Essential Sports Nutrition


My thoughts on culture and body image

I'd like to ask you a personal question....

Over the past day, how many times have you been called fat - to your face?
Over the past week, how many times has someone told you that you need to lose weight?
Over the past month, how many times has someone commented on your body, in a negative way?
Over the past year, how many times have you been told by someone that you will always be unhappy until you change your body composition?

I'm hoping that the answer is never for if anyone is commenting about your body, I'd think twice about the role of that person in your life and how he/she is adding value to your life. Certainly, there are exceptions for health/medical reasons regarding body composition changes. 

Now I'd like to ask yourself the same questions but now that someone is you. How many times over the past day, week, month or year(s) have you told yourself that you are fat, you need to lose weight, commented on your body or believed you will only be happy when you change your body composition?

Sadly, far too many people struggle with negative self-talk regarding body image. If nobody is saying these things to your face, where are these thoughts coming from? Why do you feel so badly about the way that you look?

As someone who strives to always send positive messages about body image (especially relating to athletes and sport performance), it makes me so sad that so many individuals see body image as a reflection of self-worth. That is, how you look holds so much importance in your life.

What is body image? It's how you visually perceive your body, how you feel about your physical appearance, how you think and talk about your body and your sense of how other people view your body.

In America (and many other parts of the world),  your body image has a lot to do with how you feel you measure up when compared to the societal or media-supported norms. This is often where those negative thoughts come from. When you see someone who is lean, you feel fat. When someone looks pretty, you feel ugly. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the media (TV, magazines, Facebook, Instagram, bloggers, movies, commercials, etc.) constantly reminds you how you should look. That is, the more you watch, look at or are entertained by perfect images of others, you feel worse about yourself when you don't fit into societies "perfect" body image.

Now this is no biggie if you can laugh it off and carry on with your day but this is far from the case. The more negative your body image, the greater the risk for extreme weight or body control behaviors such as extreme dieting, extreme exercise habits, cosmetic surgery, eating disorders and using supplements or drugs to change body composition.

Societies connection between thinness or leanness and beauty is around you on a daily basis. Think about all those unrealistic body images that are genetically impossible for most of us to emulate. 6-pack abs, sculpted arms, thin thighs, a flat stomach, a perfectly rounded butt - these are the images that you are told are "ideal"  and normal, desirable and achievable, but in truth, they are unattainable and truthfully, the work needed to achieve this ideal look may not make you happy or healthy in the long run. But, constantly trying to measure up to these images may make you feel worse about yourself - often picking on all of your flaws and self-imposed disgusting features. Sadly, many people believe that having fat on the body is a sign of being ugly, unattractive and unhappy whereas those with a toned, thin or muscular body are happy, successful, body and disciplined.  When did this become the norm?

While the media is a powerful tool that is responsible for determining the standards for beauty, physical attractiveness and what's sexy (or not), it's important to get to a point of body acceptance to improve your quality of life. Even if you desire to change your body composition, make sure you are not comparing yourself to others and realize that your self-esteem and happiness should not depend on how you look. You should want to eat healthy food and exercise not because you need to look a certain way but because a healthy lifestyle allows you to do awesome things with your body. And it's absolutely ok to eat nutrient poor food on occasion (like ice cream and other treats) and to not feel guilty about it!

Over the past few weeks, I've been "living" in a society where I don't speak the language. I don't watch TV, I have limited time on social media, I don't read magazines and I don't watch movies here. The only person I talk to is Karel. Why do I share this with you? Despite already having positive views about my body image, body confidence and cultural diversity go together. In other words, by traveling, interacting with a different culture and experiencing foreign foods, you are no longer confined to the images that overwhelm you on a daily basis. When I see bodies here in Czech, I see all sizes. People express who they are without trying to fit a standard. When we go to the local swimming pool, I see body confident men and women in very little clothing - smiling, running/playing around and having fun. These people look happy and guess what, they aren't lean or skinny. Yes, people can be happy without being fat-free.

While I'm sure there are people here who are dieting to look different, surrounding yourself with people from other cultures may help to lead to a healthier body image. If anything, when you are in a different culture with such diversity, you get to choose what messages you want to listen to - that is, if you can speak the language. If you can't speak the language, no one can tell you what you should or shouldn't look like and that's gotta feel good. You can choose negative self talk or positive talk. You can think about all the negative things about yourself or focus on positive aspects and your individual uniqueness.

Remember, there is no standard or perfect body. You can be thin, medium or heavy built and still have problems or be happy and healthy. You don't need to achieve a certain weight to have a satisfying and enriching life. While I believe in good lifestyle habits to reduce risk for disease and to improve quality of life, "healthy" doesn't have a look or a number on the scale that never changes.

You are unique in your own way. Let go of your personal assumptions about yourself. Stop "following" people who make you feel bad about your image and spend time with people who have a healthy relationship with food, exercise and their body. Enjoy, thank, celebrate and accept who you are. And the next time you travel, consider exploring cultures and cultural traditions that support positive body image and self-esteem. Sadly, the Western culture is hyper focused on dieting and appearance. If only we could be like other cultures and rather than highlighting and commenting on appearances, we could celebrate all bodies.


Czech out what we've been eating

There's been a lot of yumming over the past few weeks! In no particular order, here are some pictures of the meals I've consumed while in Europe (primarily Czech).  If I don't mention who made the dish, it was prepared by Karel's mom. 

Vienna: Chicken curry wrap from Veggiezz with potato fries (all vegan!)

Cucumber salad (made by Karel)

Homemade vegetable soup w/ noodles.

Plnená paprika (stuffed pepper with tomato sauce and rice - all homemade and veggies from the garden)

Meruňkové knedliky - apricot dumplings topped with bread crumbs and farmers cheese

Karbanátky - fried burgers (made with soy meat for me)

Palačinky se špenátem - Spinach stuffed crepes

Pastries from the bakery next to where we are staying. 
Bramboračka - mushroom and potato soup

Šunkofleky - noodles with soy meat (the original recipe is made with ham)

Vanilla and chocolate pudding with fresh fruit and whipped cream (all homemade!)

Fresh bread from the grocery

Koprová omáčka - asparagus sauce with potatoes and eggs

Bramboráky - potato pancakes

Svíčková na smetaně - classic Czech dish (Karel's dish)

Meruňkový táč - Apricot cake

Fresh apricots from the tree. 

Black cherries .


Svíčková na smetaně - classic Czech dish (my dish made with soy meat)

Polévka s játrovými knedlíčky - liver dumpling soup (Czech restaurant)

štěpánská pečeně - Beef and dumplings (Karel's dish, Czech restaurant)
Arugula (rocket) salad


Grapes for wine


Black cherries


Rýžový nákyp - rice pudding with apricots

Vegetable and potato soup 

Apricot cake

Bramborové taštičky s povidly - Potato dumpling with plum jam topped with breadcrumbs and farmers cheese

Bruschetta - restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany

Spinach salad with cheese, walnuts and grapes - restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany 

Pasta - Karel's dish in Frankfurt, Germany

Pizza - Frankfurt, Germany 

čočková polévka - Lentil and vegetable soup

šopský salát - Salad with balkan cheese
And ice cream!


The European food culture

Each time we travel to the Czech Republic, we live like a "local." That's because Karel has all his family in Czech and they have strong family food traditions. While I can only make generalizations from what I have observed while traveling to Europe, I've learned a lot from spending time in Karel's small town of Znojmo, Czech Republic.

A few observations:
  • People walk a lot. It's very easy to get around via walking paths and sidewalks. 
  • It's a burden to go by car when you can easily go by bike, bus or feet. With tight streets, expensive gas prices and little parking, it's much more practical to leave the car at home (if you have a car) and use a more physical way to get to your final destination. 
  • There are no fast food establishments in this town. You can't just pick up a meal or eat on the go. Meals are either consumed at a restaurant or at home. 
  • Children have traditional Czech meals at school for lunch. The kitchen staff begin cooking early in the morning - with real food found in the community from gardens and farms. 
  • If you eat on the go, it's usually a pastry, bread or a small scoop of ice you walk. 
  • Pastries are not overly sweet or drenched in sugar. 
  • Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Many places close for lunch so people can go home and eat.
  • The town shuts down around 5:30-6pm for people to go home and spend time with family. 
  • Grocery shopping is almost a daily occurrence. 
  • People are active - there's a lot of bike riding, walking, bike touring, playing in the local pool, playing on the playgrounds and just overall, being outside. 
As for food, I feel this is an area that I appreciate the most when traveling to Europe. Perhaps it's because I don't understand the language and thus, I don't hear any chatter about dieting, food trends and body image. Maybe this is something to consider for where you live - how much are your dietary patterns influenced by what you hear and read around you? While this can be good if you are wanting to improve your diet, far too many times, individuals follow strict, rigid and extreme styles of eating in an effort to change health, body composition or to improve fitness.

Oddly, America is a food-obsessed culture that is rather unhealthy. Food is cheap, quick and easy to access yet health care is extremely expensive. Interestingly, Europe (or Znojmo - where Karel grew up), is also food-obsessed. But in a much different way.

For example, Karel's mom thinks about our lunchtime meals well in advance. There's a lot of care, attention to detail and passion spent on cooking. A home-cooked meal is not just for a special occasion like a holiday but it's how you eat here - everyday. Again, a generalization but it's also how Karel grew up.  Food is fresh, local and nutritious. People care about what they eat. There are at least half a dozen grocery stores (and probably over a hundred at-home gardens) within a few miles of this small town so it's easy to get food. Meals take time to prepare and it's something that people want to make time for. It seems like people aren't "too busy" to cook. Eating is a time of celebration in the day - not in the year. Much unlike the relationship with food in most of America, people want to stop their day to eat as they are too busy.

Here, it seems like people care about food and there's little (if any) debate over what's good versus bad food. Karel tells me that there's little discussion on fad diets here. While there are processed snacks, candies, ice cream and lots of pasties available, I find there's an overall attitude that this meal or snack is going to be delicious, satisfying and good for you because people here care about ingredients, where they are produced, how they are produced and how things are made. Food is good for the people and the environment. And you can feel it too - when we eat food here (pastries to ice cream), it doesn't feel heavy or uncomfortable in the gut. Maybe it's just our observation but we notice a vast difference in the digestion of food in American vs. Europe - with our Czech meals/snacks digesting so much easier.

With every home-cooked meal that we have consumed in Czech, it is one that is memorable, satisfying and satiating. Essentially, for most American's, food provides calories to survive the day and that's pretty much it. For some people in America, eating is a chore or an afterthought. Far too many people in America don't view food as memorable. If a person does care about food ingredients, there's a tendency to care too much - the point of obsession. Certainly, there are far too many questionable ingredients in America but there are also far too many diet trends, strict styles of eating and to be honest, too many experts endorsing the "best" way to eat. Most often this style of eating doesn't address lifestyle habits like cooking and meal prep but just addresses food without a holistic perspective.

While obesity and health issues are wide-spread around the world, there's something to say about the obvious difference between how American's view food compared to other parts of the world. Clearly, a good relationship with food starts with making time (and appreciating) home-cooked meals and making the time to stop your day to nourish your body, connect yourself with the community/friends/family and celebrate the food that you have the privilege of eating. And don't forget to yum. 


It's time to catch you up!

I can't believe that we have been in Europe for three weeks! We still have a little over two more weeks left of our European race-cation but it's nice to have finally settled into a good daily routine. Karel and I are not "vacation" type of people so although we are trying our best to relax and recharge and do some sight-seeing, it's not practical for us to step away from our coaching and nutrition business not to mention the difficulty we have escaping structure in our daily structure. So here's a little update on the past two weeks......

Post Ironman
The two days after the Ironman were rough. We were sore, tight and did I say sore?..... but every day it got a little better. Luckily, we were both able to sleep fairly well on the night of the Ironman so that helped a lot with recovery. We also did a lot of walking but the 5 hour drive from Klagenfurt back to Karel's hometown of Znojmo, Czech republic was a little uncomfortable. But thanks to some delicious coffee/cappuccino from McD's (yes - I said it, the only time I'll stop at McD's is in Europe for coffee) and some pastries, we survived.

With Karel having his family (aside from his brother) and many of his childhood friends living in Znojmo, we are lucky to have a place to stay anytime we visit. We stayed two nights with his friend (who has whippet puppies!) before heading off on the road again. We were able to get in some work, spend time with Karel's dad and get in a swim workout at the local outdoor pool (long course meters) on Wednesday (43 minutes/2500 meters). Although my body felt low in energy still and a bit stiff, it felt really good to loosen out in a cold pool. Post Ironman, I was still feeling tired during the day and would often get waves of highs and lows, but able to sleep ok during the night.

Ironman Frankfurt
Since we knew that Karel's friend Roman was racing Ironman Frankfurt (the one we stayed with on the first night of our arrival after our lost bikes issue), we couldn't pass up the opportunity to spectate, especially with such a packed pro field. Plus, I've never been to Germany so I thought it was a must-do opportunity.

We woke up really early on Thursday to get to Roman's place (outside of Prague) around 9am. We left his place around noon (after stopping for lunch) and I enjoyed my first trip in a camper van! I had some important work on a project to get done on the computer so that kept me busy for the entire 6+ hour drive. We finally arrived in the late evening and it was nice to stretch out the legs for a walk before heading off to bed - in the camper van. Roman had a hotel room booked in the town of Walldorf (about 15 minutes from Frankfurt) so we stayed in the van for one night and then booked a hotel room for the rest of our stay.

Karel enjoyed hanging out with Roman and the other 3 Czech guys racing the Ironman, whereas I enjoyed being in an Ironman atmosphere. The Frankfurt setting was a bit overwhelming with the Ironman being in a downtown setting so Karel and I were happy that we weren't racing (and only spectating) as it was a little stressful getting around. We also enjoyed having an outsider view as spectators of a European Ironman as our only experience is at Ironman Austria as athletes. It was neat to visit the expo and check out different vendors and to feel the Ironman hype. This certainly helped with the typical post-Ironman blues that are felt after a race (especially a race that doesn't go as planned).

It's crazy how bright it stays at night (it doesn't get dark until after 10pm) and how early it gets bright (well before 5am) where we are so it didn't make for easy sleeping, especially since we need to leave the windows open with no AC (no place where we stay in Europe has AC). But once again, we were ok with this since we were not racing. Luckily in Klagenfurt, we were on the top of a mountain which made it really cool - plus the weather was rather cool in the evenings and mornings which was pleasant.

As for workouts, we went for an open water swim (not at the race venue since that was not open for athletes before the race) at a nearby lake to the race venue. The water was very refreshing so we didn't swim with our wetsuits. It was nice to swim with Karel's Czech friends - although we swam a bit more than them since they were just splashing around and getting use to the water. Karel and I swam about 15 minutes. Afterward, we had a delicious lunch with the group before heading back to the hotel. We got some work done before heading out for our first run post Ironman (five days post race) which was a very easy 22 minute/2.5 mile run around the town. Although the legs were a bit tender, it felt good to run as we had been doing so much sitting and walking.

Karel helped the guys out with their bikes as a few had mechanical issues before the race (day before) and afterward, we headed out (with Roman) for a ride. This was our first ride post Ironman (Sat). Roman joined us for the first 45 minutes or so and then Karel and I went back out - exploring around the airport (on the bike path). We rode for about an hour and fifty minutes with the last 20 minutes just playing around on our bikes (exploring).

It was nice to have the rest of the day to ourselves as we got a lot of work done and could get to bed early before our spectating race day. Oh, I almost forgot! We also figured out how to use the train and we took it to the next town to check out the aquatic center. There was no designated place to swim so we just played around (let's call it pool open water swimming) and laid around before walking the 3 miles back home on the bike/walking path. It's so nice to be able to easily get from town to town (by feet or bike or train/bus).

Karel woke up early (4am) to take the guys to the swim start and then he returned back to the hotel. We stayed in the hotel until around 10am before heading downtown to Frankfurt. We decided to "watch" the first part of the race online on Ironman Now (Facebook) and also get in a short run (22 minutes/2.6 miles). It was a long day of spectating but an awesome experience!

Znojmo, Czech Republic
On Monday (8 days post Ironman), we returned home to Karel's hometown and it felt good to finally be stationed in one place. We are calling Znojmo our "home" for a total of 17 days as we booked a place from a friend of a friend in the city. It's nice for us to be able to spread our stuff and have a work space while still being able to spend time with Karel's family. Our typical routine involves waking up (without an alarm but to the sounds of the chirping birds) around 5:30/6am, getting work done for a few hours (while eating breakfast) and then working out. After our morning workout(s), we eat lunch (prepared by Karel's mom at her place) and then head back to our place to get more work done. Then, it's time for Karel to watch the Tour de France (Czech version of course) with his dad at his place. This is some great quality time for Karel to spend with his dad, talking about what they both love - cycling. Before his dad had hip surgery, he raced until he was almost 74! He will be 78 this year. Since Karel's town is small, it's not uncommon for Karel to run into a childhood friend - someone who he hasn't seen in over 20 years! Karel has been doing a great job translating for me and has only forgotten to switch from Czech to English a few times. I always enjoy grocery shopping in Czech - trying new foods and yumming over some old favorites.

As for workouts - to be honest, my body was still recovering all this past week. Sunday (7/15 - two weeks post Ironman) was the first day that I actually felt like I had energy and my body wasn't suffering. While the workouts we have been doing are unstructured (more like exercise), I have continued to go through highs and lows during the workouts - and throughout the day. But Sunday was the first day I finally felt fully recovered. While it's easy to want recovery to be quicker, I need to respect the time that is needed to heal my body. Even though my race didn't go as planned and I didn't meet my expectations of the race I felt I trained for, I still owe it to my body to let it recover. If anything, because I ran on empty for over 20 miles, this is even more of a reason to get my energy back through lots of nourishment, fuel, hydration, sleep and rest. The blood flow has been good as my muscles feel good and the niggles have gone away. We worked out every day last week except Saturday, which was a planned all-day trip to Vienna which included a lot of walking - it was exhausting to sight-see!

As for workouts this past week (days 8-14 post Ironman)....

Monday: 41 minute swim/2400 long course meters swim
Tuesday: 2:17 hour/37 mile bike in the AM. 35 minute/4.6 mile run in the PM
Wednesday: 2:34 hour/42 mile bike
Thursday: 58 min trail run followed by a 47 minute/3000 long course meters swim
Friday: 2:23 hour/42.5 mile bike followed by a 14 min brick run (1.5 mile)
Saturday: Day off/Vienna
Sunday: 38 min swim/2400 meter long course swim followed by a 61 min/7.6 mile run

And lastly - FOOD!
Oh - we have been eating well here. Fresh, local and homemade. And it's all so delicious! I'll save those pics for the next blog. YUM!