Board Certified Sport Dietitian, Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, 23-year Vegetarian, Writer/Speaker, 11x Ironman finisher including 4x IM Kona finisher, Doggy-mommy, Wife to an amazing Czech cyclist turned Ironman Kona finisher, Triathlon Coach.
2011 Ironman World Championships, Kona, Hawaii - warm-up ride on the Queen K
Nip not-so-constructive eating habits in the bud this spring with a fresh approach to food.
by Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N
The minute you sign up for an IRONMAN event, you’re no longer an “exerciser,” you’re an athlete. And whether you train eight, 10, or 18-plus hours a week, athletes ask a lot of their bodies. In the cycle of training and adapting, it’s imperative that you don’t lose sight of your body’s key nutritional needs: what it requires to support metabolism, reduce your risk for disease and assist in building a healthy body composition.
Many new athletes too often find themselves in a pattern of haphazard, mile-focused training and a coexisting “reward-food” style of eating (aka “I earned that cookie”). But before you progress any further with your training this year, consider any recent or ongoing habits that may be causing you to struggle with your performance, overall health or body composition goals.
We all know how easily food becomes a replacement for other things. Regardless of how much your legs burn in a workout, if you’re eating for comfort, out of anxiety, or simply because you have no idea how to properly time your meals with your training routine, something probably needs to change.
Here are some key strategies for constructive eating throughout your upcoming race season.
If you eat well most of the time you don’t have to worry about the rest of the time. It’s okay to chow down on chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream as a treat after your hardest monthly bike ride or grab the occasional take-out pizza after a long run, but it’s important not to make these choices habitual. Routinely choosing such post-training “rewards” puts you in danger of missing out on key vitamins and minerals needed to support the metabolic processes required in training.
Remember that the most appropriate time in your day to properly fuel your body is around your workouts—to assist in energy support, recovery and repair. If you can’t help but associate a successful training session with a food-based reward, consider focusing on the body-benefiting nutrients instead of the "prize." A recovery smoothie that’s properly timed with your training will do more for you than that late night burger run, for example.
To read the rest of my tips, check out my latest Ironman Column article HERE
After arriving to LA around 11 am on Tues (West Coast time), it was a packed day of lunch at the Alcove, sessions on eye care and skin health at Grifith Park, intense bootcamp with Michelle Lovitt - personal trainer to celebs and then a hike to take a pic near the famous Hollywood white sign.
Dinner was at 8pm (West Coast time) and bed time was 10pm. So I am pretty sure if I do the math correctly, I was up for 20 hours yesterday.
Of course, my body was confused as it woke up at 4:40 am which I guess was "sleeping in" EST time but after laying around with no success to fall back asleep, I was officially up at 5am, had coffee while answering emails and then at 5:30am it was off to the gym for a run and stretching.
Oakley Women invited key employees from Sunglass huts from around the US and international to attend this brand immersion event to learn more about Oakley Women. This event is primarily women but it is a nice change to have males here as they are also understanding what the woman wants when she buys and shops. I know Karel has learned a lot as the GM of Trek Bicycles and that women have different needs than men when it comes to shopping and buying.
I am staying in the W Hollywood which is amazing. Today I spent the morning preping for my talk and catching up on training plans and emails for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
After a delicious lunch, I did some final prep for my talk and at 1:10pm - it was time for 40 minutes with a room of 100 active individuals who were excited to learn about sport nutrition and nutrient timing for the fitness enthusiast.
The talk went great and so many people asked wonderful questions and shared stories of how they stay active which is just what I love. You don't have to be an athlete to be healthy..just move, us and thank your body.
After my talk we heard a great social media talk and then it was time for a short boot camp, champagne and fruit, photo booth pics and then a little down time (aheem...to write on my blog) and now almost time for our last dinner. Always hard to leave these inspiring and motivating events with Oakley Women but I must return home tomorrow and continue my quest to motivate, educate and inspire others to live a more healthy balanced active lifestyle.
So for now..enjoy the pics! (bummer- my phone died at the park so no beautiful pics of the hollwood sign or on the hike :(
What a beautiful weekend! The highlight of my weekend was being on my bike for 4 hours/80 miles on Saturday morning with the wind gusty like normal and meeting up with a group ride filled with fast guys with big ego's (or a lot of testosterone - or both). There were two other females on the ride and they were impressive as well. I didn't have the legs to rotate as just drafting was enough for me. It hurt so good :)
After I warmed up, did the ~90 min group ride and after little extra "social" time with friends for ~20 minutes, I finished the workout with 4 x 10 min Z3 low w/ 5 min EZ spin in between. To cool down, Z2 steady effort (I tried keeping my cadence steady but so hard for my legs at that point + the wind would not let up) until I was back at my starting point.
It's interesting that as I progress with my journey of living a balanced lifestyle, my body is typically in a happy place most days of the week. My life doesn't revolve around working out or food but instead, both are balanced in a way that I am excited to wake up with energy and finish the day satisfied that I can do it all again tomorrow.
As an athlete, I know all about exercise-induced cravings especially when training for longer distance races. I welcome these cravings as I rarely get cravings within my normal diet. As much as I love veggies and fruit and other staples in my diet, my body doesn't seem to "crave" anything in a "I have to have it NOW" type of way. Maybe that is due to a diet that is centered around satisfying and balanced meals (filled with variety) as I have taught myself to rely less on snacking to keep me satisfied and energized but instead the composition of my meals. Maybe it is due to balanced meals and having enough protein and fat to slow down digestion of carbohydrates. Perhaps maybe those cravings are lessened due to my growing appreciation to sport nutrition and how nutrient timing can be a wonderful thing to an athlete or fitness enthusiast with health and fitness related goals. Regardless of the reason, I may not crave foods on a daily basis but with longer training sessions, there are often times when a specific food is the only thing that will make me feel even better than I do after a quality workout.
I wanted to share a few of my secrets to maintaining a "healthy" diet (however you would like to define this) while training for a sport. I do not feel that we need to compromise our health by giving into all exercise-induced cravings (as we all know sometimes they can be quite extreme and indulging and not always performance-enhancing beneficial) but at the same time, there are a few ways that you can still enjoy balanced meals all while re-fueling with some of your favorite cravable foods. As an athlete, I understand how it can be to eat around others. Some people believe that as athletes we have the freedom and luxury to eat whatever we want because we can burn it off in training. Despite having a little more wiggle room due to our calorie burn, we aren't professional athletes and we still have to fuel in a way that encourages consistent training. Additionally, some people may say as an athlete you eat "too healthy" and I find that is often an issue for individuals who worry about eating around workouts due to wanting to burn calories for weight loss. Certainly, without the right fuels we can't adapt to training stress and create a stronger, more metabolically efficient (and injury free) body. So don't worry about what others tell you to do or think of you, worry about yourself and your own nutritional needs. Enjoy!
Side not: one of the most beautiful things in my diet is that I have no restrictions in terms of calories. I welcome food that can give my body nutrients and so I am not limited as to what I can't eat because I am afraid of calories. On the flip side, I don't go overboard and feel the need to reward myself with anything and everything because I earned it. I don't like how I feel when I overeat (I only had to experience this a few times to learn from it and now I act before I have to react) so I listen to my body and eat until I am satisfied (on a hunger scale 1-10, 10 being uncomfortably stuffed, I eat until I am a 7-8 and I start a meal being hungry but not weak, lightheaded or famished). I also don't like how I feel when I can't have a quality workout because I am underfueled. Learn how to see food for nutritional value and tweak the diet so that you are eating in a way that you have energy before and during your workouts, you recover quickly after a workout and you feel nourished throughout the day. Then snack with a purpose.
Beans and Rice
Who doesn't love the ease and yumminess of rice? While eating out, rice can be super heavy in sodium and portions are ginormous. Store-bought? Even the boxed version can be high in sodium. Either buy plain rice (ex. wild rice and brown rice in picture or your favorite grain/pasta) and season to your liking with fresh herbs and spices or 1/4 flavor package in box is what I recommend. Decide on a serving that will make you happy - perhaps 1/2 - 1 cup for starters (cooked). Then top with your favorite veggies and as I always say, look forward to something in the meal. Maybe a little cheese, crumble some chips on top or spoon some of your fav marinara sauce or salsa on top. Don't limit yourself from this flavor overload creation as this can be a great meal later in the day after a long workout to help you recover and still get in those awesome vitamins and minerals. I recommend sauté veggies in a little olive oil to soak up fat soluble vitamins. Also, canned beans, lentils, chickpeas are quick and easy. Give a rinse for ~1 minute to reduce ~30-50% sodium from the can (or pre-make from raw beans).
Pasta and veggies
I consider myself more of a pizza lover whereas Karel is a pasta lover. Good thing for both of us in that we can always enjoy Italian food either in or out of the home. There's nothing I love more than traveling somewhere new and finding out where I can find the best local brick-oven pizzeria.
Just like with rice, it's easy to over do it with Italian food - high in sodium, portions and sometimes fat. So you have two options - use a small bowl and portion control to 2-3 ounces or use a large bowl and pack with veggies. This meal should sit well and should not leave you hungry for more after consuming the recommended portion of pasta so add in a little protein (3-4 ounces animal protein, lean or ~20-25g plant based protein) and drizzle a little olive oil on your veggies to help slow down digestion. Pass on the bread as the pasta will do the trick to refuel and fuel your body and will allow you an opportunity in a few hours to refuel again (perhaps a light snack of 1 slice bread w/ 2-3 tsp nut butter and banana slices, dates and cinnamon topped with 1-2 spoonfuls yogurt as a snack instead of stuffing yourself with pasta and not eating again for 6+ hours, thus causing blood sugar to drop and missing opportunities to nourish and refuel?). What pasta do I recommend - I do like the higher fiber options but the whole wheat is not yummy to my liking (nor Karel). We prefer whole grain or the regular pasta/noodles and then to add more fiber, serve a salad as the main course (pasta on the side) and for protein, take your pick from your favorites. I recommend to avoid high fat proteins before or after long workouts as the protein/fat takes a while to digest and before racing (nigh before meal) we want moderate protein and low fat/low fiber with our carb selections.
I used a new kind of pasta which I discovered after a parent of one of the young swimmer athletes that I work with on nutrition (daily and sport) asked me my thoughts on it. The downside is that although you get 1 serving of veggies with each serving, the serving size is 4 ounces (not 2). But the taste is great - not starchy and slimy like some whole wheat pastas and although it is semolina based, you can not taste "veggies" but instead it tastes like a regular pasta. I also like that it is fortified with iron and folate. Instead of bulking up on more pasta at meal tim, throw in some veggies with your marinara sauce and bulk up the meal to become more plant strong. Bowl of veggies with pasta on top sounds good to me!
I don't see anything wrong with wanting veggies after a workout. But certainly, veggies won't cut it for refueling and repairing damaged tissues. It's amazing how many athletes will go a full weekend without eating more than 2-3 servings of veggies due to those constant salty/sugary/crunchy cravings after long workouts. I love helping athletes learn how to incorporate more veggies into the diet on long training weekends without compromising performance. If anything, more veggies = stronger immune system for more consistent workouts.
I have been known to crumble chips or granola on my salads just to give it a little crunch. I don't eat snacks from a box or a bag and if we have snacky food in the house, it usually takes weeks to months to consume (or gets stale so we have to throw it out which is something I rarely do in that I don't like to throw away food) so instead, I find a way to incorporate whatever I want that is not emphasized in my daily diet, into my diet on occasion.
This weekend I needed to re-fill my water bottle after my long bike workout and at the gas station, this bag (which is 4 servings if you find yourself eating the entire "small bag") was just needing a home...so I gave it one.
I try to not think of weekend eating as breakfast, lunch and dinner because my morning workouts typically start in around 7-7:30 thus no breakfast but instead a pre-training snack. Finishing around 10-1 depending on the workout, it is nearing "lunch" time but of course I haven't had a meal yet for the day and before my first meal, I have a recovery drink or shake. Like many of you, I LOVE "breakfast' style foods after training so I may eat French toast w/ eggs or pancakes with my smoothie around 12 or 1 as my first meal but knowing I still need to keep refueling throughout the day, I don't think of my day as I need to get in two more meals but instead, making sure I nourish my body and keep blood sugar from dropping by eating every few hours and not overeating at any one time. I enjoy some type of veggie dish in the afternoon - I suppose it can be like a meal but not super calorie dense because I typically have a meal around 4:30-6 (I honor my hunger, I don't watch the clock so my eating times vary on the weekends for meals).
This creation was a bed of dark greens topped with sautéed leftover veggies w/ brown/wild rice (thank goodness for leftovers on the weekend!) and grilled tofu topped with shredded cheese and a handful Chex Mix. The perfect combo to leave me satisfied and fueled.
The key with meal planning on the weekends is to not overlook the importance of your sport nutrition. So many issues like cravings, fatigue, mood changes, sore muscles, etc. can be reduced or eliminated by working on your nutrition before during and after your workouts. Think about when you body is under the most stress as that is the time when it needs fuel the most. You can reward your body in so many ways after a workout but perhaps, thanking it for what it allows you to do is best achieved with real food....that tastes awesome.