Essential Sports Nutrition


Endurance triathlon spectating tips

Early next week, Karel, Campy, my mom and I will be taking a road trip to Lake Placid, NY for the 2015 Ironman Lake Placid event. 
Karel and 4 of our athletes (and several Trimarni nutrition athletes) will be racing and I will be spectating and supporting our athletes.
Because I didn't choose to register for Lake Placid last year, I will also be spending my time up there training in prep for Kona. 

There's nothing I love more than spectating at a long distance triathlon. Despite being on the sidelines, there is no shortage of positive energy that is felt from the athletes as they give it their all, digging deep and overcoming anything that comes in their way. 

After months and months of training, race week and race day are all about the athlete and the athletes' needs. Certainly, it is recommended for the athlete to show appreciation for friends/family who are supporting the athlete as race week/day is likely not the first time that sacrifices have been made for the athlete. 

With Karel and I both being endurance triathletes, anytime one of us is racing and the other is not racing (which doesn't happen a lot), it's important that we both support one another. In other words, it is still possible to share the race day experience with a loved one/close friend and not be in the race.
The main priority of being a spectator for your friend/loved one is to make his/her pre and race day experience as easy and smooth as possible for an ideal racing performance. 

If you are joining a friend/family member at an upcoming long distance race, here are a few of my spectating tips to help you out at your next endurance triathlon. 


Be prepared to drop your athlete off, wait around, walk a lot and find/pay for parking before and on race day. Often times, the logistics of getting to the race expo, transitions or race start make for the most stressful situations. Your athlete will likely be on a time schedule and perhaps a little ancy and anxious if things aren't going "as planned". Try to make it easy on your athlete by getting him/her where they need to be on time and allow plenty of extra time for delays. 

 Review directions to avoid getting lost and always plan for extra time (at least 15 minutes). Be sure to read the athlete guide before arriving at the race as well as any last minute details on the race website. Better yet - print out the race schedule so you are well-prepared. There may be parking deals/restrictions in certain areas, schedule changes as well as road closures before and during the race. Lastly, if your athlete is racing a very important race (ex. A race of the season, qualifier race, etc.) be accommodating to their requests to stay within walking distance of the race venue. Although we can likely save money by staying at a hotel 10, 15 or 20 minutes away, staying within walking distance of the race may cost more but it can be a priceless experience on race day morning (for you as the spectator and the athlete). Always do your homework when it comes to picking the "right" place to stay before the race. Weigh your options before booking a hotel room for sometimes it pays to be close whereas sometimes you may be fine staying up to 10 miles away from the race venue for a kitchenette, free 
WiFi, free parking, etc.  

Always bring extra food with you and plan ahead. If your athlete wants to be in control of food choices, whether eating in the hotel room or at a certain restaurant, let him/her make that call. The only body that is racing on race day is the athlete and he/she will likely know what foods work the best pre-race. Not every athlete is the same so communicate with your athlete in the case that you would like to eat out but your athlete wants to eat in to avoid long lines and waiting for food that is prepared by someone else. Foods that are easy to travel with include: cereal, nuts, bread, PB, veggies, fruit, pretzels, sport bars and dried fruit but if you have refrigerator/cooler, you can bring other items like sandwich items, eggs, milk and yogurt. I recommend searching ahead of time for the nearest grocery store and also consider places like gas stations, CVS, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Fresh Market and farmers markets for other food find to make your shopping and eating experience a lot more simple, nutritious and hassle-free. Always bring plenty of water to your race venue for you and your athlete. Be sure to bring portable snacks and fluids on race day for you as it will be a long day. 

You may feel a little rushed the day before the race so be aware of changing plans. On the flip side, your athlete may have a rigid schedule. For a better pre-race experience, have your athlete create an itinerary - this is all about teamwork. This way the athlete has a schedule that the spectator knows about ahead of time. Try to minimize driving back and forth if there are two transition areas, if you have to attend athlete meeting before the race, if you need to get food, etc.  On the day before the race, top priorities for your athlete are eating, staying hydrated and resting.  

Plan for an early dinner the night before the race as well as early to bed. It's recommend to discuss sleeping arrangements with your athlete because for many spectators, you not be able to go to bed at 8:00 or 9pm like your athlete. Expect an early wakeup so it's recommend to have everything packed and ready to go before the morning. And to save time if checking out on race day morning, load up the car as much as possible. Check with your hotel about a late check-out or better yet, being able to stay 1/2 day so that you and your athlete can rest and clean-up after the race.
Again, allow extra time (15 minutes) in the morning. Every athlete is different with his/her typical pre race routine so discuss this with your athlete ahead of time so your athlete can be in his/her "zone" on race day morning. 

Some athletes like to get in the zone (peace and quite) on race day morning whereas others are very social and energetic. Nerves are not isolated to newbies so even if an athlete is experienced, avoid questions like "are you ready" and "are you nervous" and "are you still injured" and "what is your goal time" and instead, keep the questions neutral about the entire race experience.  

To avoid an athlete freak-out, review the weather ahead of time but do NOT complain about the weather (cold/hot/windy, rain) in front of your athlete! Your athlete does not need to hear you complain about it being really hot on race day or about the 90% chance of rain all day. 

It's recommend to review the course map and have an idea of when your athlete will finish the race as well as predicted range of swim, bike, run times. Prior to the race, ask your athlete a range of times that would give him/her a perfect day. For example if your athlete says the following for an IM:
1:10 swim
5 min T1
6 hr bike
5 min T2
4 hour run
For spectating during the race, the total time is not as important as making sure you are where you want/need to be before the athlete finishes that certain leg of the triathlon. When your athlete starts the run, you should have a better idea of when he/she will finished based on the predicted finishing time. Give yourself a 15 minute buffer for the swim and bike and finish time so that you are always ahead of their "perfect" day schedule. This will help for cheering and a better spectating experience. Not every race is spectator friendly so it may be helpful to reach online forums for spectating advice (the hot spots and good hidden spectating spots) at your specific race venue. 

Lastly, have a specific meeting spot for post race. When you see your athlete, let him/her recover before you start asking questions like " how'd the race go, did you have a good race, is that the time you wanted?". If watching a newer athlete compete, the goal may be just to finish. For other athletes, there may be high expectations about a time or place. Whatever the race day goal may be - the best results are told by the athlete him/herself and not by a time on paper. As a spectator, you must keep in mind that wind, heat or other uncontrollables can affect race times so a race is not "bad" if an athlete does not arrive according to his/her predicted schedule. Often times, it takes a little bit of time for an athlete to collect him/herself after the race when the emotions of racing calm down a bit. Certainly, if an athlete is celebrating post race - celebrate with him/her!!

 Above all - be there for your athlete from start to finish. Race day will be a very special day for even you because the athlete could not do what he/she is about to do with you!

Will you be traveling to Kona to watch the 2015 IM World Championship? Here are a few of my Ironman World Championship spectating tips


A well-executed Ironman taper - 3 tips

Taper is an interesting time for an Ironman athlete.
And for most "easy" and "taper" are never spoken in the same sentence.

Physically, taper is a needed time for endurance athletes to ensure that the body is rested and well-fueled for the upcoming long haul. A drastic drop in training allows the body to recover from all the previous stress. Nearing race day, intensity can be added to "wake up" the body while volume is still kept low. This allows an athlete to feel sharp, fresh and hungry for race day. 

Of course, the style of tapering may differ between athletes, depending on fitness ability, race priority and prior taper experience. 

Emotionally and mentally, taper can be rather difficult. On one end, you can't wait for the first day of taper when you have a sigh of relief that the end of "training" is near but on the other end, a change in schedule, appetite, structure, etc. can makes you feel a bit "off."

Regardless of the taper, you have to learn how to embrace your taper for without it you may arrive to race day sore, exhausted, mentally checked-out and unable to perform. But taper too much, and you feel flat, exhausted and unable to perform.  
As you can see, tapering is an important time and every athlete needs to learn how to properly execute tapering before an endurance event.  

Many athletes go into taper seeing it as a horrible time. Appetite issues, sleep issues, random aches, fatigue, mood changes, uncontrollable nerves, extra time (not sure how this is a bad thing for an age group athlete). These are a few of the many complaints that athletes describe when it comes to tapering. 

Although some of these may occur, I do believe that athletes need to learn how to have a healthier relationship with taper in order to enjoy the time before race day for it is necessary and beneficial. 

A well-executed taper tips

Enjoy your new normal
There is absolutely no reason to be inactive during taper and if anything, you do not want your body to get lazy. However, do not use your free time to pick up a new sport like soccer, basketball, rock climbing or water skiing.  It is important to give your body a few days of a very light load of workouts (or a few off days from working out - not necessarily in a row) after your last big block of training. However, once you feel like the body is rested and refueled from those workouts (at least 3-4 days), then you want to continue to exercise in order to keep your body fresh. On race week, your body may crave or reject the desire for intense intervals for the first two or three workouts that you doing or perhaps in just the first few minutes of a main set but the added intensity is needed. You gotta wake that body up so that it knows a race is coming.
(If you feel you are burntout or overtrained, this needs to be discussed with your coach for this is very serious to your health and can affect race day execution).

Be smart with your new normal
You should avoid any type of "testing" workouts, especially if you are injured. If your body is injured but you just want to test it, you need to give yourself at least 48 hours after the moment/day you feel "healed" to ensure you do not backtrack. Consider that 1 day too soon testing your body after an injury can put your back 3 days or a week or more. It is absolutely not worth testing your body with fear-based training, just to see if you can do "it." Save your best performance for race day. 

You should never compromise sleep during your taper. Whereas long workouts are often done early morning on the weekends to avoid hot temps later in the day (and perhaps to accommodate family schedules) this is understood. But the shorter volume workouts during taper should allow you to not be so rushed in the early morning. Athletes who continue to wake up at 4:30-5:30am on the first weekend of taper (assuming this follows 4-6 days of waking up at 4:30-5:30am to work out before work) is not an ideal way to take full advantage of taper. Unless you are getting at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep at night, allow your body to sleep without waking up to an alarm. Sleep will not only help repair and rejuvinate your body but it will help with appetite as well and reset hormone levels. 

You are not lazy. It is important that you do not see taper as a negative experience for your body in that you are losing fitness, gaining weight or being too sedentary. Hopefully, you are not sedentary and are still maintaining a swim-bike-run lifestyle BUT with a reduction in volume and intensity.  Accept that you needed to put in the work to train your body but now you need to rest it through a lighter load. When your "workout" is over, find ways in your life that you can keep your body and mind healthy and happy. Explore new places, spend time in the kitchen, catch up with chores/to-do's, volunteer, go for long walks, etc. there is so much you can do with your extra time that no athlete should ever feel bored, antsy or upset with having extra "free" time. Just be sure you are not compromising your health by putting yourself into situations that could risk injury or sickness.

Maintain a healthy relationship with your body
I believe that athletes need to prioritize this tip for it is extremely important in feeling confident with your body before race day. In the 2-3 weeks before a race, this is not the time to make "race weight". Your body may feel different and it may feel tired. Coupled with a drop in volume and a change in routine, this can cause an athlete who feels insecure with body image to feel uncomfortable in their own skin. We must change this thought process immediately. Many times when athletes feel vulnerable, they want to immediately fix a situation. What ends up happening is the need to do something extreme/drastic with the diet/exercise routine during taper like underfueling, intentional dehydrating (or fasting/detoxing) or overexercising. All of this is not advantageous to a great race day experience.

If you struggle in this area, you must focus on what your body is capable of doing on race day. When was the last time you thanked your body for allowing you to train for your Ironman distance triathlon? Direct your energy to how amazing your body is and where it was (fitness-wise) when you started training for this upcoming event and where it is today. What are you able to do now that you once couldn't? What is your body capable of on race day? What is it that you want from your body on race day?

Keep in mind that you are not racing for the ideal body image on race day. Your fans, fellow athletes, teammates and spectators are watching what your body can do on race day and not what your body looks like.

In addition to these 3 tips, a change eating is often necessary to accommodate the change in training volume. I will cover this in another blog as well as some ways to reduce cravings and to minimize hunger during taper. 

Have a happy and healthy taper!


Training and racing with a happy tummy

GI (gastrointestinal) problems are very common in athletes, specifically endurance athletes. It is known that the prevalence for GI distress is amplified as racing duration continues, especially in hot environmental conditions.

GI concerns relating to sport nutrition
Although gas and burping may be bothersome during racing, they are typically not performance limiting. However, heartburn, painful side stiches, diarrhea/bloody stools, vomiting and uncomfortable bloating/swelling can be extremely health threatening and performance debilitating. 

When it comes to race day, PR or ER is not the mentally you want to have if you race without fine-tuning your race day sport nutrition.

Predisposition of GI issues is common, relating to genetics, biomechanics, anatomy, age, diet and health. Some athletes can experience GI issues simply from a poor bike fit or running posture. Let’s look at some other reasons why your tummy may not be happy during racing:

- Your body may not be well-adapted to tolerating fluid/calorie ingestion during training and/or your fueling timing may be off.  Don’t let race day be the only day you use sport nutrition products (or new products). Use the same nutrition products (and pre training snack/meal)  for at least 4 weeks (preferably longer) to improved intestinal absorption and tolerance of calories, fluids and electrolytes. It's very important to not slack on adequate carbohydrates AND water AND electrolytes during every workout. Don't just "get by" and underfuel and underhydrate in order to check-off a workout and then try to be "perfect" on race day. You must train your gut and avoid serious issues in training like dehydration and glycogen depletion.

- Well-formulated sport drinks are simple to digest and are designed to meet carbohydrate, electrolyte and fluid needs. Don’t be a nutrition chemist in your kitchen and create your own concoction or overconcentrate your bottles. Most sport drinks will meet your hourly carb, electrolyte and fluid needs and they are easy to use! It's important that you select the product that is best for you (with the least amount of ingredients to digest/absorb) and tastes the best. Just make sure you drink adequate fluids to combine with the powder throughout all of your long workouts and on race day.

- Your racing intensity is too high or you swallow too much air or water in the swim. Sorry epic bikers, but you need to slow down in order to avoid suffering on the run. The energy (calories) you consume during training/racing is only effective if it is emptied from the stomach and can be quickly absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. For maximal digestion and absorption, train your gut on the bike with liquid sport drinks of  ~4-8% carbohydrate solution mixed in 20-28 ounces of water with at least 200 mg sodium (and other electrolytes) per 8 ounces each hour and same on the run. Consume frequently (every 8-15 minutes). Cycling and running fueling requirements will differ.
In the case of an upset tummy due to swallowing water or air during the swim or just feeling off, take a TUMS when you first experience an uncomfortable gut feeling to relieve the pressure immediately. Afterward, it's up to you to slow down and try to relieve or further prevent the problem from happening again. 

-You consume sugar alcohols/sweeteners in the diet or too many gas-producing foods. I highly recommend a low residue-diet in the 48 hours before a race so that you can reduce the amount of stool that you produce as well as easing the stress on the gut. 

Low residue friendly foods: 
Refined grains (white rice), cooked cereals (ex. cream of wheat, grits), corn/rice based cereals, cooked veggies (no seeds), cooked potatoes, ripe bananas, cooked fruits, applesauce/fruit blends, lactose-free milk products, lean meat, rice cakes, honey, syrup, pulp-free juice.

- GI symptoms are highly individualized and often circumstantial. Weather, nerves, diet, health status, terrain, racing intensity and duration affects digestion and absorption. The hotter the race, the more likely the risk of GI issues due to dehydration and pacing issues. 

-A pre-race bowel movement can be welcomed before a long workout or on race day morning.  However, increased bowel movements during a race are never well-desired.

Research shows that excessive consumption of fiber, fat, protein, sugar alcohols, additives, sweeteners and fructose are all associated with a greater risk of GI issues during race day.
Although adequate fiber in the daily diet will help keep you regular during training, a low residue diet is recommended on the 2-3 days before the race (residue refers to undigested foods that make up stool).

For a happy tummy on race day, it’s up to you to figure out how much carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluids you can consume to prevent bonking and dehydration but not too much that it will negatively affect your gut. Because the most successful endurance athletes are those who slow down the least, it’s not just about preventing GI-related issues on race day but knowing how to deal with them when they come about. 

Because blood flow to the GI tract is impaired during exercise, dehydration can often exacerbate GI symptoms due to slow gastric emptying. Pre- race/workout hydration is just as important as race day hydration. Consume at least 2.7L/day of water (women) and 3.7L/day (men), in addition to any electrolyte tablets, electrolyte powders and sport drinks that are needed on race week to support your upcoming fluid, electrolyte and carbohydrate needs.
Do not overconsume fluids on race day morning. No more than 30 ounce fluid is needed in the 3 hours before your race so that you can well-hydrate without experiencing excessive urination. 


When passion turns obsession

As athletes, we often following a rigid schedule of working out, balanced with a preoccupation with food and body image as it relates to physical performance and overall health. 

For many athletes, patterns of exercise obsession and disordered eating coincide with the race season with a heightened awareness of how workouts, food and body composition positively (or negatively) affect performance.

When your passion turns into an obsession, see this as a wake-up call that you may be taking your health to an unhealthy place. Sense of worth or ability to succeed should not be tied with a fixed number of hours/miles completed per week or a specific body composition or number on the scale. 

If you feel frustrated, anxious or overwhelmed if you miss a workout or find yourself constantly criticizing your body composition, you may be putting yourself into situations where your life is controlled by workout, food and body perfection rather than being focused on development. 

The perfect training and eating regime is the one where you can experience performances gains without compromising overall health.

There is a big difference between eating for performance/health and training for performance gains and living an unmanageable life because of the compulsive drive to maintain a high level of fitness and specific body image. 

Whereas it may look as if you or an athlete you know is trying to achieve optimal performance through his/her actions to be competitive at his/her upcoming races and he/she is being extremely dedicated and committed to training and eating, this passion could be turning into an obsession. 

There is no simple solution to disordered eating and exercise obsession. 
Left untreated there is a high risk of serious health consequences and performances declines.  

Warning signs for a passion turned obsession

-Frequently commenting (out loud or internal dialogue) about your body weight/image or comparing to another athlete's body image
-Feeling extreme pressure to perform/look a certain way from your coach/teammate or yourself
-Loss of a significant amount of body weight
-Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
-Ritualistic habits and preoccupation with food, calories, cooking and eating
-Sacrificing sleep, relationships and/or work for workouts
-Inability to be flexible with workout intensity/volume
-Training through injury, sickness or fatigue
-Compulsive need to workout or anxiety that you are never doing enough training to feel physically ready for your upcoming race.
-Refusal to fuel before, during and after workouts for fear of gaining weight (or feeling uncomfortable ingesting calories when burning calories) 
-Sporadic or constant episodes of binge eating, purging, emotional eating or food restriction
-Severe mood shifts often tied with exercise or meal times. 
-Chronic fatigue, injuries or sickness
-Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. Constant obsession of losing weight or becoming lean
-Loss of menstrual cycle (amenorrhea) which can come from not meeting energy needs, not necessarily from being "underweight" relative to height. 
-Hormonal issues and loss of sexual drive
-Changes in hair/skin health
-Altered labs (calcium, thyroid, iron/ferritin, estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, etc.)
-Constipation and GI issues
-Dehydration, bonking, fatigue, headache and other underfueling symptoms that may be dismissed as "normal" associated with training

It's important to note that body weight and fitness level are not directly correlated with eating disorders/disordered eating or exercise obsession. 
Do not assume that just because you are a beginner athlete or if you are over your healthy weight that you are not at risk for health issues related to exercise obsession and disordered eating.
Additionally, some experienced and lean athletes do an exceptional job of staying healthy with eating and are able to train hard but rest/recover harder. 

As an athlete, you likely have your own standards and expectations as to how you want to look, how much you want to train and how you want to perform on race day all in an effort to discover personal physical success. 

There is nothing wrong with being passionate and dedicated to your sport and eating regime. 

But if your intentional "performance boosting" actions are negatively affecting your health, energy and physical performance as well as quality of life and interactions with others, it's important that you reach out to a professional sport dietitian or clinical sport psychologist who specializes in disordered eating and exercise obsession to get the help that you need to ensure that you can continue to train and compete to your full potential.