Essential Sports Nutrition


Discover your (natural) talent

From cyclist....

To triathlete.....

To runner.....

I can't help but smile when people ask me if I get jealous or upset about Karel's "natural" talent to go from 20+ years as a competitive cyclist to a triathlete who can run crazy fast. Karel and I both grew up as "athletes" so we both understand what it means to work hard for results. Of course, 6.5 years ago, when I met Karel on the bike, I never thought that I would now be married to a triathlete.

It's often said that cyclists can run.....but I would have to disagree that just because a cyclist is fit on the bike, it doesn't mean that fitness will transfer over to a weight bearing activity like running. Karel found running uncomfortable and often unbearable during the off-season in years past but then again, he only liked to run for beer and he never "trained" for running races, just used it as "exercise".

Since starting a new multisport lifestyle in June of 2012, Karel has mastered his running form and has found great enjoyment of running. With no injuries, he has had some incredible racing performances....
11/17: Native Sun 10K: 36:39 (5:53 min/mile)
12/16: Jax bank half marathon: 1:22 (6:17 min/mile)
2/16/13: Donna half marathon: 1:21 (6:14 min/mile)
3/9/13: Gate river run 15K: 55:35 (5:59 min/mile)

Although I love my husband very much and believe he is naturally talented, I will confess one thing about Karel....he trains harder than anyone I know....and he trains smart.

Karel does not mess around with training. There is no junk mileage- just one workout a day for 1-2 hours during the week and no more than 5-5.5 hours of training on the weekend (for half IM training). For a whopping total of around 10-12 hours of quality training, Karel trains hard in both body and mind. Training is consistent, it is balanced and it doesn't consume his life. As his wife and "Sumbal" teammate, I love his approach to training as it is something he has enforced with me over the past few years.

So enough about my fabulous husband, let's talk about natural talent.

Do you have it?

Natural talent is often used when describing an athlete who succeeds at his/her first try. But aren't we all talented in our own way by starting something that perhaps others feel is impossible?

Maybe you don't run sub 6:30 min miles like Karel (only in our dreams, right?) but perhaps your 10-13 min/miles is enough to carry you through a marathon or half ironman and that is enough to say you are extremely talented to be able to train for a race and finish what you started.

We all have talent in some extent. Although the beginning may be the hard part, you have the ability to get started and that is what makes you talented and from there, you grow confidence, skills and fitness and then your talent turns into a lifestyle. Talent doesn't have one definition - whether you run a 14 min/mile, bike 25 miles per hour or have the capability of run/walking a marathon. Perhaps you may not have been born with the physiology to run, swim or bike "fast", but that is all relative to who you are comparing yourself to. You get up every day, wanting to make yourself better than yesterday, even though  no one is paying you to workout or to train for a competitive sport. Sometimes you train alone, for an audience of one and when no one is watching you push yourself to the limits, drenched in sweat and satisfied with your effort.
So maybe you feel you weren't born with natural talent but your talent for something has made you interested in the possibility that you can improve and succeed.

Natural talent may be a term that you use for those who make it seem easy but you only get one shot at showing off your natural talent. Second, third, fourth time have to work forbetter results. Therefore, if you don't work hard, you don't build your skills. Secondly, if you don't want it, don't expect to keep improving. Anything is learn-able if the want, desire and motivation is there.

Not to take the attention away from people who may appear "gifted" but never lose sight of your own personal goals. It's up to you to create a routine that is balanced, practical and realistic so that you move forward with your own talented body - the body that gets you up in the morning whereas others sleep in and lack the energy to get in a 1-2 hour morning workout. The body that may get sick at times but not sick to the point that you can't recover on your own, without the help of a hospital. The body that can consistently train for 8,12, 4 months at a time, day after day, letting you do what you love to do and rarely will it fail you.

There are many people in this world who lack natural talent but love what they are given in life. Some have more natural ability than others in a certain areas. But no matter your skill set in an area, if you never take that chance to test out your talent, you will never discover your true abilities.

Maybe you aren't heading to the Olympics or even to a World Championship but maybe down the road you will win your age group. The bottom line is that we all take risks to try something new and the reason why we have stuck with it is because we want to grow our talents.

As a society, we like to judge the end result. The race performance time or the age group or overall result reflects past training so if the end result isn't good, the effort of preparation was a failure.

Sadly, this is why athletes get way too wrapped up in mileage and junky training because the thinking is that it's much better to fail when you have overtrained than to enter a race slightly undertrained yet question your ability to have done more.

We tend to focus on final outcome instead of thinking about the process and the journey. Perhaps your drive for your career gave you the skills needed to succeed in sports, later in the life. As for many athletes, perhaps it was a passion for fitness that paid off in a huge way at your first running, cycling or triathlon race. Regardless of natural talent, if you are lazy or unmotivated, you can't get anywhere in life. Talent can only take you so far until the non-"gifted" athlete outrains you or finds a way to outsmart you in his/her race week/day approach.

Not everyone is willing to work hard for a goal and often the fear of the end result expectations is so great that athletes start to doubt the process, try to rush the journey or stop having fun. Not everyone is capable of designing a consistent training plan that keeps life balanced. Sure, it's easy to judge talent by a race results but behind closed doors, tenacity and patience is a gift that not everyone has and often has nothing to do with natural talent.

I qualified for the Boston Marathon after my first marathon. I qualified for the Ironman World Championships after my first IM. I never took for granted the work that was required to have a strong race at my first marathon and my first IM and I never stop appreciating the opportunities I have had to compete in two of the most desired races in the world by athletes. Races in which many people train their entire life to "qualify" for but never get the opportunity. I may not have natural talent but just like you, I have a gift to wake up every day with a body that allows me to push hard and to test my limits. 

It's interesting thinking about sports and the lessons they teach you in life. I know for Karel and myself, it's hard to imagine our life in any other way for the skills we use in sport (mental toughness, hard work ethic, flexible, determined, etc.) we also use on a daily basis with our careers.

As I mentioned before, some things come easy for some and challenging for others. Regardless of the athlete, if you want it, you have to get after it in the most practical way possible, at this point in your life. Never lose sight on your goals, whether they happen now or 10 years down the road.

Consider yourself talented. If you want something out of your life (and for many, it involves a finishing line or body composition goal), consider the natural gift that you have in front of you to work hard for something that you are passionate about. As long as you don't give up and enjoy the journey along the way, you too will find success.


Need a detox meal?

Want to boost the metabolism, lose weight, remove harmful toxins, improve skin health, sleep better, boost energy and improve mood?

You may be familiar with the practice of "detox" in terms of sticking to a diet for 24-72+ hours in order to rid the body of unhealthy toxins and to help with weight loss (as the primary reasons for abiding to a detox diet of your choice). Because we live in a society of quick fixes and if it is too good to be true, we will try it, keeping the body from obtaining important nutrients is not only damaging for fitness/performance but comes with risks for dehydration, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and even colon damage. Thankfully, I don't receive many emails from athletes regarding the need to "detox" (athletes don't like to be hungry) but I still receive emails from active individuals wanting to know my thoughts on going on a "detox" diet because they struggle with weight loss or they suffer from GI distress during training. Thankfully I can help others feel better and reach personal goals without riding the body of key nutrients. It just takes a little tweaking and lots of communication.

First question is "why are you detoxing?"

 Perhaps there is something in your body that is keeping you from achieving your fitness or body composition goals, from sleeping well, from having good energy and from feeling great. Perhaps it was a vacation, a stressful day or many months of not keeping with a healthy lifestyle. Whatever the case, there's no reason to even consider a temporary diet to "detox" the diet for the body has its own amazing, extraordinary detoxification system. That is  - if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you.

Here's a little bit about your amazing machine that you live in for the rest of your life:
(Taken from The Wellness Advisor Spring/Summer '13)
We do cleanse ourselves from the inside out: cells die and are removed from our body naturally. Waste products carried in our blood are filtered or excreted at certain points along the circulatory system. Carbon dioxide exits through the lungs; other waste is pulled out or converted in our liver and kidneys  As you know, our bladder and bowels excrete visible waste. In fact, the lining of our gastrointestinal tract turns over every few days. So, our bodies are doing their part to remove the old and rebuild healthy tissue.  By restricting calories to less than your basal metabolic rate requirements  you run the risk of slowing down your metabolism AND increasing the loss of lean muscle tissue. 

As I mentioned above, if you take care of your body, your body will do a great job of taking care of you so long as you are willing to make good food and lifestyle choices. The key is you have to start with good behaviors and work your way to better behaviors in order to learn the best behaviors for your personal needs.

Although I don't always agree with Dr. Oz (I guess it depends what product/supplement/diet book/food trend he is promoting for the episode), here is a little more regarding detoxing from his website.
  • The Liver: Your first line of defense against toxins is your liver, which acts like a filter in preventing toxic substances contained in foods from passing into your blood stream.
  • The Colon: This organ has bacteria that produce both healthy and unhealthy chemicals. You want to keep your colon flowing regularly since its main role is to flush out toxic chemicals before they can do you any harm.
  • The Kidneys: Like clockwork, the kidneys are constantly filtering your blood and getting rid of toxins in the form of urine.
For a detox diet to truly work, you need to keep these three key organs in good health by nourishing your body with the right nutrients....daily.

I don't know about you but when I eat food that makes me feel good, my body is in good health (this is not limited to fruits and veggies - if I want something and eat it, I feel good about it no matter the food). So if you are always eating “detoxifying” foods your body has an increased chance of running smoothly.  The body isn't perfect so don't expect it to be. But the idea is that you don't have to be perfect either.

-Fruits and veggies are filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. There's no better way to give your body antioxidants to boost the immune system.
-Water is free and good for you and needed daily.
-Fiber (found in its whole form such as in whole grains, whole wheat, fruits and veggies) helps maintain a healthy digestive tract and support bowel regulatory.
-Fried foods, fatty foods and a high animal protein diet require a lot of stomach acid to aid in digestion and can overwhelm the stomach. You may not feel it now, but it may catch up to you down the road.

If you need help figuring out the best diet for you, don't hesitate to contact a professional to help you out. If you are an athlete, the body is under a lot of stress during activity and certainly, food will be difficult to consume at certain times and the diet may need tweaking. But this doesn't mean that you need to restrict food or struggle with digestive issues just because you are active and want to achieve your performance, fitness or body composition goals.

No need to detox, cleanse or diet. Eat real food most of the time and develop a healthy relationship with food  and your body. Spend less time researching about the "right" way to eat and learn the best way for your body based on a whole-food approach. Eat well most of the time and you don't have to worry about the rest of the time. Consider what you do daily instead of those occasional days when it is perfectly fine to indulge a little and feel great about it.

Here is a delicious eggplant "lasagna"  that should make you feel great after eating it - I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!! Enjoy!

Eggplant Lasagna
1 large eggplant (sliced into 1/2 inch slices - remove ends)
Mushrooms - ~6 large baby portabello mushrooms
Lentils ~1 cup prepared
Couscous (or grain/starch of your choice) - ~1 cup
Onions - 1 small, chopped
Marinara sauce
Tofu - 1/2 container, firm (or your choice of protein)
Spinach - ~1/2 bag
Feta cheese
Seasoning  - onion, garlic, red pepper, oregano, basil, pepper
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly cover bottom of casserole dish (rectangle) w/ a little olive oil (I used a capful or two).
2. Slice eggplant and place 1 layer on bottom of dish without overlapping (~8 slices).
3. Sprinkle handful of lentils, crumbled tofu (in your hands) and couscous over eggplant.
4. Crumble (or chop) mushrooms over the lentil/couscous later and then add chopped onions. (save a little for topping at the end)

5. Spoon a few spoonfuls marinara over the mushroom/onion mixture.
6. Season with a little of each spice to your liking on top (I go heavy on the spices and herbs - yum!)

7. Big handful of spinach on the marinara.

8. Add another layer of eggplant and leftover mushrooms and onions and spoon a bit more marinara (I used about 3/4-1 cup total) and add more seasonings to your liking. Then sprinkle with feta cheese (you can use Parmesan for a more "pizza" like taste).

9. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until eggplant begins to turn golden brown on top. 

10. ENJOY!


Happy National RD Day!

What a fantastic day to be a RD! Happy National Registered Dietitian Day!!! When you have a nutrition question, where's the first place you go? Do you check the Internet, a blog, or ask a friend? While you may find quick information that way, it may not be the most accurate or practical. Although many people have experience in an area which could make them an expert on a topic, never hesitate to turn to a trusted source: a registered dietitian. We went to school to earn our credentials, to better serve the public. Need nutrition help? Find a RD who specializes in a field that can be of assistance to your personal needs and goals.

As you may or may not know, the RD route wasn't always in my future plans. After obtaining a bachelor of arts degree in exercise science and minor in psychology and then earning a master of science in exercise physiology, I took that extra step that many people have considered "not needed" in order to provide nutritional advice to the public. I never thought I'd have so many open doors with my RD credential but then again, if I would not have dedicated three years of my life to this third career path, I would not have known how to even open those doors. 

My life has changed in so many ways because of my RD credential and I constantly find myself challenged, driven and open-minded in this field. In June I will be celebrating two years of having RD, LD/N behind my name and I am so honored to be recognized as a nutrition professional, among many other amazing dietitians.

Here are a few blogs that I did on my dietetic journey, specifically during the happier times:

1) I get to help others reach personal health, body composition and performance goals and still feel like an individual. 
2) I am required to practice by an ethical code set forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and I am required to obtain 75 CEU's every 5 years to maintain my RD status so there is no slacking in continuing my education in the field.
3) I have access and opportunities to obtain great information in the field of clinical and sport nutrition.
4) I can never stop learning and I am always finding ways to learn more.
5) I get to meet people from all over the world and help others change lifestyle habits.
6) Everyday I am able to practice what I preach. 
7) Sticking to a personal philosophy is one of the most challenging things an RD can face thanks to social media so I constantly find myself learning how to be more open, understanding and compassionate to ensure the public that they are doing things in a healthy way when it comes to exercise and nutrition.
8) I am considered a professional and thus, I have a personal responsibility to the public to not overwhelm, confuse or mislead the public.
9) I am able to work with athletes, patients in the hospital, people of all ages and fitness enthusiasts and there is never a day that I don't love my "job" and what I can do for others.
10) My dreams have come true in being on TV, contributing to magazines, speaking publicly and owning my own business. Now I need to get on the book dream.....
11) I will always have job opportunities. 


Eating with a purpose: Couscous and broccoli stir fry

When I work with individuals on nutrition, I believe that it can be really hard to changes things if you don't have a "why" to your "how's". In other words, if you don't know why you want to change something, then how will you go about making the change and stick with it? The most common response I receive to my nutrition questionnaire when I work with athletes and fitness enthusiasts, when I ask about "what are you least looking forward to in this nutrition journey" is the response of "giving up my favorite foods".

I can be completely, 100% honest with you in that Karel and I never feel guilty or restricted in our diet. We have absolutely no rules, I do not lecture Karel about food, Karel does not tell me what I shouldn't eat and meal time is a happy time. We eat our favorite foods because they have a purpose in our diet. Whether it is cookies that Karel brings home from the local bakery or all has a purpose in our house and everything is consumed with enjoyment and satisfaction. I can't recall a time in many years that either of us have said we feel uncomfortable or awful after eating.

Right now I am working with a young swimmer (11 year old) who is learning to appreciate new foods in the diet. As any parent may agree, it can be hard to try new things when we don't know why we need to change. I believe this is true for adults as well for how many times have you be reluctant to change a habit even thought you know it would be healthy (or good for you) to change. So I guess, it isn't always about the "why's" of needing to change but also having the knowledge and motivation to change. When I work with kids I don't believe in being sneaky about foods. I feel that sometimes we do need to be open to trying new foods and sometimes that means accidental eating in that a person may have eaten something that they didn't like but then liking it after the fact without knowing what was in the item that they ate (Ex. adding veggies to marinara sauce instead of "sneaking" them in).

My approach to eating is to talk about the why's - not in an educational way but rather purposeful way. Seeing that my 11 year old athlete is a competitive swimmer who often gets sick, my "why's" to her eating are more than just eating fruits and veggies because they are healthy. She has made remarkable changes in a month and the first thing she says to me is "I feel better" and that is the "why" I am looking for. Now she is more open to the "how's" of trying new foods. I have 1 rule with her in that she isn't allowed to say "I hate that food" but instead "I haven't yet learned to appreciate it yet." She now appreciates whole grain waffles but hasn't appreciated plums. But still - we are moving in the right direction and I am so proud of her changes.

When it comes to having a purpose to making a change we are more likely to make the change and likely, enjoy the change. Don't believe me - ask anyone who is a runner now but claims to have hated running when they began. Or, ask a new veggie lover who once hated the taste or thought of veggies. Or perhaps the new cook or planner who once thought they would never have time to plan ahead but now makes the time and wouldn't imagine any other way of living. Have a purpose for making a change and you will likely start a new way of living life.

Far too often we think about food for calories or what is bad about it rather than the good or why we are eating it. I find it amazing that kids can tell you what foods are "bad" (ex. candy, sugars, sweets) and what is "good"  (ex.fruits and veggies) but not necessarily what is so good about fruits and veggies but they can tell you lots of things about why certain foods are bad. Often I hear from kids that they hear a food is bad from their parents - and that is great but also concerning. Rather than pointing out bad food, perhaps we can place more emphasis on food that we should be consuming more often (whole grains, low fat dairy, healthy fats, fruits and veggies) and what it is about those foods that can be protective to overall health. Certainly, eating a  piece of cheescake or bowl of frosted flakes for dinner once a month is not un-healthy. But slacking on fruit and veggies on a daily basis can minimize your chance of having a healthy body.

We are constantly being told why we should eat or shouldn't eat food and I think this has taken people away from eating for pleasure or for a purpose. I know as an athlete (and living with an athlete), food will always be fuel and thus, eating with a purpose means providing my body with quality nutrients and timing my nutrition to avoid GI distress, to ensure ample energy during workouts and to recovery quickly. But sadly, the purpose of eating for so many is beyond nutritional value, enjoyment or performance but rather for calories - too much, can't eat that, regretting eating something, etc.

The other night I made a delicious couscous dinner. There is not a lot of fiber per serving of couscous (2g) but a decent amount of protein (6g). You can read more about it HERE but basically it is made from semolina flour but without making it into a dough it is becomes a tiny grains as flour combines with water. It is light in texture and flavor which makes for an easy to digest food, especially before or after a workout. I made this meal knowing that the next day we had a tough morning workout and I didn't want anything too heavy in the belly. Seeing that we do not do off-limit in our house (nor to I encourage, advocate or endorse any type of restrictive diet unless medically needed), I enjoy the opportunity to eat with a purpose as much as possible, knowing that my "why's" will be answered as I enjoy a delicious creation and have an awesome workout the next day.



Couscous and broccoli stir fry
Veggies: mushrooms, broccoli, onions, yellow bell pepper
Nuts: soy nuts, pumpkin seeds
Protein of your choice (I used tempeh) - prepare ahead of time for quicker meal prep. I cooked tempeh in a little olive oil until golden brown on medium heat.
Seasonings of your choice - ex. garlic, onion, oregano, tumeric
Olive oil

1. Saute veggies in skillet, tossed in a little olive oil on medium heat for 8-10 minutes (or until brown). Season after 5-6 minutes and mix with spatula.
2. Cook couscous according to package/box (allow ~20 minutes)
3. Prepare lentils according to package (allow ~10-15 minutes).
4. In shallow dish, place veggies and top with 1 serving couscous. Toss and top with nuts.
(optional: top with marinara sauce, salsa, greek yogurt or tahini paste and stir into the creation)


Foundation of fueling - how's your diet looking?

Cooking in compression gear in Kona, Hawaii.

Food is fuel. 
I have studied the body during activity for nearly 13 years but I am still learning as the body is extremely complicated. But as an athlete and clinical dietitian, I am constantly reminded that food not only fuels our workout routine but also our life. That is, if we don't have the right balance of nutrients on a day-to-day basis, our workouts will suffer. The picture above is from the 2011 Ironman World Championships. Just another day of cooking in my condo before the biggest endurance event in the world. Although the event may be extreme, cooking is nothing complicated to me and surely it helped me get to the starting line of my past 4 Ironmans (including Ironman #5 and my 2nd Ironman World Championship). While in Kona, I wrote an article for LAVA on "taking your plate to the big island" which was a lot of fun for me to write as I believe that we should never stop fueling our body with fuel and nutrients.,,,,even on the days leading up to an endurance event.  

When it comes to the daily diet and sport nutrition, there needs to be an understanding that although sport nutrition products can help give you a competitive edge, we must always respect the body with food on a day-to-day basis and then address the priorities for the body during exercise, when it comes to sport nutrition. I love helping athletes with the daily diet because once we figure out a solid foundation on a day-to-day basis, the sport nutrition becomes much easier to understand. I do encourage athletes to take advantage of well-formulated sport nutrition products during training (ex. sport drinks and gels) and to prioritize a pre training and recovery snack. I am not for training on an empty stomach to "burn fat" (specifically during build and peak training) or to train with only water during training (this is something I believe should never occur, specifically if a workout is intense over 1 hour or moderate intensity over 75-90 minutes). I believe we must respect the body with the right fluids, electrolytes and carbs to support metabolic processes and I feel in today's society, the body is overly stressed with poor sleep, stress and eating habits and thus, athletes have no idea how to fuel throughout the day thus compromising performance during training.

I hope you enjoy my latest article from my monthly column with Iron Girl. Thanks for reading.

Foundation of FuelingBy Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N

To succeed in sports, every athlete should address the building blocks of great performances. As you train to improve fitness, skills and mental strength, it is important to commit to providing your body with the right types of nutrients to fuel your body. Remember – A well-fueled body is a happy body.
Carbohydrates (like fruits, veggies, starches and grains) provide useful energy to fuel and refuel from activity. Protein (like dairy, meat, fish and lentils) helps the body repair and rebuild for future training sessions. Lastly, heart-healthy fats are essential components of a balanced diet to support overall health.
Refuel/Fuel – Carbohydrates.
-50-65% of the daily diet should be from primarily heart-healthy carbohydrates. Veggies, fruits, grains, beans, legumes, low-fat dairy and starches provide the body and brain with energy, vitamins and minerals to fuel workouts and to assist in recovery.
Rebuild/Recover – Protein.
-18-25% (or 1.1-1.5g/kg body weight) of the daily diet should be from lean/low fat quality protein. Beans, nuts, seeds, poultry, fish, meat, tempeh, tofu and low-fat dairy repair damaged tissues and muscles throughout the day and help reduce the risk for injury by keeping muscles strong and growing.
Satisfy/Protect - Fats
-25-30% of the daily diet should be from heart-healthy fat. Nuts, seeds, oils, nut butters, cheese and fish protect organs, transport nutrients within the body and keep your tummy happy.
Don’t forget your water to stay hydrated before, during and after workouts and throughout the day. Aim for at least 8 – 12 ounces water with meals, snacks and before/after training. Consume around 20-28 ounces fluids during each hour of training, sipping every 10-15 minutes.
Meal examples:
*Breakfast: Oats + low-fat milk (or yogurt) + berries + flax seeds (ground) and cinnamon/cloves + chopped nuts.
*Snack: String cheese and fresh figs.
*Lunch: Mixed greens/veggies sautéed in olive oil + protein (ex. beans + fish or tempeh) topped with a little cheese or avocado. Served with whole grain tortilla, pita bread or whole grains (ex. millet, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur).
*Snack: Apple (or fruit) + nut butter
*“Breakfast” for Dinner: Scrambled eggs + veggies + fruit + whole grain bread or waffle.
*Dessert/snack: 1 ounce dark chocolate + strawberries.
*Pre workout – Whole grain toast (if sensitive stomach – rice cake) + nut butter + banana slices
*Post workout snack: 8 ounces low-fat/non-fat milk (or ½ cup low fat yogurt) + small fruit (or handful favorite cereal) OR 8 ounces low-fat chocolate milk.