Essential Sports Nutrition


Get out of your own way

If you are training for a race that is happening in the next 6-8 weeks, you may find that this is a tough time of the year. While your excitement is building to put your fitness to the test, you may find that your motivation, focus and determination to train is like a rollercoaster - some days you are exhausted and struggle to get started whereas other days you have the energy to tackle what's on your training plan...and crave more.

While all of this is normal for a hard working athlete like yourself, it's very easy to let your mind get in the way of the body.

If you don't believe me, how many times have you felt so exhausted, tired and sore, struggling to even start a workout and then after the warm-up you feel great and surprise yourself with the energy that you thought you didn't have?

If you want to conquer yourself and reach your goals, you have to believe in yourself.
It’s human nature to enjoy doing things that come easy and are within your comfort zone and to put off things that are uncomfortable or difficult.
Don’t be afraid to fail when trying something new.
Fear of failure is often the main reason why athletes do not move closer to their goals.

Many people resist making changes because it is uncomfortable to change.

If you believe in yourself and your own ability to be successful, you will put yourself into a position to be eligible to reach your goals.
Don't let your mind be an obstacle in your journey.

Beliefs drive behaviors. 

If you believe in yourself and your abilities, you will succeed.

As a goal-driven, hard-working and dedicated athlete, it’s very easy to lose enjoyment of your sport simply because there are too many self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that weaken great training sessions and strong race-day performances.

You don't have to have perfect to be successful. You just have to give your best effort.

If this post resonates with you, identify why you are letting yourself get into your own way.

Like anything in life, goals require hard work.

If you stay focused, determined and motivated AND find a way to have fun, your goals will become reachable.

Next time you find yourself mentally unfocused or in an uncomfortable situation, don't let your mind get in the way of your body.


How do I fuel if.....

Writing an article for a magazine usually goes like this....

I pitch a lot of articles to a magazine and a few (or one or none) gets selected OR a magazine reaches out to me with an article topic for me to write about.

Back in December, after I received confirmation that I would be writing three articles for Triathlete Magazine for the May (Fueling the Vegetarian athlete), June (Sport Nutrition - progressing from short to long course racing) and July (Common fueling mistakes) issues, I was asked to write a 2000-word, feature assignment for the March/April issue on "How do I fuel if...." with the following topics discussed:
-I don't have time to cook
-I'm trying to lose weight
-I'm (going) gluten-free
-I'm a female athlete
-I bonk in races

The article would include 5 different scenarios (each around 200-300 words or the equivalent of a short article) with specific advice, tips and suggestions for each topic, in addition to a sidebar of common-race day fueling mistakes. 

Not only was this the longest article I have ever written for print (essentially, 6 articles into one) but I had a two week turnaround with a very quick deadline as it was a last minute addition to the magazine.

While reading an article after it is completed is rewarding (and hopefully, it flows well and makes sense), the process of writing an article is not easy. And I think any writer can admit that sometimes words easily flow from the brain to the fingers to paper and viola, an article is written quickly but many times, writing an article is a tough process with a lot of mental struggles, either lack of creativity or difficulty getting anything done.

When I am about to write an article, I always do a lot of research before I start typing and this includes reading a lot of current scientific studies as well as learning/understanding what the masses (athletes) are doing, not doing or are most concerned about (or struggling with). There is a lot of thinking that goes into writing easy to read, easy to apply and easy to understand sentences. Finding a way to get 2000 words on to a blank piece of paper is not an easy process but I love the challenge of being a writer.
(If I didn't write, my brain would stay filled with words. Getting those thoughts on paper clears up my head).

While this article took a lot of time, energy and brain power, and several long days of locking myself in a room (with Campy - who is a professional napper) to work on this article, I loved the challenge of writing this feature article and I am really happy with how it turned out. 

I hope you enjoy the article and can take away something helpful from one or all six of my nutrition topics.

How to be a well-fueled machine
(2016 March/April issue)

If you need a more personalized approach with nutrition or have concerns about specific nutrition topics, be sure to reach out to professional who can help in your individual journey. 


It's out of your control

As an athlete, you can control how you prepare for a race by focusing on one day at a time but you can't control what will happen on race day, until it is race day. And sometimes, even when you focus on what you can control (attitude, nutrition, pacing, clothing) things may not always go as planned so you have to adjust. 

However, you can always be prepared to handle the controllables and uncontrollables. 

Obsessing over trying to control certain situations or getting upset, angry or anxious about things beyond your control is the best way to steal away energy that you can use on race day.

As an athlete, you have to be prepared for anything on race day and you can't let a race-day curveball like wind, rain, a modified course, temperature or hills keep you from doing what you trained to do on race day.... RACE!

With this being my 10th year as an endurance triathlete but also a coach to many amazing athletes of all levels, I feel it is important for athletes to distinguish between the following:

1. What worries you that is out of your control.
2. What worries you that you can do something about. 

For examples, let's look at the following.

1. An athlete is worried about hills on a course because she/he trains only on flat roads and feels scared on hills (when riding) or not strong enough when running. While the athlete can not make hills magically appear where she/he lives, this athlete can make the investment to travel to a place nearby that does have hills to train once or twice a month to get more comfortable riding on hilly terrain. If there are hills on the run course, the athlete can run at an incline on the treadmill. Or, she/he can plan a trip to a bike-friendly location with hills to practice cycling or running on hills. If this is not possible, if anything, the athlete can arrive to the race venue a few days early before the race to get more comfortable on the race course. While the hills on the race course are out of his/her control, having the knowledge how to handle a hilly course (with the right gears, knowing how to change your gears, how to pedal efficiently, how to climb and descend safely and efficiently) as well as having some experience on hills will bring confidence to race day.

2. An athlete is worried about a bike course that has a lot of turns and u-turns. While the race course is out of your control (you can't change it), you can prepare for it. Practice, practice, practice. This is 100% within your control as you can practice your turns so you feel more comfortable on race day. Same goes for open water or running on a trail. Understand your race course and prepare yourself for what you will be dealing with on race day. If you complain about your race course and make excuses for not having a good race, but you don't practice or prepare for your course, your reasons for not doing well are not valid. If you prepare and practice but still struggle on race day, at least you tried which means you made the effort to prepare.
There's a big difference between making the effort and making excuses. 

3. An athlete is worried about the hot temperatures on race day because she/he constantly struggles training in the heat. While the temperature is completely out of your control (sorry - no thermostat for race day), you can have a very smart pacing and fueling and hydration plan to execute the best on race day. Consult a professional to help with fueling, hydrating and/or pacing if this is not your area of expertise (especially if you are planning to apply the same strategy that doesn't work in training but hoping for a different result on race day).

4. An athlete is worried about the wind or temperatures because she/he was hoping for a PR. A big part of racing is accepting that the fitness that you bring to race day is helping you perform well on race day. But you can't control the outcome. Spending all your energy on the end result will not help you race to your full capability ON race day. While the outcome may or may not be what you had envisioned, time goals help you get out bed to train (motivation) but the best performing athlete is always the one who slows down the least (race smart).

Last year, Dr. G and I came up with a few situations on how to dodge a race-day curveball. We hope that you enjoy the article that we published on

Here are two of our tips from the article:

Windy conditions-When it comes to equipment (i.e. your aero helmet, wheel depth choice, and hydration set up), it may be in your best interest to not focus so much on what’s fastest (or what the pros are using) but instead, use what you are most comfortable with, while riding on your race course. 
Windy conditions also require a lot of energy and can be physically and mentally draining. Don’t stress or obsess about your times or paces, even if your race is famous for being a fast course. Your performance will all come down to pacing. An epic bike time is worth bragging about only if you can run strong afterward. Race the competition, not the clock, and never try to beat the wind.   

Modified courseRespond, don't react. If possible, study the modified course ahead of time. If the course is modified at the last minute, remind yourself that everyone is in the same boat and probably feeling similar emotions and concerns. This should be validating, because everyone is mentally revising his or her race strategy. Remind yourself, you can't change the situation but you can choose how you respond to what happens to you. Don't react out of stress; respond by adjusting your attitude and rising to the new challenge. You didn't sign up for easy, right?


Look closely - is there a local option?

Oh how I love blueberries.

When I was shopping at the grocery store the other day, I saw a sale, 3 for $10 for blueberries.

The winter deprives me of a wide variety of fruits so when it's time for spring, I get excited to add so many seasonal fruits to my diet.

My mouth started to water as I put the blueberry packages into my cart.
Blueberries don't last long in our house because I am quick to eat as soon as I get them.
I may be short but I have big hands when it comes to a handful of blueberries.

As always, I looked at the product label to determine if any of the blueberry options were local - I try to choose local as often as possible.

Oddly enough, there were four different package labels so I started to further investigate.

Product of USA: Fairfax, SC

Product of USA: Winter Haven, FL

Product of Mexico: Reedley, CA

For the purpose of this blog, I purchased all three packages.

In all other circumstances, I would have searched through all the blueberries to make sure that I purchased only the berries from South Carolina as eating local offers many benefits. 

  • Locally grown food is packed with flavor. 
  • Locally grown food is picked at peak ripeness, often within 24-48 hours of purchase. 
  • Eating local means eating seasonally as farmers grown certain foods based on the time of the year when harvesting is optimal. 
  • Local food preserves the nutritional value of the food. 
  • Local food supports the local economy.
  • Local food benefits the environment.
  • Local food means safer food with less steps between growing, delivering, distributing and consumption.

    Although I don't want to stop you from eating fresh produce just because it is not grown locally, next time you shop, take a look at the label (or package) on your fruits and veggies to see if there is the option to choose local (or as close as possible).

    I feel very fortunate that I live in an area that takes great pride in supporting local businesses, farmers and companies.
    Greenville, SC is passionate about local.

    You can do your part by signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture), growing produce in a home garden, shopping at a local farmers market or picking your own produce at a farm (we have Beechwood Farms just down the road where strawberries are in season!) 

    Whenever possible, support your local farms and farmers.  


Understand your appetite tips

Struggling to understand your appetite?
I find that far too many athletes are on the search for the perfect eating plan for weight loss, more energy and improved health. Sadly, this plan doesn't exist for the masses. Figuring out the ideal style of eating for you takes some work.

Calorie or macronutrient -focused meal plans which offer no flexibility or options do not address normal hunger and satisfaction cues.

Whereas I do like the idea of having a meal template for different meal and snack options to better understand your appetite,hunger and satisfaction and to create new nutrition habits, you can't expect a meal plan to be a forever approach to eating.

Your diet will always evolve just like you evolve from baby, to child to adult to elderly adult. And when it comes to training for an event, a periodized approach to nutrition is also a way to support your extremely active lifestyle as you develop your skills, strength, power, speed and endurance.

It takes time to work on your eating to determine what works best for you. But if you are constantly trying to do what everyone else is doing or waiting for the perfect moment to start something new, you'll waste many months, if not years, struggling to understand your own appetite.

Here are some suggestions to help you learn how to eat in a smarter way while moving closer to meeting your energy and health goals. 

1. Plan your day of eating before it happens.
You should include carbohydrates, protein and fat at your 3 meals and snack between meals (aim to eat every 3 hours).
You should not follow any diet fad or specific style of eating during this time as you need to learn what works best for you and your body.
Try to follow a similar style of eating with your meals and snacks for at least two weeks but pay attention to your hunger and fullness. Every evening, reflect on the day and make one or two small tweaks based on what didn't go well during the day. Your goal is to feel that by the end two weeks, you have a better idea of how much food is enough to leave you nourished, satisfied, healthy and energized. You have to trust yourself in this process as you may find yourself with confusing signals from the brain and belly. Even though it's only two weeks, many athletes make the mistake of doing the same things over and over and never make a change. Give yourself a week to make small changes  each day and then try to follow a style of eating for week #2 based on what worked and didn't work in week #1. 

2. Create easy options for fueling before and after your workouts.
For the athletes who have little appetite before or after workouts or for those who have extreme hunger, it is important to have a plan with your eating so you don't overeat but also so you don't undereat. If you want your body to work for you, you have to feed and fuel it properly on a consistent basis. You  need to understand what helps you fuel for an upcoming workout but also what helps you recover, replenish and rehydrate.  If you have a plan, you will be more likely to follow through with your good intentions. Consider easy to digest options which are easy to find and prepare before and after workouts. Training is stressful - don't make your fueling plan stressful.

3. Understand YOUR body.
I often hear from my nutrition athletes that they do well in the mornings with eating and then everything falls apart in the afternoon or eating. More willpower is not the answer. If you are following a diet plan or a style of eating that is not fit for you, you will spend your entire life struggling to understand how to eat and constantly hoping to do better tomorrow.
Learn to understand what works best for you. Eating is not cheating and what works for one person may not work for you. Accepting your hunger, your fullness and your individual needs is the first step to creating a diet plan that works for you.

4. Create a fueling game plan.
While it is easy to consume treats, indulgences and reward food to replenish the calories that were used in training, it's important to understand what foods, drinks and products work best before, during and after your workouts to help you better adapt to training. While you may need to work with a sport dietitian to understand how much and when you should be eating and fueling to help you meet energy, electrolyte and fluid needs, it's important to figure out what works best for you, your appetite and your body around and during your training.
Whereas one athlete may be able to eat a stack of pancakes, syrup, milk and fruit and eggs after a long run, another athlete may struggle to eat a handful of berries. In this scenario, the later athlete would benefit from a liquid recovery meal after the workout and to slowly ease into solid food as tolerated. No two athletes are the same, especially as it relates to fueling before, during and after workouts. However, every athlete should nail the basics before creating a personalized fueling plan. There are general guidelines that all athletes should follow and once these are mastered, individual scenarios and situations can be discussed.
In any case, you need a game plan that will allow you to train consistently and meet your energy needs.