Essential Sports Nutrition


The need for swimming speed - three key swim workouts

I couldn't believe my eyes on Friday morning when Karel joined me for part of my main set at the Brooks YMCA. For the past two months he has been swimming at UNF with a Master team that emphasizes form before distance. Karel kept telling me how much more he was enjoying swimming and that he was getting faster without significantly working any harder. Also, no shoulder pain and a true enjoyment for being in the water. Yes, all coming from my bike-loving hubby who just learned how to swim in June 2012.

There are so many health benefits to swimming. Plus, it' so much fun to pretend you are a fish.

 I think swimming is a fantastic exercise of choice for almost anyone because it is non weight bearing but I often see triathletes swimming and swimming and swimming - focusing on the yards or time and not on what is happening within those laps. There's a constant need for speed but triathletes have trouble training smart sometimes. I see/hear it all the time.... "I have to swim 4000 today. I have to swim 200 more yards to get to 3500. I only have 30 minutes so it doesn't pay for me to swim today."

Just like with any sport (bike or run), it's very easy to get wrapped up in distance completed instead of focusing on drills and skills, as well as properly warming up before the workout. Sure, the body must be physically ready for the task at hand but a healthy and strong body will perform better than an overtrained, fatigued and injured or burnout body. For athletes who can't seem to make the time for the "extra stuff" because there's an obsession with miles/distance/yards completed, take some time to appreciate the small stuff and you will feel what it is like to train consistently with quicker performance gains. And who doesn't want that?

If you are wanting to get faster in the pool (or with any sport), here's what I would recommend:

-Spend a few weeks working on drills and skills. I know it may hurt your ego but accept your weakness as you acknowledge your strengths. In my pre-built 5-week transition plan there is a big emphasis on skills and form. Even more myself, who has been swimming for over 20 years, I spent a good 4-5 weeks after Kona this year using swimming as active recovery and keeping swims around 2000 yards, focusing mostly on drills without any speed. Karel who was not a born swimming and learned to swim later in his adult life, has addressed his form over and over and without swimming longer or harder it gradually became more natural to swim faster with proper technique. The transition plan focuses on lung capacity and stroke in the pool, hip/core and glute strength to help with running and single leg drills and cadence-focused sets for cycling.

-Get faster before you go longer. Rather than feeling stuck on accomplishing x-yards each practice, focus on time. Whether it is 45 or 60 minutes in the pool (which I have not swam more than 1 hour since Kona), your sets should be short and intense with adequate rest but should also use the good technique you worked so hard to develop.

-Build your endurance. Once you have a faster template to work with, you can gradually build with your endurance as you peak for your big race. Don't forget your drills and form-focused sets, however, especially when your training load does increase. Time your long swim sets appropriately for the time will come when you can accomplish more volume in the pool. I'm not saying that the occasional long swim is not a great confidence booster but my philosophy for training involves training with the least amount of training stress for the most performance gains.

Did you know interval training may significantly improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity, VO2 and aerobic capacity? Also, lower-volume, higher intensity intervals may also improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity. 

Consider a less-is-more approach in your triathlon "base" phase this year as you train smarter. Because research continues to show that many athletes will benefit from intervals to improve endurance, instead of the slow or steady long miles, get faster before you go longer. And this applies to all three sports for triathletes. 

Here are three workouts to help you get faster in the pool (so long as you have good form FIRST before trying out the sets) before you add volume to train your cardiorespiratory system even more. 

Warm-up and cool-down are choice based on how you are feeling and time constraints. Always be sure to do some dynamic stretching/stretch cords before you swim to warm-up the body.

Workout 1: 
Main set 3x's:
3 x 75's w/ 10 sec rest (keep same cycle as the first one)
1 x 75 EZ - rest 1 minute after this EZ 75, then repeat 2 more times

for the 3 x 75's you are adding on one fast 25 within each 75. So as follows:
#1: 25 fast , 50 EZ for a 75
#2: 50 fast, 25 EZ for a 75

#3: 75 fast

(900 yard main set)

Workout 2: 
Main set 4x's: 
2 x 100's fast on cycle (give yourself 15 sec rest from the first 100 as your cycle for all of the rounds)
Then go right into 50 EZ float (breastroke or back) after the 2nd 100.  
Rest 1 minute, then repeat three more times

(1000 main set)

Workout 3:
Main set: 
4 x 50's (25 fast, 25 steady) 10 sec rest
rest 1 minute
4 x 75's (25 steady, 25 fast, 25 steady), 10 sec rest
rest 1 minute
6 x 100's (desc 1-3, 4-6) rest 10 sec
rest 1 minute
300 @85% effort 
Rest 1 minute
8 x 25's (3 fast, 1 EZ (4 times total) w/ 5 sec rest

(1600 main set)

Adjust intervals/intensity as needed to maintain good form. 

If you are interested in other swim workouts you can check out my 30-swim workout plan to use throughout your training or fitness routine. 

Happy swimming. Or, as Dory would say: just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just swimming. 


Minty Chocolate Trail Mix Bark with coconut

As a dietitian, there are many food and lifestyle related topics to discuss when it comes to heart health. Last year, when I was asked by News4Jax to talk about the health benefits of chocolate and wine, I thought to myself, "this will be one yummy segment!" 

You can watch the segment HERE: EAT DRINK AND BE MERRY

As we all know from the media and research, dark chocolate packs a great heart-healthy punch. Although bitter to many, up to 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day (I recommend >60% cacao) alongside a balanced heart healthy diet is the way to go. Whether it is due to the nutrient compound found in chocolate or just the way it makes most people feel inside after taking one bite, chocolate alone has been shown to improve cardiovascular health (lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure), reduce inflammation, control appetite (ex. overeating/excessive snacking), increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood clot risk by improving blood flow and improve stress and mood. 

Now that's a great list of reasons for dark chocolate lovers! But even if you don't like chocolate, you don't have to start eating chocolate. There are many real-food options that have been shown to produce similar results for your overall health. 

A few ways to enjoy chocolate:
*Add 1 tbsp bittersweet cacao powder to smoothie, oatmeal or pancake/waffle batters
*Enjoy an individually wrapped piece of dark chocolate after two meals a day (most packages are ~.37-4 ounces) for dessert
*Enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate with an orange for a snack in the afternoon
*Add a little shaved chocolate to your coffee instead of creamers, sugar sweeteners or whipped cream (you can still splash with milk)
*If your body is OK with caffeine (and OK'd by your primary physician), choose 1/2 ounce dark chocolate with your pre-workout snack in place of the fat option that you would normally have (ex. instead of 1 tbsp peanut butter, have 1/2 ounce dark chocolate for the same amount of fat, ~4 grams)
*Savor your chocolate, don't devour it. Suck on a small bite of chocolate at a time and make it last instead of chewing it.
*Add chocolate to stews for a little extra hint of flavor

Remember that dark chocolate does have calories and fat but they appear to be heart healthy, so with these suggestions above, if you are seeking body composition changes, make some heart healthy swaps in the diet if you are wanting to add in chocolate to your daily diet. In working with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts, I find that individuals who like chocolate and make room for it in the diet, they end up having less cravings later in the day and overeating in the eating because they feel more satisfied with their diet. 
Karel and I always have a bar of dark chocolate in our refrigerator - always. It is a staple daily food in our diet and a necessary part in us having a healthy relationship with food. 

Minty Chocolate Trail Mix Bark with Coconut

2 cups (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chips
1 x 6 ounce bag trail mix of your liking (or make your own trail mix, ex. cashews, peanuts, banana chips, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
5 Andes Mints
Pinch of ground/powder ginger 
Unsweetened coconut shreds
Parchment paper
Large cookie sheet (be sure there is room in the refrigerator for this to cool for 2 hours)
1. Spray a non stick cookie sheet (large) with cooking spray and then line with parchment paper. 
2. Melt chocolate in a medium-large stainless steel bowl placed over simmering water in a pot (about half pot filled). 
3. Use heat resistance spatula to stir chocolate together (you may need a towel to hold the stainless steel bowl for it will get hot if touching the pot of water). 
4. As you are stirring the chocolate, add in 5 Andes Mints (chopped) - you could also use peppermint extract
5. When chocolate is less chunky, add a tiny pinch of ground ginger for a little kick and stir in most of the chopped trail mix (lightly chop large pieces like banana chips and cashews with a knife or chop coarsely in a chopper for a few seconds). 
6. When nuts are combined, spread chocolate and nut mix on paper (be sure paper does not move on pan, you may need to secure or have someone help you) and you can add in a little of the trail mix to pop out from the chocolate.
7. After chocolate is spread on paper (it doesn't have to be an even square or rectangle) and there are no open spots to see the paper, sprinkle with a little coconut to dust the chocolate. 
8. Refrigerate for 2 hours and then break into pieces. 
9. Place a small portion into individual baggies and keep refrigerated (or in freezer) for a delicious snack, once a day or keep in a container if using for a (holiday) party. 

(This also makes a delicious holiday gift or dessert at a party or in the office - keep refrigerated as long as possible or place plate of chocolate over ice to keep cool)


Plates not Pills - this blog will tell you why

Recently there has been more and more talk about eating our medicine instead of relying on pills (or believing in the hype) for an additional intake of vitamins and minerals to improve overall health. I agree that we should not be spending money on over the counter supplements as a first response to wanting to be healthy especially if you have access to a variety of real food options to boost your immune system.

Supplements are designed to supplement what you can not get in your diet and there are cases (ex. folic acid for pregnant women, B-vitamins for vegans, etc.) when a single vitamin or mineral supplement may be needed. Although I don't feel that athletes need supplements like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to boost performance there are some supplements (ex. BCAAs, protein powders) that may assist in proper functioning of the body during times of extreme intentional training stress.

I love the concept of plates not pills because it emphasizes the opportunity for us to obtain a wide amount of vitamins and minerals from the food that we can put on our plate. However, this is often easier said than done because in our society there's a large majority who heavily rely on quick fixes and often do not make the time for balanced meals and real food eating.

And of course, when it comes to research, this is tough to make any one conclusion from any one study. Often, major companies are sponsoring the research or promoting deceptive claims, so of course, those companies want research to show their products are helpful. Also, there are so many variables that can affect research that it's almost impossible to make a statement that is 100% backed by science/research. Therefore, rather than focusing  all our energy on what we shouldn't be doing, we should consider what may improve our health based on common lifestyle habits of the masses that appear to live a better quality of life.

If you are interested in research, there's a really cool study called the Adventist Health Studies (AHS) which "is a series of long-term medical research projects of Loma Linda University with the intent to measure the link between lifestyle, diet, disease and mortality of Seventh-day Adventists.
Due in part to their unique dietary habits, Seventh-day Adventists have a lower risk than other Americans of certain diseases. This provides a special opportunity to answer scientific questions about how diet and other health habits affect the risk of suffering from many chronic diseases."

When I read scientific articles or relate research to real-world settings, I really find value in looking how a large population or group (whether it's in our nation or in another country) is living life when it comes to being "healthy." Certainly, we have to consider economics, health care, stress, etc. in comparing or contrasting healthy living practices but when it comes to the AHS, there are five simple health behaviors promoted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than 100 years which have been shown to increase life span up to 10 years.
They include the following:
-Not smoking
-Eating a plant based diet
-Eating nuts several times per week
-Regular exercise
-Maintaining a normal body life

So to clear up any confusion as to how easy it cane be to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals with real food instead of relying on these popular vitamin and mineral supplements (unless medically needed), here are a few ways to start:
(NOTE: some foods like vitamin K rich foods and grapefruits may interact with medications so always read the fine print. Also, many herbal supplements/teas can interact with medications).

All values obtained from USDA.

-Vitamin C: = 75- 90 mg


       1 large orange (184g) = 98mg vitamin C (all fruits and veggies are great for the immune system)

-Vitamin E: 15 mg

                   50g sunflower seeds = 18 mg vitamin E (nuts and seeds pack a great vitamin E punch)

-Folate (B9): 400 mcg (600 during pregnancy, 500 during lactation)

            1 cup pinto beans = 294 mcg folate (also found in many veggies and other beans/lentils as well as many processed foods like breads, cereals and grains. This has been a benefit in the processed food industry for there have been less neural tube defects in children since there has been more fortication in food. Be mindful that gluten-free foods are often not fortified as well, same with organic foods - check and compare labels, especially on cereals if using for fortification of vitamins and minerals)

-Selenium: 55 micrograms

1 brazil nut = 90 micrograms (many animal proteins will easily meet your selenium needs, as little as 5-6 ounces daily)
-Calcium: ~1000-1200 mg

8 ounce yogurt = 415 mg calcium
1.5 ounce cheese = 307 mg calcium
1 cup firm tofu = 500 mg calcium
1 cup milk = 300 mg calcium
1 cup chopped raw kale = 100 calcium
(it's recommend to obtain all of your calcium needs from foods due research linking calicum supplements with increased risk of cardiovascular events and kidney stones. When it comes to calcium, especially for males, more is not better. It's recommend to consume no more than 3 servings dairy a day which also meets 100% calcium).
B vitamins:
B1 = 1.1-1.2 mg
B2 = 1.1-1.3 mg
B3 (niacin) = 14-16 mg
B5 = 5 mg
B6 = 1.2-1.7 mg
B12 = 2.4 micrograms


Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods, but fortified breakfast cereals are a readily available source of vitamin B12 (source)
RDI is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and gender. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals.
As you can see, in a varied, balanced diet you can obtain almost all of your vitamin and mineral needs and if you emphasize real food, you will also increase the chance of meeting your metabolic needs for increased performance gains with your training and racing.
The problem I find is that our society loves to disect food. If this were the case for every food, we would have nothing to eat because every food can potentially become "bad" if you eat too much of it.
Even if you weigh the pros and cons of almost any food (which nutrition gurus promoting fad diets love to do - primarily address all the cons with certain "bad" foods), the pros of consuming a varied real food diet typically outweigh any cons. The focus is on balance and that's the hardest concept to accept when you are learning how to have a healthy relationship with food.
This includes dairy, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, etc. which may have many heart-healthy benefits and are consumed by those who appear to have a reduced amount of disease and illness in life and increased quality of life when you look at quality, consistent research studies.
Happy eating!



Fixie and Food for a FUN weekend

Leave it to Karel to "fix" himself another bike. Only this one doesn't have brakes and is fixed in one gear.

I don't know how these guys do it but on Saturday a handful of guys (and one female) lined up for the last fixie Time Trial of the year.

20 minutes - all out for Karel.
He said his legs haven't hurt this bad in a long time....not since racing bikes.  As a triathlete, he has to conserve his effort for if he smashes the bike then he won't have the gas in the tank for the run. I'm sure he enjoyed his leg-burning "race" alongside joining the group ride for a total of 57 miles on a fixie with his legs moving non-stop the entire time.
For my workout, I warmed up with a few guys and Karel for an hour and then did my own thing.
Main set:
6 x 5 min Z4 watts w/ 2 min EZ spin.
10 min EZ spin
5 x 1min on/1 min off (high cadence spin-ups on tired legs)
10 min EZ spin
5 x 1 min single leg drills (1 min each leg with other leg unclipped, sitting up, hands on bars), then 1 min both legs. Again, on tired legs to really make the glute muscles work.
Then cool down.
Total: 3 hours
I was super excited to sport my Czech jersey that I received from Karel's friend who owns a bike shop there, when we visited his hometown in Znojmo Czech Republic in May.
On Sunday, I had to use a few gift cards so Karel and I went to the Town Center for a little shopping. In the middle of the afternoon we were both getting rather hungry after a good post workout breakfast and then a light "lunch" snack so we opted for our favorite restaurant, Seasons 52.
Karel and I leave eating out for traveling so that we can really enjoy occasional eats but when there's a special occasion or just random time to really enjoy a restaurant meal, we LOVE (and I mean LOVE), Seasons 52.
Every season, they have a new selection of specials. Right now they are wrapping up the Autumn season and will be showcasing Winter in a few days.
For starters, we had the special mushroom and truffle oil flatbread.

Karel had the Wild, prime tuna burger with an Asian glaze and wasabi slaw

And I had the  Autumn Vegetarian Tasting: quinoa-citrus salad, soft taco, seasonal vegetables, cedar-roasted tofu, mango chutney.
With every item on the menu under 475 calories, you won't believe how much flavor is packed into every bite. And even after a mini indulgence for dessert (Karel's favorite is Belgan chocolate rocky road), you won't leave this restaurant feeling stuffed or heavy.
I will say, the items are heavily salted so just be aware. You can check out the Nutrition page to learn more about your selection before ordering to be a more informed consumer. Although  not as high in sodium as other restaurants, all you need to do is plan a little extra sodium from this meal into your daily diet so bulk up on a more real food diet for the day (which after you go to this restaurant you will get a lot of inspiration!) and it will all even out. Daily sodium recommendations are between 1500-2500 mg a day.

And check out this awesome creature that we found in the parking lot of the Town Center!! Nature is so amazing! Be sure to take a moment every now and then to appreciate Mother Earth and all her amazing little friends.

Oh, and while you are at it...don't forget to take a handful of Mother Earth's candy jar once a day (1.5 ounce nuts daily has been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits and nuts have been shown to assist in weight loss due to satiety).
She grows the best goodies to make your heart super happy.