Essential Sports Nutrition


The underfueling athlete

The goal of any training plan is to elicit performance gains which are best experienced on race day. 

Within any given training plan, there is a method and purpose to the workouts.

I often find that athletes have irrational and unrealistic approaches to fueling and it's now cool to not eat before or during workouts. This needs to change.

Athletes. you understand the importance of eating for fuel and for health but why is it that you can be so focused on your workouts but lose all good judgement when it comes to nourishing and fueling your body? 

I realize that a plant strong diet, rich in whole foods like fruits and veggies isn't very sexy. However, an extreme diet plan that restricts certain foods is really something to talk about with your training partners. 

Eating before a workout and consuming calories during workouts is now seen as bad. It's totally hard core to talk about how little you can consume during a workout and how much more metabolically efficient you are when you train by working out on an empty stomach. 

Interestingly, most fueling approaches come with risks and in my profession, athletes come to me when they express that they have "failed" with sport nutrition trends like trying to be a "fat burner" or sticking to a low carb diet (two of the most current trends among endurance athletes). 

So who are these athletes that contact me (not specific to any current athletes)? 

The athlete who has always struggled with body image issues is now training for an endurance event and is scared to eat more food. 

The athlete who is training for an event is wanting to lose weight but is struggling, despite training 10+ hours a week. 

The athlete who once lost weight by restricting sport nutrition before and during workout is now experiencing poor performance but is chasing a body image rather than performance gains. 

The athlete who was praised for being lean is now overcoming a stress fracture, amennorhea or an eating disorder. 

The athlete that once found success by restricting carbohydrates and sport nutrition is now struggling for low energy and lethargy and experiencing more sickness, injuries/niggles and fatigue than ever before. 

The athlete who tried to work out on an empty stomach for weeks is now afraid to eat before workouts for fear of gaining weight despite having low energy, bonking, dizziness and moodiness during workouts.

The athlete who has been wanting to lose weight is now struggling weight weight gain because the athlete feels sport nutrition isn't needed or doesn't understand how to fuel adequately. 

The athlete that tells me she/he needs to train more because they are not losing weight.

The athlete who tells me that weight loss will make him/her faster but the athlete is not consuming home cooked meals or getting adequate sleep.
The athlete who is spending 20 hours a week training is unable to find time to eat a healthy diet. 

As an athlete, your main focus is keeping your body in exceptional health while placing intentional training stress on your body to experience performance gains. To think that working out on an empty stomach or not consuming carbohydrates during a workout will help you perform better is absolutely absurd considering that the majority of athletes who train for an event have little understanding of how to plan and execute a healthy diet within an active lifestyle. Add in the extra time-commitment to training and now you have to make the decision on what is removed so that you can accomplish more miles each day.

The underfueling athlete will always underperform. Sadly, athletes get so accustomed to working out with a tired body from lack of consistent restful sleep and a body that is not properly nourished through daily diet and this "normal" feeling will never be fixed by eating restricting carbohydrates, working out on an empty stomach or not consuming sport nutrition during workouts.

If you want to perform well and consistently, you  must look at your lifestyle from the bottom up. If fat-burning workouts are on your mind, let's start at the bottom of the pyramid to evaluate what other areas in your life will physically, emotionally and mentally help you prepare for more quality workouts. 

If you are tired and sleep deprived, you will lose performance.
If your immune system is compromised from an unhealthy diet, you will lose performance.
If your hormones are disrupted from too much volume, you will lose performance.
If you underfuel during workouts and overfuel throughout the day, you will lose performance.
If your training plan can not be supported by good sleep and a good diet, you will lose performance. 
If you never get use to fueling before and during workouts, you will lose performance on race day. 

So, do you still want to debate with me and tell me that working out on an empty stomach, restricting sport nutrition during workouts or following a high volume training plan will improve your performance and help you change your body composition?

A well fueled and well trained body performs well. A conditioned athlete will accept training stress much better than a newbie athlete. Athletes must develop overtime and the training/nutrition methods of one athlete will not work for another if the athletes are in two different stages of their development and in life.

There are many lean bodies that can not perform on race day. There are also many undernouished bodies that you never see because the body is too tired, injured or sick to show up to the race. There are many bodies that perform amazingly well but do not fit society's image of an athlete's body.

If you want to perform well, you have to fuel smart and not chase a body image. You can  be extremely metabolically efficient and not be super lean and perform great and you can be super lean and feel as if not eating before workouts is helping you boost performance and fall short on this approach with an injury, sickness or tired body come race day.

 If you want your body composition to change, it can only do so if you have really great nutritional and training habits on a consistent basis.

The underfueling athlete is at risk for disordered eating. If you are trying to achieve or maintain a lower weight, you are likely not consuming enough calories or nutrients to allow your body to perform and function properly.

Just like any performance-enhancing tip, there will likely be favorable results at the beginning that some athletes experience and for others, poor results that frustrate the disciplined athlete. For athletes, bone loss/osteopenia, menstrual disturbances/hormone issues, amenorrhea (women), injuries, burn out and energy deficiency, result from weeks, months or even years of underfueling.

At first the diet change is sexy and hard core but the athlete that depletes their body's energy stores through overexercising is the cornerstone of the underfueling athlete.

Even worse, underfueling affects cognitive functions and can cause depression, anxiety, mood disturbances and inability to focus which can all cause serious health risks imposed by not fueling your body adequately. 

If you are underfueling, seek help by consulting with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition immediately so that you can reach your body composition and performance goals without compromising your health or performance.

Could you be underfuling?

-Anxiety/depression with eating
-Feeling fat and inentionally undereating throughout the day and before/during/after workouts
-Feeling obsessed with exercise/training
-Feeling controlled by food
-Always feeling hungry but not satisfying your hunger cues
-Never feeling hungry
-Difficulty concentrating during workouts
-Trouble sleeping, restless sleep (like your brain is awake and won't fall asleep)
-Preoccupation with eating, the scale or with the body image/eating habits of others
-Avoiding social situations relating to food
-Use of diet pills, cleanses, detox systems, energy drinks/pills or laxatives
-Hormone imbalances
-Feeling cold, all the time
-Overuse injuries
-Stress fractures
-Significant weight loss
-Recent weight gain despite extreme calorie restriction and exercising daily
-Muscle cramps, weakness, heavy legs, fatigue
-Gastrointestinal problems
-Intentionally not eating for fear of gaining weight
-Trying to be a "fat burner" by not eating before workouts or consuming enough nutrition during workouts


2 time-crunched workouts

Everything in moderation. You have probably heard this saying a lot when it comes to the diet but what about when applied to an athlete's workout regime?

Well, I don't want to be a moderate athlete. I want to be the best athlete I can be.
Because my season is focused on endurance racing, I know that there is a specific training regime that I need to follow and accomplish to be mentally and physically prepared for my races.

However, just because I have training plan for the week, this doesn't mean that it can never change. Understanding that life brings changes, stressful moments and days when free-time to train is extremely limited. 

I never sacrifice my diet, sleep or work to train. Work pays the bills and my diet and sleep contribute to performance gains. I have learned through making many mistakes in my endurance training and racing lifestyle over the past 9 years that the quality of workouts matter more than the quality.

Additionally, I constantly remind my athletes that what you do (or don't do) between your workouts (when they do occur) is how we get stronger, faster and more powerful as athletes. Just because you can check off a workout, it doesn't mean that it will bring performance gains if you are sacrificing other things in life that will assist in physical performance gains. 

This past week has been quite busy for us and the planned training routine was modified almost every day. For me and Karel, one week of training never matches the next week of training, even if we accomplish every workout in our training plan.

On Thursday evening, it was nearing 6:30pm and I had a key bike and EZ run on my schedule. Although we rode in the morning with our athlete Justine for almost 2 hours, that ride was all about  her. We would have been just fine not working out in the evening but we both felt like we needed our own personal workout. Karel did a 6 mile run (starting from my mom's house because we needed to help her with something from 4-6pm) and I got on the trainer.

My main set on the trainer was 25 minutes and my main set for the run was 4 minutes. Here's the workout:
(disclaimer, although I share my workouts please keep in mind that they specific to where I am in my periodized training plan. It is important to focus on your development as an athlete and build a strong foundation and powerful body prior to doing any speed work). 

Thursday PM workout:
Trainer Bike: 
10 min mobility/hip/glute work
20 min warm-up (Z1-Z2, increasing cadence and effort every 5 minutes)
MS 5x's:
3 minutes heavy gear at Z3 power
2 minutes high cadence, Z3 power
10 min cool down

Brick Run: 
2 min run to the other side of my neighborhood
8 x 30 sec hill sprints w/ 90 sec walk/jog in between (down the hill)
2 min run back home

On Saturday morning, we needed to be in the car to head to Asheville for a meeting at 9:20am (meeting at 11am, 1:20 drive to Asheville) so without sacrificing sleep or fueling before the workout, we planned to head to the Y at 7am. Things would have been different in terms of our run and available time to train if it wasn't raining outside so the treadmill run was better than no run and thus, we made a quality workout out of it.

Karel did his own workout and I did as follows:

Saturday AM workout: 
10 min hip/glute/mobility work (I will never skip this before a run even if that means running 10-15 minutes less)

20 min EZ run with 1 min rest at 9 and 19 minutes. 

MS: 20 x 90 sec hill runs at 4% incline with 30 sec rest (straddle treadmill) in between. 
#1-10 @ 7.5 mph (steady)
#11-15 @ 7.8 mph (strong, felt the burn the last 30 sec)
#16-19 @ 8 mph (strong, felt the burn the last 60 sec)
#20 @ best effort, 8.6 mph (felt the burn at 15 sec)

3 min cool down
Total: 1:05, 7.75 miles

The wonderful part of focusing on quality workouts  and making the most out of your available time is knowing that you are still moving closer to your fitness goals but you are not skipping the valuable steps in your development. Plus, if you use your time wisely, you will recover faster, perform better and still enjoy the awesome things in life that will make you smile on race day.

Like Campy exploring the Asheville woods. 

A few take-aways for the time-crunched athlete:
-There are going to be times when you feel so rushed to get it all done. Never sacrifice sleep or healthy eating and proper fueling at the expense of getting in a longer workout  or more workouts.
-Make sure you have a few key workouts during the week dedicated to your development. It's great to workout  with friends but your workouts need to be focused on you and your progression in order for you to apply those workouts to your race day.
-Never underestimate the power of a shorter workout. I challenge anyone to tell me that a 5K all out effort is easier than a 10-mile steady long run. In order to focus on quality workouts you need to get your mind focused and stop telling yourself that more is always better. 
-Your fitness development is based on consistent workouts and frequent workouts. Use this advice to have a global perspective on your training. If you are able to only work out 3 times during the week, make sure they are quality workouts and don't overdo it on the weekends to make up for time-lost during the week. If you can get in 5 x 30 min workouts during the week that is much better than 1-2 ok workouts during the week and 1-2 epic workouts on the weekend.
-A haphazard training plan where you are just checking off workouts to get them done, just going through the motions with an underfueled, exhausted body, following someone else's training or using fear based training to make you feel more prepared for race day, comes with great risks and consequences. Be smart with your available time to train.