about losing anything by waiting until the day before a race and making the smart decision not to race.

But I invested so much time, money and energy in training for this race.
There should only be a handful of times in your racing career when you will need to make the call if the race is worth "it". Rather than involving your physical therapist, doctor, etc. all at once to magically heal you in x-weeks/days before a race, consider realistically if you really think that the odds are in your favor in that your team of magicians will heal you and allow you to race injury free and properly recover from the race. Realizing that even if you are experiencing an injury, there are ways to finish a race without doing more damage but you have to be realistic with your approach to racing with an injury. Consider the money for xrays, MRI's, physical therapy, time away from work and any other commitments or activities that may be affected with your decision to not race smart or to race in the first place.

But I think I am getting better. I'll just take it easy.
It's easy to get wrapped up in the race environment and not take it easy. Secondly, your definition of easy may be masked with pain relievers as you may be on the verge of healing but it will only take a matter of minutes or miles to put you back where you were before....if not worse. I have a two day rule. If you are experiencing an injury or pain, wait until you are 100% to assess your status if you should race or train again. Once you are 100%, wait two more days to be on the safe side. If you are 100% again after 2 days, you are good to go. If you are still questioning that lingering ache that won't go away or that is keeping your brain active thinking about whether or not you are healed or  not? Then you aren't ready to race or train again.

But I carbo-loaded or I am worried about my weight.
Simple. Consider not exercising for the next 2-3 months and that will answer your questions if it is really worth it to feel frustrated with your current diet routine or body image and to be even more disrespectful to your body by racing injured only to burn calories. How about thanking your body for all the good workouts OR if you have been struggling with injuries, consider evaluating whether you are eating to train or training to eat.

But I just really want to do it.
Really? Just for a t-shirt and a medal? Consider your racing career. Do you see yourself racing for the next 20 years or do you think only race by race...just trying to get yourself to the next starting line? Keep in mind that your body is impacted in some negative way, every time you take a chance racing or training with an injury. You can only take so many chances before you will experience long-term consequences for your actions. Sure, you  may be tough as nails and with a pain threshold that is unlike anyone else. Is it really worth it to explain to your family and friends that you are sad, depressed and emotionally drained that it was completely within your ability to take a few minutes to weigh the consequences  instead of coming up with a million excuses as to why you had  to do the race? Keep in mind that when you are injured, it affects everyone. Your family, your children, your pets, your boss/employees....everyone. There is a reason why you love doing what you do.

Your active lifestyle makes you feel amazing, healthy and well. Three things that can not be achieved with an injured body.

So, do you have time for an injury?
Make the right call. It's not worth it.


Eat, drink and be healthy - chocolate and wine

Yesterday I did a segment on behalf of Baptist Heart Wise and it was great to be on set again for News4Jax. I was really excited for the segment on chocolate and wine but I received a few looks at the grocery check-out when I was prepping for the show on Monday evening.
Along with my props for the segment, I needed PB and bananas for home. Good thing I wasn't wearing my Clinical Dietitian name badge from the hospital!
After a sweaty 1 hour and 10 minute session on the trainer, early in the morning, I was getting myself ready around 6am and left for the TV station (downtown Jacksonville) around 7am.
The news reporters stayed busy with the morning stories as I started to prep my yummy display. For a nice presentation, I used a little mint on my chocolate plate. Each of the glasses have 5 ounces of "wine" (aka "cranberry juice).

For your viewing pleasure......

Thanks to Baptist Heart Wise for the still pictures from the segment.
Because 3 minutes and 38 seconds is not enough time to explain all about wine and chocolate, here are a few more tips, facts and suggestions:

Is red wine part of the Heart Wise eating plan?
If you already consume alcohol (beer, wine, spirits) occasionally, alcohol in moderation may play a role in heart health to  help increase good cholesterol, reduce clots and help prevent damage to the lining of the arteries.
What are the heart healthy benefits?
The benefits may come from polyphenols or antioxidants, specifically resveratrol, which is a naturally occurring non-alcoholic plant based substance which appears to protect against artery damage. It may also slow the progression of neurological degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
Much of the "alcohol" research is done on red wine but there may be health benefits with other types of alcohol as well. We need to keep in mind that a lot of resveratrol research is done on animals and the amount of resveratrol given to the animals would be similar to an extremely excessive amount of daily wine.
Red vs. white wine? The higher resveratrol content comes from the skin of red grapes which are fermented longer than white grapes. In white wine, the skin is removed before fermentation. Also, wine in cooler climates may have more resveratrol. Both have the same number of calories.
Do other foods contain similar health benefits?
Peanuts, blueberries, grapes and cranberries all contain resveratrol. For a healthy cardiovascular system I encourage people to eat real food for the other nutritional benefits as well (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.).  

What are the negative effects of drinking?
The holidays are stressful but so is daily life. Alcohol can be addictive and for many, may be a coping mechanism which may lead to excessive drinking. Alcohol may worsen health problems like hypertension, hyperlipidemia/high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and weaken heart muscles. Pregnant women should not drink during pregnancy and individuals at risk for breast cancer should discuss with primary physician regarding alcohol consumption because alcohol may raise estrogen levels and tumor progression. Wine is also a trigger for migraines either for the tannins and histamins or from the sulfites so if you suffer from bad headaches, I recommend doing an elimination trial of wine for a few days or keeping a journal. 
Take away message:
the best advice is if you already drink alcohol, do so in moderation. You can’t just drink your way to good health so if you don't already drink, that's OK - you don't need to start. Don’t ignore the many benefits in a real-food, balanced diet.  
Moderate drinking is up to 2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women. Men can drink more generally because of a larger body frame and more enzymes to help metabolize alcohol.

1 drink = 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, 1.5 ounces 80-proof distilled spirits.
5 ounces of wine is ~120 calories. Alcohol is a little more concentrated with calories than carbohydrates with more calories per gram (7calories per gram in wine vs 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates).

4 glasses or 1 bottle of wine = ~ 480 calories.
Is Dark Chocolate part of a healthy diet?

All the chocolate lovers can breathe easily now – absolutely! Dark chocolate is not only heart healthy but it can play an important role in a balanced diet.

Is all chocolate the same?
When it comes to chocolate we have many options. Butterfingers and twix to 90% cacao (pronounced kacow) or cocoa. What we want to look for is cacao – with an A - which refers to the bean itself, particularly in an unprocessed form. The cocoa is more processed due to the addition of other ingredients.
The percentage of cacao on a label refers to the percentage of ingredients by weight in that product that come from the chocolate liquor, cocoa powder and cocoa butter (see definitions below). In general, the higher the percentage, the more intense the flavor. In the US, cacao standards require that milk chocolate have at least 10% chocolate liquor, semi sweet and bittersweet have at least 35 percent. A higher % also means less added sugar. 75% cacao dark chocolate has about 25% sugar whereas 65% has about 35%. Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100% cacao and is very bitter.

 Definitions of chocolate ingredients:
(definitions found via the internet)
: Refers to the bean, which is the source of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
Chocolate Liquor: Produced by grinding the center of bean, called the nib, to a smooth, liquid state. Chocolate liquor is also called chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, baking chocolate, bitter chocolate, cocoa solids, cocoa mass, cacao mass and cocoa paste.
Cocoa Butter: The fat naturally present in cacao beans that melts at body temperature and gives chocolate its unique mouthfeel.
Cocoa or Cocoa Powder: The product made by pressing most of the cocoa butter out of the cocoa bean and grinding the rest to a powder. Under U.S. regulations, “cocoa” and “cocoa powder” can be used synonymously.
What are the health benefits of dark chocolate?
Believe it or not, there are many health benefits of eating dark chocolate. Research shows that eating up to 1.5 ounces a day of dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure by improving blood flow. Dark chocolate may also help with arteriosclerosis and reduce risk for stroke but this doesn’t mean that after you eat a loaded hamburger that you will clean up the cardiovascular system with a Hershey Kiss.
Also, since chocolate appears to improve blood flow, it may improve cognitive function to help with thinking and memory. It may also help with tooth enamel.
Chocolate also contains chemical compounds that make you feel good, similar to the hormones and endorphins released when you fall in love. Maybe that’s why so many people say they love chocolate because they just feel good when they eat it....I know I do!
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids which not only help to protect the immune system and cardiovascular system but reduces free radical damage to cells and may help with the aging process. Also, dark chocolate may help with insulin resistance for better glucose control. Dark chocolate contains high concentrations of potassium, copper, magnesium and iron.
Take away: I recommend around 85% cacao but if that’s too bitter, try 65-70% and check for cacao for more flavonoids. Keep in mind that A 1.5 ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine. Depending on storage, handling and processing of the cacao bean, the % of cacao doesn't always mean that you are receiving a full amount of flavonoids for many of the heart-healthy nutrients may have been destroyed or removed.
Recommendations:Savour your chocolate - suck on it, don't chew it. Portion control chocolate by choosing individual wrapped pieces or breaking into .5 ounce servings.  
For example, each square in a bar of 86% Ghirardelli dark chocolate (~.4 ounces) contains ~ 63 calories and 6.25g fat so enjoy dark chocolate in your already heart-healthy, balanced diet.


Eat like a dietitian. Eat like an Elite athlete.

I was told that when I earned my RD credentials that I would lose friends because no one would want to eat with me because I was a dietitian. To the surprise of many, I did not become the food police but instead a qualified and licensed professional to give nutritional advice and to counsel individuals on living a more healthful lifestyle.

What surprises me the most is that as an athlete, I get similar questions that make me wonder if people are striving to eat like a dietitian or like an elite athlete?

Funny thing is that there is no perfect or ideal diet so it may be better to stop searching around for the "perfect" healthy diet or the "perfect" fueling strategy for an active lifestyle and instead to focus on your individual needs.

One of my best tips that has really helped me out as a health-conscious individual who trains and races at a high level, is to eat food that makes me feel good.

Certainly, this can be taken into many different contexts but if you think about it, when you live a mindful lifestyle, you are thinking about the upcoming in a balanced and healthy manner.

If donuts or pizza make you feel good, how much would you need to eat until you didn't feel good? Even if your answers may be 5 pieces of pizza or 10 donuts, you still have to consider other areas that may be impacted by the question of "how much would you need to eat until you didn't feel good. Would body composition change, would workouts suffer, would sleep be affected, would your mood change, would your future relationship w/ food change, would you be able to maintain a balanced diet afterward? All of these questions are important when you eat mindfully and this is how I have learned as a RD and as an athlete to develop a healthy relationship with food.

I can openly say that I don't bash my body or have an unhealthy relationship with food. Two habits that took a while to acquire and certainly in today's society, it's hard to maintain that healthy relationship with food and the body.

I realize that weighing 15-20 lbs more by eating "mindfully" and enjoying food that makes me feel good but in larger portions, would not make me feel good for it is too much weight on my body. On the flip side, I have voiced my thoughts in previous posts on having a healthy relationship w/ the body. I could weigh 10 lbs less by eating mindfully and finding foods that don't make me feel good because they don't allow me to lose weight...BUT, I have no desire to lose weight that perhaps to some, may feel is "not needed" on the body. To me, the pros and cons of body composition changes in relation to changing the diet always need to be weighed. At the end of the day, I am a RD and a competitive athlete. Food fuels my lifestyle and workout routine. No one is living my life except for me. If I do a 12.5 mile interval run on Sun (as I did yesterday), why should I eat like someone who didn't exercise that day? My body needs more fuel than someone who didn't place the added stress on their body and on the flip side, on my day off, I do not have to eat like everyone else just because I am rewarding my body with a day of rest to allow for an upcoming week of training.

I feel no matter how you aspire to eat or your idea of the "perfect" diet for your lifestyle, it's so important to consider your own environment and body needs and discovering an individual definition of healthy. Elite/pro athletes do not always have "perfect" diets but may have the body image you desire. The also may put in the work w/ training that you do not have time for or you may not be able to achieve. Dietitians are not required to eat by the book but rather, understand the physiology of the body and to take a personalized approach to help others live a more healthful lifestyle. If you struggle with how to eat...stop wasting time trying to search around on the Internet or in the bookstore for the answer. Consult with a qualified personnel like  a RD to help guide you in your own personal journey.

Here are a few creations that I have enjoyed in the past few days.....Enjoy!

We only eat out a few times during the year, typically reserved to traveling and a special occasion like our birthday or anniversary. With friends in town, we went out to Cheesecake factory for lunch yesterday and I enjoyed this delicious veggie burger. YUM!
A Delicious “Burger” Made with Brown Rice, Farro, Black Beans, Fresh Beets & Onion. Served on a Toasted Bun with Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion, Pickles & Mayo. Served with a Green Salad.

Stuffed bell peppers for dinner for Karel and our friends on Saturday evening. YUMMO! Super easy thanks to my stove and crockpot helping me out throughout the day. I prepared 1/2 bag 12- bean mix and 1/2 bag lentils in crockpot w/ water filled just a bit over the beans. I cooked for 6 hours on medium heat. I prepared bulgur on the stove for 60 minutes until soft. I started all of this when I came home from my group bike ride for easy meal prep around 5:30. I removed the top from each pepper with a knife, scooped out the center and stuffed w/ a mix of rice and beans (prepared in separate bowl) with a little marinara inside each  pepper. I topped w/ raw chopped garlic and drizzled with a little olive oil and seasoned with fresh oregano, chili pepper, pepper and a little salt. I cooked in glass casserole dish layered thinly w/ marinara sauce at 425 degrees for around 45-50 minutes until soft (as pictured above). I provided cheese (cheddar and mozzarella) on the table for toppings for each person.

Yum - oven-baked eggplant pizza slices w/ a large salad. I sliced eggplant into thick slices and lined on a glass casserole dish (I used two of them) which was rubbed in olive oil. I covered each eggplant w/ a little of the oil (it loves to soak it up) and seasoned w/ paprika, rosemary, a little salt and pepper. After baking for 20 minutes or so at 350 degrees, I drizzled with marinara and topped w/ cheese and returned to the oven until cheese was melted (~3 minutes). I prepared a salad of mixed greens and arugula, topped w/ vine tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and cottage cheese (2% Daisy Cottage Cheese).

Who loves breakfast for dinner? Or as my friend Jason B. would say "Brinner". This creation was made last week and enjoyed after a busy day of early morning training, computer work, speaking to HS kids at a school on healthy eating for an active lifestyle and then more computer work. Two slices fresh bread (in our house, you will only find fresh bread and the occasional pita bread. With Karel growing up in Europe, fresh is best and although not "typical" in US, I've grown to love this new yummy eating habit) prepared w/ 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites topped w/ cranberries, almonds and cinnamon and roasted pears (prepared on same pan in a little olive oil). 1 sunny side up egg on sauteed spinach in olive oil. Typically, I top my french toast w/ PB, yogurt or frozen fruit (lightly cooked in microwave until soft). I don't do the sugar-free stuff (syrup, jelly, etc.) so if I need a smoother spread, I'll do real maple syrup, honey or jam.