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Clearning up confusing with healthy eating and sport nutrition

There's a lot of confusion when it comes to healthy eating and sport nutrition. I know this from my own experience in learning about the topics in graduate school while earning my Master of Science in Exercise Physiology as well as in my dietetic program as I earned my Registered Dietitian credential. But now as I work with athletes from around the world, I clearly see how confused and overwhelmed people are when it comes to eating for fuel and for health. Don't be!

I could spend many blogs on this topic and as a writer, life-long student and lover of putting words in my head on paper, I am not sure if I can contain myself in one blog post, sharing everything I know about healthy eating and sport nutrition. But, I learned when I became a RD that it is not my job to tell everyone everything I know in the first counseling session or when asked about nutrition in a group setting. Instead, learn to treat everyone as individuals and understand that everyone has different needs and goals and what works for one person doesn't always work for someone else. Science is amazing and so is research but the truth of the matter is that if we don't love and enjoy the changes we are making in life, it's unlikely that we will stick with them as we work hard to achieve our goals and live a quality filled life.

Health first, performance second.

If you are a fitness enthusiast or athlete, there's no denying that the body needs fuel to support metabolic processes. There are plenty of great videos and textbook chapters dedicated to exercise physiology so rather than share my excitement about the kreb cycle, anaerobic glycolysis or cellular respiration, I will keep this as simple as possible. The foods we eat, primarily carbohydrates, gives us fuel. Protein assists in recover, repair and rejuvenation and fats assist in hormones and protecting organs. Certainly these foods offer more than what I just listed  and they all contribute to a balanced diet to keep us nourished, satisfied and healthy. Of course, depending on what you choose to eat within those macronutrient categories may and will affect your performance but I don't need to tell you that real foods are the best source of food for your active body and health. Not too much, just enough.

I find that many active individuals fear nutrition around workouts simply for the fact that they are most vulnerable to their body at that time. You likely wear tight clothing (or showing more skin than in work clothes), you compare your body to others and you are very in tune with your overall body composition as you feel your heart beat and muscles work to let you have a great workout. And of course, the assumption if you lose weight either through extreme activity/food restriction you will magically be healthier or faster. Not always the case. 

But here lies the problem with many active individuals. Whether you admit it or not, unless you can honestly say that 100% you eat for fuel and for health, you are likely thinking about calories consume, calories burned and weight around your workouts. There's nothing wrong with that considering that's why many people get involved with sports at an older age but when you are possibly compromising your health and workouts because of feeling as if you don't need energy dense foods around your workouts, this becomes a bigger issue than just being confused on how to eat for fuel and for health. Should I mention that as you neglect to eat/drink appropriately around workouts you likely find yourself "deserving" to eat with reward food later in the day or find yourself with a "just don't care" attitude when you aren't in your workout gear but instead, bored/stressed at work or exhausted in the evening.  Jeopardizing your body's potential for performance gains is only the beginning of issues that can occur when you aren't supporting your body with the right foods at the right times.

Energy dense foods like fruits, potatoes, cereal, granola, bread, honey are just a few of the many low fiber, low fat and high carb (or energy dense - packing a lot of fuel in a small quantity) options that can be consumed around workouts to fuel your body. There is not one right protocol for pre during and post training nutrition so without spending an entire blog on this topic - keep it simple to prepare, simple to digest and easy to tolerate. It's not a pre trianing meal unless you are eating 2-4 hours before a workout. Call it what it is - a pre and post training snack to fuel your upcoming workout and to help you recover. 

But Marni - these foods you listed are not going to help me loose weight!!! The media tells me these foods are bad!!! UGGGH, I'm so confused. 

So here's the deal. Health first, performance second. Support your body with nutrient dense foods on a day to day basis and when your body is most active, support your body and brain with energy dense foods.

Considering how sedentary our lifestyle is these days (even with "training/working out" 8-20 hours a week) we spend much of our days sitting and for many, only getting up to go get something to eat. We are not sitting down to eat from being extremely active with our job and needing that 'break' to recharge our body to support 4-6 more hours of "working". Instead, we are sitting or moving just a little and not supporting our body with the right foods to leave us satisfied and nourished (thus leaving us grazing and over snacking). Of course, not everyone will fit this mold - there are people who undereat, those who can't put on weight, those who choose to underfuel/restrict and those who have a great diet. But for the most part, active individuals are not supporting workouts properly and thus overeating at certain times (ex. evening before bed) and not recovering/fueling properly when the body needs fuel to assist in metabolic processes and sometimes not able to be consistent with workouts due to feeling sick, exhausted and burnout without feeling as if the training routine is intense enough to warrant those issues. However, for many athletes, training volume is excessive and not of quality and with a diet that is not properly planned, this is another topic to discuss in another blog.  

Now this isn't to say that we should restrict calories on light or off training days or that we should have good and bad food when working out. The bottom line is that we need to identify the times when our body is most active and we need to support it properly with "energy". All other times, we need to think about nourishment and what many people don't do, is feeling satisfied - not stuffed, not guilty and not restricted.

Here are a few of my recent creations for you to enjoy. I am not sure if this blog clears up any confusion but I hope that this gets you thinking a bit more about what your body allows you to do on a day to day basis in terms of life and with exercise/training. Your body doesn't have to let you do what it does and often we take for granted how complicated our body is when it comes to its physiology during exercise...let alone daily life.

To keep it simple - focus on yourself. You've read the articles on the internet, you have the books and you have resources. Eat the right foods at the right times to support your workouts and don't be afraid of gaining weight as it isn't that 30g of carbs during a 1+ hour workout or that banana w/ PB before and glass of milk post workout that is causing you to gain weight. Keep the food easy to digest so you don't experience GI distress and find what works for you before, during and after workouts for every type of scenario. When it comes to the daily diet, accept what a portion looks like of grains, fats, dairy, protein etc. and rather than having a black or white mentality - be appreciative of what food can offer your body instead of thinking about what's so bad about food. And most of all, remove pressure to eat a certain way for weight loss. Your body will take care of itself as you find yourself eating for fuel, health and for pleasure. 

Creamy broccoli slaw
1 package broccoli slaw
2-3 spoonfuls pineapple Chobani Yogurt
Salt/sugar to taste (~2-3 tsp sugar, pinch or two of salt)
1-2 tbsp sunflower seeds

1. Mix together and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving (it will be better the next day!)

Veggie stacked pizza creation
1 frozen pizza (or local cheese pizza)

1. Preheat oven to recommended temp on box (or 400 for veggies).
2. Toss veggies in a little olive oil and place on non stick pan.
3. Bake veggies for ~15-20 minutes.
4. Bake pizza (top with pineapple)
5. Top pizza with veggies. 

Fruit salad with baguette
1 serving fresh baguette (toasted and sliced in half)
Dark green mix
Protein of your choice (cottage cheese in picture)
Fresh fruit - pineapple, red pears, orange slices
Veggies - onions, carrots, peppers
Coconut shreds

1. Toss and enjoy. Serve with balsamic or salsa or hummus on the side. 

Fresh fruit = electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, medicine, hydration, yumminess

Salad with brown rice and cottage cheese

Mixed greens
Green pepper
Purple onion
Sunflower seeds
Grain of your choice - brown rice as pictured)
Balsamic and Olive oil

Creamy yogurt dressing
1/2 cup yogurt
1-2 tbsp favorite dressing
Veggies of your choice

1. Mix together and refrigerate. 

Check out the current issue of Fitness magazine for a few of my fueling tips for your upcoming triathlon in the 6 page spread dedicated to training for your first triathlon. 

Happy eating!