Struggling to make a lifestyle change?

The other evening, I spoke to a group of recovering addicts on the topic of nutrition therapy and the role of proper eating habits assisting in long term sobriety. For my presentation, I had to dig out some of my food props from when I was working as a clinical dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches in Jacksonville, FL. While I love specializing in nutrition for athletes, I learned a lot about the human body when I worked as an inpatient dietitian.

Speaking to the group of addicts was very rewarding and powerful. Although it was out of my comfort zone to speak to non-athletes, I always appreciate the opportunities where I can share my passion of healthy living with others. And as an athlete who embraces a healthy lifestyle, I can't stress it enough that athletes must establish great lifestyle habits in order to improve chances of athletic success. Without good health, you don't have a strong platform to support your fitness goals.

For individuals with a current or past substance abuse problem, drugs and alcohol are often used to cope, relax, escape or used as a reward. While we all need ways to cope, relax, escape and reward, it's important for addicts to develop daily habits that promote good physical and mental health and an improved sense of well-being. In other words, to replace bad habits with good habits, self care is critical. It's well researched that good restful sleep, stress management, healthy coping skills, a structured life routine, a healthy and balanced diet, surrounding yourself with positive individuals and daily exercise are powerful lifestyle habits that can improve mental and physical health for addicts in recovery but are essential healthy habits for every human being to embrace.

As a coach to an amazing team of Trimarni athletes and a sport dietitian to many runners and triathletes, every athlete that comes my way for help is reminded by me that overall good mental and physical health are key components to athletic success. Athletic success starts with great lifestyle habits. Although training for an event is rewarding and can fill your life with purpose, self-worth and well being, you can only get so far with your fitness if you live with unhealthy lifestyle habits that do not foster optimal health. Based on my philosophy, I don't believe that athletes should compromise their health while training for an athletic event. Therefore, I find it important to always encourage and remind my athletes that daily self-care is the foundation by which you can improve your athletic performance. Just like with addicts in recovery, for athletes, your body will function at its best when you have a healthy lifestyle and make your health a priority on a daily basis.

If you are an athlete struggling to make better choices in your life, like a better sleeping regime, consuming less alcohol, improved eating habits, better life/work balance or staying consistent with training, here are some tips for making a healthy change in your lifestyle:
  1. Good, better, best - When making a lifestyle change, it's normal to have big expectations for yourself and to make many radical changes all at once. Let's get rid of the all or nothing mentality. Unhealthy habits develop similar to healthy habits. When you repeat an action over and over, you form neural pathways that support the habit, without giving much thought to your actions. When the reward center in your brain is activated with the release of dopamine, the habit is reinforced, which causes you to crave more of it. Whereas the feeling of working out makes you feel good and it's good for you, some habits are not so good, like always craving ice cream in the evening or finding yourself wanting a glass of wine after a long day of work. It's important to train your brain to get comfortable with new habits. Change is a process. To help you make a change in your life, work on a good, better, best system. Set small goals for yourself and focus on accomplishing one goal at a time. For example, if you are always ordering/eating out for dinner, set your first goal of only ordering out 3 nights per week instead of 5. This is a good goal to force you to cook for yourself two nights per week. Once you meet that small "good" goal, move on to the next "better" goal, which could be only ordering out only once a week. Consistency is key when making changes so start slow and be realistic with your goals.
  2. Fix, don't overhaul - Athletes are known to be a little obsessive and extreme at times so it's no surprise when an athlete tries to completely overhaul his/her lifestyle with a black or white mentality. Change can be stressful to your body, mind and spirit. If you try to improve your sleep habits, your relationship, your work/life balance, your exercise routine and your diet all at once, you will feel overwhelmed and you will want to give up. You will feel more motivated by improving your habits if you focus on changing one bad habit at a time. Typically, habits have a way of snowballing so if you find yourself focusing first on improving your sleep regime, you may find yourself staying more consistent with exercising which also helps your cravings and appetite and your mood with your significant other.
  3. Get support - Lifestyle changes don't change in one day. It takes time to get out with the old and in with the new. And it's normal and expected that you will have some missteps along the way. To keep you on track, it's important to have a good support team to help you stay accountable to your changes but also to ensure that you are making changes in a healthy way (you don't want to create a new bad habit while fixing an old bad habit, like giving up candy in the afternoon but now addicted to diet sodas). Make sure that you never see your lifestyle change as punishing. Developing new good habits requires a lot of hard work but you must remind yourself that change is good when it improves your physical and mental health. Don't be afraid or ashamed to get help from a professional therapist or counselor. Asking for help shows strength. You are worthy of help and someone out there wants to be part of your team. 


Why you need a squad of professionals

Many professional athletes are supported by a "team" of professionals to help with athletic performance. Some are seen regularly and others are available as needed.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could expect a massage every time you finished a race or have a doctor or physical therapist on speed dial to squeeze you in anytime you experience a niggle?

While it may sound too good to be true, I do believe that every individual who is training for an athletic event, whether it be a long or short, should have a team of professionals to assist in the training journey. Although you may question the money that you would need to spend on these professionals and then claim that your sport is only your hobby, consider it an investment to your overall enjoyment in your sport as you also take care of your health. It's far too common that athletes will experience an issue, whether it's gear, health or training related and then frantically search for an expert to be of help or struggle to know who to reach out to for guidance. Without a trusted go-to professional, you may find yourself asking around and looking for a quick or cheap fix (which may cause more harm than good). Additionally, you may need to try out different professionals, like the right bike mechanic or massage therapist, to find someone who meets your expectations and needs. While it isn't necessary that you see your squad members every day, it is important to have trusted, qualified and experienced resources to assist in your athletic journey.

A professional is there to help you solve a problem or to prevent a problem from occurring. Instead of hoping that you can figure out what's going on or searching on the internet or online forums for answers, there's someone out there who has knowledge and experience in a specialty area and wants to help you solve or prevent your issue.

In your athletic journey, there will be problems, obstacles and setbacks - some preventable and some unavoidable. It's ok that you don't have all the answers as to why, what and how something happened so it's recommended to know someone who can help you with your questions.

For athletes, here are my top picks for your squad of professionals:
  • Coach
  • Mentor
  • Sport dietitian
  • Sport doctor
  • Physical therapist
  • Massage therapist
  • Sport psychologist
And a few go-to resources (depending on your sport):
  • Swim/bike/run skills expert
  • Bike fitter
  • Bike mechanic
  • Gait analysis expert
  • Tri/bike/run store
  • Cookbook
  • Trusted website/blog
  • Personal trainer/sport and conditioning coach
  • Travel agent 


Falling for Greenville cycling (and food)

It doesn't matter the time of the year as any ride in Greenville is a great ride. However, there's something extra special about the fall season as nature has a way of keeping us smiling. 

The other day I captured this beautiful rainbow during my easy spin on the trail. It was a magnificent sight as it was so clear and perfect in the sky. 

During our 2:45 hr ride on Saturday morning, we ended up on the Doodle trail in the middle of our ride, which made for a nice EZ spin for a few miles. 

Back on the country roads with no shortage of farm animals. I always make sure to say hi to all of the horses, cows, cow puppies, goats, sheep and chickens. 

So many beautiful sights on two wheels! No photo editing needed! 

I spent a little extra time this weekend in the kitchen as I was in the mood for some sweet treats. With some spotty bananas calling my name, I put them to good use and made a loaf of delicious banana bread. I followed this recipe but only used 1/4 cup sugar instead of 1 cup. And per the request of Karel, our banana bread has raisins, chocolate chips and walnuts instead. 

In honor of Shalane's kick-butt performance at the NYC marathon, I also made sweet potato cookies (from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook) but used Teff flour instead of Almond flour. I also added chocolate chips because, why not?

For the last few weeks we have been joining a group swim at Furman, lead by our friend and former pro triathlete and college swimmer Kristen. The swim has been great for us as it gives us a social outlet to workout with others and it also allows us to turn off our coaching brain and just follow the prescribed set from the coach on deck. The swim is from 5-6:15pm every Sunday so in order to avoid coming home with a hungry belly and no planned meal, I always try to make dinner before we go to swim so that it's ready when we get home. On Sunday, my dish included sauteed mushrooms and onions, along with a mix of veggies (cauliflower, carrots and broccoli) and seasoned it with salt, pepper and spicy mustard, along with nutritional yeast. I tossed in some peanuts and added cooked farro and yumed my way through the bowl. 

Waffles and pancakes make me so happy so one or the other is often consumed before my morning workout. Lately, I have been enjoying a Belgium waffle topped with PB, syrup, banana slices, granola and yogurt before my longer workouts on the weekend (which is similar to what I eat on race day morning).

For your viewing entertainment, Karel made a short video with our new Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 from our Saturday morning ride to show off our amazing cycling routes with little to no car traffic (and 99% patient and nice drivers). Enjoy! 


50 ways to be a better athlete

As a long-time endurance triathlete, I love the process of training for a race. I enjoy the journey that I get to take my body on within every racing season and at the start of every season, I look forward to stretching my limits in an effort to reach new personal accomplishments. 

It's not uncommon for endurance athletes to be very committed to training while constantly looking for what else is out there to help take fitness to that next level. With a relentless drive to improve, it's important that your training methods, dietary regime and lifestyle choices don't get you injured, burnout or with a serious health issue.

In a recent Ironman article, I selected my top 50 ways to be a better athlete so that you can unlock your potential and reach athletic excellence on race day without compromising your health and quality of life. 

Which qualities on my list are you doing a great job of and which qualities need improvement?

Read the article HERE.