Essential Sports Nutrition


Permission to eat

Earlier this week, we received a box of homemade Gingerbread cookies from Karel's dad. We are still waiting for another box from Karel's mom.
Every cookie was handmade, individually designed and then sewed into the paper before being shipped from Znojmo, Czech Republic to Greenville, SC.

With every bite, I yum. I can taste the ginger and just a subtle hint of sweetness from the icing.
After one cookie, I feel great. 

With so many diet fads and "lifestyle" ways of eating, we, as a society, have learned to see food as good or bad. Depending on the latest research study, expert or top media post, it's easy to have a one-sided view on "healthy" food and everything else is given a reason to avoid it. 

I can tell you that these gingerbread cookies would not taste as good in May, or February, as they do in December. Because these cookies are tied to the holidays and for Karel, they bring back a lot of memories. Furthermore, eating one cookie feels great in my belly.
Eating 10 cookies would not feel so good.
Knowing that I have permission to eat cookies any time of the year, cookies do not get a lot of attention in my diet. I don't crave cookies because they have never been off limit in my diet. I just choose not to eat them regularly because they don't have a place in my "typical" diet. I don't save my calories for cookies or make sure I eat less carbs to offset a cookie binge late at night. They are just cookies and I don't crave them. Same with most sweets.

Sure, they taste great and can be mouth-wateringly, addicting but with so much other food to eat to nourish and fuel my diet, there really isn't much of a place for cookies in my diet.
So I treat myself to a cookie or two during the holidays.
And same with any indulgence - on occasion.
With no guilt, anxiety or fear involved.
Cookies around the holidays just taste different because they have a different meaning. Yes, even homemade cookies can be unhealthy as they are packed with sugar but I assure you that nothing bad is going to happen to me if I eat one gingerbread cookie here or there over the holidays. The cookie is savored and enjoyed and it doesn't threaten me in any way.
My tomorrow diet and exercise regime is not affected because of one cookie. 

And yes, I can stop at one cookie because I have not deprived myself of cookies, sugar or sweets for the past week, let alone the last year. After many former years of understanding my biological hunger and learning how to fuel properly as an endurance triathlete, as well as working on my relationship with food and my body, I just see food differently than ever before (and probably different than much of the population - I have to thank my European for a lot of this).
And to the surprise and disbelief of many low-carb proponents, I eat plenty of carbohydrates to fuel my workouts and still don't have sugary cravings. 

If Karel buys pastries, ice cream (aka frozen recovery bars according to Karel), chips or some type of dessert (he has the sweet tooth but because he never deprives himself, he doesn't eat too much in one sitting), it doesn't bother me.
I can be in the house with all of these "sugary" items, eat my normal diet of carbohydrates, fat and protein and be fine with all of those items without the hint of wanting to indulge.
 Added sugar, sweets and treats don't really make up a big part of my diet. After so much real food, there really isn't a lot of room left for added sugar.
When the body is satisfied, it doesn't ask for more.

This relationship with food and style of eating was not created overnight. I assure you of that.
When I work with athletes on nutrition, I always address their relationship with food and the body as this can not be overlooked in athletes.
For me, in an effort to not feel obligated to follow a diet fad, to have an off limit food list or to intentionally try to control blood sugar and cravings through a low carb diet, I felt inclined to understand my body (as an athlete) and create a style of eating that worked for me so that food didn't control my life, but instead enhanced my life.

This took time but seeing how I have lived my life over the past few years, it was so worth it.
(I really do love carbs and I'm so glad I never had to give them up).

Food habituation demonstrates than when a person is allowed to eat a food, the less desirable it becomes. But certainly this can get people in trouble as a formally forbidden food, that is now allowed, can be too good to resist.

If you have an off-limit food list or you have been trying to be "good" by avoiding certain foods and you want to see if you can be good with eating only one cookie, there is a good chance that you will likely overindulge.....if you don't have a good relationship with food. And the added worry that you will overindulge, alongside ineffective eating habits (like restricting calories or carbs, skipping meals/snacks or not controlling blood sugar with protein and fat with meals and snacks), may cause anxiety when you are introduced to a food at home or at a party/event, that you have been previously once avoiding. 

This is no way to live your life.
Food is suppose to enhance your life, not control your life. 

You have to trust yourself around food.
Food should not give you anxiety, fear or stress.

If this speaks loudly to you, the first thing you need to work is having a great relationship with food and your body.  

Especially with the holidays, your day should not revolve around how good you can be with your diet  and exercise routine so that you are "allowed" to eat dessert at your holiday meal.
Or, spending the evening with the thought of how much you need to exercise tomorrow because of the bad food that you ate the night before. 

Whereas many people will claim that they feel no cravings on a restricted diet when carbohydrates are reduced, minimized or avoided all together, you don't have to live your entire life with an off-limit food list.
 I know how many people in our society eat and a typical diet is far from healthy.
You know that too. 
Avoiding carbohydrates is not the answer.
Address the real problem - what kind of carbohydrates were people eating in the first place in a "typical" breakfast, lunch and dinner + snacks diet AND was there enough protein and fat to keep the body satisfied and to control blood sugar? 

The next time you are presented with a dessert, take one bite. Savor the bite, enjoy the bite and be done with it. If you need two more bites, so be it.
Afterward, move on.

Happy Holidays. 

I give you permission to eat carbohydrates.
Just do so in a way that you feel absolutely amazingly great AFTER you finish your meal. 


Minty Chocolate Trail Mix "cookies"

 Dark chocolate packs a great heart-healthy punch and is a great cure for a sweet craving. Although it may taste bitter to many, up to 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day (> 60% cacao) can be a great addition to a heart healthy diet.

Whether it is due to the nutrient compound found in chocolate or just the way it makes most people feel inside after taking one bite, chocolate alone has been shown to help improve cardiovascular health (lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure), reduce inflammation, control appetite (ex. overeating/excessive snacking), increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood clot risk by improving blood flow and improve stress and mood. 

Now that's a great list of reasons for you to enjoy dark chocolate! 

Here are a few ways to get creative with chocolate:
*Add 1 tbsp cacao powder to smoothie, oatmeal or pancake/waffle combinations
*Enjoy an individually wrapped or piece of dark chocolate within 30 min after finishing a meal, combined with a few lightly salted nuts (most portions are ~.37-1.5 ounces). 
*Enjoy up to an ounce of dark chocolate with an orange for a snack in the afternoon
*Add a little shaved chocolate to your coffee instead of creamers, sugar sweeteners or whipped cream (you can still splash with milk)
*Add a piece of dark chocolate to stews/chili for a little extra hint of flavor

Remember that dark chocolate does have calories and fat but if you make room for it in your diet, rather than trying to give it up, you may end up having less cravings later in the day (and reducing the risk for overeating) because you feel more satisfied after a meal.
Being satisfied is not just about calories, carbs, protein and fat but also keeping your taste buds happy. 
Karel and I always have a bar of dark chocolate in our refrigerator - always. It is a staple daily food in our diet and a necessary part in us having a healthy relationship with food. 

Minty Chocolate Trail Mix "cookies"

2 cups (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chips
1 x 6 ounce bag trail mix of your liking (or make your own trail mix, ex. cashews, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds) - lightly chop nuts (or smash with mallet on cutting board, in large baggy to break up into small pieces)
5 Andes Mints (chopped)
Pinch of powder ginger
3-4 tbsp Unsweetened coconut shreds (optional)
6-8 large pretzels (chopped/broken) (optional)
Parchment paper
Large cookie sheet (be sure there is room in the refrigerator for this to cool for 2 hours)

-For those who don't like to follow ingredient steps, melt chocolate and then combine all ingredients. Spoon onto parchment paper as cookies on cookie sheet and then put into the freezer for 2+ hours.

Steps (for recipe followers)
1. Spray a non stick cookie sheet (large) with cooking spray and then line with parchment paper. 
2. Melt chocolate in a medium-large stainless steel bowl placed over simmering water in a pot (about half pot filled - or melt in microwave in short 30 sec intervals to allow for stirring). 
3. Use heat resistance spatula to stir chocolate together (you may need a towel to hold the stainless steel bowl for it will get hot if touching the pot of water). 
4. As you are stirring the chocolate, add in 5 chopped Andes Mints - you could also use peppermint extract or a candy cane.
5. When chocolate mix is smooth, add the nuts and a pinch (no more than 1/2 tsp) of ginger.
If using pretzels, also add pretzels at this time. Stir until combined.
6. Spread chocolate and nut mix on paper as individual "cookies". 
7. After chocolate cookies are on the paper, sprinkle with a little coconut and a pinch of coarse salt on top. Lightly press down with clean fingers (or fork) so coconut and salt sticks. 
8. Refrigerate for 2+ hours. 
9. Place a small portion into individual baggies and keep refrigerated (or in freezer) for a delicious snack, once a day or keep in a container if using for a (holiday) party. 

(This also makes a delicious holiday gift or dessert at a party - keep refrigerated as long as possible or place plate of chocolate "cookies" over ice to keep cool)


Athletes, please don't diet.

A few things are going to happen in the next few months.

In a few weeks, you will see and hear a lot of people trying to kick-start a new way of "healthy" eating in order to lose weight. People will say they are ready to get "back on track" and may say other things like "I'm going to be so good" "I'm so tired of being fat" "I ate so bad over the holidays" "I need to get beach body ready."
Sometimes, people will talk about making a lifestyle change for a health improvement.

In a few months, I can assure you that most of these people will find it difficult to maintain their "healthy" eating plan if the plan was not realistic, flexible or non-extreme.  But if the plan was extreme and strict, they will likely say "I couldn't follow it any longer," feeling like a failure (crazy how diet plans make you feel like that) and move on to the next diet plan.

But for you, the athlete, you don't need to do anything drastic and you certainly should never ever think like this.
Because your lifestyle choices keep you healthy. Even if you indulge a bit, eat too much at times or occasional stop for fast food, in general, you probably live a lifestyle that is conducive to health improvements.

But if you think like the normal population and try to diet (restrict food, mega calorie restriction, don't fuel/hydrate properly), as you advanceyour training, your body may not be as healthy as you think.

So let me remind you of one very important thing before you begin to bash your body and seek a quick fix to feel better in your skin.
First off, your body is amazing. Don't forget to thank your body every now and then. You ARE allowed to to experience a change in your body composition throughout the year and you should NOT be going into every workout seeing it as a weight loss intervention.

Secondly, in a few months, you are going to experience an increase in your training intensity and volume as you begin to prepare your body for you upcoming races. Guess what, without even trying, you will be burning more calories than you have been in the last few months and there's a good chance that if you fuel and eat according to your metabolic and health needs, your body will change naturally - without dieting!
In order to experience the performance gains that you aspire to achieve this coming season, it is critical that you stay healthy and not get injured and you can do this with a healthy diet and understanding how to fuel properly before/during/after workouts.

Only consistent quality training will take your fitness to the next level so if your body is not fueled properly, you are not going to sleep or recover well, have the motivation or energy to train, strength to keep good form or energy to tolerate your training load.
And if you aren't fueled well, you will find it hard for your body to respond well to training and get faster, stronger and more powerful (because this is what you really want, right?
I hope you aren't signing up for racing just to try to get lean???)

So in all honesty, any diet plan that you are thinking about following in a few weeks will likely increase the risk for inconsistency in training as you need a very healthy, strong and well-fueled body to tolerate all of your planned training stress.
And you DO NOT need to change your body composition in January (and even if you tried, you probably won't see results for several weeks and this may leave you frustrated, forcing you to make more extreme choices with your eating and working out).

So, if you want a change with your health, body composition, performance or quality of life, why keep doing the same things over and over and over and over again?

If you want a different result, you have to make a long-lasting change.
Respect your sport.
Respect your body.
You are an athlete.
Not an exerciser who needs to diet.

Are you ready to make that change?

No more diet plans.
No more quick fixes.
No more body bashing.
No more just getting by.

Don't you think 2016 is a great year to see what you are truly capable of achieving as an athlete AND stay healthy and strong?

If so, start thinking about how you can make 2016 great for you and your body.

If you don't know where to start with your diet in order to make sure that you are not over/under eating, that you maintain a healthy relationship with food and your body all season long and that you fuel properly to support your training load, consult with a sport RD who can help.