Essential Sports Nutrition


The female athlete and her hormones

Sadly, sport, science and exercise are still dominated by men. For example, women are grossly understudied when it comes to research on exercise physiology and sport performance. A big part of this is due to menstrual cycles. When a female has monthly hormone cycles, there are two phases to consider when it comes to exercise physiology and performance. Although it's well-documented that menstrual disturbances (ex. amenorrhea) can result from chronic energy imbalance (either increased energy expenditure or insufficient caloric intake), most research on performance, nutrition and exercise is done on men - with no menstrual cycles to plan for or fuss over.

So where does this leave female athletes who have to train and race with fluctuating hormones? How many coaches talk to their female athletes about their period and how to manage training and racing during this time of the month? What about the uncomfortable symptoms that female athletes experience before and during their cycle, like bloating, low energy, mood changes and cramping?

Thankfully, there are a few loud voices in the research setting that are letting scientists (and the public) know that you can't study men and then downsize the info to fit women. Among this chatter is the way we look at and talk about menstruation. So what about those of us who have a normal monthly cycle and have to train and race with fluctuating hormones?

As a female athlete, I'm impacted by my monthly cycle on, well a monthly basis. My changing hormones affect me for ~2 weeks of every month. I've gotten my period on race morning, the evening of a race, the day after a race, the day before a race, a week before a race and two weeks after a race. I suffer from a range of physical and mental symptoms every.single.month. As you can image, being a female athlete is not easy - especially when my performance and body is impacted by my hormones on a monthly basis. I'm not one to make excuses but I can honestly say that I perform a whole lot better when I'm in the low hormone phase of my cycle. With this comes an understanding of my body and how my hormones impact my physiology and performance. I'm proud that I have a healthy body that menstruates regularly but I sometimes think that life would be a lot easier as an athlete if my hormones were stable throughout the month.

Although there are tips and strategies to help minimize the effects of fluctuating hormones, I believe that the first step is knowing why things are happening and that you are not alone in the monthly battle (or acceptance) with your hormones.

To continue the conversation and to break down the stigma associated with the impacts of a female athlete and menstruation, here are a few things to consider as it relates to hormones:

GI ISSUES - Have you ever noticed that your stomach feels a bit off around your cycle? When the uterus shed excess lining/tissue due to fluctuations in hormone levels, the rise and fall of estrogen, progesterone and prostaglandins cause changes in the muscles of the GI tract. Digestive issues are very common - like gas, diarrhea, loose stools, constipation and bloating. Progesterone is contributed to constipation whereas estrogen tends to increase GI motility, causing diarrhea or loose stools. This is something to consider when training or racing as your GI system may not be working at its best.
Personal note: In the week before my cycle and the first day or two of my cycle, I typically have to stop to go the bathroom during run workouts, which is something that normally doesn't happen to me when my hormones are low. I've learned to accept this and make sure I plan my running routes accordingly. I've also learned that some foods don't sit well in my belly before my period so I avoid them and find a temporary replacement option. 
THERMAL CONTROL - Once again, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can affect the regulation of fluid balance. An increase in progesterone in the luteal (high hormone) phase can cause an increase in both skin and core temperatures. This can also alter the temperature when sweating begins in a hot environment. Thus depending on the weather, some women are at an increased risk of a heat illness and dehydration during the luteal phase, specifically during prolonged exercise in hot conditions. This can also cause early exhaustion or fatigue due to the strain on the cardio system. This is something to consider when training and racing in the heat.
Personal note: I feel my body temp increase before my cycle. This often affects my sleep. I also have to use more water to cool my body during training and I find that respiration is higher (and so is HR) in the days before my cycle. I increase my sodium by pre-loading before my workouts/races during this time and also make an extra effort to stay up on hydration.

ACHES AND PAINS - Your muscles, tendons and ligaments have receptors for estrogen so it makes sense that during the menstrual cycle, the structure and function of these tissues may change and you may also experience more muscle and joint pain and stiffness. If you have ever noticed that you experience more niggles, aches and pains around your monthly cycle, it could be due to an increase in estrogen causing your tendons and ligaments to loosen. This can cause instability in certain joints, like the pelvis and knee. Be mindful of how and where you train/race throughout your menstrual cycle as tissue instability may lead to injury.
Personal note: This is something that affects me every month - my SI joint gets out of whack so I make sure to see a massage therapist and I also use KT tape on my back. I find that I get more "twisted" with my hips/back so I have to keep up with certain mobility exercises. I also know that I don't recover as well from intense sessions before and during my cycle so I stay diligent with some type of protein recovery drink during this time. I also communicate with my coach so that I don't do too many intense run or bike trainer sessions during that time of the month. I also stay up on my Mg12 cream to help with my muscles. 

MOOD CHANGES - It's true that females will "act differently" before and during the high hormone phase of the month. Connected to the rise and fall of hormones (specifically estrogen), these peaks and valleys of hormones can cause mood swings. Making things worse, stressful situations can make PMS even worse. It's very normal to experience symptoms like being oversensitive, crying more easily, getting angry, feeling sad or feeling more anxious or depressed.
Personal note: I have found that communication is key. I let Karel know that my menstrual cycle is likely coming soon so he knows that if I say something that may be out of character for me, he knows it's not me talking but my hormones. I also get more tired easily so I may not be acting like myself. I also find that I do better with social and outdoor workouts during this time as I happier when I am with other people or outside. I try to avoid social media as this can make me feel anxious and sad at times. 

SLEEPING ISSUES - Although you may be tired from life/training, menstrual cycle insomnia is a real thing. When estrogen is kicked up a notch, sleep disturbances are common. You may feel more drowsy and exhausted and you may notice that your sleep is more restless. You may even feel like you need a daily nap. Coupled with a raise in body temperature and feeling restless, REM sleep may be compromised.
Personal note: I'm a great sleeper for ~2 weeks of every month. I make sure to let my coach know when I'm not sleeping well as this is likely more to do with my hormones than training stress but it still impacts my recovery. There are some nutritional strategies to apply here (ex. Tart Cherry juice) but I feel the most important thing is to try to keep your room environment suitable to sleeping - with no electronic or light distractions and to avoid going to bed with a brain that is filled with running thoughts and emotions.

BLOATING - This is where I feel most female athletes struggle - with body image during PMS. A drop in progesterone can cause period bloating, which can be uncomfortable and can also negatively affect your self-image or confidence. Although you may feel like you've gained weight/fat and you may notice that your stomach is protruding, this is all due to the body retaining more water and salt due to changes in progesterone and estrogen. It's important to pay attention to your thoughts during this time as low self-esteem, poor body image and body dysmorphia can trigger disordered eating habits such as restriction and overexercise. Or you may feel too uncomfortable to exercise. Logically, it's important to know that nothing about your physical self has changed and that exercise can do wonderful things for your mind and body.
Personal note: Although this is when most of us females will feel most uncomfortable in our own skin, it's very important not to make radical changes in your diet or exercise regime. Restricting food will only lead to compromised health and performance. Accept what's going on with your hormones and make sure not to let your thoughts impact your actions. I find that wearing looser clothes and not spending energy on how I "feel" helps me get through this time of the month. Plus, I remind myself how awesome I feel when my cycle is over and when I'm in the low hormone phase, I call that my superwoman phase where I feel like I can take on the world and I can crush my workouts. I also try to schedule more work projects, writing and daily to-do's during my low hormone phase as I am much more productive. During the high hormone phase, I give myself permission to put a few less things on my daily plate. 


Warm weather training and appetite loss

A hearty bowl of stew in the winter and a refreshingly cold bowl of fruit in the summer.
Have you noticed how your appetite changes based on the season?

This change is partly as a result of the body needing less calories to function at an optimal body temperature - less energy is needed to maintain homeostasis. Even though in the heat, the body slows down a bit to try to conserve energy to not overheat, if you are an athlete who trains high volume/intensity and you only listen to your appetite to direct you when to (or not to) eat, your loss of appetite can result in a massive energy deficit. While you may think that this energy deficit will help with weight loss/body composition changes, training in an extreme energy deficiency affects normal body functioning, which can affect metabolism, immunity, heart health, bone health, menstruation, endocrine health, recovery, muscle strength and power and mood changes.

Another reason for a loss of appetite in the heat relates to the act of digesting food generates heat. If your body temp is high, your body will suppress the appetite in an effort to reduce the work load until your body temp returns to normal. This is not a good thing when you are in need of nutrition post workout to replenish and repair.

In hot weather, you may have noticed that you are more likely to desire fluids over solid food or maybe you have no appetite for anything. In these scenarios, a cold smoothie or pre-made recovery beverage is often the gold star post-workout drink so that you can drink your calories (and sodium) instead of chewing them. Be careful not to overhydrate on plain water, especially when you've lost a considerable amount of sodium in your sweat.
Tip: If making your own smoothie, follow this order of ingredients to make the perfect consistency smoothie: Liquids, soft foods, powders, frozen foods, then sticky ingredients.

A few other tips to help stimulate your appetite post workout - cool yourself as quick as possible -either with ice packs or cooling towels or in a cold shower. You should notice that when your body temp returns to normal, the appetite quickly increases. Post workout, start your recovery with liquids and light foods (easy to digest) instead of not eating or attempting to eat a heavy meal. Aim for small snacks and meals throughout the day. If you are experiencing a strong headache or nausea after your workout, in addition to loss of appetite, this is likely a sign of dehydration and that your workout hydration strategies are inadequate.

Just because you don't have a subjective desire appetite to eat, this doesn't mean that your body is not in need of calories. To repay your body, who worked extremely hard to help you complete a given workout, figure out the best foods/drinks and strategies to refuel, rehydrate and recover after your hot-weather workouts. In this scenario, not eating because you don't feel hungry can be damaging to your performance and health. 


Happy Global Running Day!

I've had a long-term love-dislike relationship with running. As a lifelong swimmer, weight bearing sports have never come easy to me - specifically running. For many years, I struggled with how to hold my body on land as I felt like my upper body wasn't connected to my lower body when I ran. My hips/glutes have had the most niggles so I'm lucky that I've never had any lower leg issues due to running. In the water, I immediately know how to hold my body. Interestingly, before I was a triathlete I was a runner and I loved running and it did come easy to me. But then, like many of you, I got injured and since then, running has had its highs and lows. Sometimes my body doesn't enjoy running and it's really really hard for me, but that doesn't mean that I give up every time it feels hard or that I've convinced myself that I can't improve as a runner. Like with many things in life, I'm on a quest of continued self-development as I strive to improve many areas of my life/self. Running is one of those areas where I am patient in the journey but I'm also incredibly grateful for what my body allows me to do - even on the days when I don't feel good when I run.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you 6 minutes or 16 minutes, a mile is still a mile.

No matter your fitness level, running is a great sport to challenge your mind and body. But even better, running does not require a gym membership, you can do it almost anywhere (and anytime) and it comes with a list of benefits including body composition changes, fitness gains, stress relief and self-confidence.

Even with the endorphin-rush as you move your body quickly with one foot in front of the other, running does come with a few downfalls.

Running is rather hard on the body (weight bearing) and not every human body is destined to be a runner. Running requires good flexibility and range of motion as well as exceptional cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular strength. Injuries due to overtraining, poor biomechanics, improper shoe choice or increasing mileage too quickly are very common in runners of all fitness levels.

To help you in your running journey, here are three of my best tips:

  1. Build a strong body – As great as it feels to check-off an hour run off your training plan, it’s important that you build a strong foundation before you run to increase speed and distance. Learn how to run well (with good form and proper breathing techniques) as you work to become strong and resilient. Strength training should enhance your cardio routine as a component of your run training. Don't rush the process by adding too much intensity or volume. It's better to get your body stronger and more efficient with a lower intensity/volume plan than to skip steps only to realize (after the fact) that you never took the time to nail the basics - like learning how to maintain good form when you are tired and take in nutrition while running easy. It’s recommended to also include cross-training and strength training to target the hips, glutes, lower back and core to ensure good pelvis strength.
  2. Consistency is key – At the beginning of any running plan, most runners struggle with consistency due to soreness and the difficultly of running several times per week. Or there's the tendency to do too much too soon. Because prior fitness, current fitness and limitations should be considered when designing a run training plan, remember that if you cannot properly adapt and recover from your run workouts, you'll struggle to remain consistent. Develop a training plan (or work with a coach) that allows you to make progress with the least amount of training stress. Don't wait until a setback occurs to realize that you should have done things differently.
  3. It’s not just about the running miles – Far too many runners are obsessed with running miles. Step away from being controlled by your gadgets and get more out of your runs by learning how to listen to your body, run for time and become one with your body. Don't feel like you have to hit certain paces/distances just to feel successful with your workout. Walking during a run is not failing. Figure out what you need to do to stay healthy and to enjoy your running journey. Sometimes just going for a walk is better than nothing. Remind yourself that good sleep, a positive attitude, good stress management, attention to sport nutrition (ex. fueling before, during and after workouts), balanced daily nutrition, a healthy immune system, good mobility, proper pacing and knowing how to run in different environmental conditions will not only help to take your training to the next level but you'll get more out of your running experience. 


Sport Nutrition refresher

There's no right time to focus on your sport nutrition and daily diet as it should be an ongoing focus. Unfortunately, many athletes neglect proper eating until a setback occurs. It’s never too late in your life (or season) to appreciate the power of food and proper fueling. By staying up on your sport nutrition, macros and micros and hydration needs, you can protect your health, delay fatigue and consistently improve fitness.

When it comes to performance, nutrition alone doesn’t limit performance but it can certainly affect how your body performs. The best fitness routines and training strategies are only beneficial if your body is fueled properly.

Upon writing my book, Essential Sport Nutrition, my goal was to create a go-to source of practical and effective nutrition strategies to fuel and nourish your active lifestyle. On a basic level, nutrition is important to reduce risk for disease and to provide a source of energy to perform activities of daily living. For the extremely active, what (and when) you eat will help you meet performance goals without a health-related setback. Sport nutrition can appear confusing but it’s an essential component to enhance the adaptation to exercise. When you put principles into practice, you’ll find it much easier to perform to your potential.  

Performance involves more than the latest gear, strong muscles and a great coach. Whether you’re training for a competition or exercising to stay fit, fitness improvements are built off solid nutrition habits. Supply your body with the right nutrients at the right times and you’ll consistently be rewarded with high energy, great health and quick recovery.

Your body has increased energy demands during exercise. The food you eat throughout the day and during training provides your body with energy, electrolytes and fluids. Eating appropriately also reduces risk for sickness, injury and burnout. If your body doesn’t receive or have appropriate fuel, you’ll perform well-below your capabilities. As the duration or intensity of exercise increases, the body may not be able to keep up energy demands, resulting in fatigue. When you fall short on your requirements, you will sabotage your physical health and your psychological well-being.

Although sport performance and activity enjoyment depend on many different, yet intertwined, components – body composition, strength, endurance, psychology, sleep - many athletes are misled to believe that there’s one “right” way to eat. This reductionist way of applying sport nutrition research often ignores long-term health and performance consequences in an effort to adhere to a “quick fix” approach, typically to boost performance and/or change body composition. In my book, I have chosen to take a more all-inclusive approach to practical nutrition strategies to help you enhance sport performance, fitness and long-lasting health.  I hope you find my book easy-to-follow and simple to apply to your active lifestyle. 

At a glance, each section in this book includes sound information and practical strategies on a variety of sport nutrition topics:

Part One – Nutrition basics. Learn how what you eat affects your body and the components of a performance-focused diet. 

Part Two – Sport nutrition application. Learn specific guidelines on how to fuel around workouts and what to eat on rest days.  Get to know the facts behind supplements and performance enhancers.

Part Three – Optimize performance by understanding your individual nutritional needs, dependent on the specifics of your sport. Discover safe nutrition strategies for body composition change and learn to eat for recovery, brain and immune system health. 

Part Four – Put education into practice with delicious, athlete-approved meals, intended to meet your fitness needs.

With no standard prescription for sport nutrition, each section in this book will help you move closer to creating a personalized nutrition plan while gaining knowledge and appreciation for sport nutrition. Don't wait until it's too late to dial-in your daily diet and sport nutrition regime. 


If you already have my book, if you could leave an honest and authentic review on Amazon, I'd greatly appreciate it! 


Weekend (riding) recap

How fitting that today is World Bicycling Day today as we spent much of our weekend on two wheels. Not only do I love riding my bike but I absolutely love riding my bike in and around Greenville. Our terrain forces you to improve your skills (mental and physical), resilience and endurance - there's no easy riding here. 

Our athlete Robb flew from LA to Greenville to spend two days of private training with us in route to IM Ireland and IM Whistler. Robb is a strong cyclist (who loves challenging courses) so we made sure he got his money worth with lots of time in the saddle, exploring all that our challenging terrain has to offer. Our coach gave us the ok to load the up the weekend with cycling miles so it was a win-win for us all.

On Saturday we set out for a long ride up and over Cesar's Head. The weather was a bit "cooler" (in the upper 70's) which made for a refreshing start to the ride. Up in the mountains it was even cooler which was a great relief compared to the mid 90+ temps we have been experiencing lately. The official climb up Cesar's Head is 6.2 miles (from the veer off point, ~2000 feet elevation gain) but in reality, it's closer to 7.2 miles as you have to climb to the veer off point. After the descend, we headed toward Dupont State Recreational Forest which is mostly rollers before a 4 mile section of super punchy and technical climbing and descending. Then it was more rollers before we arrived to Flat Rock for our bottle-refill/croissant stop. Then it was a fast 1:36 hr back home as Robb was leading the way and he was pushing the effort. In total, we did 4:48 hrs of riding, 83 miles and ~6200 feet elevation gain. After the ride we did a ~21 minute run off the bike. A solid day of training!

On Sunday we set out for what was suppose to be a ~4 hour ride but the bad news was that we got a little lost and the ride turned into a 5 hour ride. The good news was that we discovered a few new routes because of the unplanned detour. Despite going through all types of Ironman emotions and physical highs and lows throughout this ride, it was a really enjoyable time spent on two wheels. We finished the ride with 5:02 riding time, 94 miles and ~5500 feet of elevation gain. This ride took us past Clemson and then back through some beautiful twisty roads with lots of rollers. Before the last climb back home, we finished with a solid 30+ minutes on Pumpkintown where Karel was pushing the pace while Robb and I stayed right behind his wheel.

Over 48 hours we accumulated 177 miles, almost 12000 feet elevation gain and close to 10 hours of riding. Thank you body! And no honks or close calls with cars. If anything, the roads were pretty quiet. Thank you cars for letting us share the road with you.

Here are a few pics from the two rides.

A shout-out to a few of the Trimarni affiliates who made for happy riding this weekend:
-Alto Cycling
-PR lotion