Essential Sports Nutrition


An overlooked aspect of triathlon

Fitter, faster, stronger, leaner, more powerful, improved endurance. 

These are among the top words that triathletes will often use to describe what needs to happen in training over the course of a season in order to be more athletically successful. While structured, periodized training can help an athlete develop sport specific fitness, it's especially important to have sport specific skills. If proper skills are not practiced regularly in training, you may struggle to reach your athletic potential on race day - despite putting in the physical work.

Most triathletes are great at working out but when it comes to skill specific work, it's either overlooked, pushed aside or not valued. With an infatuation with metrics, distance and intensity, many triathletes overly obsess with gaining fitness only to find that skills don't match fitness. Without a proper skill set, there's a lot left on the table when it comes to performing at your best on race day. This is why it's important for triathletes to appreciate all the little things that can help you excel on race day. It's not just about arriving fit and not always does the fittest athlete win the race.

Earlier this week our athlete Melanie traveled 8 hours for a 2-day private training camp in Greenville, SC. We are lucky to have a perfect playground for outdoor training and suitable weather almost all year long. We have been coaching Melanie for nearly three years and it's been incredible to see her progress. Three years ago she was afraid to ride outside in her aerobars. The bike was major weakness. Now she is impressing us with her great bike handling skills, terrain management and new cycling strength. During her camp we worked out a lot of important bike skills and put those skills to the test with 2 x 2 hour, hill focused, technical rides.

Similarly in the pool, we saw an athlete who once found it exhausting to swim, to now being able to complete swim workouts with great swimming posture. And now she can better run to her potential.

Because there's still plenty of room for growth, Melanie came to us for the opportunity to continue to work on her triathlon skills. She does the work at home but to improve, it can't just be about the training hours. For when she trains at home (and races), she wants to make sure her skills match her level of fitness.

Sadly, for many athletes this is not the case. When was the last time you practiced race specific skills in a training session? For example, let's walk through the skills that you will use on triathlon race day:
  • Having experience in race day gear/equipment
  • Day before race day nutrition
  • Race morning nutrition 
  • Visualization 
  • Warming up
  • Entering/exiting the water
  • Sighting
  • Swimming next to other triathletes
  • Transitioning from swim to bike
  • Mounting/dismounting your bike
  • Changing your gears
  • Passing other riders
  • Taking in sport nutrition throughout the duration of your ride
  • Changing a flat tire/dealing with mechanical issues
  • Working through the highs and lows of racing
  • Riding in the wind
  • Climbing/descending skills
  • Cornering/u-turns
  • Paying attention to your surroundings on an unfamiliar course
  • Transitioning from bike to run
  • Pace management
  • Terrain management
  • Taking in sport nutrition throughout the duration of your run
  • Working through GI issues/side stitches
  • Being able to maintain good form under fatigue
  • Running on different surfaces
  • Mental skills used throughout the race
These are just a handful of "skills" that you will use on race day. If your primary focus is checking off a workout on your training plan (however/wherever you can complete it), obsessing over metrics, trying to make "race weight" or only focusing on distance completed, there's a good chance that you are not working on your skills. And let's remember that nerves, anxieties, worries, competition and pressure will make it much more difficult to perform at your best - with great skills - even if on paper, your fitness is exactly where it needs to be on race day.

I encourage you to always look for ways that you can work on your race day skills in training (ex. a skills camp). Don't assume that come race day, everything will magically work out. If you have race day worries, fears or anxieties, make the effort to work on your race day skills to gain confidence (and safety) for race day.

When you are in a competitive environment, what should be a simple task such as changing a flat tire, putting on your bike helmet, making a u-turn on the bike, grabbing a sport bottle, sighting in the open water and staying calm around others can be extremely difficult. It's not that these basic skills are difficult to learn but there's a big difference between learning a skill and performing the skill consistently well when you are racing, under fatigue, not thinking at your best, feeling pressure and in a competitive scenario.

Race day readiness is much more than being fit. Checking off workouts or reaching race weight means absolutely nothing if you can't execute sport specific skills in performance situations.

Are you working on your race day skills in training?


Don't fear dietary fat

In our body-obsessed society, there’s a lot of confusion on dietary fat.
“Fat makes you fat” has controlled the population mindset for many decades.

Thankfully, nutrition research has evolved to prove that dietary fat, in the right amounts and types, is important to a healthy functioning body. In my varied and nutritionally-balanced diet, you'll find olive oil, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, 2% dairy, cheese and peanut butter. Yum, yum, yum. 

Due to its slow digestion time, fat may contribute to satiety, delaying the onset of hunger pangs, cravings and overeating. Fat also acts as an energy reserve, provides fat soluble vitamins, supplies essential fatty acids, offers thermal insulation and protects vital organs. 

Because it’s easy to overeat on delicious high-fat cakes, cookies and ice cream, it’s important to prioritize fat from natural sources, primarily plants.  Bottom line: there’s no need to fear fat in your diet.

So what about the Keto diet? 

On the surface, this high-fat, low carb diet sounds attractive, especially with success stories boasting about a drop in appetite, rapid weight loss and improved endurance. In a ketogenic diet, ~75% of calories come from fats, 20% from protein and ~ 5% from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are restricted to less than 50g per day, which looks like one cup milk and 1.5 cup cereal.

Under normal physiological conditions, glucose is the brain’s major energy source. Under ketosis, the body must find an alternative energy source to maintain normal brain cell metabolism since it's no longer obtaining glucose from carbohydrates. Fatty acids are broken down in the liver to produce ketones, which then travel to the brain to be used as the new fuel source. The ketogenic diet was originally developed as a drug-free way to treat epilepsy.

Although current literature has shown metabolic adaptions from a high-fat, carbohydrate restricted diet, the performance and health benefits are not consistent enough to encourage this style of eating for athletes. Implications include impaired metabolism, hypoglycemia, increased sickness/injury, hormonal disturbance, dehydration, disordered eating, restless sleep, nutrient deficiencies, reduced capacity to utilize carbs, and central nervous system fatigue. 

To learn more about dietary fat and how to include it (along with carbohydrates and protein) in your healthy and performance-enhancing diet to support your fitness, health and body composition goals, you'll find a lot of easy-to-read info in my new book Essential Sports Nutrition. 

Because my line of work focuses specifically on sport/athletes, I wanted to pass along a very informative read from a friend of mine, Jenna Braddock (and fellow Registered Dietitian) who wrote an excellent and well-researched post on the Keto diet that I feel will help answer your questions on the Keto diet. 

The Keto Diet - questions answered


How to deal with a bad workout

I always feel grateful and thankful for the ability to train like I do but sometimes I have bad workouts.

Last week I had a string of three days of going into my training sessions feeling energized, positive and excited to train, but when it came to the workout itself, I felt blah. Thankfully, I got out of my funk and followed it up with three quality, feel-great-days of training. Ups and downs are part of training so it would be a mistake to assume that every workout needs to be amazingly awesome or easy to complete.

As an athlete, it's assumed that you have high expectations for yourself and you probably want to do well (or impress your coach) every time that you train. But you need to realistic that not all of your workouts will be great. Plus, you can't let a workout put you in a bad mood. Progress is not about always having perfect or great workouts. Many times, progress is not something that is felt on a day-to-day basis. As much as we want every workout to feel great or to go smoothly, that's not the case. Off days are part of being an athlete.

An off day or bad workout is bound to happen at least a handful of times each month. It would be a mistake to give up every time you don't feel good. Instead, remind yourself of that there is no such thing as a failed workout. Learn something from every workout. Could there be a reason why you are struggling or is it a planned and expected part of the training process?

Whenever you feel off, assess the situation with an open (and not overly critical) mind. What could be contributing to this session that is not going well? Hard previous training sessions, poor sleep, stress at work, nutrition that has been identifying the factors that could be contributing to your rough and tough training session, you can make adjustments so that the same issue doesn't happen again.

Knowing that you will often have to adjust your race day plan in order to reach the finish line, change your mindset so that you can still get something from the workout. Perhaps you forget about hitting a certain pace and focus only on good technique. Maybe you just celebrate the fact that you had the motivation to start the workout. Enjoy doing something with your body that helps you remove stress. If the workout just doesn't make sense to complete, even with adjustments, call it a day without guilt or judgement.

Lastly, keep a good attitude. As soon as you begin to give-in to your bad attitude or frustrating thoughts, you are no longer present in your workout and those thoughts may spiral out of control, into other non-related areas of your life. Accept that you are having an off day and that this one workout doesn't define you (or your future athletic success) as an athlete.

My good friend Dr. G (Gloria) once told me that training for an event is similar to building a house. Some days you will get a lot done whereas other days, you only have time (or energy) to put a few nails in the wall. Either way, you are still building the house. Above all, don't take the good, ok and great workouts for granted. Make sure to celebrate your small victories and always thank your body for what it allows you to do....even when you aren't feeling so great while training.