Essential Sports Nutrition


Pre-race nutrition tips: Running

Picture taken by Stefanie S.

Less than 1 mile from the 2011 Ironman World Championship finishing line. I couldn't smile any face hurt just as much as my body. There was no secret or magical food that allowed me to finish the 2011 Ironman World Championships but rather a body that was trained to perform. 

Choosing the wrong foods, eating at the wrong time or eating too much (or not enough) may negatively affect your racing performance in training and racing. And without a doubt, I'm sure you don't want your training to go to waste on race day. Isn't racing all about putting the training to the test? 

So, what should we be looking for when it comes to pre-race foods?

The research behind the pre-race meal (on race day) is to make sure your fuel tanks are full by the start of the race. You should have plenty of fuel in your muscles by reducing your training volume (or tapering) before a race and sticking to a well-planed race week diet  but sleeping depletes around 50% liver glycogen. Eating a small carbohydrate-rich snack before a race will help to sustain energy and postpone fatigue as well as keeping your brain motivated and focused. However, there are a few guidelines to follow when it comes to planning your pre-race snack. Certainly, research in a laboratory can tell us what may work under a controlled environment but how many of us feel like our lifestyle is controlled every day, all day?

Considering that many athletes struggle to understand the difference between sport nutrition vs a healthy, balanced diet, there is often a lot of confusion as to how to fuel before a race and to avoid GI distress as well as postpone fatigue and prevent cramping, bonking or dehydration.

1) Eat your pre-race snack at least 2-3 hours before the start of your race, and don’t forget water. Your digestive tract needs blood and fluids to help with digestion and nerves can affect intestinal movement. Aim for around 150-300 calories before a 1-2.5 hour event, primarily carbohydrates (at least 30-60g of carbohydrates and around 12-16 ounces of water) with a little fat/protein to slow down digestion.You don’t want to be full, stuffed or starving before the start of a race.

2) I know it isn’t what you are use to but you are not aiming for a heart-healthy diet. Limit the fat, protein and fiber (which help keep you "full" and satisfied on a daily basis and choose foods low in volume and carbohydrates that will empty quickly from the stomach. No “diet”foods or artificial sweeteners as those may cause diarrhea, bloating or gas!

3) Focus on yourself, your race day intensity, the race day conditions, recent dietary patterns, nerves, excitement. I’ve worked with many athletes who can tolerate foods just fine on a daily basis or before training sessions but once the nerves kick in, they can not tolerate them on race day.
Sport nutrition before and during a race is very individualized. As an athlete myself and working with a variety of athletes, I can tell you that there is no "perfect" way to eat before a race....even if research tells you otherwise. I feel that the athlete who succeeds the best is one who feels confident with his/her pre-race snack and has a practical and realistic race day plan. It should be noted that previous eating habits have a major influence on race day nutrition so if your daily diet isn't under controlled, there's no point in developing a "perfect" race day fueling plan. Health first, performance second. 

Because sport nutrition will differ and I don't encourage you to try new foods on race day, here are a few examples that may help you narrow down your options for pre-race snacks.

Snack options for the high intensity runner or with a high HR: Key points: blood will be used for the working muscles so we need something really quick to digest so the sugars enter the blood stream quickly and blood is not being diverted to the stomach for digestion. These foods will not be filling so be aware of how fast your body breaks down carbohydrates. Despite this fact, some athletes may do better with low glycemix foods vs high glycemix foods before a high intensity effort.

-Banana, raisins, nut butter (convenient, easy to digest, familiar foods)
-1/3-1/2 cup granola (carb-dense, not a lot of volume)
-Fruit Buddies (ex. fruit puree) + rice flake cereal (low residue)

Nervous belly, GI distress consistently during racing (or pre-race) Key points: liquid options or bland food. Experimentation is key as everyone will be different and perhaps you may find yourself more nervous at a local race vs a destination race. Dairy may upset your stomach and others may handle it fine. 

-Kefir yogurt based drink (avoid meal replacement drinks which are often high in fat and may contain sugar alcohols)
-Pita bread or wasa crackers with a few nuts (instead of high fiber or dense bagels or bread).
-4-8 ounce 100% fruit juice + 1 slice french bread with cream cheese.
-Couscous (unconventional, high in carbs, a little protein and fiber)

Run/walkers, conversational pace (moderate/low intensity) 
Key points: More time out on the course, a little more protein/fat to slow down digestion and to maintain satisfaction before and during race.
-1/2-1 bagel + nut butter + honey
-Oatmeal + nuts + raisins
-Sport bar + orange (or piece of fruit)


Sip on a sport drink (maltodextrin based, ex. Hammer heed) if needed before the race and around 8-10 ounces of water before the start (after your pre-race snack). Recommend no additional food after pre-race snack. Coffee and tea (caffeinated, non-carbonated beverage) is also fine pre race to get the system going, if tolerated and practiced.

Your pre race meal should be easy to find, easy to prepare, easy to consume and most of all, tolerable based on your racing intensity and distance. 
Keep in mind that no amount of pre race nutrition can help you run 7 min/miles if you didn’t train yourself to do so in training. It's recommended to take advantage of sport nutrition during a race (ex. sport drinks, gels) at consistent intakes (ex. every 10-15 minutes) to provide the stressed body with fluids (20-28 ounces per hour), electrolytes and carbohydrates (30-60g per hour). Pace within your abilities in order to better tolerate pre race nutrition which will also help you avoid cramping and an upset stomach. 
Happy Running!
Here's the recent TV segment I did on pre-race  nutrition for the upcoming Gate River Run. 
Pre-race running nutrition tips

(any additional questions or concerns - send me an email.


Do you eat with your hands?

I came across this fantastic article in Food and Nutrition Magazine and I suddenly became really excited to cook. Although I am not a trained cook, I really enjoy being in my kitchen as a way to fuel my lifestyle and workout routine. But this article was more than just stimulating to the eye but also motivating and inspiring. So many foods for flavor...and endless possibilities on how to use them.

I then started to's too bad that children don't learn more about food science, culinary skills and farming in school...or by their parents at a very young age. Imagine yourself now if you had a few class in kindergarten where you grew your own produce. Then in middle school you had a food science class where you learned about how foods are created, how they react with other foods and how they can modified or changed in the processing process. And then, in high school you had culinary classes. Classes were you made your own dinner (in school) or learned how to properly prepare meats, use the right herbs and spices with meals and what utensils and cookware go best with certain recipes. How cool would that be?
Perhaps those ideas do not excite you as much as me but with all the preaching of "healthy living" it's troublesome that "we" are rarely educated as to how to live a healthy life. We are told repeatedly by social media and the news but rarely do we get the change to learn and to be the student in our own life-lesson. 

I work with athletes of all ages, from middle school athletes to the retired and everyone in between. What's so interesting is that everyone has a different passion or definition for healthy living but not always do we know "why" or "how" we developed that passion or definition. I feel if we took a little more time appreciating habits that will allow us to live a healthy life, we would be more at-ease with focusing on our own needs and goals. I think cooking is one of the best ways to start living a more healthful life yet for so many it is a chore, it is boring or it is too time-consuming. The funny thing is that for many, they were never taught that available food is a gift and we often take that for granted. Cooking is a skill that does not need to be perfect but rather appreciated. Lastly, many people eat for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. Calories, off-limit, stressed, good, bad food instead of eating for fuel, for health and for pleasure.

Ask yourself when was the last time you ate with your hands? Perhaps a meal that was wrapped in a package, a meal that was stuffed between two slices of bread or in a pita or wrap, or a meal that contained 1 item. How often do you eat with utensils?

Sometimes changing habits is not about giving up foods but rather re-thinking your meals and getting more creative in the kitchen.

My creation on Monday night included stuffed pitas. But instead of having the pita as a meal (eaten with your hands) I used the "stuffings" for my "salad" as the main part of the meal and the pita as the "side dish". An easy way to slow down eating, bulk up on more nutrient dense foods and still enjoy favorite foods without feeling restricted but rather satisfied. Enjoy!

Sauteed veggies - onions, mixed bell peppers, corn, garlic, ginger in olive oil (on medium heat for 10-12 minutes). Seasoned with turmeric, red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic.
Leafy green (spinach and kale) for salad
Protein of your choice - I grilled tofu on small skillet (firm tofu, cubed, tossed on skillet in a little olive oil, seasoned with a pinch of sea salt).
Leftover bean and lentil mix (prepared from raw mix, cooked for ~1 hour)
Peanut (or your nut of choice)
HALA whole wheat pita bread
Shredded cheese and greek yogurt for topping (optional salsa)


This is why I do Triathlons

As a coach and an athlete, I feel inspired by others on a daily basis. I try to do my best on a daily basis to inspire others by encouraging others to focus on personal goals and dreams. My friend and fellow Oakley Women Ambassador Fitz is an amazing woman and she has accomplished so much when it comes to inspiring others (specifically children) to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Fitz is using her social media platform and credentials/education as a way to inspire others and it was a great pleasure of mine to fill out her questionnaire as to "THIS IS MY WHY" in relation to my sport of choice. 

The questions she asked made me think but they also made me recognize why I love to get up every morning to push my body, train smart, fuel well and to live an active lifestyle. If you know me well, you know that my life is not perfect and I have dealt with injuries with my hip and back for over 6 years.I have had setbacks due to my educational career as well as plenty of obstacles. Yet I still continue to believe that I can improve and so I keep working hard with whatever I can and whatever is given to me for that day.

Every year I get a "flare-up" which can last from 4 weeks to 10 weeks with my hip. Not going into too much detail as it can become quite lengthy but in relation to a long-history of back issues from swimming competitively, to poor posture, sitting too much, leg weakness, anterior pelvic tilt that feels so normal to me but is a pain in the butt (Literally) and glute weakness due to glutes not firing despite working them in the weight room. Right now I am on 4.5 weeks of no running due to a "flare-up" of my iliopsoas tendon but all is good. I guess after 6 years of dealing with hip issues, I have learned resting is not necessary and only makes things worse for me. Sitting is the crime for my body and I do it too often. Cycling is my best friend and swimming, as much as I love it, can be hard on my back but I can't stay out of the water so I just have to hold back at times. Running has been up and down -  I love it but my body doesn't always love it and I refuse to race and train with a pain so that is why running is always the first to go.

 I have a great team behind me of PTs, MDs, Chiropracter and of course my hubby. I don't like to talk about it too much (although I have in years past on my blog) but rather, discuss how grateful I am when I can perform without pain and without limitations. I suppose "my why" of doing triathlons came at a great time when Fitz contacted me for every year I question my desire to continue competitive sports (running, swimming, biking) that are not in agreement with my body at times. I love to exercise, but I love to train.

So as an athlete, I am dedicated, passionate and determined (not stubborn) and I will focus on the CANs and take life day by day, hoping that not a day is lost that I am not enjoying life to the fullest. Last year I was "out" from running for 5 weeks (Dec - Jan) and had the best season of my life from Feb - Dec. The year prior I was "out" for 3 months from running (Feb - May) and trained for Kona in 16 weeks (without running for over 10 weeks) and raced strong (picture above) with a huge bike PR. The year prior to that, 4 weeks out from running (July) and a 10:53 PR at IMKY just 20 or so days after not running for 30 days prior. It all started in 2007 with a hip injury that caused me to be stubborn and not respectful to my body just 30 days before my first IM world Championship in 2007 (aka Racing injured which I will NEVER do again - nor even "test" an injury more than 5 minutes) and I still pay for that mistake today. 

So I guess my "Why" is more than just a finishing line, award or medal but rather the ability to do what I love on a daily basis, share that experience with others, and to always feel great with what I can do on any given day. My body does not have to let me do triathlons and sometimes I am frustrated with that fact. But at the end of the day,  my body is amazing in that it can heal itself without extreme medical interventions, it has never had a stress fracture or broken bone and I haven't been sick in over 6 years. So despite lack of running here or there every year and the pain that keeps me from running, I'd say my body is pretty special and I'll take a great race and training session, whenever my body is ready for it.

Marni Sumbal, 30, Clinical RD, triathlon coach, business owner, writer, speaker, Jacksonville, Florida

Why do you take part in triathlons?? I love the lifestyle of swim-bike-run and the enjoyment I feel (in both mind and body) when I finish a workout. I love training for a race and overcoming obstacles and setbacks along the way.
How long have you been taking part in triathlons? ~7 years competitively
Tell us about that. Not only do I coach others to reach personal fitness goals in the sport of triathlon and running, but I am also a competitive triathlete who enjoys racing in long-distance triathlons. I typically race 4-5 times a year (in both triathlon and running events) and since 2006, I have finished 5 Ironman triathlons.
Most challenging aspect of triathlons: Teetering on the edge of being injured as I like to push my body to see what I am capable of – in both mind and body. Also, knowing when to hold back in order to focus on quality workouts. I enjoy training smarter to train harder.
Most fun aspect of triathlons: Being able to “train” with other adults who “get it”.
Most rewarding aspect of triathlons: Knowing that my body is capable of racing for 140.6 miles in one day…and thanking it before, during and after every race.
Who/what inspires you when you’re feeling weak? My athletes as well as those who are unable to exercise due to medical/health reasons, but would give anything to be outside and to voluntarily move the body.
Advice for others who’d like to get started: Think small and work on weaknesses and strength training prior to starting a structured training plan. Determine how many hours a week/day you can realistically devote to “training” the body after you factor in sleep, work, family time, meal planning, eating, commuting, etc. There are no rules as to how many miles/hours you have to train per week, focus on your own individual goals and consistency will allow you to make progress.
Your must-have equipment for completing triathlons: I love my gear! Trek Bicycle (pink of course), 910XT Garmin, Nootca swim cap, Oakley Women Commit shades, Road ID, my Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition triathlon kit, Pink laser helmet, Speedo vanquisher pink swim goggles, Brooks Launch running shoes, Louis Garneau triathlon shoes, Garmin 500 Edge bike computer.
Favorite training song: Any kind! I love to listen to the radio when I train (iheartradio).
Favorite healthy food: Hard to pick just one, but I love nuts, seeds and veggies.
Favorite not-so-healthy food: Banana bread (not the healthy kind).
Funniest /weirdest/most awkward experience participating in triathlons: During my first Ironman, my boyfriend (at the time), Karel was watching me race. We had been dating for six months and as I was finishing the 26.2 mile run at the end of the race, he shouted to me that I was in the lead for my age group and I was “going to Kona” (IM World Championships). I yelled back “I love you!” – it was the first time I ever told him I loved him. Now we are happily married.


Weekend recap and Glow Run 5K

Wind and cold. It was a fun weekend on the bike. Saturday morning I met up with the Lodge group ride and after the ride had finished, I had Karel, Shawn B. and Saswata pull me around for 1 more loop in Nocatee before I called it a morning. 3 hours of riding and my legs loved every minute of it. The only way to get faster is to ride with faster people so I am always happy to find  a wheel to draft of off as it only makes me a better cyclist. Sunday was a bit colder and the wind was blowing strong. I rode with Karel and Jerry for around 2 hours and they were riding steady which meant I was riding uncomfortably steady. But all good fun and I dressed well so it didn't make me think twice about being outside in the fresh air vs being outside on the trainer. 

Post ride breakfast on Saturday - one of my favorites. Egg omelet (2 whites + 1 whole egg mixed with a spoonful greek yogurt, instead of milk). Inside included sauteed kale and onions in olive oil. Seasoned with garlic, onion flakes and red pepper flakes and topped with sharp cheese. To compliment my protein and veggies, a side of fresh fruit (peaches, banana, strawberries) w/ 2 slices of fresh (right out of the Publix oven) bakery bread. Being married to a European, it didn't take Karel too long to convince me as we were dating that packaged bread is nothing like "real" bread. I suppose we have been brainwashed for a while to choose low-calorie, factory-made bread which Karel says would never be a choice in Czech Republic. Although bread is a weakness for many and fresh bread means over consumption  there is something about fresh bread that makes you enjoy every bite and when combined in a balanced meal (not with veggies and meat stuffed in the middle) it can be a beautiful addition to a meal. This bakery bread is one of our favorites -it is made with raisins, cranberries, dried almonds, walnuts and apricots. YUM!

After epson salt bath, stretching, recovery drink (skim cow's milk w/ Hammer Vegan chocolate protein powder) and 110% ice + compression and my delicious recovery meal, I was on-call at the hospital so I had to assess a patient who was recently intubated and sedated (on propofol) and needed tube feeding so as the on-call RD, I was consulted by the MD to provide a formula and rate for the patient. Nothing like keeping the brain "ON" after a workout.

Later in the afternoon, Karel and I (and Campy) headed to downtown Jacksonville to volunteer at the Glow Run 5K.

It was a cold afternoon but Campy dressed well. I had my Oakley Women Pro Soft Shell Jacket which is one of my favorite jackets. It is perfect for the cold days here in Florida and I love it because it can be worn "dressed up" as well as worn comfortable for a cold run (ex. like when I was in Iowa running in less than 10-degree weather..brrrr) or under a ski/snowboarding jacket.

If you are interested in a FUN event for ALL ages, I highly recommend checking out the Glow Run 5K. There are a lot of great events happening now such as the color runs, obstacle course, etc. I think these events are wonderful for a non-competitive vibe that can be shared by all people. Even if you are competitive, perhaps check out one of these races to encourage your friends to participate as it can be an amazing experience to cover 3.1 miles and not "race" but instead to have a blast for all 3.1 miles.

The event had a DJ w/ great pump-up music (despite being super cold out -everyone was dancing before the event), cool glow stick necklaces and glasses and almost everyone was dressed in bright colorful outfits. They have awards at the end for costumes as well as a big dance party. How awesome and a great way to forget about running as "exercise" or burning calories but rather the fun in just moving your body.