Sunday, August 21, 2016

Taste or Function?

This week's blog topic arises from an issue I encounter with many of the athletes with whom I work: taste vs. function. You see, there has been an issue that has been getting worse in the world of sport nutrition. This issue is that sports nutrition product companies seem to think that adding more sugar will attract more athletes to their products. In a sense, they are correct. The combination of sugar, fat, and salt in foods will attract most people to a particular food.

However, we are not talking about food, per se. This issue stems by athletes not separating the function of sports nutrition products versus real food. You see, sports nutrition products (gels, bars, chews, drinks, etc.) have a very specific purpose: to supply the body with certain nutrients to support physical exercise. Conversely, daily nutrition (meals and snacks) have the purpose of supplying the body with nutrients to improve health, decrease the risk of disease, and alter body composition and body weight.

Taste is an interesting word and in my humble opinion, food should have the highest priority for tasting good. Use different cooking methods, spices, herbs, etc. to improve taste. Don't add more sugar to food. Remember, think of the end goal of calories used throughout the day versus calories used during training.

Taste should not be as high of a concern for sports nutrition products. Don't get me wrong, they should pass the initial, "I don't have to plug my nose and wince to consume a product", but c'mon now, if you expect a sports nutrition product to taste as good as food, you are fooling yourself. Sports nutrition products, when used, have a specific purpose as I mentioned previously. While good for a company's business model, these products should not replace real food eaten during meals and snacks. And therein lies the problem...

Athletes, I urge you to reshape your thought patterns to support using sports nutrition products for a purpose and not eating them for leisure. Use these sparingly, only when needed, and don't expect them to taste as good as the meals you make at home. Additionally, save your taste buds and harsh critiques for the food that you eat throughout the day. This is where being critical is to your benefit.

Remember, look at the ingredients in your sports nutrition products to be sure that they support your nutrient requirements during exercise, not during your normal work and social activities throughout the day.

And there you have it...


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Throw it or beat it?

This week's blog is going to be a bit more personal but one that every person can relate to I am sure. Whether in the past, currently, or in the future, I am sure this scenario has, is, or will happen to you. Often times, like with me, it is easy to keep things bottled up inside and difficult to let them out in the open. We typically worry about being vulnerable, weak, or defeated but in reality, I believe sometimes we do not express our current challenges for fear of failure and not proving to ourselves that we are good enough.

It can be weight loss, quitting smoking or drinking, ending a bad relationship...anything really. Why don't we face our challenges? Are challenges fears? Sometimes, but I believe that challenges are internal tests that are provided to us to make us better. It may take a few tries but try we do and eventually, no matter how many times we fall, we will get back up and succeed.

Reflect on a current situation that you have gone through. Did you feel deflated, mentally fatigued when thinking about the mountain you had to overcome? Did you feel it was impossible (which in my dictionary really means I-AM-POSSIBLE). Sometimes, we do let it get the best of us. But sometimes, something special happens. You know that special as it is the "get up and go", the "I'm not taking this", and simply the "why not?". Whatever motivation you use, use it now. Tell yourself that it is important. Change, do, succeed. Make no mistake, you will be a better person in the long run because you learn more about yourself, the obstacles that try to stop you and the ones that you overcome to succeed. Succeed at being an athlete, a parent, a sibling, a friend, and most importantly, a human being. It will be difficult but you will make yourself proud.

As I reflect on these words, I look back at my athletic season this year. While it may sound shallow, sport and competition is a very important part of who I am. Setting and achieving goals is very important to me but I also use sport to teach life lessons to youth and juniors (and myself!), and influence others to lead healthier lives.

Earlier this year, I got a sinus infection. Pretty typical as I usually get one per year. Now, I'm probably not the wisest but I just do not like going to the doctor or taking any medications so I just powered through it and let it run its course (probably not a good idea as you will see). This was in April and May. I did some light training and was able to do a back to back Spartan Sprint and Super race in May. Then I transitioned into triathlon training (short course).  

My first triathlon was the end of June and while I was training, I never really felt good.  I completed the race and will tell you that I had never felt so lousy during a race in my entire athletic career.  Something was off. I found out a week later that I had walking pneumonia and raced with it. The medical person I saw gave me antibiotics and said to take it easy for a month. I listened and did very little training in fear that the walking pneumonia would resurface. I played it safe and saw my fitness level plummet. When I thought it was safe, I started to train a little and found that I, again, did not feel well.  Another trip to the medical clinic last week and another diagnosis with a sinus infection. This time, I knew what had to be done: take antibiotics. Desperate times call for desperate measures!  Ten days of antibiotics now to hopefully kick this second sinus infection.

So, here's the kicker...I have a Spartan Beast race in two weeks, at altitude.  I have two sprint triathlon races in 4 weeks and cyclocross season after that. A week ago, I threw in the towel, literally. I gave up on my training, my season, and my goals. I knew I didn't have enough time to train to accomplish the high goals that I had set. Just today, I threw that idea in the trash. Why, you ask?

It doesn't matter if you don't feel like you can accomplish the goal that you set for yourself. We will always be underprepared but you know what? You have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I learned that when training for 100 mile runs. To give up my season would be a failure in my mind. I have decided to march through the bad luck that I have experienced this year and move forward because my health is important to me. Fitness is important to me. Proving to myself that I can do this is important to me.

So I ask you: what is important to you and what will you do about it?

Until next week...


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Genomics testing

I first wrote about genomics testing in a previous blog and since then, I have had the opportunity to order and interpret a few tests for a few of my athletes. At first glance you would think genomics testing is nothing special but once you see the data, it's a game changer. I want to highlight the practitioner (me) vs. athlete (you) take on a genomics report.


This is a ton of cool data! I see which genes have SNP's on them and then I figure out how these genes interact with the other genes in the systems of the body. Does one SNP affect another which makes a certain cycle or protein less or more active? What about the affects this has on which foods I should recommend to my athlete? Does my athlete have to take certain supplements in addition to eating certain foods in order to complement their genomics and individual SNP's? 

These are all of the questions that initially go through my head when looking at the genomics report. Of course, I then progress to looking at the different categories of genes and SNP's such as eating behaviors, immune system, inflammation, oxidative stress, thyroid, and weight management (these are all markers on one specific genomics panel-called the sports genomics panel).  There is a more comprehensive panel that looks at many more genes and can help an athlete understand more health markers related to gene SNP's rather than those just affecting their sport performance.

It's great information for sure. I take it and put it into more understandable language for the athlete, spend some time discussing it with him/her, and then come up with a better daily nutrition plan. Easy peasy (so to speak).


This is a ton of cool data! I can see pages of pages of information but I really don't know what to do with it (most athletes look at each gene SNP individually instead of in groups of how they affect other systems of the body). Is this saying that I am going to gain weight or that I have increased risk of some diseases due to some SNP's on my genes? Do I have SNP's on genes that affect my body's ability to fight inflammation and oxidative stress? What does all of this mean????


Yes, it can be confusing if you just have a report sent to you with no interpretation from a qualified specialist. Just like any test really. You want to be sure that you are working with someone who knows how to interpret the results but also how to package it into your life, exercise and nutrition habits.

My point in circling back and writing about genomics testing is that with more and more of these tests that I am ordering and interpreting for my athletes, the more I gravitate toward the importance of testing. Be it blood work, metabolic efficiency, sweat sodium concentration, or now, genomics testing, it will really provide a portfolio of information regarding your health and how to improve your lifestyle to improve your performance.

I put myself through the ringer of genomics testing and sprung for the most comprehensive package. What I learned is some of the most incredible information that I have never known before. I wish I would have done this 20 years ago so I could have shaped my eating and exercise behaviors a bit more intelligently instead of just going with the flow.

I truly believe that genomics testing, coupled within the nutrition model, will be a game changer for all athletes, regardless of age, sport or level. It takes the guesswork out of how your body is working at the most deepest level.

Have I changed my daily nutrition habits based on my genomics report?  Oh, you bet I have! I will save that information for a future blog. And there you have it.  A little teaser for you in hopes that you contemplate the need to justify having genomics testing done on you.

Until next time...


Monday, July 25, 2016

Overthinking it?

I have had the great honor to work with hundreds upon hundreds of athletes in my career.  Olympians, recreational, youth, all different sports and ages. One thing that I have realized is that "it depends" is a very popular answer in my repertoire of answer questions from athletes. The simple reason is that each athlete is very individual from their physiology, genetic make up, fitness level, and psychological outlook.  The latter is what I wanted to chat about a bit in this blog since it seems to be a hot topic in the sports nutrition for athletes world.

What I am referring to is not mental tenacity, planning and preparing meals or snacks, or even what an athlete eats.  I am talking about psychological excessiveness.  I am sure there is a more technical term for this but this is how I describe it. Most athletes do have an "excessive gene" which I define as taking things to the extreme. This can sometimes be good and sometimes not. I remember a few years ago when I was doing my low carb/high fat nutritional experiment and I had to completely take my nutrition to the extreme to ensure that I was only eating a certain amount of carbohydrates and protein while keeping my fat high. I had to log every day.  I had to be methodical to the point where it was fun at first but drove me crazy by the end of my 4 week experiment. Perhaps it was just me, perhaps not.

What I have learned from many athletes whom I have worked with is twofold: 1) many believe nutrition is complex due to their past experiences and feel that they need to count, weigh, measure, and take their nutrition to the quantitative breaking point which can be cause mental exhaustion and lead to the already high life stress of athletes, and 2) many just want nutrition to be simple. Tell me what to eat and don't make me think about it too much. Don't get me wrong, I respect athletes who want to learn more about food and what is best for their bodies but much like my feelings at the end of my nutrition experiment, I wonder if it is worth overthinking this whole nutrition thing.

Hire a qualified Sport Dietitian who can help you take this very complex nutrition world and make it simple. That's our job. I doubt you want to know the intricate details of metabolic processes but rather, want to know what you can purchase at the grocery store to improve your health and athletic performance.  Learn what foods will best optimize your blood sugar and improve health and performance without overthinking this. We all lead busy lives with a high amount of life and training stress. Add another layer of complexity to the mix and it may just send you over the edge.

Push your computer away from you now and think deeply about how you perceive food. How you interact with it, and if you let it take up too much brain power than it should. Now take a deep breath and know that it will be okay no matter which side of the thinking fence you are on. Over or under thinking.  It happens. Try to find that happy balance!

Until next week...


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Meals, mush and feedings

My apologies for missing my blog post last week. I was on a 4 day road trip across the country to coach at a draft legal triathlon for my Teens that TRI team. Fortunately, I had another great travel nutrition tip pop into my head during to my experience on the road, living the hotel life.

I believe many people think that when you travel, you must go out to restaurants when you eat. I mean, you need to eat a meal but does it really have to be a meal? I mean, what is a meal anyway? My perception of meals and snacks is that they are feedings. Call them opportunities to control and optimize blood sugar through the use of different nutrients in foods. Meals hold a certain connotation to them that screams possible overfeeding and quite frankly, I believe this leads to a greater stress on individuals when trying to deal with meal planning.

If we drop the barriers of meal planning and call them what they really are, feedings, perhaps there will be a more positive shift in the way we approach food. Maybe, just maybe, we would listen to our instinctual hunger cues more, eat when we are hungry, only until we are full, and not be pressured into eating too much because of the word "meal". It's just a thought but having spent 19 hours in the car last weekend, it really afforded me the opportunity to collect my thoughts on this subject.

Try it and let me know if switching from a meal and snack system to a feeding paradigm shift works for better controlling your blood sugar and becoming more metabolically efficient. I am curious to hear how many find success with this. I know I have but it did take a little while because I had to switch my habits that were engrained for many years. Be patient and remember, we are all on this journey of life together but we can all take different roads. Be adventurous when you feel comfortable and have the confidence to make the change and maintain it!

As for the "mush" in my blog title...well that was one of my feedings in my hotel room during my last trip. I like to purchase natural crunchy peanut butter, berries or a banana, and unsweetened coconut or almond milk at a grocery store and mix it in a cup in my hotel room.  It's a quick and easy feeding that hits the spot in terms of satiety and improving metabolic efficiency.

Here's to a great week!


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Got Sleep?

Who needs sleep? It seems like more and more athletes are pushing the limits of the 24 hour day to try to fit in as many tasks as possible. But with what consequences? Endurance athletes are known for waking up at "O-dark-thirty", with compromising sleep for early morning training sessions. While this may or may not be the best thing for each individual athlete, what affect may it have on the body?

This brings me to topic of my blog in relation to the research article that I read last week (I read a bunch but this one stood out based on its timing). It looked at sleep deprivation and the effects on testosterone. First a quick review about testosterone. This steroid hormone is produced in larger amounts in males and smaller amounts in females. It increases during puberty and begins to decline after the age of 30. This is important because it acts in the promotion of the growth hormone response which can affect muscle protein synthesis. Aging athletes with decreased testosterone production usually see a decrease in performance. Testosterone boosters and supplements have been all the rage in the past (and present) but I'm not here to discuss that controversial topic.

Back to the research study I read. While it only looked at a small sample size of 10 healthy, young (24 years old) males, what I found interesting (and worth writing about) was the sleep deprivation aspect of this study.

After a normal week of getting 8 hours of sleep per night, the subjects visited the lab where they spend the first three days getting 10 hours of sleep per night then were restricted to 5 hours of sleep per night for the next 8 nights. Most athletes wouldn't bat an eye at this change. In fact, it may be the norm for most working athletes who have families and may travel for work. However, if we fast forward to the results, what is really interesting is that daytime testosterone levels decreased by 10-15%.

Many questions always come out of reading research studies. Probably the most important is one that I receive on frequent occasions from athletes who either have low testosterone levels or are trying to naturally boost their levels is, "what can I do to increase my testosterone levels?". While blood work analysis should first be encouraged for each athlete regarding their hormone levels in response to age and training status, perhaps the pertinent answer right now is simply to try to stay consistent with sleep patterns and try not to deprive yourself of sleep if at all possible.

I know it may be difficult for some but if you are an athlete, sleep should be planned in your day just like your training and nutrition. There is no excuse for missing out on one of the best times of the day that you can use to repair your body and improve its physiological adaptation to training stimuli.

Off to bed now...


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fried and Scrambled

Interesting title, eh? Will I be talking about eggs? Perhaps but there is a bit more "peeling of the onion" that I would like to do before I make it to eggs.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to race my first sprint triathlon of the season with a group of my Junior triathletes (Teens that TRI). I was extremely excited for this as I love the energy they bring to a race. My last weekend of travels took a hit on my immune system so last week was spent resting, nursing a fever and body aches, and just overall not feeling well. It wasn't until the day before the race where I decided that I would race. It was a tough decision and I knew I wouldn't be 100% but I wanted to be at the race as Coach so why not race, right!

Fried...I had an okay race. Nothing spectacular and what I would term below average for me due to my immune system. An excuse? No. I train with metrics and knew exactly what I should have been able to do in the swim, on the bike and the run and the metrics just didn't line up on race day. I didn't let the illness in my head but just felt a bit off the entire day. A bit fried, if you will. I analyzed my metrics later that day after the race and confirmed that fried was a good way to describe my overall body feeling. Numbers were low, RPE was high, economy was just off.

I expected this going into the race but what was very interesting to me was to see how much less efficiency my body would give for the day. I don't think I had ever tried to test that out in a sprint triathlon. So, overall, I see it as a very positive experience in learning more about my body's ability and mental preparation going into a race. Some may say it was not wise to do that but I approach every race as a learning opportunity. This one specifically garnered me valuable experience to not only file in the data banks for the future but also to use as a teaching tool for my Junior triathlon team.

If you are wondering, I did manage to pull off the age-group victory (by over 3 minutes) but in a race like this, I should be competing for overall, not age-group awards. Am I upset? Not at all. Sometimes a placing doesn't provide you all of the meaningful information about yourself. Wise athletes will always look deeper for the true interpretation of the day's events...

Scrambled...the highlight of this race is the post-race food. It is known within the triathlon community for an unbelievable post-race buffet and they certainly did not disappoint!  This is what I call nutrition recovery in a true metabolically efficient manner!

Enjoy your week!