Essential Sports Nutrition


12 Race ready tips

You are probably hoping that I am going to write about how to plan your sport nutrition for race day or what percentage of your FTP you should hold while you are on the bike, how to swim fast in open water or the best way to run strong off the bike without your legs hurting.

While having a plan can ease mental worries for the athlete who tries to predict/control a race day outcome, it's important to recognize that being race ready is more than just checking off workouts and having a strict plan for race day.

Two years ago, at 2014 Ironman Wisconsin, something incredible happened.
Karel and I both qualified for the 2015 Ironman World Championship.
Although our goal was to both qualify, our results could not have been planned nor predicted.

Karel: 9:44, 3rd AG (35-39), 9th overall male amateur.
Marni: 10:44, 3rd AG (30-34), 6th overall male amateur.

To the minute and the exact same podium spot, we both excelled to the best of our best ability on race day.

The outcome of race day was not just a result of hard work in training and great luck on race day but it was also from a processed-drive mindset that kept us moving in the right direction, for 140.6 miles.
The plan was to Kona qualify - that's it.

It's been two years since this special race day and we can both agree that we have learned SO much more about endurance racing and what it takes to bring out the best in you on race day. 

Whether you are trying to qualify for Kona, hoping for a podium spot or a personal best or looking to have an all-around enjoyable race day experience, here are a few race ready tips, not involving metrics or nutrition, that have helped us excel in endurance triathlon races over the past few years.


1) Be realistic with your race day goals but don't sell yourself short. Although you are racing with your current level of fitness, you must believe in yourself, that your training has given you the mental and physical skills to race smart and to excel.

2) It's completely normal to have race week/day nerves - nerves mean that you care about your performance.  Whether you fear the upcoming distance, the unknowns of the race course or weather worry you or you feel pressure from yourself, friends or family, you should never let your fears, worries or nerves get the best of you. Visualize yourself succeeding before race day so that you can turn some of that nervous energy into excited energy.

 3) Keep your mindset positive before and during the race. It can be performance destructive to have conflicting thoughts before the race - like negative energy about your readiness, powerful doubts about your worthiness as an athlete, uncertainties about if you are cut out for this event and maybe even thoughts of "this isn't worth this pain" or "I just want to get this over with."
It's important that you care throughout the entire race - this means keeping your mind in a place where you always care about your performance and no matter what obstacles come your way, you stay focused and mentally strong to put forth the best race performance possible by your body.

4) When racing, remember that thoughts are temporary. Every negative thought will precede and follow a positive thought. We often call these highs and lows of racing and we all feel them. You just have to keep moving forward so that you can catch those positive thoughts  - and try to hang on to them for as long as possible. 

5) There are many controllables when it comes to racing and lots of uncontrollables. You can't control your competition, you can't control the weather and you can't change the course. But you can control your race by planning your sport nutrition, your clothing, your pacing plan and your attitude. Racing to your best is accepting that you can not control everything so you must remain processed driven.

6)  Do not sabotage your race day performance with your body by worrying about (or trying to control) your weight. There is no reason to restrict, control or stress about food in the days leading up to the race, unless it is to help you maximize performance (give you energy), keep you hydrated and reduce risk for GI issues on race day (low residue/fiber diet). 

7) Do not deviate from what has worked in training. Avoid seconding guessing yourself and don't worry about what other athletes are or are not doing.  It's your body and your race.
8) Embrace your  competition. Racing brings out the best in athletes and often, competition will push you to perform better than you thought was possible. But this means that you can't doubt yourself - if you find yourself saying "I'm so slow, everyone is so much faster, I don't belong here" you won't rise to your abilities. Always race your closest competition and let others bring out the best in you.

9) Help out your fellow athletes. If an athlete is having a great day or if an athlete is struggling, give him/her a cheer. There's great power for you and the other athletes in spreading energy through a cheer, high five or a smile.

10) Don't chase times, paces and rankings. You must stay present at all times - processed drive, not outcome focused.
11) Be more than just be physically prepared. Review the course in great detail, review the weather, read the athlete guide, attend the athlete briefing and do anything else possible before the race to feel mentally prepared. Nothing brings more confidence than feeling prepared.

12) Have fun! After your race, you go back to life. Let's be honest - racing is fun and for just one day, you get to do something for yourself and by yourself. In some crazy way, tell yourself that no matter how much it hurts on race day, you don't want it to end. Enjoy your special day and be grateful and thankful that you can do what you can do with your body. Be yourself in every way possible.


Breakfast tacos

Yep, that's right.

Tacos for breakfast.

Or, as a recovery meal after a long workout.

And maybe even for dinner too!

There's no overthinking breakfast tacos.

1) Take your favorite omelet ingredients and scramble them all together in a skillet.
2) Stuff inside a taco (or two, or three).
3) Top with your favorite omelet/taco toppings - gauc, cheese, sour cream, salsa.
4) Yum


On Saturday afternoon, after a 4 hour ride, I was suddenly in the mood for something savory and crunchy. Although my post ride pancakes were super delish, tacos sounded amazingly awesome while watching the live stream of the Ironman 70.3 Ironman World Championship.

I sauteed kale in a skillet and added mushrooms and onions. When my veggies were cooked, I scrambled together 2 eggs and combined with my sauteed veggies.

I then took taco shells and slathered the inside with smashed avocado, sprinkled on the shredded cheese (so that it would melt on the shell when I added my hot ingredients) and I stuffed each shell with my veggie and egg mixture.
There was some overflowing of eggs and veggies, which wasn't a problem until I needed to take a picture....thus the far-away picture of messy overly-stuffed tacos.

I encourage you to break away from any food rules or repetitive eating habits that are keeping you from enjoying a healthy and fun way of fueling and nourishing your body.

Breakfast tacos anyone? 


Are sport nutrition products healthy?

Sport nutrition products are designed to enhance performance, specifically during prolonged activity when glycogen depletion and dehydration can compromise energy metabolism. Therefore, a major goal of sport nutrition companies is to formulate a variety of products, in all types of textures, flavors and forms, to help athletes train and compete with optimal power, speed, strength, stamina and mental focus. 

There is great research showing that carbohydrate-based fuels are the predominant energy source at high intensities and during long duration, to postpone fatigue. Because a decline in muscle and liver glycogen (stored carbohydrates) can greatly limit endurance performance, sugar, the primary ingredient in most sport drinks, can be absorbed quickly to help maintain steady blood glucose levels.

Unlike the untrained athlete, a trained athlete has a favorable response to sugar during exercise, not to mention that the sport nutrition has a clear need and reason for consumption - when your body is asked to perform, you give it energy and electrolytes to meet metabolic needs.

Because sugar remains to have a very negative reputation in society, it's understandable why you may feel great confusion, as a health-conscious athlete, whether or not sport nutrition products, which contain a hefty dose of some type of sugar (sucrose, dextrose, maltodextrin,  fructose, can sugar, etc.), have a place in a “healthy” diet.  

Certainly, overconsumption of sugar is not healthy for the human body.
But if you are starving your body of fuel during a high intensity or long duration workout/race, with the intention of wanting to stay healthy, you may be doing more harm than good.

The sugar found in sport nutrition drinks, chews and gels, consumed at specific frequent intervals during long duration or high-intensity training sessions and races, should not receive the same unhealthy reputation as the sugar found in donuts, cereals, soda and candy bars, especially since most individuals who are "addicted to sugar" are consuming heavily processed foods, rich in sugar, while being sedentary or when exercising at a very low intensity.     

As you train to maximize your fitness, the sugar found in sport nutrition products can actually help to keep your body in optimal health. However, not all sport nutrition products are created equal. 

Select your sport nutrition products wisely.

If you are passionate about where your food comes from, you should feel the same way about the ingredients found in your favorite sport nutrition products. Sport nutrition products do not need fancy ingredients. Keep your products easy to find, easy to consume and easy to digest. 

What works best for you? 
Depending on your sport or activity, intensity or duration, every athletes will have his/her preferred fuel type, specific to consistency, texture and flavor. But in order to find what works for you, you have to practice, practice, practice. Now more than ever, sport nutrition companies are aware that regardless of the type of product, athletes desire real ingredients in sport nutrition. 
There are a variety of products that cater to your needs as an athlete.
Do you prefer the ease and convenience of liquid calories (sport nutrition powder) to meet energy and hydration needs or the simplicity of a concentrated dose of energy (ex. blocks/chews or gels)?  Athletes who desire a more real food texture will often look to bars to please the palate while keeping the tummy satisfied. 

Regardless of what fuel source you favor during training and racing, it’s important that your body can properly absorb and tolerate the food product of your liking, in repeated intervals, throughout your entire workout/race. Above all, don't choose a product simply because it is giving you calories (or energy). A sport nutrition product must be well-formulated, which means that the concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates are mixed well with a specific amount of water to empty from the GI tract to be properly absorbed by the working muscles. If you are a random sport nutrition user, with no rhyme or reason as to why or when you fuel, you may find that when you do take in sport nutrition, your calories are not being digested, but instead, they are simply sitting in the gut, causing a host of GI issues (vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, cramping, sloshy stomach), not to mention increasing the risk of dehydration, fatigue and nausea.

If you want to reach your performance goals, appreciate sport nutrition products (and the sugar found in them) as they are designed to support your energy, hydration and electrolyte needs to keep your body functioning properly as you train hard to maximize performance. 

As a health conscious endurance athlete who believes in a real food diet, I am a firm believer that sport nutrition has it's place in my athlete "diet" as I consume sport nutrition products during key workouts and on race day to support my physiological needs.

In other words, sport nutrition products keep me healthy and performing well. 

Discussing sport nutrition to my athletes at the 2016 Trimarni Greenville camp.
Campy was really interested in the talk, hoping I would mention about the importance of fueling for an all-day session of napping (which Campy excels at). 


Confused by your appetite? Break the hunger cycle

Mmmmm, homemade pancakes for breakfast.

Are you one of the many athletes who feels that something is off with your hunger?

-You don't feel hungry before a workout OR you feel starving before a workout but you stop yourself from eating "too much" because you don't want to feel too full during your workout
-You feel really hungry in the middle or toward the end of a workout
-You have little appetite post workout OR you are starving post workout
-When it's time to eat your meals, you don't feel hungry enough to eat but in between meals and in the evening, you are starving

If you are an athlete who knows that there are times when you should/shouldn't be so hungry, but you just can't seem to understand or fix your hunger, something needs to change.

I've worked with many athletes, just like yo,u and it's not just an annoying feeling to be hungry during your workouts and during snack time but have no appetite during meal time or befor/after workouts, but it can also be performance limiting when you are not eating appropriately before, during and after your workouts, as well as throughout the day.

In my experience, for the athletes who are stuck feeling hungry at the wrong times, it's very common to eat/fuel too much during a workout because the hunger is too much to handle when training. While there is nothing wrong with eating a little something to satisfy hunger while training, if this is happening often, it's hard to:

1) Fine-tune your sport nutrition strategy to meet metabolic needs.
2) Fuel properly. You may end up overfueling, thus eating more than your body can digest and absorb.
3) Break the cycle. You are making your cycle worse because every time you eat too much during a workout to satisfy hunger, this causes you to not feel hungry after the workout, thus enabling this cycle to continue.

If this is you, your appetite/hunger cycle needs to be fixed.

To help break this cycle, it would be most beneficial to work with a sport dietitian who can analyze your current daily diet and sport nutrition regime. Sometimes, all it takes is better meal planning (ex. more balanced meals), betting timing of meals and snacks or a different fueling regime around and during workouts.

If you think you can break this cycle on your own, I suggest to spend 72 hours during the week (when you are training consistently in the morning and/or at night) and make yourself eat similar meals, at similar times throughout the day (even if you aren't hungry). If a workout is more than 60 minutes, use some type of sport nutrition during the workout and make sure you eat before and after your workouts with a small pre/post workout snack. 

After this temporary period of being consistent with your eating, you should notice that your body is more in sync with your workouts and you are hungry at the right times during the day (with less hunger, during your workouts).

Ultimately, the goal of timing your appetite appropriately with your workouts is to help you best fuel and refuel from workouts, stay nourished with healthy food options during the day and to feel energized during your workouts without feeling limited by intense hunger.