Essential Sports Nutrition


Bouncing back from a bad workout

Most of the time, workouts put us into a good mood. We feel much better after the workout is complete, then compared to when we started.  But what if the workout doesn't go as planned and suddenly you find yourself grumpy from the workout that didn't go so well?

Seeing that we will all have a bad workout, here are a few tips to help bounce back from an "off" training day.

Look into your diet. Long hours without eating, not using sport nutrition products properly, dehydration, low blood sugar, overeating, undereating, consuming food too close to bed, too much fiber/fat too close to your workout, or poorly planned meals will affect your energy and how your body performs. 

Nutrient timing
Did you not time your nutrition well with your workout? Address what sport nutrition products are not working for you. What did you eat in the 2-4 hours before the workout. Generally, it is recommended to reduce fat/fiber before a workout  to help with digestion and be sure to drink water to promote digestion/absorption of nutrients before and during the workout. Many times, athletes under-fuel before/during workouts so it is important to recognize the importance of timing your nutrition with your workout.

If there is one area in your life to blame for feeling off, it is not getting enough restful sleep. Try to create an exercise/training schedule that allows for a restful night of sleep most days a week. For many people, 7-9 hours is the magic number - which may mean going to bed earlier. 

Mobility and strength training
It's common for athletes to skimp on strength training and mobility to squeeze in more cardio. Remember, your body needs time to wake up and to get the blood flowing so it can perform to its capabilities. And a strong body is a resilient body. Factor in 15 minutes before your workout to properly warm-up and include strength training into your weekly routine at least three times per week. 

If your mind is filled with thoughts and to-do's before you workout, try to bring yourself into a positive state of mind before working out. Many times, we allow stress, emotions and negative thoughts to take over and it's difficult to stay focused and present during the workout. 

Don't be all or nothing 
Whether you are having a hard time with motivation or struggling with fatigue, give yourself permission to adjust the workout. If you aren't feeling good by 20 minutes into the workout, just call it a day. If you planned to run and you are just too tired, just walk. If your workout called for intervals, reduce the intensity or duration. Some of the most successful race performances come after modifications with training. No training plan should be set in stone. 

Keep it fun
Remind yourself that you train because you love it and it's something that you choose to do. If you are putting too much pressure on yourself with expectations of how you think the workout should go, you may find yourself frustrated or disappointed.  Don't worry about pace, time, HR, speed, etc. Just enjoy your time with your body and mind. 


Just because you complete a workout, this doesn't mean that you are gaining fitness. During the recovery process, adaptation takes place. This is where the true fitness gains are made. With the right mix of training stress, fatigue and recovery, the body can adapt. Recovery is everything that happens between two workouts. Give yourself an opportunity to recover in order to adapt.

Don't let a bad workout affect you mentally. Think back to all your great workouts and remember that fitness improvements are not linear.  Focus on one day at a time. It's the accumulation of workouts that allows for fitness gains - don't worry about one off day. 


Protein Powder - what to use, how to use.

I am always interested in trying out new sport nutrition products. A few weeks ago, a nutrition athlete of mine asked me about Cocoa Elite. I was familiar with the company but had never tried their products. I was connected with the company owner and a few days later, I received a small shipment of sample products to try out. I've tried two of their powders and so far, I find them easy to consume - not too grainy. Karel loved the taste of double cocoa flavored protein powder. I haven't used these products long enough to tell if they "work" (typically I like to use a product continuously for a month to see if it works or not). Right now, my go-to protein powders that work for me include INFINIT Raw protein, Skratch recover drink mix, CarboRocket Rehab, NBS recovery and Clif Recovery protein drink. 

This got me thinking about the array of protein powders on the market. In our protein-obsessed society, you probably feel like you are always falling short of your protein needs. With good reason, you should be concerned with consuming adequate daily protein. Protein is a component in every cell in the body and your hair, skin and nails are made of protein. It’s used to construct and repair tissues, build strong bones and muscles and make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals. However, there’s a tendency for athletes to rely too heavily on supplemental forms of protein (ex. powder or bars) instead of real food, often replacing nutrient and energy-dense carbohydrates and healthy fats with more dietary protein.

Protein supplements have a long history in sport. Athletes commonly reach for protein supplements as a meal substitute, to increase energy, boost recovery, promote weight gain/loss, repair muscle and boost performance.

With an array of available protein powders on the market, you'll likely see that the primary protein ingredient is either whey, casein, soy, or vegan (ex. brown rice or pea). All proteins contain amino acids but not all proteins are considered equal. Milk is made of 20% whey and 80% casein. Whey protein is a complete protein but protein content can vary (ex. isolate vs. concentrate). Whey empties from the stomach rather quickly whereas casein provides a slower release of amino acids.  Soy contains a low amount of leucine (an anabolic trigger), which makes it inferior to whey but a suitable option for plant-based athletes. Because vegan powders lack all essential amino acids, quinoa protein may be the next ground-breaking protein because it contains leucine, lysine and methionine, similar to that of milk.   Although protein supplements are convenient for increasing or quickly consuming protein, bars and protein shakes should never replace real food.

Falling short on recovery nutrition can place you at risk for sickness as intense or endurance competition can suppress the immune system. You can also risk losing muscle mass, lean tissue and bone density. So although real food is generally encouraged over a packaged powder/product, protein powder may have a place in your daily diet. In many scenarios, a protein powder or protein powder + carb drink may be useful, especially when lacking an appetite or when recovery needs to be quick and effective (and calorically dense).

Simple recovery nutrition tips:

Short but intense workout (less than 60 minutes):
Within 30-60 minutes post workout (as tolerated)
What: Recover with a snack or meal.
How Much: If choosing a snack: 20-30 g protein + 40-60 g carbs. Meal: 20-30g protein, 50-80g carbs
Fluid Intake: 16-24 ounces

Moderate distance workout (1-3 hours)
Within 30-60 minutes post workout (as tolerated)
What: Recover first with a snack. Meal when ready (within 90 min post workout)
How Much: Snack: 25-30 g protein + 60-90 g carbs. Meal: 20-30g protein, 60-90g carbs
Fluid Intake: 16-24 ounces in the 60 min post workout. Additional 16-24 ounce fluid in the next 90 minutes.

Long distance workout (3-5+ hours)
Within 30-60 minutes post workout (as tolerated)
What: Recover first with a snack. Meal when ready (within 90 min post workout). Continue to eat and hydrate every ~2 hours. 
How Much: Snack: 25-30 g protein + 60-90 g carbs. Meal: 20-30g protein, 60-90g carbs. 
Fluid Intake: ~16-24 ounces every 60-90 minutes for the next four hours.

Selecting the "best" protein powder

I'm often asked about the "best" protein powder. With so many protein powders on the market and different reasons for consuming protein powder, here are some of my criteria when searching for a quality protein powder to meet your needs (not set in stone but a good way to help navigate through all the powders on the market). 

1) Serving size - 1 scoop
2) Protein content per scoop  - ~20-30 grams if supplying only protein (whey, soy or brown rice/pea) or ~10-15g if supplying protein in addition to carbohydrates.*
3) Calories per scoop - ~80-150 if supplying only protein or 180-250 if supplying protein and carbohydrates. *
4) First ingredient - protein (ex. whey protein isolate, pea protein, soy protein, etc.)
5) Ingredient list - short! natural flavors, no artificial flavors or colorings, no added sweeteners. If the product is only supplying protein, no or minimal added sugar. 
6) Quality manufacture, reputable company - I do not suggest to buy protein powders from a big box sport nutrition supplier. Instead, buy from reputable brands that market to your sport. 
7) Use your best judgement  - why are you taking the product and is it a quality product manufactured with quality ingredients.

* - many recovery drinks are designed to supply just protein or both protein and carbohydrates. The later increases the caloric content, as carbohydrates are combined with protein for dual purposes: To repair and replenish. Because these powders are rich in carbs (sugars) with a moderate amount of protein (typically ~8-12g), these types of drinks are best utilized after very long workouts, when daily caloric needs are at their highest. You may need to add a plain protein powder to the mix to increase the protein content. Otherwise, a protein powder mixed with milk (of your choice) is adequate after your shorter, more intense or moderate effort workouts where damage has been done to your tissues (just don't forget to eat carbs post workout to replenish your muscles). Remember - not every workout requires a protein powder. Although every athlete has his/her unique protein needs - determining when, what type and how much protein is needed post workout, here are some general guidelines to  help you understand when to use protein powder post workout or choose real food.  


Banana Nut Muffins

If you are a banana lover like myself, you probably go through a lot of bananas on a weekly basis. But every now and then, bananas will turn overly ripe so it's important to have a few go-to recipes so those bananas don't go to waste. If you find that your bananas are extra brown and spotty but you aren't ready to use them just yet, peel them, slice them into chunks and place in a resealable plastic bag and store in the freezer. You can also use frozen banana chunks in smoothies. 

Serves: 12 muffins
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes


  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (room temp)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (3 medium overripe bananas) 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup 2% or 4% yogurt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. 
  2. Make the topping by combining the walnuts with the honey and cinnamon until evenly coated. This mix will be sticky. Set aside. 
  3. For the muffins, use a medium bowl and whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. 
  4. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and honey until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the eggs and beat until fully combined. Add the mashed bananas, vanilla and yogurt and beat until blended with an electric mixer. 
  5. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until well blended. 
  6. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin until the cup is full. Sprinkle with the nut topping. 
  7. Baked muffins for ~25-28 minutes until the top is golden. 
  8. Let muffins cool for 5-10 minutes. 


Lure of the Lake 3-mile open water swim recap

Shortly after IM 70.3 Chattanooga, Karel started to search for another race before we do Ironman Canada at the end of July. Triathlon options were limited so I came across an open water swim event just an hour away in the town of Lake Lure. We ran this option by our coach and she gave us a big yes for the 3-mile distance. I told my swim partner Kristen and she also registered. 

After a crazy tough week of training, we were able to get a good night of sleep on Friday evening. We woke up at 6am and left the house around 7:20am to pick up Kristen who lives about 1.5 miles away. With a 10am start, we didn't feel too rushed to get to the venue but we also wanted to give ourselves enough time in the case of rain. The weather predicted storms for the morning but luckily the weather worked out perfect for us - light drizzle and clouds.

I had a waffle with butter and yogurt before we left and then I made a PB&J sandwich on cinnamon raisin bread for the car. Around an hour before the start, I had a banana. I also sipped on 100 calories Carborocket 333 in a 26 ounce water bottle in the 90 min before the race. I packed a bag of sport nutrition and snacks for the rest of trip/workouts.

It was a beautiful drive to the lake (north of us) and we arrived around 8:30am. After we picked up our cap, chip and shirt, we got body marked and then waited around until 9:40am when we began our warm-up. The event was small (just over 100 athletes) but the event was well supported with nice volunteers and a well-marked course by Set Up Events. I enjoyed the low-stress race environment as it reminded me of when I started the sport - no pressure to perform. I still try to keep a great sense of joy when I race and to remember that this is a sport that I choose to do.

I wore my ROKA Maverick Pro wetsuit and warmed up for about 5 minutes in the lake. I included a few fast efforts to get my breathing up. The water temp was around 75 degrees so the race director allowed wetsuits. I could have been fine without one but Karel and I wanted to wear our wetsuits for practice for IM Canada (which will likely be wetsuit legal).

The start was a rolling start - very low key. I started near the front with Karel and Kristen right behind me.

The course was two out and back loops where you keep the orange buoys on your left. There were 3 sets of two buoys and then a turn buoy. Overall the course was well marked and it was easy to stay on course. The water was fairly calm and there were pockets of warm and cool water. After each loop, you run out of the water on the sand for a few steps and then quickly re-enter the water.

Knowing that I was carrying around a lot of fatigue going into this race, I wasn't sure how I would feel. I was surprised that I felt so strong. I swam a strong-steady effort, similar to what I would do in an IM. I found myself in the lead with Kristen and another girl (not wearing a wetsuit and likely a teenager) and we lead the entire race. Kristen and the other girl swam away from me on the way back from the first loop and I was able to get fairly close to them on the way back out of the second loop, but then I got dropped again. I've really been working on my mental game when I train, trying to tune out my thoughts and feelings and to just act with my body. I've been able to work through some tough moments in training and persevere by turning off my brain and not getting absorbed by my thoughts.

I accidentally hit the wrong button my Garmin so my watch didn't start timing the swim until a few minutes in so I never knew my total time or distance but I did manage to look at my watch around 4200 yards in (IM distance) and I saw 56 minutes which was exciting to know that all my swim training is paying off.

I tried super hard to catch Kristen and the other girl by giving all that I could on the way home but I ended up falling short - coming in 1 minute behind the first place and around 40 seconds behind Kristen. The exciting part was that we were 1,2,3 - so the overall winners were all females! Yay girl power!

I finished the event feeling proud of my effort, especially with all the fatigue I'm carrying around. I loved being out in the nature and being in my happy place - swimming. I swim no less than 4 times a week and most of my swims are well over 4000 yards and it felt good to not feel too tired during this event and to feel my swim training paying off. As a life-long swimmer, I know my ability to make gains in the swim are small so I have to work super hard for even the slightest gains.

Karel finished a few minutes behind us so we cheered him on to the finish. He said the event went by fairly quick.

The event was around 5200 yards (per Karel's Garmin) so a bit short of 3 miles (which is 5500) but still a long event for plenty of practice in open water.

Kristen (my swim partner): 1:07.04 (2nd overall, 1st masters)
Marni: 1:07.40 (3rd overall)
Karel: 1:12.18 (6th overall)
Also congrats to our athlete Leyla for finishing 9th overall in 1:14.52.

After the swim, we chatted with a few athletes and then Karel and I quickly changed into our running gear as we had a tough run workout to complete (build effort run). New to the area, our run options were limited to going up or going up. It was a really tough run and we both struggled mentally and physically but we got it done (1:05 run for me). Despite feeling great on the swim, I worked through a lot of mental demons during this workout. I wanted to quit so many times but I self-managed and was able to complete the session - not exactly as planned but it was the best that I could on the day.

Whereas in my early years of training and racing I'd put a lot of pressure on myself by having expectations and feeling like I needed to prove something in every session/race but over the years, I've learned that you can never predict the future and if you love what you do, success doesn't have to be tied with results. Although I am competitive and work hard for fitness gains, I really enjoy training and the self-discovery and personal growth that comes from every training session. Above all, I'm grateful and thankful for my body for staying healthy and injury-free and for letting me train harder than I've ever trained before.