Essential Sports Nutrition


Mindful eating part III: Indulge responsibly tips

I've spent the last two blogs talking about mindful eating. And I'm not done yet. I still have part IV to combine everything together so that you, the athlete, can fully understand where I am coming from as it relates to your health, performance and body composition goals.

First off, I invite you to read THIS ARTICLE to help you improve your relationship with food.

As promised, here are a few simple tips to help you practice mindful eating.
Whereas the above article (link) can help with improving your relationship  with food, the below tips are specific to when you indulge. Most people do not have an unhealthy relationship with food they term healthy and feel good when eating is under control.
The food mind games likely occur when you indulge, eat something you term "off limit" or feel "off track" with your eating.
(Be sure to practice these tips throughout the holiday season when you will be presented with more treats than normal.)

Before indulging, ask yourself why you are indulging? Are you stressed, bored, upset, famished? It is important to have a purpose and a reason when you eat - from carrot cake to carrots. There is always a time for everything so just make sure that you feel good about what you eat, when you eat it. An important rule of mindful eating is that you should never say "I shouldn't be eating this" when you are eating something.

Many athletes struggle with eating in the evening in that this is the time when cravings hit full force or hunger is hard to tame. Always honor your biological hunger.
Because we want to avoid the negative thoughts associated with eating/food which may affect how you exercise/train and eat the next day, tell yourself that when you wake-up in the morning, you should never regret what you ate the night before. Own-up to your food choices. If you are going to eat something at or between dinner and bedtime, feel great about it (don't hate yourself for it the next morning). This tip is so powerful. 

Ask yourself how much you need to eat of your treat before that treat is no longer appealing (or feels good inside your tummy). If you can't resist the indulgence, or you have a great reason to indulge, aim to eat up to 4 savory bites of your treat. You pick the size. Excite your taste buds with every bite and be sure to make the bites count (it's no fun to indulge in something that neutrally appeals to you). Sometimes we can satisfy a craving in just one bite whereas other times, a few more bites are needed to create happiness in the tummy.
I need at least 3-4 bites of a cinnamon roll, banana bread or carrot cake but I am good with one bite of a cookie or piece of cake (I give the rest to Karel) to feel happy inside my tummy. 

Relax. It's OK to indulge and to eat for pleasure every now and then. But first, consider what you eat most of the time and what you eat on occasion. If your office brings in store-bought cookies or pastries every day, and you eat cookies or pastries every day, guess what will happen on a special occasion when you are presented with cookies or pastries? That special occasion cookie or pastry is not as special because Friday office cookies or pastries are your norm. 
Choose your indulgences wisely. 

Trust yourself. Many times, athletes can afford to indulge every now and then without any negative side-effects. But you have to trust yourself when you indulge. If you have a dieting mentality, you may find yourself using your next workout as the first opportunity to "burn off" those calories or restricting calories the next time you eat. With an unhealthy relationship with food, you may even sabotage your next few workouts as a result of food restriction or overexercising. It's time to avoid food rules, to stop an all-or-nothing approach to what you eat (or don't eat) and to stop eating with shame, guilt or anxiety. If you feel you can't work on this by yourself, consult a professional who can help.

-Have your cake and eat it too!
The opposite of dieting is mindful eating. There is no right or wrong way to eat. It's time to renew your relationship with food. You pick the right times to indulge.

Store-bought apple pie from the freezer section or 
Grandma's homemade apple pie or?
Brownies from a box or one brownie to share with a best friend/spouse/child, from the well-known local bakery?
Bagels from a bag or a fresh bagel made with quality ingredients, made daily?

Think about what you are eating, when you are eating it and why you are eating it.
No need to be obsessed. 
It's finally time that you associate a deeper meaning to what you put inside your body.

Above all, when you eat or indulge, be sure you feel amazingly, awesome, happy and satisfied after you eat. 


Mindful eating part II: Food is Fuel

How did you do with your homework today from my last blog post?
Did you find yourself with positive or negative thoughts when you ate?
Did your thoughts turn negative when you ate foods that you term "off-limit"?
What foods made you feel the best and what foods gave you the most anxiety?

Continue to work on this so that you learn how to quiet the voices in your head so that eating is a peaceful, joyful and positive experience.
I promise - it is possible and it will make a huge impact on how you fuel for your athletic endeavors.

So why do I continue to talk and talk and talk about mindful eating as it relates to athletes?
As a Board Certified Sport Dietitian, shouldn't I be spending most of my time talking about supplements and sport nutrition products?

Well, every athlete has to eat.
And in my field of work, far too many athletes struggle with their relationship with food and their body.

Since many athletes don't consider mastering mindful eating before they start training for an athletic event, I can't stress how important it is to develop a great relationship with food and the body in order to boost athletic performance and overall health. 

If you continue to train for events (especially long distance events) with an unhealthy relationship with food, there is a great risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with body image later on.
An unhealthy body image drives unhealthy eating habits.
Eventually, performance and health decline.

If you feel uncomfortable eating before workouts, using sport nutrition during workouts or have yet to learn how to eat for health and plan your diet throughout the day, you may find it extremely difficult to experience success in athletic development without a health-related setback.

You can be extremely disciplined with training but if you do not fuel smart your body will not perform well.

Being mindful with your eating allows you to see food differently.
Mindful eating allows you to train better.

I feel that the topic of mindful eating (specific to the sport of triathlons and running) is often ignored when it comes to providing dietary advice from the masses. There are very few Board Certified Sport Dietitians like me who even discuss the topic of mindful eating.

Because there are many individuals who hav struggle with prior years of dieting, struggling with body image issues or exercising with different intentions, it is important to master mindful eating.
If your mind is yelling at you to not eat what you are about to eat/drink, it's time for a break-up as your relationship with food is unhealthy.

BUT - it can be fixed! 


Once you sign up for an event, you are an athlete.
When you are an athlete, you must have a great passion for healthy eating as well as for fueling and hydrating your body properly to support your daily training stress.

These days, our society has a great disconnect with food. Busy lifestyles and an obsession with diets, food trends and body image may increase the tendency for athletes to become disengaged when it comes to understanding biological hunger, snacking with a purpose and fueling for upcoming workouts.

In honor of the recent NBC Broadcast of the 2015 Ironman World Championship this past weekend, I had a celebration party at my house. I invited a few close friends and we watched the recorded broadcast while enjoying appetizers and pizza (I love any excuse to eat pizza). 

I remembered the cake that I put in the freezer several weeks ago, all for the "right" time to eat it.
I could not think of a better time to enjoy this KONA cake than with our close friends, while watching IM KONA.

Even though I ate pizza and appetizers, I still ate cake. Just a few bites as that was all I needed to feel satisfied and happy in my tummy.
No guilty feelings. No need to exercise more the next day. No anxiety when I went to bed about what I ate. 

Mindful eating is the art of attaching feelings of satisfaction, pleasure and hunger with food. Mindful eating is detaching feelings of guilt, anxiety, numbers and negative food words when it comes to food.
Kale, bread, grapes, milk, cookies or cake - mindful eating is freedom from food rules as you are in control of what foods make you feel the best without thoughts in your head telling you otherwise. 

I will say it over and over but an overlooked area in athletics is the topic of mindful eating. There is no doubt that there is a heightened awareness of body image in aesthetic and weight-bearing sports and for a fitness enthusiast turned athlete, it is very hard for some athletes to turn off the mindset of working out to burn calories and instead, training for performance gains. 

Whereas a fitness enthusiasts can get away with exercises as a way to burn calories, athletes must see food for fuel. 

In Part III, I will discuss some tips to help you master the art of mindful eating. . 


Mindful eating part 1 - Eat cake!

A few days after returning home from Kona in mid October, Karel and I went to an Ironman celebration party in Greenville. We spent the evening talking with several Ironman finishers who live in the Greenville area.

To finish the evening, we enjoyed cake from a local baker. 

And to top it off (literally), the dot of the cake had our names on it. So sweet (literally, again) !

After cutting into the M part of the cake for everyone in the party, the dot remained uneaten.
The host of the party insisted that Karel and I take home our personalized section of the cake.

After returning home from the party with a beautiful round cake, I wrapped up the cake and put it in the freezer. I figured there would be a good time to eat the cake but the right time wasn't anytime soon. 

As a sport dietitian, when I think about athletes and their relationship with food, I often see/hear two different types of athletes.

There are high-performance athletes that see food for fuel. The diet is designed to fuel workouts but also to keep the body in great health to ensure consistency in training.
They also know how to enjoy food with the occasional indulge enjoyed without any guilt or anxiety. 

These athletes are focused on using food for nourishment but also see food to provide energy for upcoming workouts and to help the body recover. There is a heavy focus on calories, carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes in regard to the nutrition consumed before, during and after workouts. 

These athletes understand how to time food with training and they know how to use sport nutrition properly to take fitness to the next level (and to keep the body in good health). 

I'd like to think that this is the way that all athletes think about food but it is easier said than done in our food and diet obsessed society. 

As it relates to the later, the individual who has been active in some capacity, but has never used the word "athlete" to describe his/her past/current active lifestyle, may not feel comfortable eating like a high-performing athlete. 
These newbie athletes are still getting comfortable using the "athlete" title. 

When I think of the sport of triathlon and endurance sports in general, and how they are growing year after year, we are seeing many more individuals going from fitness enthusiast to marathon runner or sprint triathlete to Ironman. Some of these individuals come from a sport background whereas others are up for a new fitness challenge. 

Many times, new athletes are at greater risk for GI issues, bonking and injury simply because these fitness enthusiasts have yet to understand how to eat for fuel and for health. They have not considered reaching out to a sport RD but feel very overwhelmed with all of the nutrition-related advice from forums, articles, training partners, nutrition experts and professional athletes. 

Certainly, there is a learning curve when it comes just showing up to a workout with a water bottle to planning sport nutrition before most workouts and then following through with the consumption of "energy and electrolytes" from manufactured products (powders, gels, blocks and pills).

As it relates to newbie athletes, there is a transition period for a fitness enthusiast to get comfortable following a structured training plan that yields performance gains instead of simply working out, just to exercise.

And as it relates to high-performing athletes, if a healthy relationship with food was never once achieved, there may be an increased risk for body image and eating issues which ultimately will affect performance improvements and overall health in a focused, hard-working, goal-oriented athlete. 

Now you may be asking why I am talking about this when I started this blog talking about eating cake? 

In my next blog, I am going to talk a bit more about mindful eating so that athletes of all levels can begin to feel more comfortable around food.

But I must give you a little homework first.

Tomorrow, I want you to practice eating more mindfully. 
No rules, no calorie counting, no food logging. 

If eating is not a positive, joyful, pleasurable, feel-good, nourishing experience for you, then
I want you to consider the internal dialogue in your mind when you are around food.

What are the thoughts that encourage you to eat certain foods or discourage you to eat certain foods?

What do the voices in your head say when you are planning your meals and snacks?
Any food thoughts when you are about to workout, while you are working out or after you workout?

How about while you are eating - what's your relationship with food like while you are chewing and digesting food?

How about when you are finished eating? 
How do you feel when your meal is complete and what does your mind tell you about the food that you just ate? 

As you go about your day tomorrow, I want you to think about what's driving your food choices and how the thoughts in your head affect what you eat. 

There are no right or wrong answers but if you find yourself experiencing a lot of anxiety, fears and guilt surrounding food, specifically food that is you or someone else termed bad or off-limit, I want you to be sure to read my next blog on mindful eating so that I can help you improve your relationship with food, all in an effort to improve your athletic performance and quality of life. 


Preparing for base phase training

There are many names to describe the phase that occurs between the end of a racing season and the start of more structured, specific training stress. 

For the sake of the masses identifying with this blog topic, I used the word "base" phase in this blog post but as you may know, we use the word "transition" as well as "foundation" to describe the first phase after the off-season.

Other coaches have different names for this phase. For example, Matt Dixon with Purple Patch Fitness uses the word "post-season".

The transition (base) phase of training is critical to athlete development. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, preparation for an event is more than just putting in the miles.

As athletes, we are always developing and we are always training in some capacity.
In order to maximize fitness, season after season, it is important to follow a periodized training plan that allows for progression. There must be specific emphasis on peak season training as well as the training to start the season.

Within Trimarni, we create plans that are organized in a way that our athletes are developing skills, endurance and strength before progressing with more intense or longer training.

Therefore, it is important that coaches and athletes see each phase of training as a progression from the previous phase. 

A periodized training plan sets you up for a great performance at your most important events throughout the season. 

With the off-season emphasizing little to no activity for many athletes, with a combined freedom to indulge a bit more than normal, it is extremely important that you are taking the right steps to prepare your body for your next phase of training. 

I often relate to the transition phase as the beginnings of building a house. No matter the size of the house, the price of the house or the builder of the house, every single house requires a strong foundation.  Without a strong foundation, the house will break apart overtime.

Would you buy a house if the builders rushed through the foundation? How would you feel if the house you have desired to live in for the next 10 years was built by construction workers who liked to take short-cuts, just to get the final product done faster than their competitors?

Regardless of how many years you have been training as an athlete in your sport of choice, we all need an off-season and we all need to follow that part of the season with a return to the basics, addressing weaknesses and of course, laying down the foundation to which upcoming training stress will be placed onto the body. 

For many athletes, the off-season is a challenging time in that an athlete either does too much or does too little. And for many athletes, there is an uncomfortable feeling relating to diet, body image and lack of structured activity.
It's really hard to get the off-season right but maybe that's because there is no right way. But you do need an off-season.
Every athlete is different and the goals of the off-season for one athlete do not have to match the goals of another athlete. Also, each season may follow with a different off-season. This year, I returned to light structured training after 3 weeks of an off-season (after Kona) but in 2014, I took 6 voluntary weeks off with very little exercise. 

So as you think about your next phase of training and perhaps, begin to get excited to train with more structure again, I find it extremely important to encourage you to make sure that your body is in great health before you begin training again.
You do not have to have race day fitness or a race day body image when you finish your off-season but you should be in good health before starting your next phase of training.

Although a mental and physical break are necessary for a smooth progression from one season to the next, it is important that you see the off-season as an integral part of your athletic development. We don't want to make the off-season too long as you do not lose all that you gained in the previous season. And when your off-season is over, it is important to have a smart return to training by building your foundation as you focus on getting stronger before trying to get faster, before going longer.
Not just training where you left off with high volume or high intensity.  

Regardless of what your off-season looks like or what you call your first phase of training post off-season, it is important that you set yourself up for a great start to next season with the following off-season tips:

-Even with the holiday season approaching, it is important that you address your daily diet. Every day, you should be focused on eating a wholesome diet to help nourish your body and keep your immune system in optimal health.
-Now is a great time to work on your relationship with food and your body when the training stress is low. Do not overlook how important it is to maintain a healthy relationship with food and your body throughout the season.
-Be sure to stay hydrated....with water, all day, ever day.
-Focus on good sleep habits and good stress management.
-As you approach your first phase of training (foundation/transition phase), you should not feel as if your training is extremely structured right now. Exercise to maintain a comfortable level of fitness but your lifestyle should not look like you are in peak training (early season is not the time to make sacrifices in life just to train).
-Create a positive workout environment. Be sure your workout space at home is ready for consistent training, you have reviewed pool lane availability times, you consider the days that are best for certain workouts, you are prepared emotionally and mentally for more structure in your day-to-day life (and you have communicated this with your spouse/significant other) and you are ready to make investments to train smarter.
-If you are dealing with any niggles/injuries/sickness - address it, consult a professional and take care of it now. 

As an athlete, you likely live a very structured life and you like to have a plan. 
Preparing for your upcoming season is more than just following a plan and checking off workouts.
There's a lot that you need to focus on between workouts to ensure consistency in training with a healthy body.

As you give your mind and body a break from training, your health is top priority in your off-season.

As you approach your first phase of training, be sure you are prepared for it.
Take care of your body now so it will take care of you next season.