Essential Sports Nutrition


Broccoli and cheese spaghetti squash casserole

In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of meal planning for athletes with a few of my helpful meal prep tips.
It's important that you do not overwhelm yourself with food prep and meal planning but instead, make the effort to plan ahead instead of always making it an afterthought.

Sometimes good intentions backfire when you try to do too much at once or have this vision of "healthy eating" that isn't practical for you right now in your nutritional journey.

Every athlete is going to have a unique starting point when it comes to meal prepping.

Perhaps you are trying to move away from always having an English muffin, egg, piece of ham and chips for dinner or you trying to break a habit of always having pasta or fast food, or eating out or a frozen meal for dinner most nights per week.

Or maybe you are in a meal prep rut and need to challenge yourself with a more complicated meal or recipe as you have been resorting to quick and easy, despite having the time, passion and energy for cooking.

With so many food blogs, magazines and articles promoting recipes, sometimes looking at perfect food pictures, a list of ingredients and many steps can be overwhelming for some athletes and it can actually take the fun away from creating a meal that you will eventually yum over.

Sometimes cooking is like a hard workout. It looks daunting at first and you assume you will fail (or you don't have the energy or time for it) but when you give an effort and the process is over, you are not only happy that you did it but you feel really great about what you accomplished.

For myself, I like to plan and prep meals that are quick and easy for me but perhaps for someone else, my meals may look complicated and time-consuming.

 When considering what you will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, if you are new to meal prepping and planning meals, don't overwhelm yourself with extremely detailed recipes or dishes that require lots of steps or extended cooking time every night of the week.

Healthy eating is much easier to accomplish when you shop, plan and prepare ahead of time.

What you make is up to you!

 Broccoli and cheese spaghetti squash casserole

Cooking time: 10 min to prep, 25-60 min to cook

1 spaghetti squash (a 7-9 inch squash should feed 2 but buy bigger if you want leftovers)
Marinara sauce
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 heads of broccoli
Cheese - sharp or cheddar (I use Cabot)

Parmesan cheese
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 450°F
2. Cut squash length-wise and place cut-side down on baking sheet (sprayed with non stick spray) for 40-50 minutes. (You can also cook in microwave in 15 minutes.).
3. Steam broccoli on stove top in large pot (stems removed).
4. Use a fork to remove the seeds.
5. Drizzle olive oil (a few tsp) on bottom of a casserole dish to lightly cover.
6. Scrape squash from the shell and place into the casserole dish. (this is fun, have your kids help!)
7. Add chopped garlic, a pinch of salt/pepper and about 1/2-3/4 cup marinara sauce to cover the squash. Mix together with your fork until evenly combined. OK to add more sauce to your liking.
8. Add steamed broccoli and mix together in dish. Broccoli will fall apart but OK to leave some chunks of broccoli.
9. Top with a little Parmesan to lightly cover the top of the broccoli/squash mixture and then sprinkle on a little shredded cheese.
10. Place casserole dish on lower rack (in oven) and bake for 10-15 minutes.
Best if served warm.

Serve with your choice of protein (chicken, beef, tempeh, tofu).

I hope you yum as loud as we did!


No more excuses - meal planning

Sitting down to a home-cooked meal in the evening is not an everyday occurrence for many people in our society for a variety of reasons; being too tired or hungry, wanting something easy, needing something quick and convenient, feeling too busy, not knowing what to eat or not liking to cook.

As an athlete, you already have so much to squeeze into the day that it’s easy to see why dinner may be an afterthought, especially if you have been up since 5am or you are finishing an evening workout around 6:30 or 7pm. 
But, that's not a good excuse. 

Let's get serious...
You aren't too busy to train so it's all about priorities when you say you are too busy to cook. 

As an athlete myself, I can empathize with how overwhelming it can be to plan nutritious meals, every day of the week and still squeeze in workouts. And this is in addition to work, family and everything else on a never-ending to-do list. 

I realize that I do not share many of my meal creations on this blog but I have to be honest with you, I'm passionate about healthy eating and I love sharing my food pics but my job is not a food blogger. And I also don't like to measure food and make my meals precise for you to replicate.

I am a board certified sport dietitian who spends all day helping athletes maximize performance by personally addressing and tweaking lifestyle, nutrition and sport nutrition limiters.

I regularly share my food pics on Facebook with the hope that you can be inspired to prepare healthy and satisfying home-cooked meals that will work for your active lifestyle but I never want you to feel overwhelmed when it comes to food shopping and food prepping.
There are hundreds and hundreds of food bloggers with amazing pictures, stories and recipes of food.
You should have no problem finding recipes that will work for you...but the key is making the time to actually prep and cook those meals. 

As far as I know, athletes love having a plan to follow so if it works for you to have a training plan, consider a meal plan to guide you in a successful week of eating. 

There’s no need to be obsessed with food as you need to let food enhance your life, not control your life. And there is nothing wrong with the occasional off day of eating. 

I actually feel that allowing yourself an "of" day (ex. breakfast for dinner, yogurt, granola and fruit for lunch, PB & J and a smoothie for breakfast, etc.) can actually keep you on track for healthy eating the rest of the week. It's kinda like a vacation from "typical" eating.  

Above all, you should love to eat and your meals should work for your health, body composition and performance goals. 

Place a similar amount of passion, effort and enthusiasm into your daily diet (and fueling regime) so that you can experience the rewards of having a healthy, nourished and well-fueled body. 

Here are a few of my meal planning tips that will work for your busy lifestyle. 
But in order to make them work.....
 make an effort, not excuses. 

1. Prepare meals on the weekend and always plan for leftovers. A little meal prep goes a long way. Dice, chop, wash, cook — do as much as you can when you have the time so you at least have options for a upcoming meal. Don't overwhelm yourself. Plan for 2-3 days and then do a light meal prep to last you the rest of the week.

2. Prep a meal before a workout.
You don’t want to finish your workout hungry with no patience to meal prep. Prepare as much as you can before working out. This is a game changer. You won't believe how your food choices will change (and how less complicated "healthy" eating can be) when you know that a meal is prepared before you workout. More often than not, if you finish a workout hungry, you will almost always go for what's quick and easy and not always healthy or performance enhancing and find an excuse or reason to eat it (even though you know you should be eating something healthier.)

3. Have a menu for the week.
Knowing what you will eat for dinner (and breakfast, lunch and snacks) will ensure you have those items available. No need to make this menu extravagant, just make a plan. Theme meals or staple meals work really well, especially when you are getting started with this habit.

4. Allow yourself one night a week to get a little help from a pre-made or semi-homemade meal.
Sure, you could dine-out but let's be honest, eating out takes time and it's have to wait for food, eat and pay and travel to and from the restaurant. Consider getting help once a week (Wed or Thurs) from a salad bar, pre-made meal option from the grocery, pick-up/take-out healthy item or making something super easy and semi-homemade. Make sure this meal works for you as your meals should never make you feel guilty or should negatively affect your next days workout. 

5. Use your time wisely
Think about your entire day (M-F) - when do you have the most free time? And by free time, this means watching TV or spending time on your smart phone/computer at home. Could you make more time in your day?
Hopefully, there are times when you are home and you can find 10 to 30 minutes in the early morning, when you get home from work or in the evening that you can do some cooking or prepping. Oftentimes, the cooking and meal prep is an afterthought and athletes get busy doing something else or feel too exhausted and hungry to do anything but sit.....and eat something convenient.
As an athlete, food should be high on your to-do list. This means eating, cooking and planning. 

You know how important consistency is with training and you love the results when you follow your training plan.
Put that same focus and attention on your eating habits as you do with your training and you will find yourself doing amazing things your healthy, well fueled and nourished body. 


Mobility tips for athletes

Tips for improving mobility

1)      Make dynamic stretching part of your DAILY routine. Dedicate up to 15-20 minutes before every swim, bike and run workout to warming up your body, before you “warm-up” and an additional mobility session before bed (or after long periods of sitting).
This means before you jump into the pool, get on your bike or start a run, you need to perform dynamic stretching. Do not neglect this important habit of being a mobile athlete.

With our coaching, we are always looking for ways to help our athletes train smarter with the least amount of training stress possible. Improving mobility can help!
Dynamically stretching moves your body through different movement patterns to actively stimulate muscles, tendons, ligaments, fibers, tissues and joints.
You will also notice that dynamic warm-ups increases blood flow to the working muscles which gives you energy before you start working out. This will help you improve your range of motion, which will improve your power and speed. And, you'll find yourself more motivated to work out.

2) Do not go long hours sitting. There are several 
work break timers which remind you to stand up and move when you are at work. Consider sitting on a stability ball, standing every 60 min for 10 minutes, sitting less and standing more, walking around or doing yoga poses each hour while at work. When you sit, shoulders should be relaxed, arms close to sides, elbows bent at 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor and your lower back should be supported.

3) Move your body. If you are only working out once a day, consider adding walking, riding your bike “for fun” or yoga to your daily routine. If you think about it, even if you work out for 2 hours a day, 92% of your day is likely spent sitting in a crunched, tight position.
Sadly, many athletes who engage in endurance training to become fitter actually become more sedentary because training becomes so exhausting that athletes actually sit more and move less than before they started training.
Regular movements are key to a healthy life, mind and body.

4) Stop the self-manipulating and visit a trained sport massage therapist. It’s very common that athletes will feel tight and with every niggle, will immediately resort to deep trigger point, foam rolling or excessive stretching. Many times, athletes increase inflammation and create more damage to already tight muscles.
By adding regular (1-3 times per month) massages into your training regime, you will find yourself more mobile when you train. A trained massage therapist can help you understand your body. However, he/she should not “spot” massage for more than 20 minutes as many times, your symptoms for pain/tightness are likely from a different source (ex. foot issues could be from tight calves). It’s best to get a massage before you need it and to stay up on massages at least 1-3 times per month. The best days to get a deep tissue massage are 24-48 hours after a hard workout. Allow up to 48 hours to recover from a massage and be sure to stay well hydrated.

5) If you are experiencing chronic issues with tightness, mobility issues, aches or pains, it’s important to connect with a trained PT who can assist in your athletic journey. Despite all the steps that many athletes take to prevent injuries from happening, some bodies are more fragile and/or weak than others.
Don’t let a weakness or mobility issue be an excuse and don't assume that "this is just the way I am" as if you are no treatable or fixable.

I come from 6 years of chronic hip and back issues which took me out of running for 1-3 months every year for those 6 years. I found myself rehabing before a race instead of training for a race.
I became so frustrated that I even told myself I would never be healed and this is just the way I am and convinced myself that I would never be a successful triathlete because of my body.
Well, I am now going on almost 3 years of no injuries. Although I do have to do a lot of extra work when I'm not training to keep my hips and back healthy and strong and I still get some niggles that remind me that I am not injury-proof, I was able to treat what I never thought was treatable.
(I did get a lot of help along the way - Thanks Gloria and Chris!)

If you are injured or recovering from an injury, don't give up!
Always focus on your individual needs for your body.  


Mobility for athletes

Good mobility and great performances are closely tied to one another.
As it relates to performance declines and/or injuries, lack of mobility can be a culprit.

I'm a huge proponent of mobility work and I often spend up to 15 minutes before a swim, bike or run workout slowly working my body through a range of dynamic and mobility exercises to warm-up, before I warm-up. Going on almost 3 years without an injury, routine mobility work (I never stretch, trigger point or foam roll) is one of a few key improvements that I have made in my training regime to help reduce the risk for injury.

Why is mobility important?
If you cannot move your muscles, limbs and joints through their full range of motion and you are limited to one plane of movement, your body is not being used to its full potential. When mobility suffers, performance suffers because you can no longer generate the power and speed that you are capable of producing.

What happens with poor mobility?
Aside from not being able to train to your full ability, when one part of your body (ex. hips, knee, ankles, shoulders) loose full mobility, those muscles, joints or ligaments can become weak or tight. To compensate, another part of the body has to pick up the slack. When your glutes are weak, the knees or lower back is forced to take over. Poor ankle mobility or tight calves can contribute to plantar fascia issues. A tight neck can cause back issues.
It’s much safer and healthier for your body to train when you can move through full range of motion when you train as this will reduce the stress on your entire body.

Why you need to improve mobility
The best way to improve mobility is to reduce the chance for immobility.
 How many times have you visited a massage therapist and said “my x is so tight or stiff!” with hopes that he/she will magically “release” and fix you in an hour.

 Many athletes neglect mobility for two reasons:
1) They don’t/have make the time for mobility work
Ok, so there is really only one main reason.

Athletes love to prioritize cardio or strength training over mobility work because mobility work takes away valuable training minutes.

If you say "I don't have time for mobility, I only have x-minutes to train," I want you think about this.

Your ability to have a great workout is affected by many things - sleep, nutrition, motivation, economy, muscle strength, etc.
When considering the importance of spending 5-15 minutes to mobilize your body before you start your workout, if you could go into the workout with better range of motion and a more relaxed body, even if it means working out 5-15 minutes less if you are crunched for time, you wouldn't only enjoy the workout more because you felt better when training but you would actually improve performance because you could go a little harder and a little faster (perhaps even going a little further) with less work.

Great idea, right?!
That's what we call training smarter to train harder.

Every time you take a stroke and kick in the water, pedal on the bike and run forward, you are forcing key muscles, ligaments, joints, tendons and bones to work. When you go into a workout tight, your warm-up can only loosen you up to a certain degree. You may think that because you are time-crunched that you have to make every minute count for cardio (or strength training), but the main goal of training is to have quality workouts.
With poor mobility, economy decreases. And when economy decreases, it’s more difficult to be fast, strong or efficient when training.

Seeing that you work so hard to improve your cardio fitness, your strength and your stamina, it’s important that you can ensure full range of motion with every stroke, foot strike and movement forward.

It can be very frustrating to feel like performance is declining, despite you feeling like your cardiovascular system is very robust and your mind is completely committed.  But this is a common occurrence that athletes will train and train and train and get tighter and tighter and tighter. Eventually, you get an injury that may have been prevented from an improvement in mobility. 

In my next blog I will provide a few helpful tips for improving mobility. 


A well-fueled body on the weekend

It takes a lot of food to fuel an endurance athlete.
But not every food is well tolerated before and after a long workout.

I'm constantly aware of the food that I eat around long workouts for two reasons.
First off, food is my fuel. I do not use food as reward or to control emotions. Seeing that long distance training is very stressful on the human body, I do not want to self-sabotage myself by under on my longest workout days nor do I want to throw away a great workout by eating (or not eating) food that will not help me recover and refuel. 

Secondly, I know what foods work and do not work for my body.  This has little to do with body image and a lot to do with performance.
Ironically, my body stays in good health, despite not counting calories, eating carbohydrates at every meal, every day of the week, using sport nutrition during workouts, eating before all workouts and not having a "bad" food list.
This isn't because I'm lucky, this is because I understand exercise physiology, nutrient timing and sport nutrition.

The"diet" that I follow around my workouts is my style of eating that is guided by a focus to ensure that my body performs well when I need it to perform well and recovers and refuels adequately so I can repeat the training stress the next day.
There are no food rules for how I eat but you better believe that I am going to eat the foods that work best for my body when I ask my body to train.
When I eat well, I perform well and this keeps my body in great health.
If I didn't eat well around my workouts, either my health or performance would decline.
Typically, it's one before the other but often, both decline overtime. 

I find that many athletes get confused when they hear a pro or elite athlete say "I don't eat x" before or after a workout or race. This statement doesn't mean that x food isn't "allowed" at other times in the day or this is a "bad" food.

When you are performance focused, you are going to prioritize foods that help you improve performance. If you focus on body image or something aside from performance when making food choices, it's very difficult to ask your body to perform (go harder or longer) without adequate energy and nutrients in a restrictive diet.

The issue of not fueling properly before, during and after long workouts is very common for the fitness enthusiast turned athlete who doesn't understand the great metabolic stress of going long, the athlete who struggles with an unhealthy relationship with food or the body or a chronic dieter who is training for an endurance event. 
These athletes have built a diet from healthy vs unhealthy, good vs bad foods and haven't learned or accepted that some foods that may not be "healthy" throughout the week or on lower volume/intensity workout days, but are actually best consumed before/after workouts for performance benefits....and actually keep the body healthy because metabolic needs are met.
And as far as those "healthy" foods that we should be eating every day, well I eat a salad every day for lunch but I do not eat my normal fiber-rich salads on the weekend, when training long.
I am not going to refuel with a salad after a 4 hour bike ride and 2 mile brick run but this doesn't mean that I have freedom to eat whatever I want or I don't eat veggies on the weekend.

As I said before, I know what works and doesn't work for a body that is training long. I have a different diet on the weekend and it's not built on "reward" food or "bad" food but instead, food designed to fuel, refuel, recover, repair and nourish.
And I never feel deprived, with an empty pit in my stomach or suffer from extreme food cravings when training long on the weekends.

I'm sure you have a list of foods that are best enjoyed on long weekends but my hope is that these foods are not for "reward" because you earned it or because you can "burn off those calories." I also hope that you are not strict with your diet because you want to lose weight through long distance training and intentionally underfuel.

I encourage you to create two different diets, with foods during the week helping to keep you satisfied, nourished, fueled and to control blood sugar and then on the weekend, to help you adapt well to longer training stress, in order to postpone fatigue and to recover the damage that is done from long distance training.
Be mindful that some foods will not work well before and after your short and long workouts and this is ok. It's actually very good if you can recognize this as you will create a diet that works for you and your body.

Be respectful to your body and always have a great relationship with food, especially when going long.
You can only maximize performance if you have a well-fueled AND healthy body.

Here are some of the foods that we enjoyed over the past two weekends of long training:

Fresh rustic farmer's bread, grilled cheese sandwich with mozzarella, sliced tomato and arugula. 

Tomato soup packed with sauteed veggies, beans and boiled potatoes (pretty much a bunch of leftovers added to homemade tomato soup)

Egg and veggie scramble - plenty of leftovers for two long workout recovery meals

Veggie and egg scramble with fresh rye bread and oranges

Yogurt w/ berries and oranges (this is an older picture but I eat at least a cup of Greek 0% plain yogurt every day)

Cottage cheese (2% Daisy brand) with a spoonful of fig preserves

Homemade grilled pizza made with Publix pizza dough (aka "salad" on bread)
Homemade crepes made by chef Karel (think thin pancakes with lots of surface area for topping)

Baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon and honey (served with 2% Daisy Cottage Cheese, not pictured)

Mashed cauliflower and sautéed onions and garlic, baked sweet potatoes, cooked tofu and a romaine and arugula salad with pecans, orange slices and avocado.

And in addition to all this delicious food, I still eat before ALL workouts and use sport nutrition during any workout over 75 minutes (or intense workout less than 75 minutes).

Don't destroy your body and health with excessive exercising and poorly planned eating.  

Just imagine what you can do with a well-fueled and healthy body......