Essential Sports Nutrition


Must watch - the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games

Since last Friday, we have been watching the Winter Paralympics every night thanks to our DVR and coverage on NBCSports. And as you may know from my previous Olympic blogs, I LOVE the sport of cross country skiing and biathlon.

There are six sports at the 2018 Winter Paralympic games - Wheelchair curling, para ice hockey, para cross country skiing, para alpine skiing, para snowboard and para biathlon.

If you have the opportunity to watch/follow online, I strongly encourage you to check out these incredible athletes in action.

Athletes are a great source of inspiration and motivation because of their hard work ethic, dedication, ability to overcome the odds and exceptional mental and physical strength. It's unfortunate that in 2018, many athletes experience disability discrimination - especially at the Olympics! There's little coverage, discussion or promotion of the 2018 Winter Paralympic games and I can't think of a more inspiring group of athletes to showcase in the media (especially with all of the negative press that is currently going on in the media).

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Although it's incredible to see these athletes in action, we must remember that the world doesn't cater to disabled individuals as it does to able-bodied individuals. It can be very difficult and costly for a disabled individual to safely and easily find accessible ways to to travel/commute, not to mention the added cost, time and energy needed to train for and prepare for the Olympic Games. Disabled athletes may find it difficult  to access (and afford) coaching, therapy, gear, clothing, medical care and travel, compared to an able-bodied athlete.

The beautiful thing about sport is that it doesn't discriminate. Being involved in a sport can improve health, well-being, self-esteem, confidence and quality of life, especially among those with a disability. Sport shows us that there is ability within a disability. 

The 2018 Winter Paralympic games shows us that there are no barriers to sport participation and that no disability can keep an athlete from pursuing his/her athletic goals and dreams. We must encourage, support and promote athletes with disabilities and think of the disabled athlete as nothing more or less than the able-bodied athletes. Every athlete at the 2018 Winter Games is a human and should be treated with kindness, respect, admiration and support.

Over the past week, I have watched blind alpine skiers fly down the mountain with trust from their guide, biathlon athletes ski and shoot with missing limbs, snowboarders with a missing arm race against one another with no fear and hockey players slide across the ice with tremendous strength, grit and tenacity. And then there are the curlers....while I still don't understand the sport, it's still a sport I am watching because I support the paralympic athletes. 

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The next time you find yourself complaining about something meaningless, stressing over something small or worrying about what could have/should have been, consider the paralympic athletes who have chosen to rise up from hardship with focus, determination and a positive, can-do mindset.

Paralympic athletes push the limits as to what is humanly possibly by the human body.
These athletes are living life to the fullest because they are not willing to settle for average.
Paralympic athletes have goals and they don't let what could have been stop them from reaching their full abilities, while having a meaningful life.
These athletes are overcoming disabilities in order to live a very productive, quality and happy life, all while inspiring others in the process. 

We must remember that these athletes are human and regardless of the physical or mental impairment, we must treat them with the same respect, notoriety, attention and enthusiasm as able-body athletes. 


Happy Registered Dietitian day!!!

Today we celebrate the registered dietitians who are the nation's food and nutrition experts. RDN's are the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically-based food and nutrition information.

RD's are legally allowed to treat medical conditions. It is against the law for a nutrition expert or nutritionist to prescribe diets or supplements to diagnose or treat medical, health or clinical symptoms/conditions. In other words, if you are not a RD, it's unethical and against the law to prescribe a diet or style of eating to treat a condition. If a nutritionist/nutrition expert is not a RD, he/she is by law, not allowed to treat, prescribe, cure or diagnose health conditions. In some states, this includes providing meal plans or counseling.

As it relates to finding a nutrition "expert" to assist in your health, performance and/or body composition goals, make sure your nutrition expert has the RD (or RDN) credential behind his/her name. 

To learn a bit more about how and why I became a RD, check out this video where Joey and I answer questions about our RD journey: 

If you are in need of nutrition assistance, it can be a costly and time-consuming journey to find the right dietitian to be part of your nutrition journey. Here are my tips to help you narrow down your search so that you can find a good fit for your individual needs: 

  1. Credentials - Today, anyone can claim to be a nutrition expert. Health coaches, bloggers, athletes, personal trainers, holistic practitioners, chiropractors and even most doctors are providing nutrition advice despite lacking the intensive education/schooling to provide realistic, ethical and practical advice. Look for the RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (or LD/N) credential behind the experts name to ensure that your nutrition expert is actually a nutrition law. Furthermore, if you are an athlete, look for advanced credentialing such as CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sport Dietetics) and his/her specialty area (ex. ball sports, endurance sports, dance, kids, etc.) to demonstrate specialized experience, knowledge, skill and expertise in sport dietetics.
  2. Experience - It goes without saying that you should be searching for an expert who has expert experience in the area that you need help with. If you are an athlete, your dietitian should be experienced in sports, not renal or pediatric clinical nutrition, as an example. A dietitian who specializes in cross fit, hockey or dance may lack the in-depth knowledge and experience to understand the needs of an endurance athlete. Just because someone is a RD, this doesn't mean that he/she can professionally counsel you. While she/he may have textbook or internet knowledge, make sure he/she is real life experience. Does your RD understand the demands of your sport and can he/she put her/himself into your shoes as it relates to the struggles/problems/concerns that you have?

  3. Avoid black or white thinking - When you reach out to a nutrition expert, you should be able to ask questions as to the why's and what's for treatment. A compassionate and devoted RD should treat you like an individual, listen to your concerns, ask you questions, have time for your past history and should always give you options and different problem solving strategies as part of the counseling process. Rigid thinking means solutions are either one way or another - no in between. There are always exceptions to the rules because with nutrition, there should be no rules. Flexible thinking and a personalized approach is important in the counseling process as it relates to long-term success. Nutrition is not a quick fix. Don't expect immediate, rapid or dramatic changes with your health. If your nutrition expert promises that you will be an overnight success, be warned that something is too good to be true.
  4. Philosophy - Since most nutrition professionals have some type of online presence, "follow" a dietitian to make sure you understand and believe in his/her nutrition methods and philosophy. Most of the time, the answer to questions #1,2 and 3 can be found online in a website, blog or on social media. Ask around for recommendations and referrals from athletes who have worked with your potential RD. Pay attention to contradictions in advice, extreme methods or affiliations to "sell" you a product. While many RD's partner with companies that they believe in, you should never feel a gimmick to buy supplements/products as a "cure" to your problems. Take some time to understand the set of beliefs and principles from your future RD to ensure your nutrition expert is passionate and practices what he/she preaches. Above all, a philosophy outlines the values that are important to that person/business. If you don't connect with his/her philosophy, there's a good chance that dietitian is not the right fit for you. 
RD's are trained professionals who specialize in nutrition. Sadly, there are many passionate but untrained/unqualified nutrition experts providing nutrition advice - advice that is often useless, expensive and sometimes dangerous. As with any type of professional help, it's important to find someone who is properly trained in a specific field and offers sensible, realistic, sound advice from a comprehensive educational program and not from a certificate. Lastly, don't choose your nutrition expert simply from his/her social media following/presence or a connection to a celebrity/professional athlete/coach.

With so many self-made experts, it's difficult to recognize who is trustworthy or not. Just because someone is a RD, this doesn't mean he/she is the right RD for your needs. Whenever anyone helps you with your nutrition, remind yourself that this person is helping you with your health. He or she can make you better....or worse.


Racing under pressure

After the culmination of many months (or years) of training, your race day is almost here! But now that the “fun” training is behind you, you now feel an enormous amount of pressure to perform. 

If you find yourself experiencing a flux of positive and negative emotions before an important race, these pre-race jitters are simply a mix of irrational and rational thoughts relating to your goals and expectations for race day. And when racing anticipations are at their highest, there is a subjective fear of failure that stems from by many uncertainties, doubts and worries.

For some athletes, pressure enhances motivation, enjoyment for the sport and focus. These athletes thrive off pressure and turn it into positive energy to boost performance.

But for many, the pressure to succeed is so intense that performance is negatively affected.

Although pre-race jitters are normal, they are commonly associated with disturbing symptoms like GI issues, mood swings, trouble sleeping, elevated heart rate, lack of appetite (or emotional eating) and nausea. None of which you want to experience before a race.  

Here are a few tips to help you better race under pressure: 

Gut-brain connection
Got butterflies in your stomach? The GI system is very sensitive to emotion so any extreme change in emotion or feelings can trigger abnormal symptoms in the gut. This is because the brain has a direct effect on the stomach.

Because the gut and brain send signals to one another, it is extremely important to minimize psychological factors, like stress, anxiety or worries before a race to reduce the risk for gut distress, including nausea, loose stools/diarrhea and headache.
  • Train your mind and work on focusing on the present moment and not on the outcome. 
  • Direct your energy to what is within your control. 
  • Get off social media to avoid comparison. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques (“me” time). 
  • Remove yourself from energy suckers. Surround yourself with people who shower you with positive energy.
  • Do not strive for perfection, aim for excellence.
  • Identify your strongest skills and assets as an endurance athlete. Bring this confidence with you to race day.

Sleep and performance
Sleep is crucial for athletic performance. Poor sleep can negatively affect your performance, appetite, food choices and mood. 
  • Don't be a rushed traveler. Give yourself plenty of (extra) time to get to your race environment and adjust to your new environment. 
  • Travel with your favorite pillow case, sheet or blanket for a more comfortable sleeping environment at your home away from home. 
  • As soon as you arrive to your race destination, start a routine that will help you perform well on race day. Set a bed time ritual like reading a book (non-electronic) or listen to soothing music with dimmed light to help with sleeping. 
  • Keep napping to less than one-hour/day, minimize caffeine in the afternoon and be consistent with your sleep schedule on race week.
  • If you have too much on your mind before bed, write down your thoughts on a piece of paper to give your brain a well-needed, 8-hour thinking break.
Eat smart
Despite meticulous food planning and hand-washing, an upset stomach (or worse) is common on race week - especially when you are racing under pressure. Unfamiliar foods, as well as unknown food handling/cooking, can have unwanted consequences on your gut. Additionally, it’s important to recognize what foods digest the easiest in your gut in the 48 hours before the race. 
  • If eating out, communicate to your server about special dietary requests.  If possible, shop local (or bring your own food) and prepare your own meals.
  • Reduce the risk of traveling constipation/bloating by drinking plenty of water, consuming your normal diet (within reason) and moving your body as much as possible. Warm water, tea or coffee can simulate the bowels but don't overdo it on caffeine. 
  • Taper your “healthy” high-fiber diet on the 48 hours before race day. Reduce the quantity of foods that create frequent bowel movements (ex. fiber), minimize foods that may irritate your gut on race day (ex. dairy, fructose, sweeteners like xylitol and sorbitol, artificial flavorings) and control portions of foods that require a lengthy digestion (high fat).
  • Resist buying and eating food on a whim. Identify the foods that have worked well in your diet around your “key” workouts/races and continue to enjoy those foods on race week.
  • Research the cuisine/grocery options at your final destination and plan in advance for your grocery list as well as any restaurants that will cater to your dietary pre-race needs. Enjoy an unfamiliar new meal/food after your race. 
  • Stay well-hydrated to help with dehydration and the digestion of food. 


Early season racing mindset

In just a few weeks, we will be heading down south to Haines City for our first triathlon of 2018.

It's been seven looooong months since we raced in a triathlon and I can't help but think about that early season racing mindset. I forgot what it feels like to push through the low moments, to make the mind work with the body, to be very uncomfortable, to embrace the unknown and to put a lot of mental energy into everything that is needed to have a great swimbikerun in a competitive setting.

Racing is a skill. It requires practice and time to perfect.

The best part of an early season race is to get back into the racing environment, dust off the rust and to test yourself.......without pressure to be at your best. Because racing is something that you get better at the more you do it, early season races provide a great opportunity to figure out what works best for you without any pressure on the outcome/final results.

As an athlete, it's easy to feel pressure to perform at every race or to achieve a goal time/place, but it's much better to make mistakes, welcome the unknown and to learn about yourself in a race setting in an early season race so that come later on in the season, when you have more accumulated experience and fitness, you can really showcase your abilities.

An early season race is great for the following: 
  • Gain experience/feedback/data for yourself and for your coach. 
  • Try something that you may not be comfortable with in a more important race. 
  • Practice your pre-race rituals and warm-up strategies.
  • Work on your mental skills, especially as it relates to pre-race anxiety, nerves and stress. 
  • Practice your race week and race day nutrition and hydration (if it doesn't go well, reach out to a Board Certified Sport RD for help). 
  • Try out clothing and gear to see what works (or doesn't work) for you. 
  • Remind yourself what it takes to suffer/dig deep/overcome low moments. 
  • Remind yourself how much you love racing (and the training that is needed to feel prepared come race day). 
  • Play with different efforts and racing/pacing strategies. 
  • Celebrate being outside, especially if you have been training indoors all winter.  
  • Gain motivation for future workouts/races.
  • Learn lots about yourself in a race setting. 
Because nothing will simulate a race environment like being in the race environment, remove the stress to be at your best at your early season race. Rather than going into an early season race with high or low expectations, remove immense pressures to be fast and instead, arrive to your race with the freedom to race without expectations.

The first race of the season is generally a test of your current fitness without any should have, would have, could have thoughts. Let the race give you feedback about your current strengths and limiters as it's absolutely not a predictor how the rest of the season will go or a test of your athletic worthiness.