Essential Sports Nutrition


The athlete's body composition paradox

Have you been told that if you want to be faster, you need to lose weight?

Well let me tell you that athletic performances cannot be accurately predicted based solely on body weight and composition, assuming that if you are "less", you will gain "more".

I have seen and worked with many athletes who don't recognize their past/current successes in their healthy and strong body. Despite good, great and/or better race results through proper fueling/eating, the athlete feels he/she does not have "an athletes body" and is constantly trying to lose weight through overtraining and underfueling in an effort to train for a lower body composition.....not for better performances. 

We must also understand that to race "fast" we have to consider how you physically and mentally prepare for your races. Ultimately, the athlete who remains in the best health throughout a training cycle will out-perform a lean, yet underfueled, injured or undernourished athlete.

There are many dietary and training methods that will change your body composition as an athlete, which may positively or negatively affect your health and performance. 

So now I see a paradox that overwhelms and often sabotages the performance and health status of many athletes. 

The athlete's body composition paradox: 
-An athlete wants to achieve a specific body composition to become faster, stronger, more powerful and more efficient. Science has shown us that the human body can be faster and more efficient with an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in fat mass. However, the strategies for a change in body weight/composition can often adversely affect health, hormones, tissue growth/repair, energy metabolism, energy reserves, pyschological and physiological functioning and negatively affect an athlete's ability to train and compete at a higher level. 

Athletes, keep in mind that even short periods of food restriction/no sport nutrition fueling can negatively affect how you train, compete and recover. Poor exercise performance and an increase in injuries and burnout will occur in the underfueling/undernourished athlete. 

Let a change in body composition be a direct, yet non-forced, result of how well you can meet your energy demands around/during workouts in order to train harder and to recover faster and how committed you are to properly nourishing your body on a day-to-day basis. 

A healthy body performs amazingly well. Stop chasing a body image and pioritize fueling your amazing body in motion. 

I never said you can't or can't aim to lose weight or change body composition to boost your performance. But if your strategies for weight loss/body composition changes are counterproductive to your initial goals of being faster, more resilient, healthier, stronger and more powerful OR when you achieve your ideal image you can not perform/meet the athletic demands of your sport with your new body, your approach is not working. 

If you are struggling to understand how to fuel for performance and for health, it's best to seek professional help with a sport RD who can guide you in the best individualized approach for your health and performance goals. 


New eats from Main Street to Traveler's Rest

In a previous blog, I talked about tips for healthy eating while dining out. It's nice to get dressed up every now and then and enjoy food prepared from someone else and to not have to worry about cleaning up dirty pots, pans and dishes. 

Trimarni athlete Jim N was training with us in Greenville for his own private 3-day "camp" and there's nothing better than working out with our athletes and reflecting on workouts, with happy tummy food. 

One evening, we want to Breakwater restaurant, downtown Greenville on Main Street. The atmosphere was great and Karel and Jim enjoyed a local IPA. We all yummed over the bread basket which was filled with bite size corn muffins and biscuits with a side of orange butter.

For starters, I got the SPRING HERB SALAD:
artisan and arugula lettuce, basil, cilantro, tarragon, split creek farm feta, spicy pecans, citrus vinaigrette

For my vegetarian entree, I combined two sides which included: squash, shiitake & zucchini 

And the butternut risotto. 
Both were outstanding and I loved the texture and taste of the veggies with the risotto. 
Karel ordered the SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN: boneless fried chicken breasts, red skin mashed potatoes, haricots verts, cream gravy,

We all left with happy tummies! 

The day prior, we had a late lunch/early dinner after an afternoon 3.5 hour incredibly challenging ride (which followed a morning long course swim) from Upcounty Provisions.

Not sure if we were ready for some solid food after our ride or if the food is just really, really good but our meal was really, really good. And to make this restaurant even better - all the names on the menu are after well-known places in Greenville! 
How fun!!

I got the The Swamp Rabbit:

Hummus, avocado, garden veggies, crispy onions, mixed greens & balsamic vinaigrette dressing in wrapped up in our house-made lavash flatbread with a Ceaser's Head Side Salad (and a bag of chips comes with the meal). Karel ordered the The Traveler: Roast beef, bacon (which Karel rarely has), sauerkraut, feta and horseradish aioli served on a kaiser hoagie.  

The were out of the hoagie and flatbread so we all got Focaccia bread. 

I ordered out so when I went to pick up the food in downtown Traveler's Rest, I couldn't resist the brownie (which all three of us shared). Not sure exactly what was in it but it was gooooood!!

I just love the opportunities that come on occasion to enjoy new places to eat. I try to order new meals that I wouldn't normally make at home so that I can get inspired by a chef creation. I see eating out as a great way for me to become more creative in my own kitchen as I emphasize home cooked meals to fuel my active lifestyle. 

Happy eating (out)!

Remember, always feel better after you eat than before you eat. 
A happy tummy is a great feeling! 


Healthy eating without following a diet plan

(for the original source, visit USA Triathlon multisport zone)

By Marni Sumbal, MS, RD
All fitness enthusiasts and athletes must understand the importance of consuming a balanced, wholesome diet. And above all, this diet shouldn't leave you unsatisfied, without energy, feeling isolated, requiring an excessive amount of planning and prep or costing you a lot of money. It’s time to start thinking about food for fuel and health. 
Here are six tips for eating a healthy diet without following a diet plan.
1. What's your motivation to change? If you feel the need to eliminate or add certain foods to the diet, be sure to have a really good reason to do so. A good reason would be doctor's/dietitian's orders or lab work that reflects the need to place emphasis on certain areas of your diet. Weight loss is typically a top priority for most people wanting to change nutrition habits but a better focus would be on what you can do with your body when you start eating healthier. Maybe less sick days, reducing risk for cancer, being around longer for your grandkids/spouse, having more energy, taking better care of your body, performing better, having less focus on food and more focus on living life to the fullest? Whatever your reason may be, let a change in body composition be that added bonus as your health is always top priority.
2. Create a positive food environment. Stock your kitchen with everything you need to prepare wholesome foods at home and store leftovers in Tupperware. And don't forget the foods that you want to eat as well. I recommend shopping every three to four days when you are transitioning to a more real food diet so that you do not overwhelm yourself with a lot of produce and then find yourself throwing it out after a week. Think of what you can keep in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer for easy and healthy meal prep.
3. Don't be perfect; aim for progress.
Create a very simple lifestyle log to plan your day. The diet mentality is to log your day as or after it happened and this often doesn't initiate change but instead guilt, control and self-defeat. Instead, create a plan for yourself. When you think about what you will eat before or after workouts, for your three meals and then snacking with a purpose, you have a better opportunity to set yourself up for success. Not only do you have a plan for staying nourished and satisfied but you are now forced to make sure you have those food items available which reduces the risk for overeating later in the day as well as going long hours without eating (or eating on a whim). This also helps the athlete fuel better so that pre- and post-workout nutrition isn't an afterthought.
4. Rethink your plate.
I'm all about  a plant strong plate. You can pick your protein choice. Fill up your plate with fresh foods, packed with vitamins and minerals. Your plate should never limit fats, carbs or protein so find a way to create that beautiful plate that leaves you satisfied and feeling great about your meals. If you can't do this on your own, have a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition help you plan your diet to support your active lifestyle and health goals.
5. Get in the kitchen!
Do I even need to give you a reason as to why you should cook more? Don't find the time to cook, make the time.
6. Give it time.
Don't expect to change everything overnight. Focus on a few changes every one to two weeks so you can make that lifestyle change. Be sure to have a strong, supportive team around you who will keep you motivated and inspired to learn how to eat for fuel and for health. Also keep in mind that even though you may find yourself questioning your new or improved eating habits, your diet is created by you and for you. You have your reason for your dietary changes and you are making these changes for the right reasons. You are not chasing a body image or wanting a quick fix but instead, you are taking the time to make a lifestyle change. Enjoy this wonderful journey that you are taking your body on as you learn how to eat for fuel and for health and how to develop a great relationship with food and your body.

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC and holds a master of science in exercise physiology, is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and a nine-time IRONMAN finisher. She enjoys public speaking, writing, plant-strong cooking and traveling. She will be racing in her 4th IM World Championship this October with her husband Karel. Learn more at
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.


Tips for healthy eating when dining out

Dining out. We all do it.
Whether it is for work, pleasure, convenience, travel, an event or for really, no reason at all.
Eating out is part of our lifestyle. 

But is it possible to stay fit and healthy when eating outside of the home?

Despite close to 50% of all food spending from Americans being at restaurants, fast foods or food away from home, there was once a time when eating out was costly and inconvenient and an insult to your grandmother to compare her home-cooked meal to food served in a restaurant. 

Karel told me that when he was growing up in Czech, they rarely ate out. Eating out was reserved for very special occasions and he said that for him and his siblings, it was a chance to practice their good manners. 

Today, you don’t need a special occasion to have someone serve you, wait on you, prepare food for you and clean up after you.  Meal prep at home is far from a valued and necessary skill with available food at every street corner.  For many, cooking is a bothersome, time-consuming task that has little place in a busy lifestyle. Clean-up, dirty dishes, fear of preparing bad-tasting food and burdensome meal planning are among the most common reasons as to why many people do not make the time to prepare and eat home cooked meals. Throw in training for a triathlon and you have a list of excuses as to why you can’t find time to properly fuel your active lifestyle.

Supersized, calorie, sodium and fat laden meals are of concern for the public as health professionals continue to associate chronic diseases and obesity to our growing fast-food nation in a fast-paced, sedentary society.
No one said that eating out is a horrible thing but if your “occasional” eating out, turns into “daily” eating, consider the following tips to help you stay on track with healthy eating to support your active triathlon lifestyle.  

Tips for healthy eating when dining out
-Before spending all your energy on how to eat “healthy” outside of the home, consider working on a at-home, real-food, balanced diet for most meals per week, along with eating more mindfully - eating with a purpose. If you eat well most of the time you don't have to stress about the occasional times. It's important that when you do eat out and if it is for a special occasion (or at least has a purpose), a you can eat a meal utside of the home without feelings of guilt. If you have a really great reason to indulge, like a birthday or special occasion, enjoy it! Recognize that it's ok to say "no thank you" to the office brownies that always end up in your eye sight on Friday and saying "yes please" to a slice of cake at a family members birthday. Enjoy the cake as you cherish memories with others. 

-Don’t bank all of your daily calories for your special meal. Modify a snack or two to save 200-400 calories but avoid going into the meal starving by “saving” calories or you will risk overeating, sending your blood sugar out of control (and even your blood pressure) and heavily over-indulging at the upcoming meal.

-If eating out is an occasional treat, enjoy it! It’s not about what you eat occasionally that affects your health but rather what you eat on a day-to-day basis. Be inspired, try something new or indulge in a feel-good way. I just LOVE trying new foods/meals that inspire me to be more creative in my kitchen. Consider a day/time for eating out when you can be in the moment and enjoy the full dining experience (with feel-good food choices and not stressed and exhausted).  Be sure you savor each bite (to prevent overeating) and try to eat in a way that allows you to feel better after you eat than before. Order something that you can eat occasionally because you love it and pass on neutral foods.

-Ever consider burning calories as you treat yourself? Rather than eating out dinner and having dessert immediately after, consider driving elsewhere for something special for a treat. If roads are safe and weather is nice, bike to your closest ice cream parlor or park at least one-mile away and enjoy a 15 minute walk to and from a local bakery or ice cream shop and enjoy a small treat while walking. Perhaps the thought of driving somewhere else for a dessert may make you second guess the need/desire for the treat in the first place while at the restaurant.

-Be creative with eating out. Review online menus ahead of time so you don't have to be extremely selective and needy as you ask the chef to re-do a menu option to meet your needs, (although, many restaurants today will cater to your personal dietary needs, sometimes with a small extra price). For me as a vegetarian athlete, I know what fuels my body and when it comes to paying for food, I want to pay for happy tummy foods, with great flavor and presentation. Do your homework ahead of time so that when you eat out with friends or family, you are able to find a place that you are excited about and thus, are able to order something that is worth the money and time for having someone else prepare your meal.

-Be smart with “healthy” selections. Each restaurant will have their own definition of healthy whereas you may see a “healthy” option with “only” 1300 mg of sodium. Or, perhaps or a vegetarian meal loaded with cheese and butter and over 1500 calories. If you are going the healthy route while dining out, keep in mind as athletes, we need meals, not lettuce on a plate. Spending $15 on greens for a “meal” is not my ideal way to enjoy a dining experience and feel fueled and satisfied. Just because something is “healthy" doesn’t mean it will meet your needs. Use your skills from your developed healthy daily eating routine to better understand how to choose or create a meal outside the home (from restaurants to fast food to the salad bar) that will leave you fueled, nourished and satisfied after eating.

-Don’t be afraid to be a leader. Order first so that others around you will feel inspired by your choices rather than feeling as if you have to join the crowd. You never know who you will inspire when eating out. Also, a special request such as asking for dressing on the side, doubling the veggies, asking how the protein is cooked or asking for no salt added is likely going to make a big difference as to how you feel during and after eating. Don’t hesitate to order from the lunch menu at dinner (if possible) for a smaller portion, combining appetizers or sides for a meal, splitting an entrĂ©e or ordering one dessert for a group.

The key with eating out is that you enjoy your dining experience, and perhaps, feeling a little ore inspired to try new foods/recipes at home. As athletes, we want to eat healthy but we also deserve to indulge. If eating out every now and then is your "treat" - enjoy it!

As you apply these tips to your dining experience, always remember to leave the restaurant feeling better (satisfied) than when you arrived (hungry) and motivated to get right back to your normal healthy living routine. 

Although eating out may seem convenient, quick and often healthier than eating at home, there’s nothing more valuable for your health and performance needs than being your own waiter and chef to fuel your body with own personal “triathlete in training” menu.  


Race-cations: plan smart

Just one year ago, Karel and I raced Ironman St. Croix 70.3. It was the most amazing experience and the course was ridiculously hard. We loved every mile of the race and we will never forget the entire experience of racing on this island. It's like a mini Kona, Hawaii! 

If you are interested, I dedicated 10 blogs to all things St. Croix, starting with our travel to the race, our race week experience, our race report and post race. 

As athletes, traveling is part of the racing experience. Eventually, you will be "forced" to travel outside your community or state to race in an event. You may be racing in a national or world qualifier race or the national or world championship. Or you may be racing in a really awesome destination as a bucket-list race.

Traveling for a race should be a fun, exciting and memory-filled time for you, your friends and/or family. But let's be honest, there are so many unknowns and logistics when it comes to traveling and racing in a place outside of your home environment.

Its important that if you are planning a race-cation, you think about all logistics, the race course and the timing of the race. Race season planning is important so if you line-up a race-cation on your race season plan, make sure the course makes you really excited to train for it but also you feel mentally prepared to race on the course. It can be an exciting and scary experience to race in an unknown location on a course that you have never experienced before and every athlete will handle a race-cation differently. Don't let the fear of racing somewhere new keep you from enjoying your training journey. 

Always make sure that when you sign up for a race, you feel confident that you can put in the minimum amount of work necessary to train for the race. The reason why I put extra emphasis on making sure you can train for a race-cation is because there is an added stress to traveling for a race and well, it costs a lot more money than just traveling a few hours down the road for a one or two day trip race. This mental stress can affect you physically throughout your training cycle, on race week and even on race day so it's important that you and your family/friends understand with your commitment to training and the race location that you are selecting is not too intimidating for your current skills/fitness. Remember that a race-cation should be a fun experience and because every athletes wants to finish their race, regardless of the location, do some serious research about your race course (and traveling to the race) prior to signing up just because you heard it was a cool race or all your training buddies are doing it too. You want to also consider the prep for the race which includes being able to acclimate to the heat (if applicable), dial in nutrition, perfect skills for your course and feel mentally and physically prepared. 

Believe me when I say that just because you have a race-cation on your race plan, life will not stop for you. It will likely cost more money than you planned for and not everything on race week/day will go as planned. Try to do your very best to make progress with your training to feel as prepared as possible and when you get to your race, make sure you 100% enjoy the experience of your race-cation.  

Karel and I are able to make a lot of memories together when we race together but there is something extra special about traveling to a race. We had our first race-cation for Karel's first half Ironman which was 2012 Branson 70.3 and we selected this race because it was a challenging course. We didn't know much about Branson, Missouri but it was affordable to get to and a great time of the year.

We feel so lucky that we are able to race in some amazing locations together over the past Branson, Missouri, Lake Placid, NY, Madison, WI, Klagenfurt, Austria and now this season, Knoxville, Tennessee, Williasmburg ,VA and back to Lake Placid (Karel loved it so much he will be racing the IM there again this year). Then in October, Karel and I will be racing Kona Hawaii! This will be my 4th trip to Kona for the Ironman World Championship and 10th Ironman. Although I feel much less stressed traveling to Kona after three previous trips to this island, this will be a new experience with Karel and myself racing.

I have enjoyed writing blog posts from all our race-cations but also sharing some of my tips for traveling to races.

Staying active and healthy during travel

Going international: travel tips

Travel nutrition tips

What's in my cooler?

Smart Meals for traveling triathletes

Travel tips for the Kona bound

What's on your race-cation bucket list?