Essential Sports Nutrition


Homemade grilled pizza

Last weekend we had our friends/athletes Anthony and Peggy in town (and their furry child Brutus) and we had a lot of fun. The primary reason for traveling from DC to Greenville was to get a RETUL fit/re-fit from Karel on their new tri bikes but we also did a little working out (exercising) and a lot of eating. With every meal, there was a lot of yumming.
Like us, Anthony and Peggy share a love for home cooking but we couldn't resist going out for crepes at Tandem Creperie on Sunday morning after an hour run (our longest and 2nd run since IM Kona).

After our "brunch", we picked up the doggies and we headed downtown for a few hours. 

The dogs were almost exhausted as we were (we all hiked at Ceaser's Head on Saturday morning so our legs were a bit tired) so by 3pm, we drove back to our place with a quick stop at Publix to get some ingredients for our pizza dinner.

Here are a few pics from our beautiful hike: 

Anyways - back to food. 

Anthony had the great idea to grill our pizzas and since Karel and I have never used our grill for pizzas, we couldn't resist!

After letting the pizza dough sit out at room temperature for a few hours, Anthony went to work on the dough (with some flour) to form the pizzas.

We then started up the grill (and by we, I mean Anthony and Karel - Peggy and I were having too much fun in the kitchen)

First, Anthony coated the grill with some olive oil.
Put olive oil in a baggy and then dip a paper towel into the baggy. Use tongs to hold the towel and then rub the oil on the grill.

Then place the pizza dough on the grill.

Let the pizza dough cook (covered in the grill) until golden brown and firm on the bottom. Depending on the pizza thickness and shape, this will vary from pizza to pizza. It's a good idea to just hang outside with the pizza and check on it after a few minutes with a grill spatula.

To make the "waiting" easier, Karel suggest some appetizers and an IPA beer....along with your furry best friend to protect you from the birds in the sky and the squirrels in the trees.

An important tip: Because you will be putting on your toppings on to partially cooked dough, it is a good idea to prep all of your toppings before grilling the dough.

I sauteed some veggies, heated frozen corn, grilled some peppers on the skillet and chopped the meat (Brutus and Campy helped me) and Peggy made the sauce (chopped tomatoes cooked down with a pinch of sugar, chopped basil and garlic). 

After the pizza dough is cooked on one side, flip the dough and it's time for the sauce. 

Spread a layer of sauce on the dough.

You can certainly used bottled sauce if you'd like. 

Next it was time for the cheese.

And then the toppings. 

We made three different pizzas - a meat lovers with ham and sausage (not Marni friendly), a veggie lovers (pictured below) and a Margarita pizza with basil, mozzarella and sliced tomatoes (this one was my favorite - pictured at the top of the blog). 

It only took a few minutes for the bottom of the pizza to cook and to melt the cheese. 

Anthony and Peggy gave us the great idea to use leftover paper grocery bags for the pizza as an easy way to slice the pizza and to collect crumbs for an easy clean up.

We didn't even bother with plates as we were standing around in the back watching the doggies chase each other.

Our friend Meredith came over with her silver lab Gabby to meet silver lab Brutus. Campy served as the referee of all the fun.

In honor of Halloween, check out some of the cool spooky pizzas on the internet that you can make for your friends, family, kids or yourself.
Just Google "Halloween pizza ideas"



Home cooking - is it a thing of the past?

When Karel was growing up in his small town of Znojmo, Czech Republic, eating out was a very special treat, only enjoyed on very special occasions. Eating out was also an opportunity for Karel and his siblings to practice their good table etiquette. Eating out wasn't cheap either.
But at the end of the day, nothing tasted as good as his mom's home cooking.

Over the past few decades, our society has changed in terms of how we live our life. It seems like everyone is so busy these days with extra curricular activities, we never have to worry about being hungry thanks to limitless options to get food and with many families having two working parents, home cooking is difficult to accomplish most nights of the week.

Has our society become comfortable with living a lifestyle that doesn't emphasize home-cooking or, do we have easier ways to nourish and fuel our busy lifestyle that we don't need home cooked meals?
And by the way, what is home-cooking these days?

Is home-cooking putting peanut butter on a waffle, heating a sweet potato in the microwave, steaming broccoli or cooking a chicken breast on the skillet? 

Or, is home-cooking making your own bread, making your own jam, growing your own produce, pickling your own vegetables or baking your own chocolate chip cookies from scratch?

The great thing is that there is no one definition of home-cooking and for most of us, depending on the day, a can of soup is a home cooked meal.

It's likely that the way that Karel was raised, with a home-cooked meal every night of the week, fresh bread all the time and everything made from scratch, was how many people were raised.

But it is also likely that for many people today, it's not just that a person lacks skills in the kitchen, but home cooking is an after thought. Buying food to prep it and then to wait for it to cook is too much work. There is little patience or appreciation for home cooking.
And I think this is the problem. Home cooking is not part of our lifestyle.

I know that for me, I had a mix of home-cooked meals and fast food growing up. My parents had two very active athletic kids who ate a lot and in addition to working all day, my parents were also shuttling us around to all of our activities. Some nights we would have a home cooked meal (typically not as a family due to my brother's gymnastics practices and my swim practices) but other nights it was fast food or something heated in the microwave. 
My mom made the best zucchini bread (zucchini from our garden) and my dad loved making chicken cacciatore for my brother and mom. 

It wasn't until I met Karel in 2006 that I started to really appreciate home cooking.

Karel loved to cook. Every time I went over to Karel's home when we were dating, he wanted to cook me a meal.  And because he was dating a vegetarian, he had to be extra creative with some of his Czech recipes. But above all, I could see that food was a big part of Karel's lifestyle. Not only did he love to eat but eating was a happy time for him. He was never too rushed or too busy to make a meal. It was almost as if he didn't know any other way to feed himself - if he was going to eat a meal, he was going to cook it, just like his mom did.

Now this isn't to say that Karel didn't eat fast food when we met or we never went out on many dates to restaurants but Karel always had a great appreciation for home cooking.

While dating Karel, I continued to appreciate his love for home cooking. And as a health conscious individual, I found myself deviating away from the most "healthy" processed foods (determined by reading a food label) to seeing real food as the best foods to nourish my body and to fuel my active lifestyle.
It was life changing.
No more "healthy" thin pieces of bread. We now only eat fresh local bread (typically with less than 6 ingredients).
Instead of a "healthy" bar or bowl of cereal for breakfast, we make our own pancakes or crepes.
We are so lucky to have a grocery store close by as we are constantly restocking our fridge with produce and other real foods.

Over time, without being obsessed, Karel and I became more invested in what we were eating. As athletes, food was not only our fuel but it was nourishing our body to keep us healthy.

We didn't have a lot of money when we were dating, so our grocery shopping options were sometimes limited but we still felt passionate about home cooking and with the money that we had, we made an investment in real food options that offered health benefits.

I've never been one to follow recipes but I am constantly finding myself inspired by my surroundings. All it takes is a picture of a meal or a menu item and I get excited to get into my kitchen.

Sometimes I do feel too busy to cook but fast food isn't even on my mind. There is always a way to get a meal on the table and somehow call it "home made."

I love being creative in the kitchen. My meals are not extravagant, I don't measure, I don't count calories and my meals are not complicated. I have a lot of fun in the kitchen and some meals are picture-worthy for social meal....and some, not-so-much.

After 9.5 years with Karel, I have great appreciation for how Karel grew up and I wish more kids, families and adults had this upbringing or continued the tradition.

Regardless if you eat alone, with your significant other or with your family, I encourage you to enjoy cooking. You don't have to be a great cook to cook but it is important that you find great satisfaction in being the one who prepares the food that goes into your body (or the receiver of a home cooked meal).

If there is any incentive for being a more consistent cook, whether it's cooking a potato in the microwave, making oatmeal, combining yogurt with chopped fruit or following a recipe from a cook book, understand that there are great health benefits in making meals at home.

Don't be intimated but be sure to make the time.
Start with a cuisine that you really enjoy or a recipe that is super simple.

And above all, even if it feels like too much work, convince yourself that home cooking is worth the work.

Eventually, you may find yourself getting to the point where you can't help but take a picture, and share it with a friend or on social media, because you are so proud of what you created in the kitchen. 


Healthy relationship with food - athlete edition

We are all aware of how diets work - follow rigid food rules and you will lose weight.
If you can follow the diet for a specific period of time, you will lose weight. It's as simple as that.
With every diet, there are certain foods that are allowed at certain times of the day, a specific amount of food that is allowed to be eaten and foods that are forbidden.
This is why people love diets - they are nothing more than a plan telling you how to eat so that you have a reason to avoid certain foods and to ignore biological hunger cues.
With a diet, you don't have to learn how to be a mindful eater or how to eat with intention. You become a robot in that you only have one program for x-weeks and that is all you have to focus on.

Ask any person who has followed a diet plan and she/he will likely say that food rules offer boundaries or perhaps a level of discipline that the person wasn't able to do on his/her own and this is why diets work so well. Whereas once a person had trouble resisting treats, sweets or specific foods, rule-based eating provides strict guidelines as to what not to eat.

But as we all know, diets don't work.
Furthermore, a diet is nothing more than a dysfunctional relationship with food.

It's very interesting how a diet can change how a person views food. With almost every diet, there is a fixation on good and bad foods relating to health, appearance and weight.
The act (or even thought) of eating a cookie, a banana, a piece of pizza, a pancake, a slice of bread, a potato, ice cream or any other food that has been termed "bad" is associated with shame and guilt.

And above all, a poor body image combined with conflicting information as to what you should and shouldn't be eating increases the risk for more and more food restriction which can increase the risk for an eating disorder.  

But as an athlete, you would never diet, right?
You know better than that. 
Cleanses, fasts, avoid food groups or restricting calories is not how athletes eat as we need food for fuel. 

So why is it that so many athletes justify a new style of eating (often starting in the off-season, after the holidays and around the New Year) all in an effort to improve health and performance that is nothing more than a well-marketed diet for athletes?

Since when did depriving your body of crucial nutrients, intentionally not fueling or hydrating before, during and after workouts, limiting, reducing or avoiding carbohydrates, skipping meals or snacks or not eating when you are biologically hungry, become socially acceptable for athletes?

Since when did it become ok for athletes to think it was ok to deprive the body of energy, fluids and electrolytes when the body needs it the most - when training!!!??

Where are our ethical standards for coaches, dietitians, nutrition experts, physicians, personal trainers, chiropractics and other professionals who provide nutrition advice to athletes?

These fueling/hydrating practices are NOT ok!

If we know it is unhealthy and damaging for a normal person to follow a diet, why are we pretending that these extreme eating and fueling methods are "healthy" for athletes? 

It's very evident how many athletes are treating their bodies around/during workouts and during the day when it comes to their eating (or lack thereof) and it is not for a healthier lifestyle, a better body composition or for performance gains's not healthy, it's just plain dangerous.

I find it important that before the holiday season and right now in your  off-season, prior to starting the first phase of your training, that you work on your relationship with food. The number one reason to justify food restriction is body dissatisfaction and because athletes will always associate body composition to performance, it is extremely important that you improve your relationship with food before increasing the intensity and volume in your training regime. 

Food is designed to nourish your body and fuel your workout routine. Eating enhances your life. It should not be an obsession or a vehicle of guilt, shame or fear and you should not blame poor performances, injuries or slow fitness progress on your body. 

Whereas you may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like extreme dieting, restricting nutrition around/during workouts, calorie restriction, using diet pills, laxatives or diuretics or engaging in excessive exercising as an easy fix when you feel dissatisfaction with body or after you eat "bad" food, by developing a healthier relationship with food and your body, you will be well on your way to also improving your relationship with your body.
When you eat better, you feel better. And when you feel better, you make better choices. And with better choices, your body will remain in better health as you train to improve fitness, endurance and strength.

So how can you improve your relationship with food and your body?
It's not a quick fix and it takes work. But it is worth it.

Here are three tips that you can start applying to your life today when it comes to improving your relationship with food. 

First, focus on eating mindfully. Listen to your body. Accept biological hunger and don't get mad at your body for being hungry. Learn to create a diet that works for your lifestyle and learn to respond to cravings in a responsible way. Eat with intention and enjoy eating. Next time you say to yourself "I shouldn't eat this", ask yourself why you are questioning the food that you are about to eat? If you have a good reason for not eating something (for example, you just finished a meal, you are comfortably full and someone presents you with a brownie for dessert), don't eat it. Say no thank you and move on with your day. Life will go on and you will feel better without thoughts of guilt that you should not have eaten something that doesn't make you feel good inside. 
But if you are in the mood for rice, pasta, chocolate, a glass of milk or some other type of "forbidden" food, ask yourself why you created this off-food list? Be a mindful eater as you are figuring out the best diet for you. 
Eat when you are physically/biologically hungry and stop when you are satisfied.
It's time to get more in-tune with your body and hunger cues as well as understanding (and possibly adjusting) the thoughts that are associated with how you currently eat.

Next, you should always feel better after you eat than before. I find that this is so important for athletes to keep in mind in the off-season as there is a brief period of indulging after the last race of the season, especially with food that was not once not consumed as it was viewed as "non-performance enhancing".  But after a week (10 days at most), it is important to indulge responsibly. Sometimes, food just tastes better than other times - like pancakes after a long ride. But certainly in the off-season, you are still allowed to yum over food.... you just don't want to overdo it. It is possible to eat the same foods year round (like "reward" food) but you must adjust how much you eat based on your workout load. If anything, you want to avoid "making-up" for how you eat as you must learn how to feel good about your eating habits without justifying how much you worked out before/after or trying to "save" calories.
You can still yum over pancakes in the off-season without having to workout for 5+ hours and just because you eat pizza for dinner, you don't have to avoid carbs for the next 24 hours. 

Lastly, within our diet obsessed society, we have lost the enjoyment for eating.
Our society has such a big obsession with healthy eating yet we have such an unhealthy relationship with food.  It sounds so simple but our society really misses the mark when it comes to educating on how to eat "healthy." The first step is to focus on eating real food. Nothing will make you feel better than eating food grown from the earth, with the help of a farmer. Next, those food needs to be purchased (or grown) and then prepared. This takes time, planning and effort. We live in a world we are driven by being busy and have easy routes for eating quickly.
Sadly, much of our society has become rather comfortable with eating but not making time to nourish the body.
If you really want to improve your relationship with food, an easy place to start is by appreciating a varied wholesome diet, with you as the cook.
It's time to make peace with food. 

If you are missing out on life or struggling with improvements in performance because you want to maintain a certain style of eating that makes you feel in control or the opposite, food overwhelms you or stresses you out and you don't feel comfortable around food, it is time to start seeing food for what it is - nourishment, fuel, satiety and enjoyment.

No diet can teach you how to have a better relationship with food.

It is time that you are honest with yourself and if you feel as if your past thoughts and actions were not healthy for your body, it's time to change. 

It's time to start improving your relationship with food. 

In case you missed the  last blog - address your off-season relationship with food HERE. 


How's your off-season relationship with food?

The off-season weight debate is a serious topic of conversation at the end of the racing season. Year after year, athletes, dietitians, nutrition experts personal trainers and coaches continue to justify the reasons for intentional (or unintentional) weight gain at the conclusion of the racing season, which is then often followed by the dietary rules and methods of intentional weight loss/maintenance in the early phases of the training season.

Yet rarely, if ever, do we hear about the importance of having a healthy relationship with food and how your relationship with food throughout the entire season affects overall health, sport nutrition choices/methods and daily dietary choices. 

If anything, all athletes should FIRST learn how to have a healthy relationship with food prior to even discussing methods of improving sport nutrition, body composition or overall health.

Before talking about how to improve your relationship with food during the off-season, I would like to discuss two main reasons as to why I feel athletes struggle with their relationship with food (which consequently starts or follows an unhealthy relationship with body image). 


It was not even a year ago when social media was flooded with athletes who were gushing over their new amazing "lifestyle" by eliminating gluten and dairy (without a clinical reason for doing so), going Paleo or Whole30 or starting a new training/fueling/diet regime in order to burn more fat and to become more metabolically efficient. I wouldn't be surprised that in less than two months, it will all happen again.
It wasn't too much later in the racing season (but more so this summer) when social media became rather quite as many athletes we no longer enjoying their diet as they felt unhealthy or less fit (as in, performance was not improving or declining). Additionally, many female athletes were experiencing health issues relating to their metabolism, bone and thyroid health.
In other words - the diet was no longer working, helping or maintainable. 

It is very unfortunate how these annual, New Year food trends destroy an athletes' relationship with food. Sure, it may look very tempting (and necessary) to jump-on a diet train when the start of your training plan falls soon after the holiday season as a previously very flexible "off season" workout routine, coupled with splurges and indulges, can leave you ancy for a quick fix.

And to make things easier, much of the world (non-athletes) are thinking just like you in that a drastic change combined with extreme determination is the best way to start the year. Because of this, there is information, a plan and even products to support your dietary/body composition endeavors which is why so many athletes follow a diet plan sometime in the off-season.

But as we all know, these extreme eating habits have the potential to completely disrupt any opportunity of you creating or maintaining a healthy relationship with food during your season and are not beneficial for your performance - so why see them as an option?

If you have a past history with trying diet fads or following extreme diets or eliminating food, you constantly experience great fear of certain foods, food groups or nutrients, worry about eating the wrong things at the wrong times, associate guilt with your eating, feel like no matter how much you workout and reduce calories you can't lose weight or feel like you are constantly unhappy with your body, the off-season may leave you in a very vulnerable position to be a sucker for diet fads/trends at the start of your season.

In the off-season, when training volume/intensity is reduced and you can live a much less stressful and busy lifestyle, this is a great time to develop a healthy relationship with food and to begin to love your amazing body. You can focus on yourself without having to focus on a race but it is important that you do not focus on what other people are doing. 

Would you believe me when I said that there a lot of athletes who eat gluten, drink milk, eat before workouts, use sport nutrition, drink on a schedule (and not to thirst) while working out and not only perform well but maintain a very healthy body composition throughout the season?
It wouldn't be hard for you to find theses athletes too as they do exist - lots of them - and this includes many professional athletes!

I know it sounds crazy (as the nutrition experts don't want you to believe it) but dieting and restrictive eating have no place in an athletes diet (or vocabulary).  
Every athlete must customize a diet and fueling regime that works for individual goals. 

In summary, starting the off-season or New Year by following a mass marketed diet or restrictive eating plan in an effort to lose weight, jump-start a healthier lifestyle or to improve fitness, will only increase the risk that you may have an unhealthy relationship with food during your training and racing season - when food is no longer just viewed as nourishment but also for fuel. 

If you currently have an ongoing struggle (or fear) with food, please avoid any and all diet plans in your off-season as they are simply an easy means so that you can control underlying issues. They do not fix the your food problems, they only exacerbate the issues.
It is time to get to the root of the problem which is likely your current relationship with food and your body as an athlete. 


Did you experience an injury at some point during your training prep leading up to your last race?
Did you finish your season burnt out or with a subpar performance at your last race?
Did you feel you reached a race weight that left you unhealthy and improperly nourished?
Did you struggle with your weight throughout the season and still feel as if your body composition is a limiter in your overall health and/or training/racing?
Did you feel comfortable with your body image at the end of the season?
Regardless of your body composition, did you experience a great result at your end of the season race?
Did you feel strong, healthy and fit throughout your season and feel like your composition has not be a limiter all season?

Depending on how you answered the above questions, this will directly affect your relationship with food in the off-season. Because weight is not a simple topic that can be "fixed" with a simple method or strategy for the masses, it is important to ask yourself how the last few months of training/racing or your last race performance may be affecting your current "off-season" relationship with food.

There is a great association between body image, performance and dietary choices in the off season but as we all know, this is not limited to the months when we are not gearing up for a race.
Athletes are constantly bashing and criticizing their body for being the reason for injuries, poor performances and not reaching expectations or goals and this needs to stop.

 It is very important that athletes and "experts" are sensitive to this fact when it comes to chiming-in on the "off-season" weight and diet conversation as an athlete who was injured during the season, has a poor performance at his/her last race, struggles with his/her body image or has struggled with his/her weight all season is going to have a very different relationship with his/her body at the start of the off-season compared to an athlete who had a great training/racing season, feels healthy or in the best shape ever.
Because of this, body image concerns may drive eating choices/behaviors as some athletes will indulge responsibly whereas others will restrict food.

Depending on how you finished your season, it is very important that you take the time to recognize what your body has allowed you to do and to give your body some credit.
Next, identify what's driving your dietary choices in the off-season? Are you allowing your current body image/composition or lack of a training routine from helping you make smart food choices?
 Certainly, it is important that no matter your body composition or performance at the end of the season, you have the power to develop a healthy relationship  with food in the off-season and you always focus on eating for health.
No matter your off-season weight/body composition goals, all foods in your diet should make you feel good when you eat and after you eat.

Next up - I will discuss a few simple steps on how you can improve your relationship with food in the off-season.