Essential Sports Nutrition


No-Bake Cran-Chocolate Energy Balls

Energy balls are a fantastic snack as they are satisfying (offering a combination of protein, carbs, and fats), are portable, and easy to eat. They tend to be less expensive than store-bought bars (and without some questionable ingredients) and contain basic ingredients that you may regularly have on hand in your pantry. They are also easily customizable with just a basic recipe (for example, change up the dried fruit and/or nut butter for variety). Another positive, they are quick and easy to make and freeze well for later use!

                       Cran-Chocolate Energy Balls
                                                      By Joey Mock, RD, LD, CLT

1 ¼ cups quick cooking oats
¼ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut flakes
¼ cup ground flaxseed meal
¾ cup almond nut butter
⅓ cup honey
⅛ teaspoon Himalayan Pink Salt
¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped
¼ cup chocolate chips

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. 
  2. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes to set (this will make the balls easier to roll).
  3. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Use a tablespoon to scoop mixture* and roll into about 20-24 balls. Place on wax paper.
  4. Store balls in an airtight container or Ziploc bag in the refrigerator or freeze for longer storage. 
  5. Enjoy!
*Time saving tip: One of my favorite kitchen tools, a 1 ½ Tablespoon cookie scoop, works great to quickly scoop the mixture into evenly sized balls.
For more recipes and healthy living tips, subscribe to our free newsletter HERE and check out the recipes in my book, Essential Sports Nutrition.


Swim training - to fuel or not to fuel?

During our 3.5 day train-cation in Clermont, Florida we were spoiled by swimming in NTC pool - perfect water temp, lots of open swim lanes, surrounded by swimmers/triathletes and most importantly, swimming outside! Because the pool is my happy place, I was super happy to see so much swimming on my training plan. In four swims (over 5 days), I completed 17,600 yards of following the black line and I never stopped smiling.

Two of our workouts went by extremely fast, even though they were 4000+ yards. Not always do Karel and I have the same swim workouts (or on the same days) but for camp we swam the same sets but had different cycles for the main set. Here were my two favorite swim sessions from camp:

Tuesday (4000 yards)
WU: 800 choice

100 drill
3 x 50's (kick/swim)
2 x 75's open turns
100 choice
4 x 25's build
3 x 50's head up free
2 x 75's kick/swim/kick
100 choice

MS: All with paddles
18 x 100's as:
#1: on 1:20 (cycle)
#2: 1:30
#3-4: 1:20
#5: 1:30
#6-8: 1:20
#9: 1:30
#10-13: 1:20
#14: 1:30
#15-18: 1:25

CD as needed

Wednesday (5000 yards)
WU: 600 w/ buoy

9 x 100's on 1:30 @80% effort
4 x 200's w/ paddles on 2:50
7 x 100's on 1:30 @90% effort
400 w/ buoy
5 x 100's swim on 1:30 @95% effort
2 x 200's w/ paddles on 2:50
3 x 100's swim on 1:30 @best effort
200 buoy

Post set:
200 EZ

Many triathletes and swimmers feel that fueling/hydrating during a workout isn't necessary for if you can't do it during a race/meet, why do it in training? The point of training is to change your physiology in order to maximize your athletic performance/fitness while also preparing for the race day demands. With this, it's critically important to stay consistent (and healthy), so we often do things in training that we don't do in races in order to help build strength, endurance and speed, while also improving skills and technique. Sport nutrition and nutrient timing are two important ways to help the adaption response to training. 

When I swam in High School and in College, I would rarely sip on water on deck when I swam. There were mornings when I would swim a long workout on an empty stomach and I never had a precise fueling strategy for a swim meet. While I did OK during this time in my life, I wish I knew then what I knew now, as I feel I could have adapted a lot better to swim training, while also reducing my frequent issues with muscle soreness in my back, while also feeling rundown and exhausted. 

Although my swim workouts are not as long (or intense) as when I swam in college, I still typically swim 4-5 times per week an around 60-75 minutes per swim. Although I don't consider them as exhausting as some of my run and bike sessions, I still make the effort to always eat before my workouts and use sport nutrition during my workouts. Rather than going into the specifics of how to fuel for swim training sessions (you can find detailed info about fueling your workouts in my book Essential Sports Nutrition), I'd like to share a bit about the physiology of swimming and how proper fueling can help you better adapt to your swim training, especially if you are triathlete. 

Swimming is a strength, technical and endurance sport. In addition to the difficulty of dealing with your displaced body in water, there's a lot of resistance (or drag) when you swim. As you push against water to move forward, water pushes back to slow you down. A huge part of swim training is optimizing technique in order to forcefully thrust (or propel) yourself forward while reducing drag and optimizing buoyancy and alignment. Although technique work is important, it's only in the face of fatigue that good technique will give you a big performance boost. If your form falls apart when you get tired, your propulsive force will greatly decline and you'll become more inefficient and exhausted. Thus, an overvalued component of swimming (especially for triathletes) is being strong in the water. Simply swimming back and forth, for x-yards, is an ineffective use of your time as it relates to making significant performance improvements. You must train your different energy systems (swimming at different speeds), while keeping great technique.

Although swimming may be exhausting to many and easy for some, it should still be viewed as a strength-endurance sport. This means your training should include a mix of high-intensity efforts (to tap into the phosphagen system and anaerobic glycolysis) and endurance or lower-intensity training to improve efficacy of swimming technique while improving your aerobic pathway (VO2 max, max oxygen consumption).

Understanding the physiological demands of swim training (and outcome goals for each session) is important because as it relates to sport nutrition, you'll quickly realize that with swimming, glycogen stores in the muscles can easily become depleted. This will compromises your ability to keep good technique under fatigue and will affect your propulsive strength capacities. Consequently, this decreases the training adaption that you could be making through your swim training. Sure, you are checking off the workout but it doesn't count if you aren't making significant performance gains. By understanding the demands of your sport, you can better identify the factors that will affect your ability to adapt. Certainly nutritional strategies can help optimize your swimming performance. 

While any athlete can "get by" for a workout or two in an energy deficit state, long-term periods of being in a poor energy balance can affect hormones, metabolism, strength and power, while increasing the risk of injury, burn out and sickness. Beginning a training session with low carbohydrate availability (especially if you trained the night before an early morning workout or you are restricting carbohydrates in your diet), can increase metabolic stress during your swim workout. Again, yes you may be able to complete the workout, but without proper fueling, the stress response increases. It's also worth mentioning that when engaging in high intensity training sessions, adequate carbohydrate intake/stores can improve the health of the immune system - meaning less risk for sickness. Lastly, even though you may not feel it, you still have hydration needs while swimming. The higher the water temperature (or the warmer you feel in the water), the higher your sweat rate. Starting your sessions well hydrated and hydrating throughout your training session (often with a sport drink containing carbohydrate and sodium) can help optimizing hydration while maintaining blood glucose levels. Because most triathletes are not overly fond of swim training, a significant drop in blood glucose can turn your mood sour and raise RPE - making it easy to cut your workout short (or dislike swimming all together). 

Getting your nutrition right is key for athletic success. Don't compromise your performance and health by being extremely dedicated to your training plan and apathetic to your diet and fueling regime. 


The truth about fad diets

Carbs. The dietary villain.

It wasn't that long ago when Americans were afraid to eat fat due to a possible link with heart disease. In the midst of a low-fat, fat-free diet craze, a message got lost in translation. Instead of reducing unhealthy fats, American's heard: Fats are bad, carbs are good. As the food industry does best, they saw this as a great opportunity to make and promote low fat/fat-free products. What happened next?

Take out the fat but add lots of sugar. Around this time, Americans started to eat more processed food (rich in refined grains and sugar), more fast food, more sodas and much less fiber and whole grains. Sadly, around this time there was a rise in obesity and diabetes. In addressing one problem (heart disease), dietary advice fueled another problem (obesity and diabetes). However, not all carbs are created equal (just like fats). Americans have a liking for sweet, refined and convenient foods - which contain a lot of carbs, sugar and energy dense calories. Rather than reducing the intake of these types of carbohydrates in the diet, diet fads encourage you to limit/avoid all carbs - including whole grains, dairy, legumes, vegetables and fruit. Once again, a message was lost in translation. We've taken a complex topic and made it simple - carbs are bad and fats are good.

Although this blog post is about diets, it would be a mistake to ignore the other lifestyle factors that contribute to poor health, such as stress, poor sleep hygiene, working too many hours, alcohol abuse, loneliness, low self-esteem, limited physical activity, sedentary lifestyle, obsession with technology and so much more. Is it practical to assume that the elimination of carbs (even fruit!) will improve the quality of life of an overworked, sleep deprived and stressed human being? Sure, you may lose weight by decreasing calories and cutting out the nutrient-poor foods in your diet but a diet fad doesn't change your life unless you've changed your lifestyle.

From Atkins, to Paleo, to Whole 30, to Keto....almost every diet has an enemy (or enemies) and it continues to be carbohydrates. While we now know that fats are not unhealthy, carbohydrates are still claimed to be bad for you - they still have a nasty reputation. As the merry-go-round of good vs. bad food continues, people are confused - what do I eat?? And with this confusion comes misinformation. American's seek simplicity in such a fast-paced world so it makes sense that people look for diets that are easy, provide a quick fix and involve little to no thinking.

In my opinion, it's not the diet itself that is the answer to health and weight problems. People desire rules to help simplify complex situations. Plus, in our viral and social society, it's easy to want what others have. It's much easier to comply to dietary advice when you are told "carbs will make you fat, don't eat them" than to spend months working on your lifestyle choices and relationship with food in order to adopt a diet that is more scientifically-based, sustainable and suitable for all life situations. It's easy to fall prey to a diet that uses buzz words to catch your attention.... "boost mental clarity, quick weight loss, improve your gut health, not leave you hangry, easy, longevity, anti-aging, improved athletic performance, better sleep, overall health improvement." Don't be fooled to believe that eliminating carbs can really do all of this.

While scrolling through social media, browsing the internet, thumbing through a magazine, listening to a podcast or hearing from your friends/family members/teammate, there's a good chance that fad diets are gaining your attention. Right now, "keto" (or ketogenic) is creating a lot of buzz among celebrities, athletes and medical/health/fitness professionals. All this chatter may be making you a little curious, interested or just confused and frustrated. For the sensible eater, a fad diet may sound absurd, ridiculous and miserable but for an individual who is vulnerable for change, the latest diet fad is viewed as plausible solution that will finally fix a long-term problem. 

Even with glowing testimonials and pages of research studies, the chance of experiencing long-term weight loss or health success with a fad diet is not in your favor. Although nearly every diet promotes weight loss, health improvements and a "lifestyle" approach, in reality, the majority of fad diets are not sustainable....for a lifetime. Remember this as you browse through social media and see/hear someone raving about a diet - this is a snapshot of life, not an indication of how this person will eat for a lifetime. Beyond dietary compliance, many fad diets fail because they are not health-promoting (and sometimes dangerous). Even if a fad diet has "proof" that it is safe, sustainable and effective for the short-term, removing entire food groups, severely limiting food variety, starving your body of nutrients and living a life of food rules is harmful to your long-term physical and mental health. 

With the rise of every new fad diet, it's easy to get lured in by the hype - especially when the diet is all over social media, in magazines and even in the grocery store. To make matters worse, early adopters often become "authorities" with very strong opinions (and very convincing testimonials). The real nutrition experts (dietitians) are thought to be "ignorant to the facts" as the real authorities are quick to dispute any and every counterargument with a testimonial or research study. Through repetition, and hearing about a certain diet over and over again, it's only a matter of time when you will believe the authorities that this diet is superior to any other diet out there. And so it begins - you subject your mental and physical health, quality of life and fitness/performance to a trend.

Let's get real. When someone experiences impressive and superior results from a fad diet, results will be shared - often in the form of blog posts, podcast interviews and interviews. However, as you well know, what works for one person doesn't always work for another person. There are outliers that achieve results that are not easy, sustainable or effective for the masses. And even if the diet appears to be a new "lifestyle" for those who have had success, it's impossible to know if this diet is actually a permanent lifestyle. Adhering to a diet for a few months or even a few years is far from a lifestyle. 

As a sport dietitian, my job is to personalize diets for health and performance. Never do I suggest a style of eating that is not sustainable. Eating can and should change. There are plenty of recommendations, suggestions and guidelines to help develop a long-term style of eating but unless you have a medical condition, never should eating come with rules and a bad or off-limit food list.

The truth about fad diets is that a few will succeed in the long-term but most people will fail. Would you want to get surgery from a doctor who has failed most of the time and has only succeed a few times? Diet fad results are exaggerated and negative results are rarely discussed (or heard). To succeed with a diet, you need to follow it for the rest of your life and it needs to work for you - however you define success for your health, fitness and quality of life. Different dietary approaches work for different people. A diet that offers recommendations for the masses (with very strict rules) isn't personalized for your needs and your lifestyle and your goals.

As for the Ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting (the two fad diets that are all the rage these days), there's nothing magical about these diets.

For most people, achieving weight loss, health and performance improvements for the long-term means making changes that can be maintained for a lifetime. With birthdays to celebrate, events to attend and meals to enjoy with family and friends, you need to change your lifestyle to ensure that your diet will work for you. I can tell you that eliminating carbs or not eating for 8-16 hours is not the solution.