Essential Sports Nutrition


Turn body image dissatisfaction into satisfaction

When was the last time you thanked your body?
When you look in the mirror, how do you talk to/about your body?
When you train and eat, does your body image dictate your choices in a positive or negative way?

An unhealthy body image in athletes can increase the risk for disordered eating habits. 

Avoiding major food groups (carbohydrates), not fueling around/during workouts, skipping meals and snacks and dehydration are some of the examples of unhealthy strategies that athletes often take to gain control over eating in an effort to change body composition/image.

Whether you are an athlete who seeks weight loss/body composition changes to improve overall health, you are an athlete who struggles with body image due to comparison with other athletes, comparison to a past you or overall discomfort with your body image, or you are an athlete who follows a very restrictive diet and extreme exercise routine in an effort to maintain a specific body composition/image which has damaged overall health, irregardless of initial performance gains, it's important to focus on the health of your body...not the image. 

You can't live the rest of your life obsessed with an image.

I'm not saying that you can't change the way you look through diet and exercise but I want you to consider why you want to change AND the methods that will elicit a change in image/body composition. 

It's very common that athletes who are unhappy with their body will seek a diet strategy that involves restriction or food elimination but claim that they are changing the way they eat/fuel in an effort to improve performance.
It's also common that athletes will follow no extreme style of eating or diet but just focus on eating for fuel and for nourishment and achieve their goal body image and performance gains. 

Many athletes are led to believe that food restriction/elimination is the only way to change/improve body composition. 

I am here to tell you that that thinking is not accurate. 

You CAN change your body composition and eat before a workout.
You CAN lose weight by eating carbohydrates. 
You CAN feel comfortable with your body image.

A dissatisfaction for your body composition can lead you to believe that if you lose weight or change your body composition (get a flatter stomach, decrease your thigh size, get a more muscular butt, etc.) you will enhance your appearance, improve performance or improve your health. 

But the problem isn't your body but instead, what you think about your body. 

When an athlete feels as if losing weight/changing body composition is the only, best or necessary way to improve performance, restrictive eating and/or overexercising may result, often causing disordered eating patterns.

A preoccupation with body image may affect training in that every workout could be affected by what you didn't eat (but should have eaten) or is controlled by what you did eat (feeling guilty).

This is not the way that you should be training or thinking.

Learn to love food.  

For sport RD's who work with athletes, we educate on seeing food for fuel and for nourishment. For myself, I educate on learning how to have a better relationship with food and the body in addition to mastering healthy eating and nailing sport nutrition (I specialize in endurance triathlon sport nutrition).

For nutrition professionals, it is important that any athlete who has a body image obsession or concern, that he/she is detoured from any mass-marketed diet that involves food elimination/restriction. 

If you are uncomfortable with your body image, it is important to ask yourself why. 

Why don't you thank your body more often? 
Why do you need to change the way you look? 
Why don't you love yourself?
Why do you take such extreme measures to change the way you look when you should be focusing on food for fuel and for nourishment? 

Don't destroy your health in an effort to get healthier.
Don't restrict energy when your goal is to have more energy to workout longer, harder or faster. 

It's time to think more about yourself. 

Your body is amazing.


The consistent athlete: Part III, tips


Don’t freak out if you oversleep, have to stay late at work, have an unexpected trip or event to attend or experience a niggle or ache in your body. Sure, it would be great if we could always plan for these things but we can’t. A chance for inconsistency in training (and possible injury, burnout, health issues) is trying to constantly make-up workouts,  push-through fatigue/exhaustion or squeezing too much on your daily plate. When things come up in life, adjust and be flexible. Do the best you can with the time that you do have to train or just start fresh tomorrow. Look at your week of training and remind yourself of how many key workouts you have each week that can build fitness – most of the time, missing a workout here or there will have no impact (negatively)  on your overall development in your season.
If you don't know how to adjust (or refuse to adjust), inconsistency in training can increase the risk for injuries and a plateau in fitness gains.
Be realistic with your available time so that you can experience consistency in training.

This is the most easy, yet most overlooked, component in helping your body perform well so that you can stay consistent with your training. You must make it a priority to fuel smart and to nourish your body. It is critical that you have a strong passion for healthy eating throughout the day and that you do not neglect proper sport nutrition and hydration before, during and after workouts. Plan ahead so that you are equipped to eat nourishing foods and you can snack smart throughout the day. And same goes for your gym bag or at home when it comes to sport nutrition/hydration -don’t let it be an afterthought to address the best sport nutrition for your body before, during and after workouts (to fuel, recover and to minimize GI distress). You will be surprised how much better you feel and how much better you will perform if you keep your body in good health, with the right fuels at the right time. Smart athletes focus on the daily diet AND sport nutrition regime and if they struggle, they reach out to an expert to help. 

Time and time again we see athletes pushing too hard on an easy day or using an easy day to make up workouts. With too much adjustment in the weekly plan, athletes are unable to perform well on the days that call for hard efforts due to carrying around lingering, unplanned, fatigue. Trust your training plan as every workout counts – even the easy days. And when it comes to the important workouts, don’t let your mind call it quits just because you don't like the main set or you are getting bored. As a coach, I want to challenge my athletes with a variety of workouts so a smart training plan is key. But if my athletes are giving in mentally, every time the mind or body feels tired, the athlete may not improve. Training smart requires a special balance of intensity, volume and recovery/easy workouts. For the athlete, if you do not trust the training plan, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the plan (or taking too many detours, delaying your fitness, by not following your plan). The road to fitness success is being able to tolerate planned fatigue with good form and a strong mindset and to use the recovery or easy days to recover and maintain fitness from the harder efforts.
And your training is only as good as your ability to prioritize good sleep, mobility and healthy eating on a daily basis. 

In addition to supporting your training load with a healthy diet, great restful sleep and good stress management are critical to ensuring consistency in training. Working out with 10 things on your mind (like laundry, grocery shopping or what you are doing with your kids this weekend) will not help you focus on the workout you are doing. Learn how to turn your mind off from life (to the best of your ability) while you are working out. An easy strategy is to keep a to-do list by your side so that you are not thinking about what you need to do when you can’t do it, especially when you are working out. Additionally, quality sleep is the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to recover and get stronger. Rather than spending money on recovery modalities (ex. recovery boots, compression gear, trigger point/foam rolling sets, etc.), first work on your sleep habits. I suggest no less than 7 hours of restful sleep (that means not waking up throughout the night) on most days per week, with an additional 30-60 minutes of sleep on the weekends to catch up for the occasional super early morning workout or intense workouts.  

Many niggles turn to injuries simply because of the little time that athletes spend warming up and staying mobile throughout the day. Often times, athletes will increase the risk of injury between workouts as the body gets tight from sitting and commuting. Or, athletes will jump out of bed (early) and start working out with a tight and stiff body, hoping to warm-up before the main set. Take time every day to perform simple mobility exercises for your neck, back and hips which tend to take the biggest toll from a sedentary lifestyle (yes – even despite working out 10+ hours per week the body is still quite sedentary). Additionally, do not neglect a proper warm-up! It is critical that you make the time to perform dynamic warm-ups for at least 5-10 minutes before all of your workouts. Many times, you can turn an ok workouts into a great workouts, simply by warming up before you actually start your workout.
Also, every time you feel a niggle or ache, you do not need to rush out and get a massage, see the chiropracter or trigger point yourself until you turn black and blue. Just chill-out for 2-3 days and let the niggle/ache calm down. As an athlete, it is important to know what is a normal ache/niggle that can be healed through activity versus a niggle/ache that disrupts form and pacing and can turn into a potential injury.

Currently injured?
All of these tips, including a healthy diet, proper mobility, good sleep and effective sport nutrition fueling/hydrating are not limited to injury-free athletes. If you are injured, you must find a way to maintain fitness with activities that are pain-free as you spend extra time rehabbing and working on weaknesses that may have contributed to the injury. Yes, injured athletes must train smart even during the recovery and rehab process.

Next time you find yourself being a slave to your training plan, refusing to make modifications, feeling guilty when you miss a workout and simply going through the motions, stop and ask yourself if you are training smart.

Work with what life throws at you because if you are stubborn ,and fight with your life to-do’s just to get in a workout, you will find yourself losing enjoyment for your “hobby” which also helps to keep you in good health. 

What consistency tips will you focus on in 2016?


The consistent athlete: part II

Athletes are hardwired to want success. Athletes are not exercisers. Athletes want results that often result in an improvement in metrics, body composition or places and include crossing both a start and finish line.
Athletes don't just show-up to a workout, they use their body to perform.

The process of athletic development can be slow and this is hard for many athletes to accept.
I see it all the time in triathletes who are impatient in the off-season and either train too intensely in the first few months of training OR dedicate 6-8 weeks to training for a running race rather than focusing on their slow, consistent triathlon development.
Like many things in life, quick results often come with consequences.

The idea of instant gratification applies very well to athletes of all levels. 
It's natural to believe that if you put in the work, results will come so why not work out harder and longer for faster results? 

But in spite of sickness or injury, no matter how little sleep or poor fueling/eating or the fitness level of the athlete, it's far too easy for an athlete to work out hard (or long) just to "feel" the endorphin rush and/or to believe that he/she is making better athletic progress. 

Do you find yourself performing too many instant gratification workouts? You know you are doing too much or working out too hard, or you shouldn't be working out at all, but you just can't stop yourself from the workout?

 When an athlete performs too many of these haphazard workouts, this rarely brings success because there is little consistency. If you are victim to pushing too hard, going too long or working out at any cost, just to get in a workout in order to feel better, consistency will never be on your side. 

After reading my last blog, it's very easy to now understand why you, or athletes that you know, may always struggle to find consistency in training.

It's not because you are not working hard enough or because you are too busy.
Lack of consistency in training can simply result from the inability to create or follow a smart training plan that fits into your life.

For the typical athlete, the same reasons that make you so successful in your sport – driven, hard-working, the ability to push through fatigue, the focus to put in the work and the determination to make sacrifices to reach future season goals - are often the same reasons why you may get yourself in trouble when it comes to being flexible, adjusting and being realistic with your available time to train.

When I speak about consistency in training to my athletes, we do not find athletic success in just checking-off workouts or moving around workouts. I do not applaud an athlete for waking up a 4:30am every morning at the expense of performing badly at their job, not having energy to spend time with family or eating or performing poorly due to sleep deprivation.

The athletes who succeed the most on race day are those who accept their personal limitations and adjust workouts as needed to maintain some level of "normalcy" in life in order to make improvements. However, these athletes also maintain a high level of commitment and hard work in their sport, in order to reach personal goals.

Never did I say that the most successful athletes train hard all the time or never miss a workout.

It is my goal to help my athletes create a plan that works for them but it is the goal of the athlete to create a positive environment for training, to get great sleep most nights of the week, to properly nourish and fuel their body on a daily basis, to maintain a healthy dose of motivation for their hobby and then execute really, really well throughout the workout.

Pushing through a workout, in the face of injury, fatigue, sleep deprivation, stress or a jam-packed day, will not only hurt your quest for performance gains but can damage overall health as you risk a loss of enjoyment in your sport. 

If your goal is consistency in training AND the ability to adapt to training (as it should be if you are a competitive athlete), you need to learn how to train smarter in order to stay consistent.

By considering the questions that I posted in my last blog, you should learn how to train your body in a way that allows you to make progress. With a proper warm-up and cool down, good nutrition/hydration and a well-defined purpose for the workout, a quality workout can be achieved every day and progress will be made.

When there is consistency, there is progress and then fitness improves.

Consistently adapting to training will also help you improve skills, endurance, power and speed (depending on the specific purpose of each workout).
But, in the face of life (injuries, sickness, travel, work stress, family) you must learn how to adjust in order to train even smarter to handle your training stress.

Every athlete is different when it comes to available time to train but every athlete has the ability to use their available hours wisely. 

To help you better adapt to training and to stay consistent with your training plan, my next blog will list a few suggestions on how you can stay consistent with training with a "train smart" mentality. 


The consistent athlete - part I

Many athletes tell me that they want to be better, stronger or faster swimmers, cyclists or runners. And in order to make this happen, they tell me they need to train harder.

Sure, we can all improve in one area through hard work and an improvement in our sport-specific skills but many times, it is through consistent training that we experience the most significant performance gains.

In other words, it's often the accumulation of training stress, that occurs overtime, that outweighs any one sport specific block of training or hard-core, intense workouts.

And this training adaptation isn't limited to age-group athletes.
Many top-ranking professional athletes excel because of consistency. Just like any athlete, they may push really, really hard during workouts but there are many more easy days compared to hard effort days.

The human body can only tolerate so much stress until it breaks.

Even with training as a profession, you'd actually be surprised as to how little intensity professional athletes do relative to the aerobic/lower to moderate efforts in their overall weekly training load.
Intensity is important but the main focus to athletic success is consistency and top athletes (or their coaches) recognize how much intensity is too much.

But consistent training is not just about training intensity or volume.

As age-group athletes, it is important to find consistency in training in order to reap fitness gains. If you have convinced yourself that in order to get faster, stronger or better in a specific sport, you simply need to train harder or longer, you may find yourself making less progress than if you told yourself, that the key is training smarter.

With the off-season starting or finishing, this is the perfect time to think about your previous season and what changes, tweaks or modifications you want to make in order to be more consistent with training in 2016. Hopefully, you won't say that in order to be better, you need to simply train harder.

Consistency shouldn't be confused with perfection as a perfect workout is not defined as the workout when you gave it your all and left it all out there.

Unlike a professional triathlete who fits life into training, it is important that you are able to focus on your ability to adapt to your training plan all while juggling a busy family, a high stress work environment and other life commitments.

It's important that you avoid haphazardly checking off workouts just because they show up in a weekly training plan.

Any given training plan must fit into your lifestyle and every workout must have a purpose.

By understanding your life and your personal limitations with your time, you will find it much easier to stay consistent with a smart training plan.

Sometimes you will be able to get in your entire planned workouts, other times you may have to miss a workout or settle for a 10-minute workout (instead of 90 minutes).

With consistency, you will get better, stronger and faster.
And the only way to be consistent is to know how to adjust in order to make progress.

Athletes who are most consistent with training know how to train smart and use their time, energy and efforts wisely. 

The moment you try to train like a professional, train like another athlete or train like the past-you that had more time, you will find yourself struggling to keep-up with unachievable expectations. 

Let's think about some of the most common reasons for inconsistent training.
Are you guilty of any of these?

-Trying to squeeze too much training into your day when you just don't have enough time to properly warm-up, cool down, execute and recover
-Trying to progress too quickly with intensity or volume
-Working out way too hard or way too long, most of the time
-Burn-out from doing too much too soon
-Putting too much time/energy into your favorite sport and not spending time improving your weaknesses
-Training in spite of injury or sickness
-Ignoring an injury just to complete a workout
-Trying to make-up workouts (or do more than needed) for fear of losing fitness or not being race ready
-Making sacrifices with sleep and diet in order to get-in a workout
-Doing too many group workouts, never giving yourself a chance to listen to your body at different paces/intensities for each sport
-Not keeping your easy days easy
-Relying too much on your gadgets to control your workout
-Getting too focused on total time, miles or pace, letting metrics dictate how hard or long you workout
-Finding yourself "catching-up" workouts in your training plan to check off every/most workouts.

You may think that that work, family and travel cause inconsistency in your training but almost every age-group athlete is busy.

Whether you work 20 hours or 40 hours, have no kids or have 6 kids, travel for work or work for home, every athlete has a certain amount of time to train and it is up to you, the athlete to be realistic with how much time you can dedicate to training in order to stay consistent.

Karel and I work from home, we have no kids and we are our own bosses but guess what, life gets in the way for us too and in order to not sacrifice healthy eating/homecooked meals and quality sleep, sometimes we have to miss or modify workouts due to available time and energy.

But we don't stress about it.
Life moves on.
Because training adaptations occur overtime, there must be a great understanding and appreciation for quality workouts and knowing when and how they can occur.

On a daily basis, you can only do the best you can, with the time you have, with the energy you have, to have the best workout possible on that day.

Let consistency drive your athletic choices in 2016 when it comes to training smarter instead of training harder.

What changes will you make this upcoming season in order to train smarter in order to stay more consistent?