Essential Sports Nutrition


Body, show me what you can do!

If you want to feel inspired, motivated to work out and amazed by the human body, I recommend to watch Kacy Catanzaro do the incredible as she becomes the first women to make the finals in American Ninja Warrior. 

I am extremely passionate about helping athletes learn how to develop a healthy relationship with food and the body through my business but I am also no stranger to expressing my thoughts with the athlete's body, and concerns with body image and ultimately giving guidance to athletes on how to build a better body image.

So when something so amazing, related to the human body in motion, goes viral in the mainstream media, I love the opportunity to share my thoughts on a very important topic. 

Body Image

How do you see your body at rest and how to do you see your body in motion? As an athlete or fitness enthusiast, we must not forget that you are not an exerciser. You have goals for your body and ultimately, you have a training plan that allows you to make the necessary physiological gains necessary (along with proper recovery) to improve fitness by a specific deadline. 
For good reason, you likely have an intensified image of your body when it is in motion for at no other time during your day will you feel so close to your organs, brain, skin and body parts.

Body image is the way that you perceive your body and also how you assume others perceive you. For most age group athletes, there is great joy in having an "athlete" status - either in training or on race day. For athletes are dedicated, motivated and disciplined and they love challenges, overcoming obstacles and reaching personal goals. However,  for many, with this "athlete" status comes a deep pressure to "look" like an athlete. And in the quest to work hard (or earn) the image of the athlete that you feel is relative to an improvement in speed or power, it's extremely easy to develop negative thoughts about your body in motion and to want a different body composition.

Rather than being focused and aware of personal gains in fitness and attention on developing a fueling regime that meets your individual needs, a negative body image creates a dramatic shift of an individual focus to, instead, a focus of what everyone else is doing and what you are not. 

Although not every athlete will develop a classified eating disorder while changing the diet or exercise routine in order to change body image, I have discovered that many athletes create extremely unhealthy methods of eating and fueling the body (or lack of fueling) and exercising which consequently negatively affect performance. 

The tough issue for many is recognizing how a negative body image negatively affects performance and health. As a health and fitness professional, I have experience with athletes who carry a negative body image with them throughout the day and end up intentionally underfueling and perhaps overexercising all in the quests to achieve "ideal". 
I find that for many athletes, there is a greater chase for a body image than for performance and health gains. 

Strong is the new skinny

I am very happy to see that our society has shifted away from idolizing the size-0 "model" body as the norm for only 5% of our population naturally possess the body portrayed by the media (ex. magazines, clothing ads, TV shows, etc.). 

You may have noticed that "strong is the new skinny" is the new slogan that has taken over social media in many forms from motivation pictures, quotes and workouts. 

Not limited to women, our society is moving into a trend where we celebrate and marvel over bodies for what they can do instead of just looking a certain way. 

We awe over physical feats such as (but not limited to) grand cycling tours, the Ironman, ultra running, cross fit and now, Kacy in the Ninja Warrior (she inspired me to do 4 full unassisted pull-ups today - she rocks!). I am sure I am not alone that there are amazing athletes out there who are doing incredible things with their body....and perhaps you are one of them! 

We should not forget that those who are fighting cancer or an illness, balancing working life while having a family or individuals experiencing uncontrollable life changes should also be celebrated for what they are able to do with their bodies. Certainly, strong is not limited to individuals who sweat and cross finish lines but instead, for the many people who are not so lucky to have good health and freedom to train for and cross finish lines. 

So here we are in modern day when we are focused on the best way to fuel and train a body in motion instead of just obsessing about what size clothes we wear. This makes me happy as a sport RD and exercise physiologist. 

However, we slowly move away from the super-model body image which has been marketed as the ideal look for our society over the past decade or so, even though many of us know that it is not realistic or healthy to have very limited body fat, no curves or muscle tone but nevertheless, the pressure remained high from the media. We now have strong, muscular, extremely fit and toned athletes (of all fitness levels) as the new normal to motivate and inspire us to work hard in order to be strong.

For many athletes, however, this new fitness movement of clean eating, power and strength and ultra endurance may be no better than dieting to be "skinny."  For we are still a society that continues to obsess about health, food and the body. And the more we focus and obsess about it, it seems like the more unhealthy we become. 

Simply put, we have the message that strong is the new skinny and that is extremely motivating because we have permission from society (I know, very sad right?!) that we can have muscles and be sexy, beautiful and fit. 

But is this fit-focused movement really helping athletes create a healthier relationship with food and the body?

Sadly, I think this movement is making things worse. 

For now, instead of cutting out calories to lose weight to be thin (the old normal), athletes are making extreme dietary changes while training the body (up to 10-20+ hours per week) in hopes to get stronger and faster AND change body composition (the new normal). Athletes are overtrained, undernourished, sleep deprived and lacking proper tools to train smart and to build self-confidence as an athlete. 
Simply put, there are many athletes out there who look fit or are on a mission to be fit, but are extremely unhealthy.

Hopefully you now understand why I am so passionate about helping incredible athletes (of all fitness levels) learn how to fuel their bodies in motion. I find that so many athletes take extreme or destructive measures when it come to body composition changes or performance gains. I am not sure if this is because the athlete does not know the proper steps or if the athlete is following the advice (or rules) of some higher figure who feels that there is only the right way to reach health and fitness goals. And this needs to stop. I am tired of seeing athletes compromising their health and potential as a hard working athlete because of a body image goal.
Whereas you may feel you need to train more or train harder, I feel that a productive area that athletes can work on is learning how to have a healthier relationship with food and the body. 
What's the point of having a lean body if you can not do anything with it?

A strong body in motion

What does your body allow you to do? 
Cross finish lines, participate in a spin class, climb mountains on your bike, zumba for hours or keep up with your super energetic family?

Now ask yourself, if you are currently trying to become faster, lose weight, change body composition or reach a PR, what are you not able to do with your body because of the following:
-Low blood sugar
-Low energy
-Guilty eating
-Restrictive eating
-Extreme fatigue
-Body image critiquing/comparing
-Altered blood values
-Chronic sickness and/or fatigue
-On going injuries
-Mood swings
-Exercise/food obsession
-Relying on energy boosters/pills to energize a tired/worn down body
-Food runs your life
-Missing a workout ruins your day
-Your eating and workout routine control your life

It is not uncommon for the athlete to experience a mix of symptoms that reflect improper fueling or haphazard training and instead of trying to gain fitness while training, the athlete actually ends up losing fitness, compromising health and often times, missing out on life. 

The amazing effort that was shown my Kacy on the American Ninja Warrior shows a strong body that can perform amazingly well. A body that is trained, fueled, healthy and fit. 

However, what works for Kacy may not work for everyone. Ande for most of us, we have our own goals of what we want to achieve with our bodies and perhaps it involves swimming, biking and/or running and not rope climbing or conquering the salmon ladder or the spider wall. 
And that's ok. As long as you have a goal that challenges you and makes you motivated to work hard every day, that's what is most important. 

Your training, eating and lifestyle routine should reflect your goals for it is your journey that you get to take your body and mind on every time you have an athletic commitment and a deadline. 

Rather than idolizing any one body type, it's time to start showing yourself what YOU can do with your trained and well fueled body. 

Your body has strengths and weaknesses and only you can make sure that you are fueling and training it appropriately so that you are enjoying life with your one and only body. 

It's not a complicated statement to understand but I realize for many who have yet to master a healthy relationship with food and the body, that it can be very difficult to change the mindset in a food and exercise obsessed athlete (regardless if the methods in place are actually working to improve performance). More often than not, I find that athletes are so rigid with the training and eating routine and are so scared of change that even the thought of changing what's not working keeps an athlete doing the same thing over and over and sometimes, hoping for different results but even being content if results don't come so long as training and the diet never have to change.

My ongoing message stays the same. 
If you do not have a healthy relationship with food and the body, you will find yourself undernourished and underfueled and eventually unmotivated and unhealthy.  This is no life to live, especially if you are taking time out of your life to train for a sporting event. 
A body that can not perform is absolutely not the state that you want your body to be in when you place intentional physiologically stress on your body because you have goals for your body which you want to meet by a definite deadline. 

If you are unable to address and change what is not working, then you need to find someone as soon as possible who is qualified to help you learn how to train and fuel in a way that is supportive of your health and fitness goals. We have far too many fit-looking motivational experts as well as opinionated athletes with loud voices who think they know what works for everyone, because it works for them. Therefore, athletes have endless material to use when it comes to modifying the diet for performance and body composition changes and sadly, this only confuses athletes as to what is the right individual approach for each human body. 

Be sure you work with a coach who has experience in tailoring training plans to your individual lifestyle needs and understands the human body in motion. Also be sure that you work with a registered dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition so that you are not taking short cuts or wasting time when it comes to your training and racing goals. 

Most top athletes know what works for their body. They recognize what sport nutrition is best tolerated and useful during training and the best foods to eat before and after workouts. Athletes who fuel properly for performance gains, instead of for a body image, do so because they love how great it feels to perform with a body that is not compromised.  They have focused not on what everyone else is doing but instead, through ongoing individual trial and error, they have figured out what works for them. (key word - patience). 

Athletes who are always on the search of something better, quicker and easier will constantly find themselves trying something new until it doesn't work anymore and then moving on to something else without ever spending time to consider what works best long term.
In my opinion, it is a waste of your time, money and energy as well as missing out on life if you spend your days always focusing on what others are doing instead of focusing on yourself. 

Love your body in motion

What a simple concept. 
If you nourish and fuel your body, you will love the results that come with a strong and healthy body. 

A body surviving on a restricted diet and hours and hours of weekly cardio is not what you should be celebrating when you idolize over fit bodies in pictures or what you should be aiming for. A fit body isn't always a fast, a lean body isn't always strong, a perfect looking body is not always healthy and a fit, lean, perfect body is not always happy in life. 

It's time that you create a strong and healthy body that will help you reach your health and fitness goals.

Your body is amazing and you do not always have to cross a finish line to show your inner strength. 
But if you are focusing on your body composition in hopes to improve performance and health, just be sure that you feel as healthy as you want to look. And in my belief, healthy comes in all types of body compositions, shapes and sizes and the bottom line is that a healthy athlete performs amazingly well. 

Eat well, train smart, recover hard and then show me (no, show YOU) what you can do with your amazing body. 


Semi-homemade - Veggie pizza on TJ's Garlic Herb Dough and soup

 Soup and Pizza. YUM!
I just love pizza - the combination of sauce and cheese on warm bread, topped with a salad makes my taste buds and tummy, incredibly happy. 

What I love even more than just eating pizza is making it. Don't get me wrong, I just LOVE trying local brick oven pizza and it something that's on my Ironman race week to-do list for I just love pizza two nights before my race. It's a great comfort food that makes me yum and smile. 

Karel and I made a shop at Trader Joe's here in Greenville SC a few days ago and we came across a variety of pizza dough's. There was no hesitation to throw the garlic and herb dough into our cart for we never have specific days when we are allowed certain foods. Wednesday (yesterday) just happened to be a great day to enjoy semi-homemade pizza after our evening interval hilly ride (eventually I will omit the word hilly when I talk about our rides because no ride that we do is without a few thousand feet of climbing). 

Before our 2 hour ride, we removed the dough from the 'fridge so that it would be room temperature to roll when we returned home. 
To save some time for meal prep if you are ever making your own pizza w/ store-bought dough, chop your toppings ahead of time. This saves some time so that you have a salad bar of options to top your individual pizza. 

Karel and I split the dough so that we could each have our own personal pizza and we had a little left over for bread sticks. 

So sweet. Karel made me a heart out of the dough. 
Don't cut any corners when it comes to pizza sauce. Choose plain pizza sauce and add your own fresh basil (chopped) mixed in the sauce for a really great tasting sauce. 

For our toppings, I used mushrooms, sweet green pepper, asparagus, garlic and onions.
Karel added corn on his pizza. 

For our proteins, I had tempeh for my pizza (far back picture) and Karel had seasoned sausage that he got from TJ's.

After we dressed our pizza with sauce, cheese, toppings and protein, the 400 degree oven was ready for some pizza cooking!

What a delicious meal that was ready in less time than if we drove to a pizza place, waited to get a table, sat down and ordered pizza at a restaurant and then have it served or had it delivered to your house. We reserve those times for traveling when we get to enjoy the full pizza experience (smells and all!).  From start to finish, it took around 40 minutes for us to prep our meal and then cook it. 

As we prepped our pizza, I also prepared some soup using Trader Joe's low sodium vegetable broth

Because I love leftovers, I used the entire container (which was only 4 servings) and then added my own ingredients:
chopped asparagus
chopped mushrooms
chopped garlic
cooked lentils (leftovers)
chopped celery

I brought the soup to a boil and then covered (with lid tilted) to low heat for 20 minutes or until vegetables were soft. I served with a bread stick from our dough. 

These two dishes are super easy and you can purchase the ingredients at almost any grocery store (and veggies from the farmers market). 
Have fun with your meals - dress them up with a variety of ingredients to maximize the nutrition density of your meals.

And don't forget to yum!


Garden love

I feel very fortunate that my body has no food intolerances or allergies. Same for Karel. We both love trying new foods as well as enjoying a varied diet to help fuel our active lifestyle and nourish our body. We emphasize real food as much as possible but by no means are we strict with our diet or do we have an off food limit list when it comes to our occasional indulgences or treats. 

Alongside several years of working as a clinical RD, I have worked with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts on nutrition and sport nutrition for there are many people who are not so lucky for they have to restrict a variety of foods for clinical and health reasons. 

I believe that my love for real food has kept my body in good health over the past 1/2 of a decade. Without a sickness, cold or flu since the early summer of 2007, my immune system has stayed incredibly strong thanks to a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in my diet and an incredibly healthy relationship with food.

I love helping athletic individuals tailor their diet in order to meet individual health needs but it always requires a bit of work to ensure that no deficiencies arise in the modification of the diet in hopes for the athlete to feel healthy again (or healthier).I am happy to share the hard work with my athletes to figure out the perfect diet for their needs for when performance is suffering because of the diet or sport nutrition, there is nothing more gratifying that putting the nutritional pieces together to unlock great performances and to improve overall health.

When it comes to performance gains, I believe that the more varied of a diet, the more opportunities an athlete has to improve fitness potential for great performances are not built on just dialing in sport nutrition during training and training hard but ensuring that the body is healthy and well to tolerate intentional training stress. 
Certainly there are many other variable that make a positive difference in consistent training like sleep, stretching, strength training and stress management but that's a whole separate blog post. 

Most of my life has been spent as a plant strong athlete. 
22 years of fueling my active lifestyle and nourishing my body with food grown from Mother Earth. 
Yes, there are some products I consume made in a factory but my vegetarian diet has a foundation built on food grown from  plants (in some way or another).

While in Czech I had the most incredible time visiting Karel's mom's garden. We walked to the garden from Karel's flat and along the way, I found myself walking into plant strong heaven. 

Words can not describe these pictures and the happiness I felt as I grabbed apricots from the trees, munched on red currents in a bush and picked potatoes and green beans from the ground to be used in soup for lunch the next day. 

Thank you Mother Earth for the many delicious foods that you provide us all to help fuel and nourish our bodies! 


Ironman Austria - Post Race recap

Karel waited almost an hour for me to cross the Ironman Austria finish line. But not to worry because the Ironman Austria post race buffet was filled with many European eats and treats. 

Karel didn't rush right to the food but when he was ready, he enjoy goulash with bread, meats, beer, croissants, watermelon and pizza. 

He said the goulash was good but the pizza and beer was not. This was Karel's first beer since we arrived to Europe so it was a total disappointment for him. 

I managed to find some strength in my legs to chat with my friend Kelly Fillnow who had a fantastic race in the professional women division. It's always fun to see familiar faces during a race and the chat after the race (when the suffering has stopped).

I was quite surprised that I had absolutely no GI issues post race. Typically, once the heart rate drops and the blood returns to the gut from the muscles, I am typically spending a little time in the restroom letting my system get back to normal (which is not abnormal for many athletes, especially athletes who race at high intensity). 

But this was the first Ironman that I can remember that I had no GI issues and I contribute it to the comfortable temperatures that we experienced on race day, coupled with a flatter run course after a hilly bike. Digestion of sport nutrition went extremely well for me and Karel but like usual, I was in no rush to eat solid food. It typically takes me a good hour to have any type of appetite post race (or for any solid food to digest) but I have to be careful of dropping blood sugar so alongside sipping on Hammer Fizz for electrolytes post race, I typically enjoy fruit, pretzels/crackers and bread (of some sorts) as the first options that enter my digestive system. And lots of water. 

I received my finisher tshirt and found a clean restroom to change clothes. I forgot my Wet Ones singles to clean off after the race, as well as a towel, in my "Street Clothes" bag but I couldn't wait to put on dry, clean clothes so I just wiped myself off with paper towels. 

I was moving extremely slowly and my right foot had a tender area on the bottom of it (which started to pop up around 2 miles to go) so I was not enjoying walking that much in my sandals (that I brought) so thankfully I had a clean pair of Brooks Pure Flow run shoes that I wore pre race (same style of shoes that I race in) so I put those on. I didn't have the strength to put on compression yet so I just put on normal socks. 

Karel and I slowly made our way to the transition area to get our bags and bikes. I'm always so amazed how my body can move so fast for so long until I cross the finish line and then all of a sudden I am moving at snails pace. 

As I walked to the transition area, I could not stop thinking about our day. It was absolutely perfect from start to finish. If my mind was in another place during this race, I do not think I would have been able to execute like I did. I was a bit surprised that I was in better shape than I thought I was in but I the most important thing was making sure my mind was in the best place possible to tolerate the 140.6 mile stress that I needed to survive to finish strong. I could not be more proud of Karel as well and sharing these experiences together is incredibly special for me. Because racing comes with a mix of emotions before a race, my favorite part of racing with Karel is post race when the racing hype is over and we can relax and share stories of how the race went down (hubby and wifey insider details).

We grabbed our bikes from our respective racks and then our T1 and T2 bags. The security was extremely tight in the transition area and after we turned in our chip (which was scanned on a computer to make sure it matched our bike and wrist band) we then went to another line to make sure our bags matched our bikes and our wrist band. 

Karel and I walked our bikes and bags the 1/2 mile or so to the car, unloaded our gear into the gear and then drove home. 

At this point, I was getting super tired and could not wait to get inside our flat to lay down. 
We finally arrived to our flat, shuffled our way up the stairs and I crashed on the bed as I called my mom to give her the run down of the race. 

I was also welcomed home with many emails and facebook messages and I was so excited to see that so many of you tracked us during our day in Austria. Thank you for your support!! We felt it on race day!!

After a well needed shower (which was rather uncomfortable when I discovered a bit of chaffing under my air pit where I forgot to put on body glide where my jersey rubbed my skin) I put together some leftovers as I typically do post race.

Pretzels, pizza, milk (which I always have post race after an IM after my tummy calms down), banana, chocolate, bread. There is absolutely no creativity or balance to this post race meal for it's all about what looks, tastes and feels the best in my body. Sometimes I think something will taste great and then I take a bit and don't want any more. I have learned over the years what sits the best post race but I still have to be careful not to overindulge post race. Typically, I crave more salty/fatty foods in the 24-48 hours after a race vs. sweets or salty carbs which are more cravable in the first 24 hours. 

It was nearing 9pm and Karel and I were getting a little rest in our legs by laying down in bed in our compression gear when we heard a loud thunder outside. Oh no! 

The final hour is what I love the most about Ironman racing and I have only missed one finisher line from 11pm-12am. Sadly, it was pouring rain and thundering on and off in the last few hours before the finish and we decided to stay put in our flat for we knew the finishers needed us to cheer them on but our broken down bodies were in no shape to cheer in the rain and thunder. IMWI - we will be there in the last hour for sure!

Another surprise post race was sleep! I always suffer from post Ironman insomnia, often for 2-3 days which leaves me incredibly run down and exhausted. However, I managed 5 hours of sleep (11-3) which was incredible for my body. Karel woke up around 2 and was super hungry so he was eating sandwiches in the middle of the night. I woke up around 3 and had a bowl of granola with milk and then played around on my iPad and then around 5, I feel asleep again for about 2 hours (on an off). 

By 7am, Karel and I were both up and ready for some real food. Real European food!

We went to the Euro Spar around 7:45am and had fun shopping with our post Ironman, glycogen depleted bodies making the choices. 

Karel had a lot of choices to make.....

Lots and lots of choices. 

Our grocery shopping experience was delicious. We did not eat everything right away but boy oh boy, do eggs and salty potato chips, watermelon and danishes taste great after an Ironman!

A few hours later, Karel and I were ready for some exploring. There were a few things that we wanted to do in Austria before we headed back to Czech and we were told to visit Pyramidenkogel
What a sight!! The drive to the top of the mountain was filled with twists and turns and despite two bodies that were extremely tired and sore, we both kept saying how fun it would be to bike up this mountain to the top...that is with a fully recovered body. 

After we bought our tickets to visit the top, Karel came up with the brilliant idea of walking up the 441 flights of stairs (in the middle is a slide you can slide down if you meet the height requirements and for an extra charge). Here I am, hobbling to walk to the top of the hill where the bottom of the tower stands and Karel suggests a walk up flights and flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. 
I didn't want to be left out of all this fun and pain so I joined Karel on our walk to the top. As for walking down, we both agreed our quads would not handle that walk down (unless we walked down backwards to take the pressure off our quads) so we took the easy way out - thank goodness for elevators after an Ironman!

The view from the top was incredible! We were worried about the view because it had been raining all morning but we managed to time it just right. Talk about lucky - the day before our Ironman it was blazing hot and the day after it was pouring rain and cold. 

Panoramic views!

This is part of the lake that we swim in for the Ironman. 

My partner in crime who loves to suffer with me. Although I think he can suffer much more than me.....did I mention that Karel ran a 3:11 marathon after biking sub 5 hours on the IM Austria bike course?? Crazy! 

After our workout (anything after an Ironman feels like a workout) we enjoyed cappuccinos and poppyseed cake. Yum!
We were not alone in our yumming for the restaurant downstairs in the tower was packed with triathletes enjoying fat, sweets and alcohol. Nothing atypical about that post race, even in Austria!

We packed up our flat for we were leaving Austria on Tuesday morning to head back to Czech. 
However, on Monday evening we attended the athlete post race awards party which was followed by an after party, then followed by an after, after party and fireworks (which were supposed to be at the finish line on Sunday but due to rain, it was cancelled). 
Those Europeans known how to throw a post race party!!
Not only did we get to see two incredible professional athletes receive their awards for their record breaking day, but the award ceremony for the top 3 age groupers was incredible. It was the best award ceremony I have attended (next to Kona) and the night got better and better as the awards flowed down to the 65-69 and even the 70+ age group! Talk about inspiration!!

It was so great to meet Lindsey Corbin! She is super sweet and she even asked about how my race went which was so thoughtful. She's a rockstar!

The food was great (Every section of the long table was served large platters of food so no waiting in line). There was lasagna, veggies, rice and of course, lots and lots of drinks (water and beer). 
The buffet of desserts was incredible and Karel and I tried a little of everything (we like to share). 

Thanks for the memories Klagenfurt! You were great to us!

On Tuesday morning we made our 4.5 hour drive to Czech and although we had so much fun in Austria, we could not wait to get back home to Karel's mom's flat. Of course, we had lots and lots of food waiting for us!

Homemade veggie and potato soup with homemade pasta noodles. 

Potato salad and fried zucchini (Karel had Schnitzel).

Although I do not understand anything, it is so special to see Karel and his mom chat. It's so sad that we can not visit more often for Karel has only been back to Czech twice (last May and this year) since he came to America in 2000 to pursue his American Dream. 

And of course, no meal is complete with dessert. Homemade apricot bars with apricots from Karel's mom's garden. 

Karel's mom gave me chocolate covered hazelnuts because she was so proud of me for my Ironman finish. 

Karel's dad traveled by bus, to a small town and walked 1K to get me these well-known Cannolis. What great in-laws I have!! (even though they do not speak English, I can feel the love.)

And to cap off our evening for our first night back in Czech post Ironman....

The long awaited "real" beer for Karel. 

Heaven in a glass for Karel. 

Karel made sure to make up for his 8 days in Czech without a beer at the pub that sits behind Karel's dad's flat (very convenient :) 

Thanks Ironman Austria for helping us make our trip to Europe extra special!! We are now super excited for the next journey....Ironman Wisconsin on September 7th!!

Is it just me or is Karel now picking his Ironman races based on the beer selections? :)