Essential Sports Nutrition


Fueling the vegetarian endurance athlete - Part 2!

Thank you Girls Gone Strong for letting me share my thoughts on fueling the vegetarian endurance athlete. 

As a 22-year vegetarian and 9x Ironman finisher, I had so much to say on this topic so we decided to make it a two part series and finish with a Q&A on the Girls Gone Strong Facebook page!
To read the articles: Part 1 & Part 2 

Q: On Tuesday, in this article you gave some guidelines for protein, carb, and fat requirements for female endurance athletes. Do the numbers look different for women who mostly strength train, and whose goals are strength-based?  If so, how do they differ? 

A: Thanks for asking The main focus of fueling an endurance athlete is ensuring that glycogen stores are not the limited as we want to keep our bodies energized for the long haul. I am a firm believer that endurance athletes need a healthy amount of fat in the diet to stay satisfied and healthy as well as protein for recovery/repair but the carbohydrates would be on the greater range for endurance athletes compared to strength-focused athletes. There is also a timing issue because endurance athletes need to consider how digestion affects the gut so I encourage athletes to focus on more low fiber energy dense foods around workouts which should be low in fat/protein and fiber. Example, whereas a strength athlete may be fine with eggs and oatmeal before a workout, an endurance athlete may find this too hard on the gut before a long run so she may opt for cream of wheat with a little nut butter and maple syrup.

Q: If you would like to transition to eating more vegetarian meals what would you consider the core staples that can be used to make quick healthy meals and build the right nutrition behaviors for early adopters? Sorry, I know I am not a girl but I know you are the best at building strong healthy bodies!

A: Thanks for the question!  Whenever transitioning to a more plant strong diet we want to make sure a good solid foundation is in place. So if the diet is already rich in fruits, veggies, grains/starches and healthy fats then the modification to take place would be swapping out animal protein for plant strong protein. For example, if a standard lunch is a salad with a chicken wrap we could replace the chicken with any plant protein (ex. beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, tempeh) as an easy swap. If a standard lunch is just a chicken wrap, then my suggestion would be to get this meal more plant strong by adding some type of veggie component to this meal (salad or stir fry or raw veg) as a starter and then once that habit is in place, swap out the protein option.

Q: For a female athlete (or family) who is looking at having protein strong plant based meals. What would you suggest as an appropriate equivalent of protein in non animal protein sources

 A; In reference to the guidelines in the article (~1.3-1.8g/kg body weight of protein per day) this would be a nice starting point for total protein. I recommend to break up protein consumption per meal, around 20-30g is a nice range. 1 ounce of animal protein = ~7g of protein as a guideline so to swap out 4 ounces of chicken (28g of protein) this would look like 1/2 cup lentils, 1/2 cup peas and 1/2 cup cooked tempeh for around 29g of plant strong protein.

Q: A question we get a lot is whether or not endurance athletes need to strength train? Is it an important part of their overall program?  Where does it fit in? How often? What kinds? Does it ever take priority over endurance training?  How does this differ between in-season, post-season, off-season, and pre-season?

A: I actually went into this in great detail at the The Women's Fitness Summit because I think many endurance athletes do not understand the importance of strength training OR they don't make time for it. I am a firm believer that strength training needs to be part of an endurance athletes training plan but it must be periodized with the season plan. For my athletes/myself, I emphasize foundation building first to work on good motor patterns and mobility. Pretty much breaking down sport-specific movements and refining the movements. We take about 6-8 weeks in this phase while the cardio is focused more on strength (ex. using bands/buoys and paddles in the pool, heavy gear and climbing sets on the bike and slow form focused running with a few pick ups at the end of the workout). The next phase I transition my athletes to is more complex and dynamic training. Plyometrics should come to mind. Whereas the intensity and volume of the cardio training will increase a bit, the body is in a good place to accept this added stress. The goal for cardio is to keep the hard workouts hard and easy workouts easy and to plug in the dynamic strength movements that will yield favorable results to swim, bike run fitness. We call this the build phase and this will take us to the peaking phase of the season for the first key race of the year. Around 4-6 weeks before this race, the frequency of the strength increases but it is still good to keep the body primed for power in the gym once a week and then the other cardio workouts take priority as the focus is race specific workouts. There is always a continued focus on glute, hip and core/lower back strength to ensure that this is never a limiter. The #1 goal of strength training for endurance athletes is that the strength should make the athlete better at the sport she is training for. So strength training should not be designed to get an athlete strong just to be strong but to be strong, fast and powerful at her sport.
A great book for triathletes to better understand a quality approach to training alongside focusing on the strength and recovery component is from Matt Dixon with Purplepatch fitness - The Well Built Triathlete. 

Q: I'm more of a paleo eater now, but my doctor suggested vegetarian for my PMS/PMDD symptoms. Have you seen any evidence to support this or would high protein be better?
Thanks for asking Katrina Skurka Howard - I personally do not advocate a specific diet for athletes as I strive to encourage variety and balance in the diet and no food rules. But when it comes to PMS symptoms, it is important that female athletes understand how their menstrual cycle is affected (or may affect) training and fueling. Stacy Sims discussing this topic in great detail but to help manage these symptoms, I don't feel a specific diet will alleviate these issues but instead to focus on your own individual needs. You may want to start with a lab test to see your vitamin D and ferritin levels which can affect PMS symptoms if inadequate or deficient. For women who are not on the pill or other contraceptive and have a natural menstrual cycle, metabolism will be affected by the different phases (follicular and luteal) but I personally am opposed to any restrictive style of eating that eliminates major food groups. I hope this helps a little. I feel you on the symptoms, I have had my menstrual cycle naturally for the past 7 years every month so I am no stranger to these symptoms  
This is a fantastic reference from Stacy Sims.

Q: As a female endurance athlete how would you suggest balancing the nutritional needs of sport with the desire to lose weight?

A:  This is always a tough question because we want the body to be in a healthy place to tolerate the demands of training but we do not want to underfuel in an effort to lose weight. I think there are many approaches to this but it certainly can be done in a healthy way and depends on where the individual is with her relationship with food and the body. I think the focus needs to be on supporting the workout as many athletes underfuel around the workouts and end up overeating later in the day. As an athlete, making the effort to understand how to eat before, during and after workouts will help take training to the next level. I think another common issue is athletes undereating during the day which affects metabolism. Skipping snacks, not enough adequate carbs, skimping on calories/fat, etc. We need to eat enough to support the demands of training so planning out the day before it happens can be an easy way to see what the day will look like in the most balanced way possible with healthy and satisfying meals and snacks. Lastly, the evenings can be a time of overinduging or overeating so I encourage athletes to not beat themselves up if this happens in the evening but to identify any triggers during the day that may be tweaked to ensure a good balanced dinner in the evening and an early bedtime without excessive snacking. If all of this takes place and an athlete still finds it hard to lose weight, then additional modifications can be made in training to make sure that the workout routine is not too stressful for the body.


12 reasons why you shouldn't diet

Have you found yourself (for non clinical reasons) recently eliminating food sources or food groups titled dairy, sugar, grains, gluten, refined foods, carbs or un-natural in an effort to eat more “clean” or because those foods are bad?
It’s ok to have good intentions with diet changes as you want to better understand what foods work best for your body in motion but extreme dietary shifts in eating patterns are one of the most common red flag signs that you may be developing (or furthering) your unhealthy relationship with food and your body.

Sure, improvements in any area of life require attention and perhaps some degree of obsession but when your eating/food thoughts and habits are all-consuming and have taken over your life, it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with food.

If you are a performance-driven athlete, keep in mind that rule-based eating does not take into account your personal needs, your performance goals, your periodized training plan, your lifestyle and your health goals. 

In other words, diets don't work. 

As an athlete, it’s very easy to critique your body and blame food, especially when you feel vulnerable or emotional or have a bad day or workout.
Fat, ugly, heavy, disgusting, off limit, bad, guilty, remorse, hate. 

Consider all the many thoughts that go through your head in regard to food and your body and now consider how much of your day you are spending thinking about food and your body?  

If you have an unhealthy relationship with food and your body, a diet won't solve underlying issues. Believe it or not, but improving your relationship with food and the body can actually help you improve your health, improve performance and help you reach body composition goals!

When you do not perform well, compare yourself to others, are unable to meet your prescribed pace expectations or feel overwhelmed with the training/life balance, you may find yourself taking out your frustrations on your body and seeking a dietary quick-fix to make the situation better.

It seems crazy, right? 
Focusing all your attention on what not to eat? Living life thinking about what you can't eat, what you shouldn't eat, what you regret eating.....I hope you agree with me that that is absolutely no way to live!

It is completely normal to want a healthier lifestyle, improved performance (speaking to the athletes) and a body composition that makes you feel great but you must also be realistic with the goals that you have and most of all, how you go about achieving them. 

Do I really need to explain why diets don't work?
Well, to make sure that you do not consider a diet plan come the New Year (or within the next 13 days), I want you to stop the diet mentality.
Here are 12 very good reasons why a diet is not the route you want to take when learning how to have a healthier relationship with food and the body. 

12 reasons why you shouldn't diet! 

1. Your body deserves food. A varied diet provides your body with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
2. Food is not bad. It is not out to harm you. Your food choices should make you feel good while you eat and even better after you eat. 
3. Being hungry is no fun. Your day should not revolve around when you get to eat and how much you are allowed to eat. Honor your biological hunger and fuel for performance. See food for nutritional value. 
4. Not being able to enjoy eating around others is no fun. Eating around others is special and an opportunity to connect. 
5. If the methods you have to take to lose weight are extreme, there is another way to be healthier/change body composition but it probably won't be as quick and you need to be ok with that. 
6. Your body doesn't suck. It is actually quite awesome. Just look at how old you are and how much you have accomplished in life. 
7. You can not count calories and measure food for the rest of your life. You must learn how to eat so that you can be anywhere in the world, at any age and in any situation and still feel great about the food you put into your body. 
8. Special occasions will always have food and you deserve to enjoy those foods on special occasions. Would you rather eat birthday cake on a Friday because it was on sale at the grocery store or enjoy a slice of cake when celebrating another year of life.  
9. You need to be a good role model for your kids or friends. A healthy relationship with food is just as contagious as an unhealthy relationship with food. 
10. Food is your medicine. Make time for healthy eating because a healthy body can do amazing things in this world. Food should enhance your life and fuel your lifestyle. 

Got a nutrition question?
Mark your calendars for tomorrow, Friday December 19th when I will be hosting a LIVE Q&A on the 
Girls Gone Strong Facebook page from 11:30-12:30EST to answer any questions you might have regarding fueling the plant strong athlete (omnivores are welcome too!!)


Fueling the Vegetarian Endurance Athlete

Fueled by plants

With so much information on healthy eating, sport nutrition and dieting, I really enjoy writing about topics that I know a lot about from first-hand experience.

When Girls Gone Strong approached me to write an article about fueling the vegetarian endurance athlete, I was super excited about the opportunity to introduce others to my plant strong lifestyle. 

As a 22-year vegetarian and 9x Ironman finisher, I think it is safe to say that my diet is not a temporary fad and perhaps I know a thing or two about fueling the plant-strong athlete. 

I hope you find that my article is an informative way to help you understand how to eat to be a healthy endurance athlete and how to do so, if you choose vegetarianism.

This article is not persuading you to become a vegetarian athlete to boost performance, nor is it telling you that your health and performance will automatically improve should you choose to remove meat from your diet.

All endurance athletes must understand the importance of consuming a balanced, wholesome diet and this article will clear up any confusion you may have in regard to how to nourish your body as you fuel for performance.

Despite naysayers believing that endurance athletes must eat meat to be a healthy and strong endurance athlete, there is no shortage of high level athletes, achieving great endurance accomplishments, by thriving off a plant strong diet.

There are many apprehensions by athletes, coaches, and outsiders who question the athletic potential (or lack thereof) of vegetarian endurance athletes.
But remember, it is within a restrictive diet that there will always be concerns for nutritional deficiencies.  It would appear that vegetarians are undoubtedly lacking key nutrients by not eating animal protein but, let’s not pick too hard on vegetarians. Remember that an under-fueled and undernourished athlete will always under-perform.
There are often concerns of anemia or iron deficiency, inadequate consumption of quality dietary protein, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, and B12 and an alleged inability to eat “enough” calories/energy from plants.

But vegetarian or not, a poorly planned or restrictive diet with an extreme exercise routine is not a winning combination. 

A deficiency in iron and B12 isn’t limited to the vegetarians. 

So, even for the omnivorous endurance athlete reading this article, hopefully you can use the following information to fill in any nutritional gaps that may be keeping you from reaching your full fitness potential.

If you find that this article was a beneficial read, please share with a friend/training partner/group. Help me spread the message about the importance of eating for fuel and for health. 

Also, be sure to mark your calendars for Friday December 19th when I will be hosting a LIVE Q&A on the Girls Gone Strong Facebook page from 11:30-12:30EST to answer any questions you might have! 

A big thank you to Girls Gone Strong for asking me to contribute to this fabulous organization of motivating, inspiring and hard working female athletes and fitness enthusiasts! 


Coconut pancakes with fruit topping

Coconut pancakes with fruit topping
1/3 cup coconut flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs (2 whites, 2 whole)
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp milk (I used reduced fat organic milk but you can use almond milk)
Seasonal fruit - I used raspberries and bananas
Extra crunch - chopped nuts/seeds (I used Veronica's Health Crunch
Olive oil for cooking
Maple syrup

Serves 6-8 pancakes
1. Mix together the first 3 ingredients in medium size bowl. 
2. In small bowl mix together milk and eggs. 
3. Add the wet to the dry and whisk together (you need to use a whisk not a fork) until no clumps remain. If batter is too thick, add a little water or more milk. It shouldn't be runny off the whisk but should be a slow continuous drip. 
4. On a medium size skillet on medium heat, lightly coat the bottom of your pan with olive oil. 
5. Place ~1/4 cup batter to form a pancake, gently smooth out the pancake with the back of a spoon to make it a little thinner. 
6. Cook for 2 minutes or until bottom is firm enough to flip. Edges should be golden brown. Cook the other side for 1 minute.
7. Top with your fruit, extra cinnamon, syrup and your crunch.
These pancakes are rich in protein from the eggs and with the syrup/fruit toppings you have a wonderful post workout, balanced meal. 

In other yummy news....

Trimarni athlete/friend Sara sent Karel and me these delicious cookies.
To describe the deliciousness, these are homemade Dream Cookies. Yes, something only your dreams would create.
Chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips stuffed with a peanut  butter cup inside. 
Topped with coarse salt.
Yes, you are so right. They don't even look and sound good but they taste SOOOO good. 

We are just going to use these to get ourselves ready for Karel's mom's homemade Czech cookies which should be here this month all the way from Znojmo, Czech Republic! 

Found this at The Mast General Store while taking a stroll downtown with my mom, Campy and Karel late afternoon yesterday. 
You probably know that I am passionate about having a great relationship with food but PB is one food that I have an extremely great relationship with. YUMMY in my TUMMY!

This weekend was absolutely beautiful. I hope you were able to enjoy it with your healthy and happy body. 
I decided to switch my run/swim days so on Friday I took myself for a run around downtown and through Falls Park to the Y (about 4 miles) and then did my strength routine. I have been working with Chris Johnson PT who has been amazing in helping me identify some of my weaknesses with my body and running to help me take my running to that next level this year. After my run I did a little more running on the treadmill (4 miles) and then ran home (2 miles). So a very long run (10 miles) but in a way that I gained a lot out of it with out it feeling like I was carrying around residual fatigue all weekend. My long runs have been around 9-10 miles for the past 4 weeks with more frequent running (20-40 minutes with walking) during the week (at least 3 runs during the week). Rather than walking every mile, I typically walk every 5 minutes which is also helping me progress really well with my running with all the strength training I am doing. It's not fast running (around 8:45-9min/mile)as right now in the season, it's time to focus on muscular strength vs cardiovascular strength so it all serves a greater purpose in the season plan. And the best part is that I wasn't injured before working with Chris but I am finding myself getting stronger as I work on weak areas through this new approach to run training. 

On Saturday, I did my long swim of 5000 yards. I have to say, this went by rather fast as this was the first time I have swam over 4500 in over a year. Karel and I have been swimming at least 5 days  a week (sometimes we swim on the weekend in the afternoon) and most of our swims are around 3000-4500. We use the ankle strap , paddles, fins, buoy and snorkel and I have to say that this new approach to swimming is really improving our strength in the water as well as confidence that we are swimming like triathletes. Learning how to hold the body more "taut" in the water and developing a faster more powerful turnover with each arm stroke.

Lastly, on Sunday, Karel and I headed out for our long ride. Most of our weekend rides (when it isn't too cold to ride) are between 3-4 hours. The ride started out around 40 degrees which was a bit chilly at 8:30am but it warmed up nicely with the sun being out the entire time. There are no shortage of mountains to climb and descend on and the cars are rather polite to cyclists which is a nice and huge change from living in Jacksonville, FL. If a car passes me on our favorite country road routes (there are more farm animals than cars) they move to the other lane or wait until a stop sign to pass.
Karel did some heavy gear work on Paris Mountain and I went a bit north to ride on one of my favorite routes. The day was fantastic for riding and I had about 3.5 hours of ride time and just a tad under 4 hours for Karel.