Essential Sports Nutrition


Changing your perception of race weight

Most athletes have heard that weight affects race day performance and the lighter you weigh, the better that you will perform. Or the opposite - the heavier that you are, the harder your body will have to work.

While it's easy to assume that you will perform the best when you are near the bottom of your weight range,  an "ideal" race eight is not a guarantee of having your best performance on race day. I can assure you that even if you lose fat from your butt, thighs or stomach, you won't become a better athlete on race day just because you weight less You still need fitness and good health to perform the best with your body so the idea of "weighing less" is not effective if you are just chasing a number on the scale.

Karel and I have never ever chased a "race weight." Our goal is always to arrive to a race with a body that is resilient, strong, healthy, injury-free, fueled and fit.  We have no rules in our diet and we never assume that weighing less will help us be better athletes.
I've always believed that a number on the scale does not define me or my athletic capabilities nor does it determine how well I will (or won't) perform with my body on race day. This is why Karel and I never ever weigh ourselves. We have a scale but it is only used to weigh our luggage when we travel. I see food for fuel and for nourishment and I really believe that if I use food and sport nutrition properly, my body will return the favor by helping me stay healthy and consistent with training. 

As a sport dietitian, I am not oppose to helping athletes reach a healthy weight on race day as many athletes will come to me asking for help to get them to their "race weight" because they were told (by a book, article or coach) that x-weight will improve performance. However, I am not for making extreme changes in the diet or training just to lose weight. My focus is always on performance and health. 

Some athletes may benefit from losing 10-30+ lbs as this will help reduce risk for injury. A loss in body fat and an increase in lean muscle mass can certainly improve overall health and performance in certain athletes, so long as the approach for weight loss is not quick, extreme or restrictive, this is a practical reason for working with a sport RD. 

If you have a weight goal in mind that is based on a past performance, you may find that no matter how much you train and how little you eat, you still can't seem to achieve the weight when you performed your best. Working with a sport RD can help you identify any trouble areas in your diet and you may be surprised that you need to eat more or change your relationship with food and your body in order to change your body composition. 

As an athlete, you must accept that your body will change throughout a season and year after year. Assuming that you must weigh the same (or less) to experience continual improvements in your sport may put you at risk for health issues and constant frustration with your body. The constant chasing of a race weight may also increase the risk for disordered eating.
To race at your best, consider that your "race weight" should occur naturally (and not forced) as you aim to meet your nutritional needs throughout the day, as you intentionally fuel before, during and after all workouts and consistently follow a well-designed, periodized training plan.

If you take the time to understand your basic nutritional needs, aim to eat well-balanced style of eating, maintain a healthy relationship with food and the body and understand how to use sport nutrition properly, all while timing your nutrition with training to properly adapt to training stress, you WILL achieve your "race weight" come race day as you will be racing with a healthy and strong body. 

If you are currently trying to reach your race weight through calorie restriction, food elimination, dieting, cleansing, fasting, low carb eating or eliminating sport nutrition, I encourage you to stop sabotaging your health and performance as your end goal is to be prepared for race day. There's not much you can do with a lean body if you can't do anything with it on race day. 

I give you permission to stop chasing a race weight. No matter how much you weigh, what you look like or what you think others think about your body, you can still do something amazing with your body on race day. Fuel your body, nourish your body and thank your body. 


I'm racing my first off-road triathlon—how do I fuel?

Picture Source

In the August 2017 "off-road" issue of Triathlete Magazine, I wrote an article on how to fuel for an off-road triathlon. This was an exciting article to write as I often imagine what it would be like to participate in a triathlon that occurred off-road. Oh the thrill to ride and run through nature! Although my cycling and running skills are not yet ready to trade the pavement for the dirt, I saw this as a great opportunity to educate triathletes on some of the nutritional differences between off-road and road triathlon racing.

Note: In the print issue Pg 55, there were some formating issues with the staff at Triathlete Magazine that affected my article (in the 2nd column - the print words are not my words) so I wanted to take the opportunity to share my entire article with you. Sometimes these things happen in print so it's no fault to the dedicated staff at Triathlete Magazine. 


Rock hopping, puddle dodging, log jumping, white-knuckle descending. Unlike your typical triathlon experience, an off-road triathlon provides the perfect environment for the triathlete who lives an adventurous lifestyle, with a strong love for nature. 

Racing off-road brings a variety of challenges, specific to the unique terrain variations at each venue. The unpredictability of race day can be intimidating, especially if your skills are still a work in progress. But ask any Xterra athlete and he/she will tell you that the thrill and accomplishment of off-road racing, alongside the easygoing atmosphere, will keep you craving for more.
If you are ready to trade the pavement for the trails, here are three nutritional differences to remind you that off-road racing is no ordinary triathlon.

Road triathlon – Fuel/hydrate on a schedule.
Off-road triathlon – Fuel/hydrate when you can.
While your body will perform at its best if you aim to meet your hourly carbohydrate (30-60g), electrolyte (400-1000mg) and fluid needs (20-28 ounce), don’t rely on sticking to a schedule. Off-road bike/run courses are difficult, requiring great skill and focus as you manage the terrain. When you get a chance to fuel/hydrate, take it! Although liquid calories are recommended, as they provide a one-stop-shop for meeting energy needs, stuff your pockets with extra gels, chews and bars for those “just in case” scenarios.
Road triathlon – Rely on the aid stations.
Off-road triathlon – Bring your nutrition with you.
Practice fueling/hydrating during training with your preferred sport nutrition products. You need experience drinking (and possibly eating) while dodging rocks and roots. Unlike smooth asphalt, off-road racing is anything but smooth. A hydration pack on the bike and hydration belt on the run will make fueling/hydrating an uncomplicated task as you navigate the terrain with little aid station support.
Road triathlon – Push your limits
Off-road triathlon – Be conservative

On the trails, your off-road adventure will take significantly longer than the same completed distance on controlled terrain. Thus, your intensity and nutrition will play a big part in your ability to manage the obstacles you overcome on race day. Knowing that no amount of nutrition can help you race like a pro, pacing is critical to your racing success. Because the course dictates your effort and energy expenditure, be sure to preview the course ahead of time. Instead of setting a goal/time pace, focus on small segments of the course that you can execute to the best of your ability.

The technical demands of the trails make it challenging to meet energy needs. But this doesn’t mean that nutrition should be an after-thought. Consider off-road racing a constant work in progress. With continued skill and physical development, you’ll become more prepared for the unpredictable “fun” moments of racing off-road. 


Lessons learned - 35 athletic qualities to get to that next level

After 2.5 tough days of training, we just wrapped up our private training camp with Trimarni athlete Lisa Comer.  Lisa timed her private training camp perfectly with her key race (IMMT) as this camp was the perfect opportunity to intentionally overstress her body with training but to also remind her of the important skills that are needed to put together a great Ironman performance. Seeing Lisa in action allowed us, as her coaches, to fine-tune her skills and to break a few bad habits so that the next 6 weeks of training will be as effective as possible. 

Lisa is an extremely resilient athlete. She has great bike handling skills, she is a fast swimmer and a strong runner. Over the past 2.5+ years as a Trimarni athlete, she has worked very hard to get to where she is right now in her athletic journey as she has been able to train consistently for the past few years all while managing a job, while being a wife and mother. She is positive, hard working and brings a smile to every workout. She gives 100% no matter the workout, knows how to stay present but also has a good off switch so that triathlon does not take over her life.

Here's a little recap of the private training camp stats over the past 2.5 days:

Sunday afternoon:
3800 yard swim

Monday morning:
3:45 bike (with ~5500 feet of elevation gain) - endurance ride + skill/terrain management
43 minute brick run (~400 feet of elevate gain) - steady endurance with a strong build at the end
In the afternoon, she had a RETUL re-fit with Karel to dial in her position.

Tuesday morning:
4:35 bike (with ~6400 feet of elevation gain) - endurance ride with a 11-mile Ironman effort climb in the middle
20 min brick run (~230 feet of elevation gain) - form focused
In the afternoon, we did another run for frequency training on tired legs. 41 minutes - conversational pace. After a 1 mile warm-up, we did 5 min run, 30 sec walk throughout the rest of the run to reduce excessive tissue damage.

Wednesday morning:
3700 yard swim
90 minute run with a MS of 4 x 10 minute build to strong efforts w/ 30 sec walk, 1 min EZ jog between)

Although this was a lot of training packed into 2.5 days, it was all doable for Lisa. Just like on race day in an Ironman, we needed to show Lisa that she is capable of squeezing out a bit more from her body, even when she feels tired/exhausted. Lisa went through a lot of highs and lows throughout 2.5 days but maintained a positive, can-do attitude. With this camp, she learned that even when she thinks can can't push any harder, go the extra distance or go up another hill, we proved to her that it's all about mind over body.

Throughout this private camp, I thought a lot about what athletic qualities are needed to get to that next level. Whether it's qualifying for the Ironman World Championship (full or half distance), landing on the podium, achieving a personal best performance or accomplishing something that you have never done before, we have learned that there are a few important qualities that an athlete needs in order to achieve a new peak of fitness. 
  1. Be open to change or a new way of thinking.
  2. Be a great eater and have a great relationship with food.
  3. Appreciate and don't bash/pick on your body. 
  4. Focus on being resilient and strong, not fast and lean. 
  5. Use lower stress racers as an opportunity to learn about yourself as a racer.
  6. Build a team (ex. sport psychologist, PT, massage therapist, sport dietitian, coach) to help you in your journey. 
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for help. 
  8. Don't skip steps or rush your journey. 
  9. Understand that there are no short cuts or quick fixes. 
  10. Stay committed to your journey, even in the face of setbacks and obstacles. 
  11. Be patient - always. 
  12. Put in the work. 
  13. Stay consistent. 
  14. Fall in love with the journey of self-improvement. 
  15. Make room in your life for your sport. 
  16. You must have support from friends/family. 
  17. Surround yourself with people who give you energy and don't take it away from you. 
  18. Understand the demands of your sport and have a smart plan to help you achieve them. 
  19. Don't compare your journey to the journey of another athlete or a past version of yourself. 
  20. Never stop working on your skills. 
  21. Select key races that suit your strengths and will help you excel on race day.
  22. Don't rush to improve by adding too much volume/intensity too close to a race or after a period of inactivity/injury. 
  23. See your development as one that occurs over many seasons and not just within a single year. 
  24. Be willing to stretch your comfort zone so that what was once uncomfortable can become familiar and tolerable. 
  25. Never ever compromise sleep. 
  26. Focus on the little things (good sleep, stress management, mobility, diet). 
  27. Don't neglect strength training. 
  28. Make your easy sessions easy. 
  29. Make it a non-negotiable that you always fuel/hydrate before, during and after workouts. 
  30. Don't get too emotional with your performance (training and on race day). Reflect and then move on. 
  31. Stay processed driven, not outcome focused. 
  32. Make your training work for you so that you can adapt to training and perform well on race day. 
  33. Have fun. 
  34. Always maintain a strong mindset and work on your mental skills. 
  35. Integrate training into your life so that it has an important role in your life that helps you be a better person in this world. 
Rushing a journey may result in some temporary good results but ultimately, it will almost always result in physical, technical/skill, mental and nutritional/health shortcomings.

To get to that next level, you need to be more focused on the doing than on the outcome. Don't fear failure or overthink the process. 

The ultimate goal for an athlete is to be able to train, recover and compete at a level that ensures optimal development throughout an athletic career. As an age-group athlete, there is not time-line on your athletic journey. Therefore, be mindful that success (or getting to that next level) comes from performing well over long-term than trying to win (or achieve a lot) in the short term. 


The patient athlete - it's not easy!

A few days ago, Karel and I registered for the 2018 Ironman Austria. If you didn't know, this is my absolute favorite course because I love everything about this race. The mountain views, the silky smooth pavement on the bike course, the crowd support and the overall race atmosphere. This will be our 3rd time racing at Ironman Austria and I have a few big goals that I hope to achieve at this race which will be years in the making.

With a two year intentional break from Ironman racing, I can't wait to complete my 12th Ironman in Austria next July 1st.

To be honest, it has been incredibly difficult to resist the urge from signing up for an Ironman over the past year. Even now, I am itching to race a 140.6 mile event and there were a few times that I debated to sign up for IM Lake Placid and race with Karel. BUT, I have remained patient as my intention for taking a break from Ironman racing was to fully develop my skills, resilience and fitness so that when I return back to Ironman racing, I will be more prepared than ever before.

As an athlete, I thrive off goals. But sometimes, goals take a while to achieve. It's easy to be inpatient, especially when it's so easy to sign up for a race, anytime. Racing for a 140.6 mile event is no easy accomplishment and it requires a lot of time, money and energy. Although big Ironman goals will get me out of bed when I lack motivation or energy, I have been reminding myself over and over that sometimes a goal takes longer than you want it to and I must respect the time that it takes to reach that goal. Instead of spending so much energy on obtaining my goal as quickly as possible, I am dedicated and focused on the process that it will take me to successfully reach my goal.

Every time I have a goal, I am aware that I need time to achieve the goal. Rushing the plan/process will likely leave me injured or burnt out and neither would move me closer to my goal (and both would sabotage my health and enjoyment for the sport of triathlon). Being patient through every training process has allowed me to keep my expectations realistic (and timely) and to keep a positive attitude throughout my individual development. 

Throughout this Ironman-break, I have been training hard with Karel as my inspiration. As he prepares for Ironman #8 (IM Lake Placid) and Ironman #9 (IM Chatty) this season, I am extremely motivated by his hard work ethic and his determination to reach his personal goals. Even though I am not training for an Ironman right now, I get to share the "Ironman journey" with Karel and it is extremely rewarding.

Karel is a very hard worker. He will be the first to tell you that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes to athletic success. To experience athletic success, you must have determination, motivation and a strong desire to go after a goal, and never ever give up until you reach your goal.

It's been exciting to see Karel's development in the sport of triathlon over the past five years. Success is not an overnight kind of thing and for Karel, he has made so many swim/bike/run improvements over many months and years. I don't think Karel will ever feel satisfied, too successful or that he knows enough about the sport of triathlon and that keeps him trucking away. He truly loves the process of athletic development and this mindset has helped me remain so patient in my individual athletic journey.

Even though we both have different athletic goals, with different race schedules, we both wake up with an inner drive to be the best that we can be and with every workout, we trust that we are a little bit closer to reaching our goals.

Every athlete is different. What drives you, motivates you and inspires you may be defined differently from your training partner or another athlete. Every athlete has his/her own path to success with a different type of work ethic. Every athlete has his/her own obstacles to overcome and a path that is not always smooth and straight forward. Although almost every athlete wants to experience athletic success, it is those who are patient, willing and determined to do what it takes, for as long as it takes, that will reach long term goals. 

To accomplish something great with your body, you need time and patience. Hard work works when every day somethings add into something special on race day. Stay patient with your goals and the journey that it takes to reach your goals. Great things are destined to happen to you - stay patient!