Essential Sports Nutrition


Sport is more than body image

The other night, Karel and I were watching an ITU triathlon on Triathlon Live
We watch little cable TV but absolutely love watching swimming, cycling, running and triathlon. 

While the female triathletes were in the water, the commentator mentioned how swimming becomes more difficult as the triathletes get leaner during peak training. When the female triathletes were on the bike, the commentator mentioned how they need strong legs to be powerful but not too bulky or else it will affect their running. And for the run, words like lean, light, little and small were used to describe the female triathletes as they ran efficiently to the finish line.

It was only a few days prior, while watching the Tour de France, when the commentator mentioned that Peter Sagan "would be a better climber if he lost weight."

I love watching strong, fit and fast bodies in action.
For me, I am captivated by movement of the human body.
When I watch an athlete, I see determination, tenacity, commitment, passion, dedication, hard work and a deep fire to be the best that she/he can be.

But for the athlete, there can be great preoccupation with food and the body, all in an effort to be light and lean (of course, body composition is often sport specific and lightness and leanness are not rewarded by all sporting activities).

We live in a society where athletes want to perform well but feel pressure to look a certain way.  Coaches often believe that excess weight is a detriment to performance. In order for races to be won, records to be broken and memorable moments to be made, athletes are told that losing weight will improve performance.

Yet coaches and experts know that unrealistic aesthetic expectations and restricted eating habits can trigger eating disorders, thus harming athletic performance and health. 

So where do we draw the line?
Do we keep celebrating athletic achievements by bodies that are starved for nutrients and calories?

I don't believe we can change the thinking of coaches, experts and athletes that the lighter you weigh, the better you are as an athlete. There is truth to this statement - sometimes.
What we need is proper education, so that coaches and athletes understand the safest and healthiest ways to train and eat for a sport of choice.
Ultimately, we need to encourage athletes to make good decisions with their body, because there is no one-size-fits-all diet or training plan for a sport.

As a board certified sport dietitian, I work with many athletes, from various athletic backgrounds, all with different body compositions. While it's not uncommon for an athlete to express to me that she/he wants to lose weight or improve body composition for performance, I never let a number on the scale be the driver of a change in eating habits or an exercise routine.

Body composition and weight changes should be unintentional, when desired.
When the body changes because of a well-laid training plan and well-executed fueling, results are seen overtime (not quickly) and the athlete can maintain good focus for training and proper lifestyle habits.

Athletes already live an extreme lifestyle as it requires a lot of focus, dedication, hard work and commitment to excel in a given sport.
Developing optimal fueling, training, recovery and mental habits should be top priorities for athletes.

In order to help an athlete reach his/her body composition goals in order to improve performance, I simply take the focus away from the scale or what the body looks like (seems counter intuitive, right?) and instead, I focus on the many ways that an athlete can train better.

I often ask my athletes.....
Are you too busy and exhausted to "eat healthy"?
Do you know how to properly use sport nutrition during workouts?
Do you know how to properly time nutrition with training, before and after workouts?

Other questions include......
Do you sleep well, are mentally strong, do have employ a good warm-up before all workouts/races, are you stressed/overwhelmed, do you focus on strength training or mobility, do you train too hard, too often, do you rest enough?

Based on the responses of an athlete, athletes can easily change body composition without trying, simply by focusing on better training, nutrition, mental and recovery habits.

But yet, coaches, trainers and even nutrition "experts" continue to tell athletes that if she/he would lose weight, she/he would perform better.

Just like that.
Being lean is everything. 


To compete at your best, your body needs energy.
Long-term low energy availability can leave to nutrient deficiencies, hormonal issues, fatigue, bone issues as well as other cardio, GI, endocrine, reproductive, skeletal, renal and central nervous system complications.

Obsessing about food and the body may increase psychological consequences such as stress, anxiety and depression, not to mention increase the risk for disordered eating or an eating disorder.

While I love watching the human body in action, especially when gold medals are won, records are broken or the underdog comes from behind, I don't want to celebrate the athletic success of an athlete who is battling with an eating disorder, all in an effort to "be the best."

If you are an athlete, please don't feel pressure to "look" a certain way. 
Your body is amazing because of what it allows you to.
If you feel your health and/or performance is compromised because of your weight, any change in your diet or exercise routine should make you feel better about your body and what you can do with your body.

Above all, the best way to change body composition is unintentionally - when you focus on the many ways that you train and eat smarter.
A change in body composition is the outcome of your consistent habits. When you make good decisions with your training, life and nutrition, your body changes without needing to diet, starve yourself or avoid sport nutrition.

If you are dieting and excessively exercising in order to meet society's view of what an "athlete" body should look like in your sport, all in order to succeed, you will constantly find yourself struggling as it is impossible to look lean, strong, skinny, tiny, small, health, powerful and fast.


Don't talk about what you are not or what you wish you were.

Love your sport.
Own your body.
Stop trying to live up to the expectations of others.

Your body is your instrument, not your ornament.

In your pursuit for athletic greatness, I advise you to pursue love for your amazing body.
The more you take care of your body, the more your body will take care of you.


Make the effort

It feels great to be back home in Greenville, SC.
We are back to our routine of work and training and of course, back to the routine with this little golden nugget who enjoyed his "summer camp" with our dear friend Christi for almost 4 weeks.....

As wonderful as it is to be back in our home environment, I have to be honest and say that adjusting to life, without all of our meals prepared and served to us, has been hard.

We were heavily spoiled by Karel's mom, while we were in Znojmo, Czech Republic, with over 2.5 weeks of really good authentic Czech recipes, all home cooked and prepared with love.

With Karel and I continuing to train for the races that we have planned for the rest of the season (next up in August, Lake Logan Half Ironman for me and Ironman Mont Tremblant for Karel), life certainly isn't slowing down for us, with little extra time to shop, prep and cook food.

BUT, we have to make it a priority because our bodies require food to perform and to stay healthy.

Therefore, we have to make the effort.

"Knowing what to do and actually doing it" is a common statement from many time crunched and exhausted athletes.

BUT, you have to make the effort. 

Here are 10 of my tips as to how to make food prep, cooking and eating possible, despite living a busy life as an athlete.

1. Plan ahead - prepare as much as you can ahead of time so that it a meal is ready for when you get home from work or a workout OR prep your meal ahead of time for easy cooking (which is helpful when you are hungry or exhausted).

2. Never let food rules boss you around. The more restrictions you place on your diet, the more you will dread eating and cooking. With a dieting mentality, you may find that food makes you feel uncomfortable and even scared, which may lead into disordered eating or an eating disorder.

3. Always start with a recovery snack or a pre-meal snack. This works wonders as you can think more clearly and you don't use the excuse that you are "too hungry" to cook. 

4. Rehydrate before you eat. The hot weather can zap the appetite. But not eating for hours after a workout (and then overeating in the evening or the next day) is not performance enhancing. Post workout, pour yourself a refreshing glass of OJ, squeeze a juicy lemon or lime into ice cold water or blend ice and frozen fruit for a slushy drink before eating your recovery snack or meal.

5. Get help. On your busiest days, use the grocery store, a fresh and healthy delivery service or even your family members to help you out.  Perhaps one of your family members (or kids) loves to cook but you would rather grocery shop. Maybe you love cooking but despise food prep. Does a grocery store have a hot bar where you can get some items prepared ahead of time or is there a section with pre-made items that you can add to a homemade meal? 
I often find that with a team approach, you can get a lot more done and cooking doesn't feel so overwhelming.

6. Don't try to be perfect. For an athlete who strives for perfection and approaches life with a mentality that everything needs to go as planned, accept that you do not have to be perfect with your diet to reach your goals. Having too many or too high of expectations as to what you should be doing vs what you can actually do can make you feel like a failure, thus making you think "it's not worth it."

7. Have a few go-to meals and snacks. Every athlete needs a few meals and snacks that are easy and simple and fit the bill as to what you need to feel healthy, satisfied and fueled/recovered. Don't make these meals super complicated but make sure you always have the items you need ready, for when you need a quick go-to meal or snack. 

8. Get out of your food rut. Many athletes find themselves into a food rut, eating similar things over and over again because they are easy and simple. While there is nothing wrong with having go-to meals, you shouldn't rely on them day after day. Use your day off from training to get creative in the kitchen or instead of lounging on the couch when you have a few extra hours to spare, get inspired by recipes and make good use of your time by preparing new recipes or dishes.

9. Stop the excuses. If you find yourself always in a situation where you feel too busy, too tired, too hungry or too unmotivated to cook, you will find that day after day, you are simply using the same excuses over and over as to why you can't get a healthy, nourishing and balanced meal on a plate. No more excuses, make things happen. Figure out why you are letting healthy eating or proper fueling be an afterthought and if needed, reach out to a professional (ex. sport dietitian) to help.

10. Appreciate food for fuel. Your body doesn't run well when you don't feed it well. Put a similar amount of passion, focus, dedication and commitment into your daily diet, as you do with other important things in your life. Many times, when the focus is place on food for fuel and for health, the body performs better and it becomes easier to see improvements in health, body composition and performance.