Essential Sports Nutrition


Assessing your current relationship with food

It's getting closer to that time of the year. New Year diet fads. 

The start of the year (after the holiday season) is typically the time when people begin to "finally" get serious about the diet, in hopes of improving health, changing body composition, losing weight or getting rid of unhealthy lifestyle habits. While there's nothing wrong with a New Year Resolution, there's the tendency to take the wrong approach to changing your eating habits. Your old diet gets demolished instead of making a small renovation.

You may be wondering why I am bringing up this topic right now in early November. Well, relationships with food are complex, especially for athletes. Whether the focus is on health, appearance or performance (or a combination of all three), focusing too much on your diet and/or body image can become harmful to your health. There's never a wrong time to talk about your current relationship with food and the body.

I love my diet. It's easy, sustainable and it works for me and my health, performance and lifestyle. I'm comfortable with my style of eating, I feel comfortable eating around others and I can take my typical style of eating anywhere in the world. While I have standards as to what I want to put in my body most of the time (which makes up my "typical" diet), I never find my diet complicated or unappetizing. 

While you may feel the same way, many athletes feel the exact opposite. 

Eating is stressful. There's great fear, guilt, worry, confusion and anxiousness when it comes to food. There's inconsistency and uncertainty.  Although some athletes and fitness enthusiasts have yet to master a style of eating that is sustainable, healthy and performance enhancing, there's a large group of active individuals (from all fitness levels) who have a very unhealthy relationship with food and the body. Food is the enemy.

With a complicated relationship with food, there's the tendency to become obsessed with one style of eating that brings great concerns, guilt or fears when it comes to food. There's often something "extreme" with how these individuals choose to eat, constantly thinking about food as good or bad, right or wrong.  Interestingly, many athletes see food as the problem that needs fixing when in reality, the relationship with food and the body are the problems.

Your diet should provide adequate nutrients and calories to support consistent training, optimal health and recovery and should also help to reduce your risk for disease and illness. To achieve this style of eating, you should not have to spend an excessive amount of your time or energy thinking, stressing and planning your diet. Going to great extremes to follow a rigid style of eating may increase the risk for physical and mental health issues, disordered eating or an eating disorder.

I find that the individuals who fall victim to New Year diet fads tend to have a very poor relationship with food and the body. These individuals gravitate toward diet fads in order to feel control and gain a sense of power through an ultra-focused, extremely rigid style of eating.  In a culture that brings a bombardment of messages about how your athletic body should look and the many different extreme styles of eating that are marketed toward athletes, it's important to remind yourself that you don't need to make an extreme change in your eating habits to fix or resolve yourself to be healthier, happier or better athlete. 

Your inability to stick to a New Years diet has nothing to do with your level of self control. Diets don't work. More so, any program or style of eating that is extreme or rigid, comes with risks to your physical and mental health.

Although dieting and diet fads will always be part of our culture, this is one trend that you shouldn't be part of. Before the holiday season, take some self-care time to assess your current relationship with food and your body. Realize the impact that your past, current and future eating patterns have on your mental, emotional and physical health. Chronic restricted eating, habitual dieting, eliminating food groups or certain foods, ignoring physical hunger, compulsive/binge eating and food obsessions demonstrate a complicated relationship with food. 

Let go of the need to be, look and to eat perfect. Stop comparing yourself to a past version of yourself or to someone else. Don't make eating difficult. To love and care for your body, you need to fuel, nourish, thank and honor it for a lifetime. Now is a great time to start.


Ironman Florida Race Report - '19 Kona Bound

While the alarm was early at 3:45am, the recent time change made it only feel like 4:45am. Karel was quick to get out of bed for his morning espresso, followed by his typical pre-race/workout bowl of oatmeal. He ate standing to help with digestion and shortly after, he went for a quick jog around the neighborhood to get his digestive tract flowing even more. After getting all of his gear organized, it was time to drive to the race venue around 4:50am.

It was a quick 2 mile drive from the Southern Dunes property to the Lake Eva community center/park (race venue). I drove Karel (and our other coach Joe) and dropped them off near the transition area. Campy and I then drove around to find parking. Thankfully, Haines City does a great job opening almost every parking lot available for their triathlon races. After parking in the lot of a pharmacy on 5th street, Campy and I walked to the transition area to wait for Karel after he pumped up his tires. The weather was perfect as it was cool, but not too hot and certainly not too cold. After collecting Karel’s pump, I dropped it off back at the car and then went to the Lake Eva pool to meet up with Karel and Joe. The pool was open Wed-Sat of race week (9am-1pm) and on race morning from 4:30-6:30am. I was surprised to not see more athletes take advantage of the pool for a pre-race warm-up. We are big advocates of getting in the water before a triathlon, especially when it’s a wetsuit swim (as it was for this race as the temperature of the water was around 73-74 degrees). Campy and I hung out by the pool area until Karel and Joe were finished with their warm-up swim (about 10 minutes) and then I collected their bags to drop back off at the car.

Nearing the race start at 6:30am, Campy and I made our way on to the beach/sand area by the swim exit (two loop swim with an out-of-the-water transition to the second loop) just in time to see the athletes start the rolling swim. 

2.4 mile swim
Although an interesting course layout for a swim, the lake was very well-marked with buoys. Also, Ironman did something that I had never ever seen before – there was a timing “mat” in the middle of the swim! While a great idea to capture mid-swim splits for each loop, the set-up caused a lot of mayhem as there were two large buoys making a tunnel for athletes to swim through, with the timing system above the water. As you can imagine, place 2000 athletes in a small lake and have hundreds of them try to swim through the tunnel at the same time, there’s going to be some major congestion.
Karel started with the sub-1 hour group for the rolling swim start and within 30 seconds, he was in the water. The first loop was rather uneventful for Karel and he felt comfortable in the water with a strong but sustainable effort. Karel exited the water around 29 minutes before re-entering the water. However, at this point, the rolling start was nearing the end and the lake was filled with 2000+ athletes. Certainly, this caused Karel to slow down a lot. While he felt comfortable with his effort, there was a lot of changes with speed and direction to navigate through all the other athletes. At one point, a lady grabbed Karel’s ankle and yanked it so hard that he lifted his head to turn around to see what was going on. The lady yelled “you kicked me!” Karel couldn’t help but laugh. Who knows if Karel really kicked her as it wasn’t on purpose. Karel has been in that position before where it can be scary, exhausting and frustrating to be swum over so he is always sympathetic when he swims in the open water and tries to be as nice as he can with the slower swimmers. 

Although the second lap was much slower for Karel, he swam very well on a very technical swim course. He exited the water in 1 hour and 1 minute and then made his way to the gear bags in the tennis courts. 

As a last-minute Ironman venue change, there were some logistically issues with this new venue. One of them being the layout of the transition area. The gear bags and changing tents were on the far other side to the location of the bikes. With no carpet on the ground, athletes had to run through the park area on chipseal, which was a bit uncomfortable for the feet. Karel wasn’t complaining as he was just thankful to be racing but it wasn’t the most pleasant of run from swim to bike. After a quick transition, Karel ran to his bike to start the bike portion. 

112 mile bike
As Karel was finishing the second loop of the swim, I made my way to the very start of the bike course on one of the rolling hills by the school (near the lake). I was accompanied by Eedee (who was cheering on her hubby Josh, who we coach) as well as our athletes Stephanie (who was volunteering later in the day). When I saw Karel, I was relieved that he didn’t tell me that his shifting wasn’t working (like in Kona) so that was a huge relief. I quickly yelled to him that he was 8th out of T1 (he moved up two places just in transition) and 7.5 minutes down from 1st place. I felt like this information would be most beneficial to him at the moment so that he knew where he was positioned at the start of the bike.
After spending the next 30 minutes cheering for athletes, I went back to our rental home (with Campy and Stephanie) for a quick breakfast (well, second breakfast for the day). Nearing 9:30am, we drove about 7 miles down the road (backroads) to park on the bike course so that we could cheer for all the athletes, especially for Karel, Joe, Josh and Dave (our athletes racing). We positioned ourselves around mile 60 on the bike course so that we could see the athletes on their second loop. Since there was a timing mat at miles 56, this would give me updated results for Karel and Joe (they were both trying for a Kona slot).
Karel felt good for most of the first loop on the bike. The layout of the bike course is nice in that it is flat and fast for the first half of each loop and then comes the rollers. There’s nothing too technical or hilly about the course but you do need to be an active participant in your effort on the second half of each loop. Karel took some risks on the first loop to stay competitive in his age group but after he stopped at special needs to grab 2 more bottles (a total of 5 INFINIT bottles on the bike, a few bites of a Bonk Breaker bar and a few sips of Gatorade near the end), his back/hips started to bother him (nothing abnormal as it’s an ongoing issue for Karel on the bike) which forced him to ease up with his effort. 

At mile 56, Karel was still in 7th place so his position didn’t really change much in the first half of the bike. However, at this point he was 16 minutes down from the leader. We assumed there would be 3 Kona slots but Karel always likes to be as safe as possible so he was more focused on 2nd place. I told Karel where he was in his age group as he stretched his back by standing up out of the saddle. I purposely positioned myself on the one “hill” on the flat section of the bike course so I’d have more time to yell at Karel (which was only a matter of seconds). As Karel was nearing the next timing mat at 83 miles, we made our way back to the race venue. Throughout the time when we were cheering for the athletes and had the music blasting from my car. As we drove back to the venue, Campy had enough and he was ready for a nap. Ironman spectating is so exhausting! 

I continued to check the tracker and by 83 miles, Karel moved back a spot to 8th place (which was still good position wise) but he was now 20 minutes and 24 seconds behind 1st place in his age group (18 minutes from second). By the end of the bike, Karel was back in 7th but moved back to 24 minutes behind the leader.

As usual, Karel had a super fast transition (Karel says that nothing good happens in transition so get in and out). Because the changing tents were inside, Karel welcomed the air conditioning as it was getting extremely hot and humid out. He didn't want to leave. Although the forecast called for showers in the afternoon, the rain seemed to have other plans as the sun was popping out from behind the clouds.

26.2 mile run
Our assistant coach Joe had passed Karel near the end of the bike and made his way out on the run course right in front of Karel. It was really cool to see Joe and Karel both together. Karel gave Joe a few wise words as he passed him in the first ½ mile of the run.
Although Karel has proven to be untouchable on the run as that’s where he always moves up and runs down his competition (typically with one of the top runs overall), I was unsure of what his body would be able to do just three weeks after Kona.
The positive of this new run course was that there were a lot of timing mats. The downside was that there was a lot of turns. 

Picture by Stephanie G. 
And if you were wondering about the blue KT tape on Karel's knee, he had a phantom taper "pain" going into the race so he taped up his knee. Not pictured is Karel's back/hips all taped up with KT tape. 

To start the run, athletes ran out by the school (on the bike course) and then back to the park to start three loops around the lake. Within each loop, there was a lot of out and backs, turns and hills. 
I was hoping to give Karel good news as he left transition area but all I could tell him was that the other guys didn’t look as good as him (not entirely true but I wanted him to hear something positive).
I made my way near mile 4 of the run course so I could give Karel more updates as I would be able to see him three times over a short period of time. At this point, he was still in 7th and still just under 22 minutes down from 1st place. This was not the typical run race that Karel was use to as he can typically make up a lot of time in the first few miles but the first guy had a huge lead over Karel.

When I saw Karel, he didn’t look good. While he always has good form when he runs, it looks a lot more forced and labored than what I am use to. As Karel ran by, he told me that he didn’t feel good and he wanted to quit. I’ve never heard Karel tell me that before. I told him that he is still moving up and gaining time and to walk the aid stations and to just break the run into small sections. While I know that we all suffer at some point in the marathon of an Ironman, I felt so bad for Karel that his suffering started so early in the run.

Pic by Stephanie Gibson
Although Karel made up little time in the first few miles of the run, by mile 5.6 (timing mat), enough progress was being made for me to (attempt to) convince Karel that all this suffering would be worth it. When I saw Karel again, he had moved up to 6th place in his age group. Although the gap to 1st place was still around 21 minutes, it was only 13 minutes to second. At least 2nd was a better probability than 1st and would still give him a confirmed Kona slot.  When I saw Joe a little later, I gave him the exciting news that he was in 6th in his age group. Although Joe was having some breathing issues to start, he walked it out and got it under control and only got stronger as the run progressed (Joe did IM Chatty and just registered for IMFL 2 weeks before the race – with our permission of course 😉

After Karel ran by, I made my way to the other side of the run loop so that I could give him more updated information. During this time, Karel could see his competition running ahead of him….far far ahead. It was so mentally defeating for him, especially since he was already so mentally and physically exhausted. But he tried to stay positive and reminded himself that anyone can run “well” for 5 miles. Then he told himself “anyone can run well for 10 miles”. He was speaking about his competition because he was not making up much time on them so he was just hoping that his effort was good enough to keep him moving up (even though with every foot strike, he was hurting more and more).

By 8.7 miles, Karel moved into 4th place. Now we are talking! Still nearly 18 minutes down from first, he was only 5 minutes from 3rd. I knew that if Karel could hear that he was nearing that Kona slot, he would feel like this was all worth it. By 10.9 miles, Karel was in 3rd and had put 10 minutes into the competition. He was still 15 minutes first and 13 minutes behind second but the competitors behind him were all slowing down. Karel needed to know that no one was chasing him because he didn’t much energy to give to speed up. He was just trying as hard as he could to not slow down too much.

At 11.9 miles, a pass had been made by the 2nd place guy in Karel’s age group, which then put him into the lead. When I saw him running, he looked really good and he was holding about the same pace as Karel. I noticed that the 2nd place guy was slowing down a bit so this made the race even more exciting. Many athletes were walking as it was a very tough course on a very hot and humid day.  

Hang in there Campy! Just ten more miles to go!

By 15.5 miles, Karel was 12 minutes behind first and still running about the same pace as the first place guy in his age group. However, Karel was beginning to close the gap to second (8 minutes behind). With 10 miles still left in the race, Karel could potentially move himself into 2nd! I made my way to the back side of the loop so that I could give Karel another update before he did an out and back section before making his way to the “big hill” before heading back toward the race venue. Nearing 17.4 miles, Karel had closed the gap to second to 6 minutes and now first place was slowing down!

Karel was really struggling but his competition was struggling more. I knew he’d be seeing the medical tent at the finish line for he was digging so deep. I think Karel could have cried at any moment because he was hurting so bad. As he made his way up the hill to the aid station, he walked through the aid station and he told me that he is struggling to take in nutrition (it felt like everything he took in was in his belly) and is barely surviving. I knew he was struggling so I just told him to “one more loop and you’ll be done.” Karel walked about 15 aid stations throughout the marathon for it was the only way he could mentally break down the race. Even in one section where there were 3 aid stations within 1 mile, he walked each one of those. 

By 22.7 miles, Karel was less than a minute from 2nd and he was running faster than everyone in his age group (including first place). I knew that once Karel passed 2nd, he would get a bit of a lift, especially since he only had a few more miles to go. I texted one of my athletes (Julie) who was working the last aid station of the loop (on the hill) to tell Karel that he was just a few minutes away from 1st!

By 24.6 miles, the pass had been made and Karel moved his way from 7th AG to first. As we always say, it’s not about being fast but being great at not slowing down. Karel was keeping up with his planned nutrition with his Naked Running belt and also stopped at special needs on the 2nd loop (you could stop at any of the loops but only once) to ensure that he was still giving his body energy all the way to the end. He also used coke and water and lots and lots of ice/water from the aid stations. Karel felt like the cloud cover that came on the last loop really helped him feel a bit more alive again since it had been so hot and humid for the first 2 loops of the run.

I made my way to the finish line with Campy and I couldn’t wait to see Karel run down the finish line and rest his exhausted body. With less than 1 mile to go, Karel secured his first place AG by nearly 2 minutes. As Karel was getting closer to the finish, there was a guy just in front of him. Karel got closer to him and saw that he was not in his age group and just let him go. Karel had nothing more to give – not even a 200 yard effort to try to move up one place overall.

As the 6th finisher across the line, it was a little quiet with spectators but Mike Riley gave Karel a wonderful announcement “Karel Sumbal, living the American Dream!” as he called him an Ironman.

Our athletes Stephanie and Kevin caught Karel at the finish line (volunteering) and then quickly took him to medical (I expected it). Karel didn’t take any IV’s but just needed to be cooled off and rehydrated with sport drink. All Karel wanted to do was take a nap but the medical staff kept putting ice on Karel. The medical staff allowed me and Campy to sit in the finisher area by the tent until Karel was able to wobble his way out about 20 minutes later.
During this time, a rainbow had popped up over the medical tent. It wasn't too long later (a few hours) when the sky opened up and it was pouring rain. 

Karel couldn’t believe what he did. He had no idea of his run time and he was shocked that he had the 2nd fastest run of the day. After the race, Karel told me that he is done with Ironman and never wants to do another one. He said during the race he was having so many conversations with himself about how great of an idea it would be to just focus on the half IM distance next year. Well that quickly changed after a night of sleep as he took his Kona slot for 2019. I’m super excited for us to share our 2nd Ironman World Championship together in October. 

 A big congrats to our athletes Joe, Josh and Dave who all finished as well as to all the other IMFL (Haines City edition) finishers!

2.4 mile swim: 1:01.36
T1: 4:28
112 mile bike: 5:02.58

T2: 3:58
26.2 mile run: 3:15.15
Overall:  9:28.14, 1st AG (40-44), Kona qualified.
6th Overall.
2nd fastest run.


Ironman Florida - Quick recap

We all know that athlete who seems to bounce back remarkably well from a race, only to show up to the start line at another race just a few weeks later. and make it look so easy. You sometimes have to question if that athlete is superhuman.

Earlier this year, Karel wanted to experiment with the idea of racing two Ironmans "back to back" - within three weeks. However, this wasn't just any two Ironman events. After Ironman Austria in early July, Karel's big race of the year was the 2018 Ironman World Championship. A lot of mental and physical energy was dedicated to that race as it requires a very healthy and strong body and mind to tolerate the race day conditions with the best of the best on the start line. However, due to Karel's bike mechanical issue of riding (most of) the entire bike course on one light gear, let's just say that Karel left all of his mental and physical energy on the big island.

In the days leading up to IMFL, Karel didn't feel any lingering issues from the previous Ironman and he was overall healthy. But there was still the big uncertainty of what his body would do during the race, especially the later miles of the run. In the 48-72 hours before the race, when Karel begins to start his visualization process, Karel was unable to mentally get into that familiar place where he was ready and willing to suffer for 140.6 miles (which is a huge part of Ironman racing, specifically at the level by which the top AG athletes race). While he didn't make any excuses before the race, the unknown left him wondering what will happen to his body and mind as the race progresses.

While the focus, mission and goal for participating in this late season Ironman was for Karel to try to get a Kona slot to the 2019 Ironman World Championship, this was a big experiment with a lot of unknowns and what if's.

Perhaps it works for some athletes but for Karel, the Kona Ironman was still in his body and mind. Karel suffered more than he has ever suffered before at IMFL and it was unfamiliar and unwelcomed. The low moments came earlier than ever before and stayed far too long. Throughout the run, Karel expressed to me many times that he wanted to quit. Never has he voiced that to me before in an Ironman. Sure, we all want to retire from the sport of triathlon at some point in an Ironman but Karel could not escape the mental and physical exhaustion that he was experiencing on the 2nd half of the bike and throughout the entire run. The pain was just not worth it to him.

Knowing that Karel was not injured and he was in overall good health, I made sure he didn't give up. I used every trick that I had to keep him mentally in it, even though his body was beyond done. Because he was struggling to shut up those negative voices in his head telling him that the pain and suffering was not worth "it", I made sure that he knew that it would all be worth it.

Without going into too much detail (I'll save that for the actual race report), Karel was in a very unique position where he was hurting so bad but he was running fast enough (compared to his competitors) that to an outsider, one would think that he wasn't hurting. 

As I mentioned above, for most Ironman athletes, slowing down, stopping and quitting often becomes a great idea at some point in an Ironman race. It happens to everyone, regardless of fitness level. But as an athlete, you are expected to have these hardships, struggles and very low moments. That's racing. Although IMFL was an experiment with a mission, I knew Karel would be so upset if he quit the race. Even though quitting would stop the hurt, it was not the outcome that he would be able to live with (even though it seemed like the best idea ever to him at the time).

As an athlete, you need to learn lessons. It's often the hardest ones that help you become a better athlete. Unless health is compromised, giving up teaches you nothing. You can't learn anything by throwing in the towel when things aren't going your way. 

The Ironman/140.6 mile distance is a beast of a race. It's incredibly tough - mentally and physically. There are plenty of obstacles to overcome that no amount of training can prepare you for. Every race is different. You may have a plan but there's a good chance that you'll need to deviate from that plan. After a combined 26 Ironman races, Karel and I have learned a lot from the 140.6 mile distance.

Although Karel felt emotionally and physically depleted for nearly half of the race, deep inside he had the right knowledge and tools to get himself to the finish line from his previous races and lessons learned. While it wasn't easy, Karel persevered and all that suffering was worth "it".

2.4 mile swim: 1:01.36
T1: 4:28
112 mile bike: 5:02.58
T2: 3:58
26.2 mile run: 3:15.15
Overall:  9:28.14, 1st AG (40-44), Kona qualified. 6th Overall. 2nd fastest run of the day.

So happy that Karel will be joining me at the 2019 Ironman World Championship start line. I was a little worried after he “retired” from the sport of triathlon during IMFL on Sundays. 

Race report to come soon......