Essential Sports Nutrition


Safe cycling

I didn't grow up as a cyclist - heck, I barely rode my huffy bike with purple tassels when I was a child.
I was born to be a swimmer and have always felt comfortable in the water.

Karel, on the other hand, was born to be on two wheels. He has been riding a bike since he learned to walk. Road, fixie, TT, triathlon, mountain - you name it and Karel will ride it!
Whenever Karel has an off day and he feels tired, I just tell him "go ride your bike" and instantly he feels better.

When I met Karel ten years ago, I was training for my first Ironman. My cycling skills were horrible. I was afraid to clip in and out, afraid to get out of the saddle, afraid to be on my aerobars on busy roads (or around other people), afraid to take turns, climb, descend...yes, pretty much afraid to be on my bike despite me training for a 112 mile bike event.
I was great at riding on a spin bike and ok at riding in a straight line on the road. Anything else and I felt off balance, uncomfortable and certainly not one with my bike.

Thankfully, Karel looked out for me and wanted the best for me. He knew that for a happy marriage and for my safety, I needed to learn how to confidently ride a bike AND have the skills to ride my bike out on the road, in all terrain and weather conditions.

Fast forward to 2016 and 10 Ironmans, dozens of triathlons, bike events and a few bike-specific train-cations in the mountains and I can confidently say that my bike skills have improved A LOT.
He also showed me that my body was built for hard bike courses with a lot of climbing.

10,300 feet at Brainard Lake in Boulder, CO

I owe it all to Karel for constantly taking me out of my comfort zone.

But, as much as I knew I needed to work on my skills, this brought on many tears running down my face while riding my bike with Karel ((and a handful of arguments) where I was just too scared to try something on my bike.
But Karel was not comfortable with me riding my bike in a race, let alone on roads with cars, without proper cycling skills.

 Riding a triathlon or road bike was always very mechanical for me in that I wasn't always quick to react to what to do in certain situations and it would often take me a second to act after thinking. Thanks to living in Greenville where the terrain forces you to react quickly as it is equally challenging as it is beautiful, I now find myself able to ride (so happy) without having to think as much as to what I need to do when I see a stop sign, descend down a steep hill, climb or make a turn.

And if I wasn't on my bike, I would have never met Mr. Llama who LOVES cyclists.
I know I still have a ways to go until I can ride as confidently as Karel can (riding a bike is like walking for him - he doesn't have to think about it, he just does it) but at least I have made a lot of progress and I feel far more safer when I ride my bike out on the road thanks to a huge improvement in my cycling skills. 

As a triathlete and someone who really loves to ride her bike in the mountains, in nature, I know there is a great risk when it comes to sharing the road with cars.

But that's just it - we are cars and bikes, who both share the road.

I've said it over and over again but I feel so lucky that we found and now live in Greenville, SC. We have endless cycling routes in and around the mountains (where we ride 99.9% of the time - straight from our doorstep) and the cars actually share the road with us cyclists. It's not a bad problem to have but I can't tell you how many times we have to signal and wave to a car to pass us because they will slowly stay behind us, patiently letting us ride. If that is any indication of where we ride most of the time, I can confidently say that where we ride, the people don't need to get anywhere fast as we are in the country and life moves a little slower near the mountains.

Sure, we get the occasional honk or rude driver but it's not a common occurrence. To make it more evident as to the safety of our rides, I rarely ride anywhere that has a bike lane OR shoulder. I actually feel more safe riding here in Greenville without a designated bike lane than when I rode on the shoulder in FL.

It's far more common that a car will pass far to the left (often in the other lane if there is a yellow line) than to try to squeeze by us without moving.
Cars don't look act at us as if we don't belong.

We have over 25 miles of the swamp rabbit trail for men, women, boys and girls to ride leisurely, to stay in shape or to work on cycling skills which also provides many Greenvillians the opportunity to learn to ride and to actually ride a bike.
I can't tell you how many bike shops we have in and around Greenville and every week, our downtown becomes more bike friendly.

Greenville wants people on bikes and thanks to the city, the Greenville Spinners and many others who are actively involved in the bike community, people are proactive in making us feel safer on the roads.

While accidents do happen and some roads are just not safe for cyclists (thus the #1 reason why we wanted to move out of Jacksonville, FL), your enjoyment for cycling and your safety on the road can be improved with a few of these tips.

1. Master your cycling skills - While you can improve your fitness on the trainer, a stationary bike trainer does not allow you to identify and master your cycling skills like you can when you are riding in the elements and on all types of terrain. Forget the race wheels, the power meter, and the aero helmet which you feel you "need" to ride faster. Learn how to change your gears properly, sit on the bike properly, stand up and adjust your position, grab your bottles (and rotate your bottles), break quickly, maneuver your bike in tight spaces, react smartly, descend, corner, stop/start on any terrain and ride confidently on your bike. If you ride the trainer a lot or you find yourself uncomfortable outside on two wheels, take the time and practice riding your skills as often as you can by riding outside on safe roads.

2. Fuel and hydrate appropriately - When you are bonking, you can't think or react clearly. You lose all good judgement. Whereas you may not be in danger if you bonk in the pool or when running, it's dangerous to your life if you intentionally or unintentionally underfuel/underhydrate when on two wheels. Always bring more nutrition/fluids than you need and plan your refueling stops before you need to stop.

3. Be comfortable on your bike - This goes beyond the obvious of getting a professional bike fit from a very experienced fitter (especially when fitting you with the "right" saddle type and position). Your helmet, sunglasses, shoes and clothing should be very comfortable. If you don't feel comfortable in your gear, you are not going to be comfortable riding your bike for many miles. Do not try anything new on race day - practice in similar gear in training as in race day and don't assume that deep race wheels will make you faster if you struggle to keep them in a straight line in training.

4. Invest in electronic shifting - I can't say enough good things about electronic shifting. From an economy and safety standpoint, I feel this should be mandatory on all triathlon bikes (aero bars and the base bars) as it allows for more efficient (and often) shifting of the gears no matter the terrain (sitting or standing). This has been the best investment on my bike and I can't imagine riding without electronic shifting.

5. Obey the rules of the road - While we all want drivers to obey the rules of the road, cyclists should do the same.

6. Be remembered - Whenever I ride and I am passed by a car, if I have the opportunity (ex. safe terrain), I give a little wave and a smile. I want every car to remember me as the "nice" cyclist - not the one who stuck out my middle finger, yelled at the car or disobeyed the rules of the road. I want to create a good impression for all cyclists and I am sure I am not alone in this as other cyclists/triathletes in the community do the same.

7. Don't be a hypocrite - It's easy for a cyclist to complain about distracted drivers who are eating in the car, taking a phone while in the car or texting while in the car. But sadly, athletes are guilty of the same things. It's just as easy for a cyclist who drives a car to get just as distracted as a driver who doesn't cycle. How many times have you been driving home famished and exhausted after training and find yourself easily distracted (and a little angry) from being low in energy or taking a phone call or making a "quick" text?
Whenever you are behind two wheels (not on two wheels), be smart when you are driving as it's not just cyclists who are at risk on the road but everyone else who is around you, walking, driving and animals too.

8. Be alert - In the two years since we moved to Greenville, I have never ridden my bike with headphones in my ears. It's important to be alert to your surroundings and plus, riding a bike allows you to be close to nature so open your eyes and ears and enjoy it! You should also be aware of your surroundings, always looking what's slightly in front of you, paying attention to cars, dogs, squirrels, branches, potholes and any other distractions. Plan your routes accordingly to minimize riding in unsafe areas.

9. Keep your bike tuned-up - I can't tell you how many bikes have been in the hands of Karel and he has found something on or inside the bike that could potentially risk a bike accident. A proper tune-up doesn't mean simply cleaning the chain and wiping off the grease, dirt and sweat but making sure the bike is fully rideable at all times (bolts, bearings, wheels, brakes, tires, cleats, pedals, cables, etc.). Your bike should always be in proper riding condition and if not, don't ride outside!

10. Have fun! - It would be a shame if the only time you are allowed to ride a bike outside is when you are a kid and only in the neighborhood with your parents watching. While bike trainers are an effective tool for specific bike training and for riding your bike at any time of the day, no matter the outside weather conditions, riding a bike outside is fun. Keep riding a bike fun. It's easy on the body as it is non-weight bearing and it allows you to see more than you can see in a car or by foot. Riding a bike makes you feel free and it's an activity that I encourage everyone to participate in, no matter your age or fitness level.

11. Be the change you want to see - If you aren't happy with your current cycling community, safety or riding conditions, get involved with your community. While change takes time, there's no point complaining about something that you can possibly do something about. While laws and roads won't change overnight, you deserve to ride your bicycle outside.

In light of the recent cycling tragedy, my very good friend (and athlete) Meredith (a wife, triathlete, cyclists, full-time employee and mom of two young kids), who is extremely actively involved in our cycling community, shared this powerful message on social media and with her permission I would like to share:

" I rode this morning, alone as I do 90% of the time. This is awful, and unfortunate. It could happen to any of us. So do fatal car wrecks, plane crashes, and random cancer diagnoses to those we love. We cannot live in fear. You will do nothing for the sport by hiding in the garage. Yes, the trainer has a place, but there ARE safe roads and 95% of the drivers in our (Greenville) community realize and accept that we are human beings on two wheels and give us that respect when they pass. As I was nearly pinched off the road by a rogue vehicle just this morning, the Michigan crash already heavy on my mind, the car behind the offending car then laid down on its horn and pursued the driver who seemingly pursued me, in what seemed to me a defensive move in my direction, to tell the other driver what he tried to do to me wasn't cool. It shook me up, but I was glad to see another car take up for me, in a way. Then, as I waited for the last green light on my cool down home, a gentleman in a pick up truck pulled up beside me and rolled down his window to say hello, ask me about the weather, and wish me a safe ride. All this, and the friendly hello and waves from multiple fellow cyclists out this morning. I know what was on all our minds. I personally work for this safety in our community, and I won't quit. You also know what they say - the only thing necessary for evil to endure is for good men to do nothing. So in this case, be an exemplary ambassador for cycling, ride when and where it is safe, and be overly friendly and visually appreciative to those cars who respect and protect us. I take in the beauty and enjoyment and the life altering joy a bike brings. Ride on!"

Riding with Meredith this morning and enjoying our peaceful roads with endless mountain views. Thank you to the cars who were so patient and nice to us as we celebrated our good health on two wheels.
Happy times on two wheels! 


Cauliflower, lentil and quinoa dish

Some of my favorite meals are the ones that involve no recipe but a lot of creativity.

Cauliflower is not my most favorite vegetable but I picked one up at the grocery so I could make myself do something yummy with it in the kitchen. I first thought about baking it in the oven but that seemed rather boring as I was feeling a overly creative yesterday.

As I was deciding what to do with this white vegetable, I cooked some lentils (about 1 cup) in water on the stove top.
I then added some quinoa (about 1 cup) to the cooked lentils (with a little more water) because, well, why not?
I seasoned the lentil quinoa mix with a little salt.

Still stuck with the cauliflower, I softened a pack of sliced tempeh in the microwave for 90 seconds and then cooked it on a skillet in a little olive oil until browned on all sides.

In the same large skillet on medium heat, I sauteed chopped onions (about 1/2 large onion) and garlic (2 large clove) because I knew that it would bring out a lot of flower in my soon-to-be-made cauliflower dish.
I decided I would chop up the cauliflower and do something with it...eventually.

Finally, I added the chopped cauliflower to the sauteed onions and garlic, with a little more olive oil and on low heat, I covered the dish for around 20 minutes to let the cauliflower soften. I occasionally stirred the mix and added a little water to help soften the cauliflower.

When the cauliflower was soft, I added a good amount of shredded fresh reggiano cheese and a few pinches of salt and my dish was finally ready to plate.

I love it when I impress myself.
Yum, yum, yum!

When's the last time that you were extra creative in the kitchen?
Don't stress about it - it's just food.
Meals are simply a bunch of ingredients thrown together.

Be brave in the kitchen as there are no rules.

Have fun creating your future yum and be sure to take a picture of your final product before it goes into your body to make your tummy happy!


Getting older

I'd like you to meet Grandpa Joe. This is mom's dad and he is 92 years old. 
He has a fun fact about everything and can remember anything from his lifestyle. 
His stories are very detailed and he is funny and smart.

Grandpa Joe has lived 58 years more than me and his body moves a lot slower than my body.

Grandpa Joe needs time getting ready to go out and he takes a few more steps to help him get in an out of a car. His vision is great but his right ear doesn't hear as well as his left. His cane helps him get around but he does need a little assistance with his balance on stairs. 

For exercise, Grandpa Joe walks and does Tai Chi. He walks around the family room, living room or anywhere where there is room to work his muscles and to get his heart rate up. This is his daily workout routine which he makes himself do every day, 3x's per day. 

Grandpa Joe loves real food. He doesn't have a big appetite as he eats small meals but he eats a lot of fruit, nuts and veggies. He doesn't eat fast food or much processed food. Although since he has spent the last two decades in Reno, NV he has had his share of buffet dinners.
There is no off-limit food in his mind and he likes a good shot of alcohol or a cold beer.
He also likes his morning cup of Joe (go figure) :)

I try really hard to not take my good health and young body for granted but being around Grandpa Joe really reminds me to be smart with my body.

I see this in two ways:

1) I want to do amazing things with my body. I want to climb mountains, be outside, explore nature, travel....I love to move. I feel amazing when I train for and race in a triathlon. I feel so alive, healthy and strong and I am very grateful that my body allows me to what I can do and I want to do this for however long as I can. I have two arms and two legs and I can use them all. I feel great freedom with my body when I train and I don't want to take this good health for granted. Even when I feel tired or unmotivated to train, I still find a way to workout/exercise as I know one day, I may not be able to do what I can do.
2) I respect my body and know that if I push through too much fatigue, try to push through a bad niggle or push aside healthy lifestyle habits just to train, my body will not be happy. If I don't eat well, my body will pay the price - maybe not today but certainly down the road. I realize that every year I am adding another year of life and training to my body. This is more stress to my body. I am constantly aware of my body and the signals it gives me if I need to cut back on intensity or volume, if I need more sleep, if I need more calories or if I need to change something in my training, diet or lifestyle. I never bash my body or speak badly about my body but instead, I am constantly thanking my body for what it allows me to do. I never compare myself to anyone else because I am constantly focused on my body.

Hopefully we can all learn a thing or two from Grandpa Joe as he has lived a very long and healthy life with a lot of great memories.
Not knowing how many years he has left on Earth, he never takes a day for granted.
Every breath, heart beat, muscle contraction and movement is worth celebrating.
Cheers to another great day of life. 


Athlete fueling mistakes

As a board certified sport dietitian who specializes in fueling the endurance athlete, I find it critically important that athletes develop appropriate daily eating and sport nutrition habits to support an extremely active lifestyle. It's important to remember that your extreme exercise routine (which you call training) is also very stressful on your body.

Although we need to stress the body for it to physically adapt, the human body can not tolerate too much stress without adequate fuel, hydration and proper nutrients.

When Triathlete Magazine gave me the topic of "x-fueling mistakes that triathletes make", I struggled not because I couldn't select the mistakes but that I only had 500 words for this article.

With the experience of working with many endurance athletes, I see common fueling mistakes time and time again. However, I find that more mistakes are made due to misinformation and poor planning than by no information.

Clearly, in our society we do not struggle with lack of information on any given topic. Instead, there is information overload on everything which makes figuring out what works best for you, extremely difficult.
Making the investment to work with a professional who specializes in the area of your concerns/struggle is often the best way to truly understand what will work best for you and your body.

To be honest, I find that most endurance athletes develop bad habits overtime throughout a season. One long workout is rewarded with x-food and then x-food becomes desired after every long workout. Or, the athlete starts off with good intentions for proper sport nutrition, meal planning and recovery but overtime, those strategies are forgotten as the athlete gets "too busy".

These bad habits that are developed overtime are due to a variety of reasons but I find that most endurance athletes leave less time for proper meal planning/prep, feel rushed or constantly on the go, are constantly looking for a quick fix (or the cutting edge) and jumping from one approach to another, put too much on the daily plate (feeling exhausted, drained and overwhelmed) and push aside healthy lifestyle habits (or never create) in an effort to just go through the motions in order to check off workouts.

Here are 4 of the common fueling mistakes that I find that athletes make throughout a season. 

I selected these topics not because athletes are uneducated on these topics but instead, because athletes often overlook or don't make the effort to create great daily lifestyle and nutrition habits to take training to the next level.
It's far too common that athletes become very robotic with their lifestyle and training, thus sabotaging their potential to make huge performance gains overtime.
Sadly, I find that many athletes underperform in almost every workout, not because of a lack of passion and dedication for training but because daily and sport nutrition are limiting overall health and/or the ability to improve athletic performance.
Caffeine dependence
Although a universally known stimulant when needing an adrenaline rush, the strategic use of caffeine as an ergogenic aid is not for every athlete. If tolerable, a safe caffeine dosage is ~3-4g/kg, consumed ~60 minutes before activity  - example, a ~4 ounce espresso. Although your morning 1-3 cup coffee routine is perfectly healthy, more is not better.
If you find you “need” caffeine pills or energy drinks to fight fatigue or to get through a workout, you are developing an unhealthy dependence on caffeine which could be masking an underlying issue like underfueling, sleep deprivation, stress or overtraining.   

Poor recovery planning
Recovery strategies are dependent on sport duration and intensity but to perform well over consecutive workouts you must always refuel, rehydrate and repair.  
In your busy real world, don’t let your cravings or busy lifestyle get the best of you after you finish a workout.
Within 60 min after training, consume 0.8-1.2g/kg carbs and 25-30g protein, with 16-20 ounce water, to kick-start recovery.  Muscle glycogen replenishment and tissue repair are enhanced when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together.
Try this ideal snack or meal: 6 ounce 0% Plain Greek yogurt + 1 banana + ½ cup dry oats + 1 tbsp nut butter.

Haphazard fueling strategies 
A precise balance of carbs, fluids and electrolytes are needed to delay the onset of fatigue by sparing liver glycogen, maintaining blood glucose concentrations and offsetting excessive fluid losses from sweating. 
Athletes often over-complicate fueling strategies due to misguided sport nutrition recommendations and lack of understanding of how to properly use gels, bars, foot portables, powders and chews. Whereas too low of an energy intake is detrimental to performance, concentrated carb solutions (or high osmolality) can saturate the intestines as oxidation rates are limited when a single carb source (glucose, sucrose or maltodextrin) is consumed. 
To optimize carb oxidation without causing GI distress, consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour, in frequent dosages every 10-15 minutes. To experiment if increasing the oxidation of carbs (60-90g/carbs/hr) will improve performance, multiple transportable carbs are advised (Glucose + fructose + maltodextrin) over a single source (glucose). 

Habitual reward food
Your active lifestyle allows you more calories than the average person but quality food choices improve health and performance.
Rewarding with junk food after a long/hard workout not only increases cravings for unhealthy foods but undermines the importance of developing appropriate fueling and hydrating habits around/during workouts.

While there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, coaxing yourself to get through a workout with the anticipation of guilt-free unhealthy or excessive eating may create a dysfunctional relationship with food. Stop habitually using food for reward (when exhausted) or punishment (bad workout) and thank your body for giving you a great workout, then treat yourself with a massage or Epson salt bath.