Essential Sports Nutrition




Starting tomorrow, for 16 days, the most extraordinary athletes from around the world will be racing in 306 events, in 28 sports.

As you marvel over what an athletically fit and trained body, with a powerful mind, can do on race day, keep in mind that this select group of the population is not unlike you.

Olympic athletes are not superhuman.
They are not machines.
They do not have magical powers or special talents that cannot be trained or obtained.

They are normal people with an immense drive to pursue athletic goals, backed by a little good luck and good genetics on their side.

Olympic athletes have characteristics that help them excel and these qualities can be attained by anyone who wants to excel in sports and in life.  

While the Olympics are a great source of inspiration as to what the human body can do, the Olympics remind us all that it is possible to turn your dreams into a reality.

Becoming an Olympic athlete is more than just training hard.

Olympics athlete must get into the best physical and mental shape possible AND have great technical or mechanical luck, train and compete with a mentally strong mind and  successfully manage a roller coaster of emotions appropriately, all while not getting injured, overtrained, burnt out or sick.

Life is full of distractions and setbacks and being an athlete is not easy.

Despite the risks, Olympic athletes believe that anything is possible to go "faster, higher, stronger".

Let’s look at some of the many qualities of Olympic athletes so that you can decide if you carry these characteristics in your own pursuit for athletic success or if you need to make a change in how you physically and/or mentally prepare for your sport.

1. Perseverance
Sometimes it can feel like the odds are against you and nothing is going right. Perhaps you are in a string of constant bad luck.
Olympic athletes know how to deal with difficult situations and see setbacks as an opportunity to explore something new – the opportunity to overcome the odds.
Sure, it is easy to maintain a positive mindset when things are going well and to get upset when there are obstacles in your way, but Olympic athletes know how to stay incredibly focused, even under the most stressful and frustrating moments in life and in sport.

2. Focus
It’s easy to assume that Olympic athletes are only focused on winning. While a competitive spirit is extremely important, winning isn’t everything. If winning is the only way to be happy, it’s easy to lose focus on other important components that define “success.” Often these small details, when achieved, bring winning moments. When Olympic athletes are "in the zone" in training and racing, they are not focused on the outcome but simply, staying focused on the process.
Olympic athletes maintain great composure, win or lose. 
And regardless of personal problems, fatigue, lack of motivation or difficult unforeseen circumstances, successful athletes find ways to stay focused (often with the help of sport psychologists) to maintain good excitement and energy to simply do their best, without only obsessing about the outcome.

3. Commitment
Genetics, time and money can only take you so far in sports. If an athlete wants to excel to a high level, she/he has decided to make success a priority. Commitment extends beyond suffering in training, being strict with the diet and checking off workouts but it includes focusing on all the little things, like nutrient timing, mental strength, proper gear and smart training, to ensure that every little detail is not overlooked.
Olympic athletes know that one person doesn’t make the athlete. It takes a team approach to when creating world class performances.
Olympic athletes do not want to be good at what they do but instead, they want to be great. Olympic athletes live this commitment daily and are willing to put in the work, for as long as it takes, to get to where they want to be.

4. Relax
Olympic athletes know how important it is to train the mind, just as hard as they train the body.  An Olympic athlete has visualized success dozens and dozens of times, well before race day.
It’s very easy to get distracted when you are an athlete. Olympic athletes know their sweet spots as to how to best get into the “zone” in training and on race day. Whether it’s before and during a very hard workout or before the most important day of their athletic career, Olympic athletes know how to stay mentally strong but physically relaxed and to avoid distractions.
Olympic athletes draw attention as to what is within their control, can easily let go of distractions, they do not dwell on the not-so-great workouts and they know that the next workout is the next best opportunity to improve.
When it comes down to it, the only day that really matters is race day and because of this, Olympic athletes keep a sense of calm, no matter what is thrown in their way in training.

5. Internal motivation
While Olympic athletes may feel pressure from coaches, teammates, friends, family, the community and sponsors, a true champion trains and competes only for him/herself. Motivation, drive, direction, passion and focus all come from within.
When an Olympic athlete has a goal, she selects this goal because it is exactly what she wants to achieve and is willing to work for that goal.
And when an athlete has a setback, the athlete herself is the only one who can decide if putting in the work to rehab is “worth it”.
Seeing that motivation comes and goes, setbacks will occur, injuries will happen and low moments can make it hard to train, many athletes use sport psychologists to work through the emotions and external pressures to be “the best” as there is constant pressure to perform, even during the most difficult of days.

6. Courage
Olympic athletes know that there are many consequences when taking risks, especially as it related to training the body. It takes courage when making sacrifices in life, when training when tired or fatigued and when training among the toughest competition, when everyone is watching.
It takes courage to stick to your plan and to not focus on what everyone else is doing and it takes courage to believe in yourself, even when you encounter obstacles.
Above all, it takes courage and confidence to push the body and Olympic athletes are brave - they push the body, mentally and physically, to test limits and to break through personal physical and mental barriers.

7. Love for the sport
Olympic athletes dedicate years, if not a lifetime, to a sport. To accomplish anything of value, in sport or in life, it is necessary to love what you do.
When training becomes a chore or something you check off just to make others happy, it's time to evaluate if you are really in-it to win-it.
When passion subsides, training becomes a chore and distractions make it more difficult to stay focused and consistent with training.
Many times, a setback or obstacle reminds you how much you love your sport and being an athlete. Never take a day for granted as there could be a time when you can’t do what you can do with your body.
Wherever you place your attention, your energy will follow.

Although Olympic athletes have their low moments, with a drop in motivation, body and mind exhaustion and poor focus making it difficult to train, there’s always a hunger to excel, with a fire that fuels their passion, to be the best athlete that they can be.


My body obsession


Ever since a young age, I have loved learning about the human body, especially a moving human body.
In 1999, just shy of turning 18 years old and a year away from graduating from High School, my birthday present was a book titled "New Atlas of Human Anatomy" which came with a CD ROM explaining all the human body systems. 
I read that book every night, over and over again.

Throughout my undergraduate years at Transylvania University, in Lexington, KY, I couldn't get enough from my exercise science classes. Every topic was interesting and exciting and as a student athlete, I was able to apply almost everything that I learned to class to "real world" situations.

While majoring in Exercise Science, I quickly fell in love with strength and conditioning which gave me aspirations to be a strength and conditioning coach. Forced to start strength training at the age of 10 as part of my swim team conditioning helped me appreciate the health and performance benefits of a properly designed strength training program.
(I've been strength training for nearly 24 years!)

I remember interning at the University of Kentucky with the men's and women's basketball and cheerleader teams, which gave me a lot of hands-on experience in writing strength training programs for athletes (most of those athletes towered at least 1-2 feet over me). 

When I graduated from college with a Bachelor degree in Exercise Science and a Minor in Psychology, my quest for learning was not complete.

In the fall of 2004, off I went to graduate school in sunny and warm, Davie, FL at Florida Atlantic University.

While studying to earn my Master's in Exercise Physiology, I worked as a research assistant. In addition to my classes, which required me to get familiar with all the testing equipment in the  laboratory, I spent many long days and nights collecting research, and testing subjects, for research studies. 

Sometimes, I was even able to test myself.

Although my love tank for exercise physiology was filled to the top while in graduate school, something was own athletic pursuits.

Although my free time was limited during graduate school, I just wasn't feeling complete.
The athlete part of me was missing as I was only a student.

Seeing that I spent the last 22 years of my life competing in sports, I knew that I needed to find something that would physically challenge me.

Well, since my longest swimming events lasted anywhere from one-minute to 2.5-minutes (or 60-150 seconds) and my longest ever run was a 10K (less than an hour), I thought, why not.....
I'll train for a marathon!

If I can run 6 miles, what's 20 more miles??

It only took a matter of time before an endurance bug bit me hard. 
By the end of 2006, I had completed the Boston Marathon, my first half IM and my first Ironman (which qualified me for the 2007 Ironman World Championship). 

But here I go again....
In 2008, I found myself once again feeling lost without school. 

I was convinced that the athlete part of me was here to stay as I found great joy as an age-group triathlete and runner but I still felt that I needed to learn more about the human body.

Rather than going the PhD route, I decided to follow my new found passion in nutrition, thanks to endurance sports (and a few bonky workouts) sparking a need to learn more about sport nutrition.

Fast forward to June 2011, after three arduous years of learning, studying, paper writing, interning (9-months) and test taking, I finally received my RD credential.

With an ultimate goal of becoming Board Certified in Sport Nutrition, I waited and worked until I was eligible to apply, study and then sit for the CSSD exam, which I successfully passed last summer.

So why do I write all of this?

Every Olympic year (in addition to any big competition in the sports of running, track, swimming, cycling or triathlon), I find myself itching to learn more.
I LOVE watching the human body in motion.

My obsession with the human body will never go away because there is so much to learn as it applies to the physiology of the body during exercise.

When I see the human body, I don't see what's on the outside.

Perhaps to most people, efficient movements, a lean physique and defined and sculpted muscles are easily seen by the human eye.
When simply looking at the body image, it's easy to look at the outside of the body and associate words like fast, strong, high, powerful and skilled with the athlete.

But within the body is a very complex system that always, sometimes, most of the time or rarely works smoothly.

This is why I always feel it is necessary to thank the body as there is great physiology complexity when you want your body to go long, far, easy or hard.
Many times, it is easy to take your human body for granted.
Sadly, many people abuse, overwork, undernourish, bash or hate their body.

What's interesting about the human body is that it can be trained, physically, but also mentally.
And for the body's metabolic systems, among many other things, to work efficiently, there needs to be water and energy, supplied from food and many times, sport nutrition, to support the many complex movements that are needed for a given sport.

The most beautiful thing about the human body is that it is not perfect.
There is not one size fits all sport.
The human body comes in all shapes and sizes and there is a sport for everyone.

Starting tomorrow, for the next 17 days, the 2016 Olympic games will be feeding my body obsession as I watch, marvel, learn and study the many bodies in motion.

Athletes from all of the world will be putting many years, if not a lifetime, of hard work, dedication, money, time, energy and effort, all to compete in their chosen sport, to be the absolute best athlete they can be.....with their one and only human body.


Overtraining - more than training hard or long

It may come as a surprise to many athletes but when you are on a mission to get faster, training long and fast is not a safe combination.

Many times, this leads to overtraining as there is an imbalance between training and recovery.

Be mindful that training beyond your body's ability to recover is not correlated to a specific number of training hours.

As examples....

 "But I don't train 20 hours a week, I only train 8 - how can I be overtrained?"
"But I train much less intensity than I use to train, I don't understand why my hormones are all messed up?"

If your body can not recover, adapt or tolerate your given training load, your body is going to give you signs that you are overtraining.

When your hormones are out of whack, your bones are becoming weak, your mood is unstable, your body is becoming fragile, you find yourself constantly sick, your appetite has drastically changed, your weight has unintentionally changed, your sleep is disrupted/restless, you are in a constant state of fatigue, you are constantly experiencing GI issues (which have never been an issue in the past), your energy has dropped and your performance has declined, taking one day off from training or searching for a quick fix through medicine or supplements are not simple solutions to a serious problem.

At this time, you must come to the realization that your methods of improving performance or preparing for your upcoming event are no longer working.

When you find yourself struggling to train for a streak of a week or more, knowing that you just don't feel like your normal self, this doesn't mean that you need to harden up, suck it up and push through.

 A smart approach is to discuss your current training plan with your coach so you both can figure out why your plan is not (or no longer) working for your body. Don't simply look into training hours but also consider the layout of workouts throughout the week, recovery routines, sleep habits, stress management, diet, fueling and anything else that could help you train smarter.

Training smarter does not mean training easy.

If you haven't dug too deep of a hole, you may just need 3-5 days to reboot your system with some good R&R and light activity before returning to normal training - which is slightly modified with a smarter training approach.

During this time, consider reaching out to a sport dietitian to give a birds-eye view on your diet, as many athletes struggle to train consistently due to haphazard fueling and hydration strategies and poor planning and nutrient timing in the daily diet.

If you are classically overtrained, you need to be respectful to your body during this time. There should be no timeline to "get better" by x-date or race as this is the time, more than ever before, to put your health before performance IF you want longevity in your sport. 

As an athlete, you should always be on a mission to learn how to train smarter in order to maximize performance with the least amount of training stress. This means constantly evaluating how you are training and being open to change.
Simply training hard, fast or long are not key words you need to use to reach your performance goals.

Whenever you train for an event, consider your lifestyle requirements (family, work, commuting, travel), your current level of fitness, your past history (illness and injury) and your short and long term goals so that you can follow a well-designed raining plan, in safe, fun and healthy way.


Grilled mushroom with pesto and goat cheese

There's something about the taste of grilled food that makes my taste buds excited.
And this is coming from a vegetarian!

On Sunday evening, Karel and I decided to fire-up the outdoor grill for a delicious dinner to finish a great weekend of training. Although my training volume/intensity is low relative to Karel (who is training for Ironman Mont Tremblant in a few weeks), we were both in need of a good meal to nourish and fuel our bodies.

My garden is overflowing with basil so the first thing that came to mind was pesto. I just love pesto on a grilled mushroom (thanks Katie Malone for the idea!) and as I was feeling extra creative, I didn't follow a recipe but instead, I made up my own -  a handful of fresh basil, a small handful of Parmesan and Asiago shredded cheese, a few long drizzles of olive oil and a sliced clove of garlic all into a food processor. My pesto was extra garlicky and had a nice kick to it.
(I found this recipe for you in case you want to make your own pesto at home)

While Karel had his grass-fed beef burger cooking on the grill (he has a special spot on the grill for his meat so that my food doesn't touch his), I built our grilled mushrooms.

Grilled mushroom with pesto and goat cheese
-1 large portobello mushroom cap (stem removed)
-Pesto (to cover the mushroom)
-Goat cheese (crumbled on top)
-Sliced baby tomatoes (from my garden)
-Olive oil (just a drizzle to give it a little more flavor)
-Shredded Parmesan and Asiago cheese (a nice salty taste)
-Salt (just a pinch)

The mushrooms do not need a long time to cook (~4-8 minutes depending on the heat of the grill, position of the rack with the mushroom and the size of your mushroom) and to help the presentation, I keep the mushroom on tinfoil, instead of directly on the grill rack.

To go with our grilled mushroom (and Karel's meat patty), we grilled a few boiled potatoes that I had left over from dinner on Saturday, when I made homemade mashed potatoes.  I find that boiling potatoes ahead of time helps for quicker cooking on the grill.

To prep the gold potatoes, I sliced them in half, coated the bottoms with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Karel grilled face down, directly on the grill.

And to change things up, instead of a salad, I kept it simple with a large handful of Leasa alfalfa sprouts.
Did you know that 1 cup sprouts has 3g of protein??

If you find yourself in a food rut, consider grilling food (whether outside or in your oven) as it can change up the taste and texture of your food, giving you a new exciting taste-bud happy experience every time you eat.


The power in.....

It was just over 3 years when I crossed my 6th Ironman finish line in Lake Placid. Although every Ironman finish is worth celebrating, this one was extra special as it was the very first time that I raced for 140.6 miles with Karel on the course with me, and not on the sidelines cheering for me.
It was so much fun for us to share our race day stories with each other after the race. For the first time in 6 Ironmans, Karel actually understood all the emotions and feelings that happen during (and after) and Ironman.

2013 Ironman Lake Placid was a special race for many reasons but in looking back on the day when I told myself that "I gave my best effort ever", in order to qualify for my 3rd Ironman World Championship (just 10 weeks later), this picture below shows me how far I have come in just 3 years. 

Karel on the left, me on the right. 

This picture popped up on my memory feed on Facebook last week and the first thing that caught my eye was Karel's time.
I remember after the race in 2013, in the evening, I told Karel how incredible it was that he almost broke 10 hours in his first Ironman.
In my mind, covering 140.6 miles in the low ten hours was something that I never considered possible for my body and the thought of my husband doing it was insane.
But then it dawned on me.....holy cow, I was 6 minutes away from breaking 10 hours at 2016 Ironman Austria!?!?
And Karel was just 13 minutes away from breaking 9 hours at IM Austria!


Five Ironman finishes later after Ironman Lake Placid in 2013, I am now a 11x Ironman Ironman finisher, including 2 more Ironman World Championship finishes (4 total) and I have a 10:06.54 Ironman PR.... which still blows my mind that my body could race that fast,, for so long.
Thank you body!

As an athlete, I feel it's important to never limit your potential as an athlete and to always believe that there is room for improvement.

If your sport ignites your emotions, fuels your motivation and keeps you hungry for improvements, there's no doubt that a breakthrough performance is coming your way.
You just have to believe it will come but you can't chase times, look for shortcuts or rush the process.

When you think about progress, it's not just the major breakthroughs that you should be wishing for but instead, focus on the small improvements that are necessary components in your personal athletic journey.

While you may be hoping for big gains in fitness so that you can get faster on race day, small steps in your development are important milestones and many times, they don't show as improvements in times (ex. faster times, paces, higher watts, etc.) but rather, it's something within you that makes you believe that you are improving.

It's far too easy to only be happy when you see a faster time but if you are constantly expecting too much, too quickly, you may find yourself not enjoying your personal journey and consequently, sabotaging a potentially great race day performance.

Every athlete is going to have setbacks and losses and many times, you are not going to see a faster time, despite making a lot of forward progress. But remember that it's the steps forward that accumulate over time, which help you become a smarter, wiser, stronger and perhaps even faster, overall athletically fit and prepared athlete.

I realize that every athlete is different in terms of fitness background, support from others, athletic goals, motivation, mental strength and work ethic, but I believe that to be a faster athlete, simply training with the mentality to get faster, is not a wise approach.
Many times this backfires with burnout, sickness and injuries.

I've accomplished a lot in the sport of triathlon with several best time performances, much of which I never thought was possible by my body, without training longer, training harder, chasing times, abiding by a specific diet/fueling trend or focusing on specific times, watts or paces.

Instead, I have directed a lot of my energy into training smart and putting a lot of my trust into the power in the following, which ultimately, has helped me take my fitness to that next level.

It only took 10 years but at 34 years old, I feel healthier, stronger, fitter, more energized and more resilient than ever before. 

The power in......

Using food for fuel
Using food for nourishment

Having a great relationship with food
Staying in great hormonal health
Committing to training
Stay present during workouts
Always warming up
Daily mobility work
Not skiping steps
Training and racing without expectations
Setting goals
Racing with a resilient body
Reaching out to professionals for help
Not being stubborn
Being flexible
Not giving up
Not wasting energy on what other athletes/pros are doing
Not being a trend follower
No excuses

Staying accountable
Foundation training
Training smarter
Accepting that setbacks are normal
Accepting that bad workouts are normal
Staying patient
Working on mental strength
Support from friends/family
Having fun
Dialing in and constantly tweaking sport nutrition
Creating a strong body through year-round strength training
Getting stronger before trying to get faster and then getting longer
Selecting races appropriately
Planning/mapping out the season
Constantly improving skills
Being willing to fail in order to succeed
Being willing to change
Staying humble but confident
Not training or racing with a big ego
Always feeling grateful
Never taking a day/workout for granted
Thanking the body - daily