Essential Sports Nutrition


Athlete spotlight: Stefanie Swanger: An everyday IRONMOM who uses triathlon for health, building confidence and well-being

Name: Stefanie Swanger 

Age: 35

City/State: Kathleen, GA

Primary sport: Triathlon

How many years in the sport: 9 years

What Trimarni services have you used: 
RETUL bike fit
Nutrition consult

Describe your athletic background and how you discovered your current sport?
Growing up, I was a fairly non-athletic person. I was always overweight as a child and pretty disinterested in sports. However, while I was in graduate school, I was fortunate to work the finish line of the 2005 Disney Marathon. I had an ah-ha moment while handing out medals during that race and decided if these people could do it, then my excuses had run out. I was determined to run. Four years later, in 2009, I ran my first Marathon at Disney. Post marathon, I wanted a new challenge. The college that I was working at had a triathlon class, so I enrolled. That class lead to my first triathlon that summer (2009) at Iron Girl Atlanta. This is where I met Marni, after following her blog for a while. I guess the rest is history.

What keeps you training and racing in your current sport?

Having always struggled with weight and body confidence, I want to set a good example for my young son and family. I love the supportive atmosphere of triathlon and confidence it has instilled in me. I have found immense joy in both training and racing and I now understand what working out does for me, mentally and physically.

What do you do for work?

I am a Career Consultant at Mercer University.

How does your work life affect training and how do you balance work and training?
I am fortunate to work in Higher Education where my work schedule can flex just a bit, which allows me to manage a healthy work/life balance. I try to do all workouts in the morning which means a lot of early wake up calls. If I have two workouts in the day, I put the second workout at lunch, when possible. Once 5pm hits, I am in wind down mode the minute my butt sits in my car to drive home. Over the years I have learned how to be comfortable in what I can and can not accomplish for the day. This means cutting a workout short or even missing a workout on occasion. Although 4 years ago I would not have felt this way, it no longer stresses me out when life gets in the way of training. I just do the best I can.

Any tips/tricks as to how to balance work and training?

When it comes to triathlon, I am a planner. I know that I am far more successful if I make my nutrition bottles, prepare my food ahead of time and pack my bags in the car the night before a morning workout. I also look for opportunities to utilize downtime to my advantage. I have been seen using a resistance band for stretching, a tennis ball for tight spots and a foam roller at work during my lunch hour or between meetings. I keep sports nutrition products, peanut butter and milk at work so that there are no excuses for not being fueled for mid day workouts. I have also been known to wear compression socks under my slacks or long skirts. I try my best to maximize all opportunities for training and work life.

Do you have kids?
Yep! A fun little 4 year old named Colton.

How do you balance family and training?
I try to keep workouts in the morning after my son goes to daycare so that they don't affect evening family time, which is also why I favor lunch workouts as well. On weekends, I aim for early morning workouts so that they don't disrupt the entire day or force us to alter our afternoon plans. Often times, my husband will make special plans in the morning with Colton (while I workout) so that they can bond and have "guy time". Then, I will have my mommy/son time in the afternoon if my husband has something he needs to get done. At this age, Colton is an active participant in my active lifestyle. He wants to help me make my sport nutrition bottles or carry my workout gear. I know he won't always be this excited to help and learn about my triathlon workouts, but I am hopeful that we are raising Colton to understand the importance of physical activity and making time for healthy lifestyle choices so that later on in is life, it is innate and part of his lifestyle. I don't see my training as selfish but instead, I am trying to be a good role model for him. We also find opportunities to make him the star at an event. He did the kids race at Athens Twilight and has done a kids mountain bike ride, which prompted him to ask for swim lessons so that he could be an Ironman like his mom and dad. 

What tricks or tips do you have for other athletes who try to balance training with a family?
Communication with my little guy has been important so that he understands exactly when I will be back and what he can expect. I try to incorporate him into the plan by promising a few laps together on the bike once I return or we play outside. When my husband Kenny and I were both training for an Ironman two years ago, we would often split training schedules to get things accomplished. I would ride on Saturdays while he ran on the treadmill or used the jogging stroller to keep Colton involved, and then on Sunday the training would be reversed.

How do you balance training with your partner? Any tips or tricks for keeping your partner happy while you train to reach your personal goals?

I have found through the years of training and marriage, that communication is key in making this whole thing (triathlon hobby) work. Kenny and I talk about my workouts and what I need to do to prep, and I keep him updated when I know it will affect family time. I never plan my race calendar without a family discussion because I know what a great asset he is to both me and our family. My goals wouldn't be possible without his support. I also understand there is a fine balance in accomplishing my long distance racing goals while keeping harmony in my family. This leads me to making decisions like opting for weekend trainer rides early in the season so that I can remove the excess travel time to drive to a safe place to do a long ride. I am also there for the family without being away from the home. I know that later on in the season I will be riding outside for long hours and the trainer won't be a suitable option for me then so it's all about compromising. Basically, I do what I can to preserve my idea of "family time" and make concessions in my training when I have to, so that my family doesn't suffer. I also know that my husband can be bribed/rewarded with a good beer! :)

Do you have a race result, notable performance or lesson learned that you'd like to share?

While not recent, I have two race results that will forever stick with me. The 2012 Labor Day 5k is special to me because I was 40 weeks pregnant at the time. I ran the race at 8:30am and ended up giving birth to my son 22 hours later. I had completed several races during my pregnancy and I wanted one last hurrah with my little guy. My husband insists this is why our little guy does not slow down.

Then, 14 month later, I completed my first Ironman at Ironman Florida in 2013. I had a long standing fear that pregnancy and childbirth would completely derail any progress I had made with body image and self esteem so I wanted a goal to focus on. Ironman Florida was just as much about proving to myself that I could do the distance but also showing that I can be a good mom and still care about my own health and well-being through fitness.

What are your top tips for athletes, as it relates to staying happy, healthy and performing well?
1) Listen to your body. While I can not always pick-up on all the clues that body gives me, I have learned how to listen to my body. I am very in tune with my body. I know when my jaw hurts, I am lacking specific nutrients. I can tell when my watch is too tight on my wrist by the way my bicep feels. Your body gives you hints if you just listen to them.

2) It's ok to miss a workout. For the longest time, I felt like I had to justify a missed workout by describing a catastrophe. Now, it's ok to say, "today is just not my day" or "life got in the way." I am not one for excuses so if I have to miss a workout, I am not hard on myself. I know that life does happen sometimes. Big picture: It's all about how you roll with the punches.

3) Remember to smile and if you are feeling down, encourage others. The simple act of smiling and saying "good job" does wonders for my attitude. I may be having a crappy workout but by taking a second to tell someone else something encouraging, has a positive effect on me. I do the same thing on race day.

How would you define athletic success as it relates to your personal journey?
Year after year, my goal is to always reach the finish line with a smile on my face, while knowing that I enjoyed my personal journey to the start line. I am no Mirinda or Chrissie - this isn't my job. And not until I am in Harriet Anderson or Sister Madonna's age group, I am not even close to competing for a Kona spot. What is on the line is my health, well-being and my ability to be a positive role model for my family and for my community. Getting faster is a perk of training and one that I do seek, but I know that ultimately my success is being happy with the journey and inspiring others to work for athletic goals. I like to say I humanize the Ironman triathlon goal by showing everyday people that yes, it is possible to train for an Ironman with hard work, determination and grit.

What's your favorite post-race meal, drink or food?
CARBS! Pizza and Beer. Burger and Beer.

What key races do you have planned in 2017?
Ironman Gulf Coast 70.3 and Ironman Florida.

What are your athletic goals for the next 5 years?

I would love to get faster and try out a new Ironman course. But on the flip side, I know my son is getting older and he will soon want to do his own sport explorations. I am hopeful in the future that we can run a 5k together or that I can incorporate him into Ironkids events. Triathlon will also be my sport and my goal but I am open to new adventures and seeing where the next few years take me and my active body.

Anything else?
Remember to give back to the sport. I think so many times we can get wrapped up in our own little bubble of racing that we forget that every racer needs spectators to get them to the finish line. Every athlete needs an experienced sherpa. Every race needs volunteers to keep it running smoothly. New athletes need mentors. Take one or two give-back-to-the-sport opportunities each year to keep our sport healthy and growing. When we give back, we ensure that our sport will be around for future generations.

To follow Stefanie:
Instagram: @stefanieswanger