4/24/15

A healthy immune system starts in the gut







(picture source here)

As athletes, proper gut health is imperative for digestion and a healthy immune system keeps the body well. So what do the two have in common?

As athletes, we know that in order to boost performance we need to train hard. We aim for a balanced training plan that places a significant amount of training stress on the body to elicit performance gains but adequate rest to keep the body in good health.

When an athlete trains too much (intensity or volume), the immune system is suppressed. Often, the athlete will feel he/she needs a few extra days of rest to recover from a dampened immune system but  most of the time, it's not that easy to just rest, get more sleep and feel "normal" again. 
Many athletes train too much relative to their ability to fuel properly support that added training stress, like getting enough sleep, warming up and cooling down properly, getting stronger with strength training, using sport nutrition properly and eating a healthy diet. Plus, if the athlete is also experiences stress from family, work, unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor sleep, etc.  the immune system is completely compromised.

So for athletes who have been in this situation where the raining load is too much for the body or individual lifestyle, you may be surprised to know that these athletes often experience a host of GI issues in training, racing and throughout the day. These athletes often seek extreme modifications in the diet, often to the point of elimination sport nutrition before, during and after workouts or avoiding healthy foods. But in reality, it's not always the diet that is causing the unhappy gut feelings - remember, the immune system is a critical component of gut health!

The GI tract contains around 70% of the immune system. 
A healthy gut affects how we digest and process/metabolize nutrients so you can imagine the importance of keeping your gut in good health. I'm sure you have had a day when your tummy felt off and it's not a comfortable feeling. If it happens when you are training or racing, it can be extremely challenge to train/race to your full potential. The microbes in the gut certainly affect how you feel and if you suffer from a disease like IBS, allergies or autoimmune diseases, you may find it difficult to defend against foreign invaders and find yourself more run-down, sick or exhausted than those who have a healthy (or perhaps healthier) gut. 

Researchers continue to study the complexity of the gut but what we do know is that there are foods that protect the gut and immune system. Because the gut communicates with the immune system and brain, by eating a diet rich in gut-happy foods, you can enhance the immune system health and train/race with a happy digestive system.
 Additional, with gut healthy foods, you have a greater chance of boosting performance as the body will be in optimal health when you place intentional training stress on it in training/racing. 

Most athletes associate yogurt with probiotics, which are live bacteria that can improve your gut health. Sure you can take a supplement if you don't like yogurt or eat dairy but I highly recommend choosing real food as the body identifies best with food from Mother Earth. 

Here are a few probiotic-rich foods for a happy tummy: 

Yogurt
Kefir
Sauerkraut
Dark chocolate (yep!) 
Microalgea - spirulina, chorella, and blue-green algae
Miso
Tempeh
Kimchi
Kombucha tea
Fermented cheese - gouda, cheddar, swiss

4/22/15

6-month training check-in




Right now at this moment, how would you describe how you feel about your body in relation to your training/workout regime?

Do you use the words exhausted, fatigued, overwhelmed, mentally checked-out, drained, injured, frustrated, unhealthy, unhappy or weak?

Or do you use the words strong, healthy, clean, energized, fit or happy?

Now think back 2,3 or 6 months ago? Do you feel that you are now in a better place nutritionally, physically, mentally and emotionally with your active lifestyle compared to the past?

Between 2013-2014, my body completed 4 Ironman distance triathlons in 15 months. I am extremely grateful to my body for being so healthy and strong to allow me to live such an extreme active lifestyle. And in 6 months, I am so excited to be racing in my 4th Ironman World Championship and 10th Ironman with Karel in Kona, Hawaii.
After taking 6 weeks completely off training during my off-season from Sept - November, I knew that in order to keep my body healthy and make performance gains in endurance triathlon racing, I needed to make some changes. I am always excited to try new approaches to training, fueling and recovery and after a successful past two years of training and racing, I was ready for something better to happen.

When I think about my training, health and body on a daily basis, I find myself using the words healthy, strong, happy, over and over again. Sure, I have the occasional off day but it's rare for my body to feel "off" for more than 48 hours, for more than 5 times a year.
Now this is not worth bragging about because my body is not super human. I take extremely good care of my body and I focus on balance as an athlete, coach, wife, small business owner and doggy mommy.  My number one goal as an elite endurance athlete is to get the most training adaptations possible with the least amount of training stress, all while keeping my body in the best health possible.  Because I can't say that I have always felt this way about my body, here are a few factors/changes that I feel have helped me stay healthy, strong, injury-free (for almost 2 years) energized and happy over the past 6 months. 

1) COACHING Every coach needs a coach and Karel has been helping me develop my triathlon fitness over the past 5 years. Between my knowledge as an exercise physiologist and Karel's cycling background and ability to see the sport of triathlons with a global view, I have been incredibly grateful to have Karel and his support and belief in me. He really keeps me focused in the present moment and because I have so much trust in him, I never question his workouts or plan for me. We certainly work together on my periodized plan but I do appreciate how he can challenge me with workouts that I would not want to give myself. Additionally, with so many muscular injuries relating to my hips, I feel so lucky to have the best bike mechanic and RETUL bike fitter as my hubby. Although the root of my hip/glute/back issues was never resolved through almost a dozen doctor visits, MRI's, Xrays and many PT visits (and I have had some awesome PTs!), I am convinced that Karel helped me heal myself thanks to understanding how I was riding my bike. I was not sitting properly on my bike nor was I rotating my hips correctly when I was aero vs sitting up. I was not engaging the right muscle groups when I rode so regardless of how much hip/glute work I did in the weight room or at home, I was not able to activate key muscles to get them stronger and to keep them from fatiguing. And with training, I was not doing the right drills/workouts to help my pedaling and efficiency while riding. Karel recently refit me and although it is a new position for me to adapt to, it has been amazing to see how my cycling fitness has improved alongside how much stronger and consistently I can run with a strong and healthy body. 

2) PURPLE PATCHKarel and I have followed Matt Dixon with Purple Patch Fitness for several years and this year we have had the great opportunity to have Coach Matt as a mentor. We value his approach to training and also his passion and knowledge for developing age groupers and professional triathletes. If you have not read his book The Well-Built Triathlete, I highly recommend ordering it ASAP to learn more about recovery, nutrition, functional strength and a progressive triathlon program. Matt values keeping his athletes in good health and really focusing on good recovery. He does not give easy workouts but with he knows how to bring out the best in any athlete. He is a wealth of information and so experienced as a coach and athlete. We are so lucky to have Matt as a resource. 

3) CHRIS JOHNSON PTSpeaking of calling in the experts...I am so incredibly grateful to my PT from the West Coast, Chris Johnson.  From the moment I watched Chris's You Tube videos (which I came across while getting inspiration for our Transition Plan), I knew Chris needed to be part of my 2015 training journey. I actually contacted Chris when he was in Kona about to race the Ironman in October and sent him a super long email about my history and I wanted him to help me even though he lives on another coast. Chris took the time to email me and since then, he has been so valuable for my athletic development and a great resource for me as a coach to help my athletes stay injury free.
Although Karel and I have already qualified for the 2015 IM World Championship, I see every season as an opportunity to develop, grow and make myself the best athlete I can be. Many times, this means doing things that I have never done before and taking a different approach to training. So whereas in the past I would get faster before going longer, now I have focused many months of my base training (and off season) to getting stronger before trying to get faster. Although I have always placed an emphasis on strength training in my cardio focused training, I have learned SO much from Chris (after doing a series of tests via video to send him) and he gives me the confidence that I need with my run training. I continue to do strength training several times per week, all periodized with my training. Whereas Dr. G is my go-to girl when it comes to needed a dose of mental strength, Chris has the answer to everything and he makes understanding the injured body so simple. I trust him and most of all, he believes in me which I really appreciate. His strength training routines have been specific to me and my past and I can't thank him enough for working with me.

4) HEALTHY DIET/SPORT NUTRITION 
Lastly, I can't stress the importance of a smart training plan alongside proper daily nutrition and an appropriate sport nutrition regime. I consider myself an extremely metabolically efficient athlete as I know how to time my nutrition with training and my daily diet does not affect my training or ability to fuel before/during/after workouts. I have had my menstrual cycle for over 6 years, never missing a month. For the past 6 years, my weight has stayed between 108-117 lbs (5 feet tall) and I rarely weigh myself (like maybe three times a year). I am a 23 year vegetarian and I have not been sick with a cold or flu since 2007. I have never had a broken bone or stress fracture.
So why do I mention all of this?
As you know, I am a believer and proponent of prioritizing liquid calories to provide electrolytes, carbs/sugar and fluids while training (everything in a bottle - but not concentrated bottles) and as a sport RD, I am always interested in ways to fuel my body better around/during workouts. Restricting sport nutrition, carbs or any food group is just not how I choose to fuel my active lifestyle as a competitive athlete nor is this how I work with my athletes that consult me for nutrition help.
In order to keep my body in good health, my body needs to stay/maintain a healthy weight (not too much weight but not too lean), my diet should be balanced and nutrient dense, there should be extreme focus on sport nutrition and how I fuel before, during and after workouts (and not avoiding carbohydrates by any means!) to support metabolism and hormonal health, I always emphasize good sleep and I value a smart training plan.
My diet is entirely plant-based with adequate protein, iron-rich fortified and plant based foods, calcium (I drink milk and eat yogurt daily) and rich in real-food carbohydrates. I use sport nutrition products for all workouts and I eat before every workout. I do not take any special pills, herbs, medications or supplements. I don't have any rules with my diet and nothing is off limit. I know what works for me and I have a great relationship with food.
I know that with the intentional stress that I put on my body, it would be extremely irresponsible of me to not make an extra effort to focus heavily on how I eat throughout the day as well as around/during my workouts. As a sport RD, my career and life is focused on fueling a body in motion and I spend so much time researching, reading and understanding sport nutrition.

The human body is very complicated at rest but even more so during physical activity and this is why I find it so important that every athlete (specifically endurance athletes) takes an extra measure to make sure the daily diet AND fueling regime supports your training load. Additionally, athletes must focus on the many areas that can help boost performance, not just thinking that the only way to get faster is to train harder and longer.

Train smart and don't be afraid to involve a professional/expert to help you take away the guessing or to help you make a change that you can not make for yourself. 






4/21/15

Speedy interval run - feeling strong



This morning we had a great workout at the Caine Halter YMCA. I felt strong, healthy and super fast as I was running with Karel....well more like running with Karel's strong and fast body in my view on the treadmill in front of me.
It's total motivation to watch my hubby train!

Our workout included around 25-30 minutes of dynamic warm-ups, followed by strength training followed by plyometrics and then our interval treadmill run workout. We can easily spend 20-40 minutes before a workout to warm-up and do proper strength training for neuromuscular firing. 

MS:
3 x 5 min desc 1-3 to strong w/ 4 min EZ in between (jog/rest)
3 x 3.5 min desc 1-3 (starting from last strong effort from previous set) w/ 3 min EZ in between (jog/rest)
4 x 2 min best effort (starting from best effort of previous set and holding same effort) w/ 2 min rest in between (straddle treadmill)

Total for me:
10.1 miles, 77 minutes


After our workout, we headed to our favorite French Bakery  to get a loaf of fresh bread (we only buy/eat local fresh bread). I stayed in the car as Karel headed inside and I should have guessed that Karel would buy more than just a loaf of bread.
Sometimes Karel gets a serious case of croissantitis. It is so serious that if he does not get a croissant after his workout, he tells me he will suffer all day. :)
It's not breaking news but Karel loves his carbs!

I'm incredibly grateful to see where my body is at right now in the season. I am approaching two years of being 100% injury free. Karel has not been seriously injured since he started training for triathlons back in 2012. However, Karel did develop a little navicular tendonitis and bone spur on the top of his foot after training a few months in Newton run shoes so he will not wear those ever again. Now he wears Brooks. 

Many times, we don't know why injuries happen and they just come out of the blue. But for most athletes, there is a red flag somewhere in life/training to identify and that weakness can be focused on so that the same mistake does not happen twice. Typical red flags: The athlete may be increasing intensity too quickly, trying to develop too quickly (or skipping necessary steps), putting too much volume on the body than the body can handle (the body is not strong enough to adapt to training stress), not eating enough to support training, not getting good sleep, poor form/biomechanics, the daily diet does not properly nourish the body, the sport nutrition regime does not support the periodized training load/intensity and volume.

With almost 6 consecutive years of experiencing very painful hip/glute/lower back muscular-related issues which kept me from running for 1-3 months at a time (every single year!), I contribute my recent and current good health and strong body (over the past 2 years) to a few very important factors. Although I have been able to accomplish a lot in the past 9 years of endurance racing, there are a few things that I'd like to highlight, which I will discuss in my next blog post.

4/20/15

Happy tummy, post long-run fueling


Saltines post run? Yes please!

Many runners experience GI issues or have a low appetite post run due to a variety of reasons. According to research, many elite runners experience diarrhea after long races and stomach issues are often the number one reason as to why runners are not comfortable fueling before and during workouts and on race day. Athletes would rather run slower or risk bonking over an upset tummy but if this is you, please don't feel that you will never be able to tolerate nutrition before and during workouts. Consult a sport RD who can help. 

Although there are a few tricks to fueling smarter before and during run workouts and pacing better to minimize GI issues, we all know its critical to refuel with carbohydrates post workout to replenish glycogen stores.

So how do you maximize recovery without making your tummy upset post workout?


Recommended foods post workout should be high glycemic and easy to digest along with your favorite protein-rich drink (recommend up to 25-30g liquid protein).

Because fiber and fat slows food passage into the intestines, optimize the best glycogen replenishing foods post workout to best facilitate glucose transport into muscles. 


Practical recommendations are to consume high-glycemic, carb-rich foods as soon as possible post workout. However, I prefer to say "when tolerable" to avoid a very angry belly post workout. After a very hot/sweaty or intense workouts the gut receives little blood to help fuel the muscles. Consequently, after the workout is over and your HR drops, a rush of blood goes the gut post workout which will cause digestion of food/nutrition contents and can cause a very uncomfortable feeling (and you running to the nearest potty).

High/moderate glycemic carbs include: bananas, raisins, corn chex cereal, pasta, pineapple, melon, beets, brown rice, cereal, potatoes, white rice, corn, honey, corn, peas, pasta, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and oranges.

Also to this list, one of my favs..... Saltines!

5 saltine crackers contain 63 calories, 1.4g protein and 11g carbs and  153mg sodium. Combine with a piece of fruit and you are well on your way to speeding-up the recovery process and healing the gut post workout. 

Saltines are also a great pre-workout snack too! 

Remember athletes, proper fueling is not always "healthy" so make sure your daily diet supports your health needs while your sport nutrition regime fuels your performance 

To maximize recovery after an endurance-focused workout, consume 50-75g of high to moderate glycemic carbs every 2 hours until 500g carbs (or 2000 calories) is reached. Or aim for 7-10g carbs per kg body weight as a replenishment goal.
A sample of ~50g carbs would be 1 banana (30g) + 1.5 cup milk (20g) = 45g carbs. 

Make sure you avoid foods that do not tolerate well in your gut post workout. Every athlete is different. One of my most favorite recovery snacks is a glass of milk, a few saltines and a banana but that may not work for everyone.

With optimal carb intake, your glycogen stores replenish about 5-7% per hour so it can take up to 20 hours to reestablish glycogen stores after a glycogen depleting workout. With your recovery window open all day, a happy gut means prioritizing your recovery nutrition throughout the day and not neglecting eating post workout, overeating post workout or going long hours without eating.

Keep in mind that you can not always go by feel when it comes to how you fuel before, during and after workouts. The human body does not always tell us what it needs or when it needs it.
High intensity aerobic exercise for an hour decreases liver glycogen by about 55% and a 2-hour strenuous workout almost depletes the glycogen content of liver and active muscle fibers. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates before, during and after workouts not only helps you postpone fatigue by increasing carb availability to active muscles but helps with recovery, keeps your immune system healthy and keeps your hormones balanced. 

For more helpful info on pre-workout fueling:
Pre-workout fuel: it's not healthy eating
Pre-workout fuel: Part II

4/19/15

Bike-friendly Greenville, SC


            

About a week ago, a teenager in Traveler's Rest, SC (less than 10 miles from downtown Greenville) was arrested and is now facing multiple charges, including six counts of attempted murder, after he repeatedly targeted bicyclists as revenge for the deaths of two friends, even though cyclists had no role in the accident.  

When I heard this story from a friend (who is a pro cyclist living in the area), he told me that the two kids that died were speeding over 100 mph on Roe Ford Road and lost control of the car and crashed. Around the time of the crash, a cyclist passed the scene. Wrongfully, the teenager charged, which appears to be a neighbor friend of the two teenagers that passed away, is blaming all cyclists for being the cause of this accident.

Karel and I have had no issues with cars since moving to Greenville. Sure there is the very occasional honk of a bad mood driver but rarely does this happen. Most of the time, drivers will wait behind us and wait until a stop sign to pass. We many times have to signal them that it is ok to pass us as the are just way too nice.

After living in FL for 10 years and Jacksonville, FL for the past 6, we consider Greenville, SC an incredibly safe place to ride our bikes outside. While living in Jacksonville, Karel and I did not like riding there and considered it to be a very unsafe and scary place to ride bikes. The available riding options are limited and drivers are extremely distracted while driving.

There is so much freedom when riding a bike and with endless country roads and attentive drivers (not on their cell phones) who do not hate cyclists in Greenville, I always ride safe but never fear my life when riding my bike here in Greenville. 


Karel and I covered 78 miles in a little less than 4.5 hours yesterday. 5000 feet of climbing and complete joy on two wheels. Sure, there was a lot of suffering (for me trying to stay on Karel's wheel) but it was a beautiful day to ride and we were not the only cyclists out in nature, enjoying our awesome bike-friendly roads. 


Like every ride, we leave from our house in downtown Greenville and head toward the mountains. With so many bike friendly roads, we never have to drive our bikes anywhere to ride. Rarely do we have a plan as to where we will ride as there are so many options. I sometimes ride alone but when I am feeling strong, I will try to hang on Karel's wheel and join him for his ride. For our ride yesterday, Karel took me on some new routes and the views were breathtaking. After climbing the Greenville Watershed road into North Carolina, I couldn't help but stop to really soak-up the view. 


Our long ride put us back to our home around 2pm and although I was exhausted, I just can't get enough of riding in Greenville.....I can't wait until the next ride! 


Because we just can't get enough of cycling in general, Karel, Campy, my mom and I walked downtown (about a mile from where we live) to watch the 2015 USA Crit National Championship. We caught the end of the 90-minute pro women race (and a bad crash at the last turn before the finish) and watched the entire 2-hour men pro race. Back when Karel was racing, he was Cat 1/2 so this pro race is a few steps-up from what Karel was eligible to race when he was racing bikes. 


Karel still keeps up with cycling (probably more so than triathlon racing) and with over a decade of bike racing here in the states (previous racing in Europe), he still has a lot of bike-racing friends in which he could say hi to and cheer for during this race.


Campy was cheering very loudly and was full of energy for the race. 


It was a warmer day for us, yet overcast, so Campy had too cool off from all his cheering. 


The pro race started a little after 4pm (after call-ups) and it was so great to see so many people in downtown Greenville to watch the event. 


Going back to the arrest I mentioned above, it really shows that our city not only supports the sport of cycling (with all our biking events) but encourages people to ride bikes. The fact that an arrest was actually made to protect cyclists shows how much our city supports bike safety. In Jacksonville, a cyclist would get hit and die and the driver would have to only pay a fine.
We have so many routes, trails, rental bike kiosks and bike shops that it's hard to not want to ride a bike here in Greenville. 


It was fun to walk all over the course and on this less than 1-mile loop, there was a lot of difficulty with turns and a punchy climb and gradual descend....all in downtown Greenville! 



There was a lot of action in the race and it was super exciting to watch it all unfold for 2 hours. 



Congrats to Eric Marcotte with Team SmartStop for winning the National Crit Championship title - this win (and his new jersey) will go very well with his recent win at the National Road Race Championship! 



If you are ever in Greenville, SC, let us know. 
We would love to show you around (on two wheels) our beautiful, active, 
bike-friendly city.