RD approved - Don't be afraid of sport nutrition

Do you have questions about sport nutrition or eating for fuel or for health?
Join me and Oakley Women on Friday March 7th, 2014 on Facebook and I'll answer all your questions throughout the day. 

Throughout the Trimarni triathlon endurance camp this past Thurs - Sun, I was rather strict on my campers to make sure that everyone fueled properly throughout the camp. Sport nutrition includes everything you are eating/drink around and during workouts.

Although I was not in control of what they ate for meals or what they put into their bottles (if choosing not to use INFINIT which was the sponsor for the event for sport nutrition), I gave very specific suggestions as to what foods to consume before/after workouts as well as as much to consume during workouts and when.
Thankfully, every athlete was open to my suggestions and we had no bonking, no injuries and minimal GI issues. There were two GI issues (one stomach cramp on a long bike and one tummy feeling a little "off" during the long run on Sat)  but I discussed these issues with the athletes to try to figure things out. In endurance racing and training, we want to minimize GI distress as well as postpone fatigue but many times, we need to know how to manage situations when they come about for the body is not perfect and it manages a lot during exercise.

Karel and I will be using a customized Infinit nutrition formula (which I created for both of us) as our sport nutrition choice for 2014 season. 

There's a lot of confusion when it comes to healthy eating and sport nutrition. I know this from my own experience in learning about the topics in graduate school while earning my Master of Science in Exercise Physiology as well as in my dietetic program as I earned my Registered Dietitian credential. But now as I work with athletes from around the world, I clearly see how confused and overwhelmed people are when it comes to eating for fuel and for health. 

Don't be! There are safe, effective and well formulated sport nutrition products on your market but you may need a little help from a professional, to figure out what works best for your body.

I could spend many blogs on the topic of sport nutrition and eating for fuel and for health and as a writer, life-long student and lover of putting words in my head on paper, I am not sure if I can contain myself in one blog post, sharing everything I know about healthy eating and sport nutrition. But, I learned when I became a RD that it is not my job to tell everyone everything I know in the first counseling session or when asked about nutrition in a group setting. Instead, learn to treat everyone as individuals and understand that everyone has different needs and goals and what works for one person doesn't always work for someone else. Science is amazing and so is research but the truth of the matter is that there is no one set formula for being healthy or improving performance. 

Health first, performance second.

If you are a fitness enthusiast or athlete, there's no denying that the body needs fuel to support metabolic processes. Many times, water will be just fine during a workout (ex. 1 hour) to keep you hydrated and through a pre workout snack you can give your body a burst of energy and avoid hunger during a workout. However, athletes must utilize "supplemental" forms of nutrition that can be effectively digested and absorbed, without GI distress, in a safe way, to meet metabolic needs during training and racing. In other words, through well formulated sport drinks you can meet your hydration, electrolyte and carbohydrate needs to reduce risk for injury, postpone fatigue and encourage faster recovery.

One issue that concerns me with our society is that we tend to lump situations together. For example:  

-I would not recommend Coke be part of your daily diet but when you are finishing an IM, an athlete can perform quite well with coke. 
-I would never recommend Gatorade for a person but if a diabetic is experiencing low blood sugar, I would run to the nearest vending machine to get a gatorade (or similar sugary drink).
-I am all for real food and encouraging our society to eat wholesome foods as much as possible. But when you are traveling or without refrigeration for hours (ex. meetings, hiking, running errands, etc.) a processed bar or food may be the best option to keep your brain and body fueled and to keep you functioning. 

-The family that is living off food stamps or does not have a grocery store within walking distance (because this family does not own a vehicle) is not going to benefit from the nutrition guru telling everyone that processed food is bad and that they should all be eating organic food, grass-fed meat and participating in cross fit or TRX classes to tone-up.
-If you tend to term certain foods as bad, perhaps it's time to rethink how often you eat them. Pass on the brownies in the office every Friday and enjoy birthday cake on your birthday or indulge once or twice a year at a fantastic restaurant with foods that your normally don't eat and feel great about it.

It's likely that you have put yourself into a bubble of like-minded individuals or you have nutrition experts that you look-up to but just remember that we all are individuals, with different goals, economic status, goals, genetics, health issues, fitness status, family/work responsibilities, etc and it's likely that we are all in different phases in improving our "health". The person who is trying to minimize eating out 10+ times per week is in a much different category for lifestyle change than the person who is wanting to eat foods only from local, organic farmers and chooses to have a garden to grow fresh herbs/spices. 

We must be careful that every situation and scenario will differ. As a professional in the health field, I do not want the fitness enthusiast who is walking 60 min a day for exercise to fuel the same as the marathoner. However, no matter what you are training for or the reason behind exercising, it's important to fuel your body properly - whether you are timing your nutrition around/during workouts or nourishing your immune system throughout the day - so that you can be the best YOU that you can be. I'm sure you have been told that you should eat to train, not train to eat but a common struggle for athletes and fitness enthusiasts is eating (or not eating) and exercising to "look" a certain way. Remember that what you eat has an impact on your performance and fitness and if you are training your body to perform at an event/race, it's important support your metabolic needs so you can stay healthy as you get stronger and faster. 

Sport Nutrition 

Rather than trying to be a scientist in your kitchen, let sport nutrition companies do what they are good at and you can spend time preparing your meals as well as real-food options for pre and post workouts. However, during a workout, there's a special science as to how products are created, the ingredients they use and how much should be mixed in water to be properly emptied from the stomach to the small intestines. There's no reason for you to spend time figuring this out by creating homemade "sport nutrition" foods or your own sport drink made from real foods.

There are plenty of great videos and textbook chapters dedicated to exercise physiology so rather than share my excitement about the kreb cycle, anaerobic glycolysis or cellular respiration, I will keep this as simple as possible. 

The foods we eat, primarily carbohydrates, gives us fuel. Protein assists in recover, repair and rejuvenation and fats assist in hormones and protecting organs. Certainly these foods offer more than what I just listed  and they all contribute to a balanced diet to keep us nourished, satisfied and healthy. Of course, depending on what you choose to eat within those macronutrient categories may and will affect your performance but I don't need to tell you that real foods are the best source of food for your active body and health. 

I find that many active individuals fear nutrition around workouts simply for the fact that they are most vulnerable to their body at that time of working out. You likely wear tight clothing (or showing more skin than in work clothes), you compare your body to others and you are very in tune with your overall body composition as you feel your heart beat and muscles work to let you have a great workout. Athletes often say to me "I don't need nutrition" or many times, they know they need to fuel with fluids, carbs and electrolytes because of low blood sugar, fatigue, injuries, etc. (for without adequate fuel, the body and it's many systems are severely compromised) but there's a "fear" of consuming products, calories or carbohydrates. 

Fuel your body when it is under the most intentional stress and when you want it to adapt to training. 

Here lies the problem with many active individuals. Whether you don't understand sport nutrition, you fear or worry about eating during/around workouts (for whatever reason) or you have an unhealthy relationship with food or the body, there can be a tendency to sabotage workouts by not fueling properly especially when you mind is thinking more about calories consume, calories burned and your body weight. There's nothing wrong with exercising or training to create a healthy body composition, especially considering that many people get involved with sports as a fun and challenging way to "be healthy." But without appreciating nutrient timing and sport nutrition, you could possibly compromise your health and workouts because of feeling as if you don't need energy dense foods around your workouts or that you don't need to fuel or hydrate during a workout. 

Isn't it interesting that around 2-5pm in the afternoon you need "energy" and you eat but when you are working out and expending hundreds of calories per hour, you can easily convince yourself that you don't need energy from sport drinks?

Perhaps you can "get by" for a few weeks or days without sport nutrition or eating before/after workouts but since consistency is key for performance gains and that training sets the stage for an effective race day, it's only a matter of time that your body will begin to break down or you will struggle with performance gains (and perhaps may even find yourself gaining weight OR losing too much weight too quickly). It's important to never overlook the importance of sport nutrition during workouts as well as fueling properly before/after workouts.  Jeopardizing your body's potential for performance gains is only the beginning of issues that can occur when you aren't supporting your body with the right foods at the right times.

Energy dense foods like fruits, potatoes, rice cereal, granola, bread, honey are just a few of the many low fiber, low fat and higher carb (or energy dense - packing a lot of fuel in a small quantity) options that can be consumed around workouts to fuel your body. The other key is low residue to avoid irritating the GI system. Thus, skip the bran and whole grains around workouts or racing and opt for those "unhealthy" foods that you are told will spike your blood sugar or that you shouldn't eat throughout the day because they are energy dense foods.
Ex. maple syrup, honey, applesauce, juice, raisins, fruit, white rice.

When it comes to pre, during and post training nutrition, here's what I recommend

-If possible, use real food before/after workouts.

Examples: 1 small banana + 2 tsp nut butter + 2 dates + 1 tbsp maple syrup or honey.
Post workout - 1/2 cup greek yogurt + 1/2 cup berries + 1/4 cup granola
This is an easy way to use real food to nourish your body and to enjoy a pre and post training snack to fuel your upcoming workout and to help you recover.

During workouts - liquids, electrolytes and carbohydrates in a bottle will do the trick to meet your needs in a safe, effective and easy-to-digest way.

This is how I eat pre workout or race. Energy dense foods.
This was my pre-race "meal" before my 3rd IM World Championship in October. (7th IM and a huge PR of 10:37 finish time).
4 light rye WASA crackers w/ smear of Smuckers natural PB, honey, banana slices and granola with raisins sprinkled with cinnamon. Coffee and water.  

This is how I eat throughout the day. Real food that is nutrient dense.
Potatoes, tofu, veggies, mixed whole grains.

So here's the deal. Health first, performance second. Enjoy real food for meals and snacks and consider the foods (real in nature) that will give you energy when your body needs the energy. 

Use nutrient dense foods on a day to day basis to reduce risk for disease and when your body is most active, support your body and brain with energy dense foods.

Your performance WILL improve with real food but when your body is compromised during training, you need to keep things simple for your body in motion. 

Considering how sedentary our lifestyle is these days (even with "training/working out" 8-20 hours a week) we spend much of our days sitting and for many, only getting up to go get something to eat. It's very common for people to reach for "energy" boosting drinks and snacks to survive the last few hours of work....sitting.  So rather than fearing calories that you need to consume around workouts, support your body when it is most active so that you benefit from your training and also be consistent with your workouts....and hopefully you will then feel more satisfied and energized throughout the day.

Of course, not everyone will fit this mold - there are people who undereat, those who can't put on weight, those who choose to underfuel/restrict and those who have a great diet. But for the most part, as a RD who specializes in sport nutrition, I find that many active individuals are not supporting workouts properly and thus overeating at certain times (ex. afternoon, before bed, after workouts) or not recovering/fueling properly when the body needs fuel (ex. to "save" calories)  to assist in metabolic processes. The goal for your active lifestyle is to be able to be consistent with workouts and not to feeling sick, exhausted and burnout or super hungry or lethargic all day, every day. 

To appreciate sport nutrition, it's important to establish a real food diet that meets your health needs and then learn how to use sport nutrition properly and to time nutrition around workouts to postpone fatigue, boost energy and help with recovery. All other times, when you are not working out, we need to think about nourishment and  feeling satisfied with food that makes you feel better after you eat it than before.

Sport nutrition is an evolving subject with much research done in controlled laboratory settings. It's important to work with a RD who specializes in sport nutrition as you remember that you are using your body to train or to improve fitness on a daily basis. Sport nutrition varies depending on the workout intensity and volume but once you figure out your individual needs, you are going to enjoy your workout routine even more so than before. 

Remember, your body doesn't have to let you do what it does and often we take for granted how amazing the human body is on a daily basis. 

Did you thank your body today?

To keep it simple - focus on yourself. You've read the articles on the internet, you have the books and you have resources. 

-Eat real foods to support your immune system
-Eat for fuel, not for a body image.
-Time energy dense foods around workouts (ex. nutrient timing)
-Fuel properly during and after workouts - focus on yourself and your own needs
-Learn about safe and effective, well formulated sport nutrition from a RD who specializes in sport nutrition.
-Keep the food easy to digest before a workout so you don't experience GI distress. Remember, pre workout nutrition is not always viewed as "healthy" to the public/media.
-Find what works for you before, during and after workouts - many times your fueling strategy will change.
-Eat mindfully and have a healthy relationship with food and the body.
-Be appreciative of what food can offer your body instead of thinking about what's so bad about food.
-And most of all, remove the pressure to eat or exercise in a certain way to "look" like an athlete. Train for YOUR goals. Your body will take care of itself as you find yourself eating for fuel and for health and living an active and healthy life. 

Thank you body for letting me finish my 7th IM and 3rd IM World Championship! I give you the right fuel at the right time and you give me memories to last a lifetime with my active and healthy body.
(video taken by my BFF, athlete and mental coach Dr. G.)