Sunday, September 29, 2013

A few Nutrition tips to help you in your next race!

It’s that time of year, when all the runners are out.  Whether you’re training for a 5-K, half-marathon, or marathon, special attention should be placed not only on training for your runs but also on your nutrition.    Maybe you’ve heard that you need to load up on your carbs, drink lots of water, and stay away from the fiber.  But the question is, are you doing the right thing?

The food that you choose to fuel you through your run can make a big impact on your performance.  Runners tend toward extremes:  overdoing food or drink, cutting back on foods that give them fuel, or eating/drinking foods that may cause digestive disaster (aka runner’s trots).  Here are some tips to not only help you avoid those common mistakes but also guide you in what to eat and drink.  Having the proper nutrition before, during, and after the race can help you perform at your best.

The Mistake:  Eating a box of pasta

Runners like to feast on carbs the night before a race.  And why not, right?  You’re going to burn through them the next day.  But overloading your system with more carbs than it can handle may only lead to digestive problems  (I’ve actually seen it happen during a race.  Believe me, it wasn’t pretty).  Running to the porta-potty every mile isn’t performing at your best.

The Fix:

The key is to consume moderate amounts – not huge portions all at once – of carbs several days prior.  And make sure before the actual race that you’re trying this out.  What works for one will not work for all, but the key is to train this way (no one wants any surprises on race day).  You can have oatmeal for breakfast, quinoa for lunch, and whole-wheat pasta for dinner.  Make sure you pay attention to your body’s cues – eat to fullness so that you’re not bothered by indigestion.

The Mistake:  Drinking Gallons of H₂O

If you’re drinking too much water before the race it can leave you feeling bloated and can also dilute your electrolytes (those minerals responsible for muscle contraction).  Other side effects from diluting your electrolytes:  muscle weakness or cramping, and in extreme cases, can lead to hyponatremia (a life-threatening condition triggered by abnormally low sodium levels).

The Fix:

The key is to stay hydrated days leading up to your race.  Make sure you’re taking in enough water (refer to the color of your urine to let you know.  The darker, more concentrated in color means you are dehydrated.  Urine should be almost clear in color).  On the morning of the race, you can have ~16 ounces of water two to three hours before the start, allowing your body time to process this extra fluid; drink another one to two cups right before the start (and of course hydrate throughout the race).

The Mistake:  Loading up on Fiber

Eating healthy means including ~25-35 grams of fiber per day.  Fiber should be gradually included into one’s diet – otherwise uncomfortable gas & runner’s trots may ensue.  So if you’re used to having a high-fiber diet, all that roughage right before a race shouldn’t be a problem.  But if you’ve been living on pizza and burgers, now is not the time (a week before race-day) to try to have 25 grams of fiber in a day.  Mix the high-fiber foods with prerace jitters and well, accidents may occur.

The Fix: 

The truth is that one should be training with these foods during your practice runs and then you can see how your body reacts.  But if you think that fiber may be an issue cut back on those foods a few days before a major race.  If you’re racing every weekend, reduce your fiber intake only on race day to make sure you don’t cut all of the fiber out of your diet. (And if you’re doing races every weekend you really should be eating better).

The Mistake:  Skipping Breakfast

There are many reasons that runners skip breakfast before a race:  too nervous or worried about feeling full, don’t wake up early enough, and as is my case, burping ensues the whole way.  Without it, you’re likely to tank in any race.  Why?  Studies show that a prerace meal keeps your blood sugar steady and provides energy to power you through.  If you skip breakfast there’s no way to get enough fuel midrace. 

The Fix:

If you know you get too nervous to eat before a race, try waking up a few hours before the start.  This will allow you to eat slow, letting each bite settle before taking another.  If you can’t stomach solid foods, try drinking a smoothie (bananas, peanut butter, & milk).  These ingredients are easy on most stomachs, provide energy, and won’t leave you feeling overly full.  Make sure to test these out and see which works best for you.

The Mistake:  Trying Something New

If you’ve never had a spicy tuna roll, don’t order it the night before your race.  You won’t know how a food affects you until you’ve tried.  Last minute experimentation could send you straight to the bathroom and might even leave you dehydrated.

The Fix:

Stick with what you know a week before the race.  You can also check the race website to see which drinks and gels (if any) will be offered along the course.  Test them out in advance.  Don’t be afraid to skip the prerace dinner or hotel breakfast.  Remember if you’re not used to it, stick with something you know. For my race in November it’s in Puerto Rico.  I’ll make sure to bring some stuff that I’m familiar with – I always travel with food.

Eat better

If you can find time to train hard, you can also find the time to fuel-up right!  Competitive athletes that don’t show up for meals might as well not show up for training.  You’ll lose your edge with hit or miss fueling.  Make sure to fuel-up with good nutrition – you’ll always win!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's not a diet; it's a way of life.

It’s not a diet; it’s a way of life.

I’ve recently been checking the news online.  Articles appear as I scroll down my phone and not a day goes by that there isn’t an article about “You’ve gotta try this to lose weight”.  Daily articles.  Here are a few I saw just this last week:
If losing weight was a magic pill believe me I would’ve already bottled it up by now.  Why are there so many articles about weight loss/diets?  It’s something people are struggling with and want to have a “quick fix” so they’re always on the search.  They’ll try anything and everything that they think might work – hoping that this time it WILL work.  A local hospital here in Miami publishes a health magazine that came out this past week.  They had an article in this issue about gastric bypass and they featured a teen that had recently had the surgery.  A teen getting gastric bypass?  Yes we have an obesity problem here in America.  There are many reasons why we have this problem:  portion distortion, eating on the go, unhealthy processed foods, too much screen time, a sedentary lifestyle, mindless eating…yeah we have issues.  But to resort to a life-changing surgery in a child that is still growing and will forever be nutritionally at risk (due to the surgery) seems a little extreme to me.  Her problem didn’t happen overnight nor will it go away now that she’s had the surgery.  Too many times we focus on trying to fix the problem in the here and now.  What about the issues she has revolving around food?  Just because her stomach is now physically smaller doesn’t mean that now she has a healthy relationship with food.  Healthy eating and exercise are a way of life, not just a 2 week diet that’ll get you to fit into that dress you’ve been wanting.  It’s a lifestyle change that is a journey.  No one ever said that it’d be easy and unfortunately there are fad diets out there that promise otherwise. 
Here are 5 simple ways to be able to spot that it’s a fad diet.  (My definition of a fad diet:  taking advantage of your desire to drop weight quickly, these diets often give empty promises rather than actual results):
1.     The diet is based on drastically cutting back your calories.  These starvation type diets require the body to fast and promise quick results.  Our bodies aren’t designed to drop pounds quickly – the trick that these very low-calorie diets are relying on is our body’s natural reaction to dump water.  So most of the weight lost on these weight-loss diets is not fat, it’s just water.  Once you start eating normally again your body will absorb this water and you gain the weight that you lost, back, and then some.
2.     The diet is based on taking special pills, powders, or herbs.  If they’re requiring you to buy their product, that’s a red alert that it’s a fad diet.  Diet pills contain laxatives or diuretics that force your body to eliminate more water (dropping pounds quickly just like the low calorie diets do).  Other supplements have claims that their ingredients can suppress your appetite, speed up your metabolism, or even block the absorption of fat.  I’m here to tell you that there is no reliable scientific research to back up these claims.  There I said it.  Don’t start believing their claims – it’s a gimmick!
3.       The diet tells you to eat only specific foods or foods in certain combinations.  This one always drives me crazy.  If you can be THIS restrictive and follow what it is that they tell you to eat (or not eat) then you can adapt healthy eating habits too.  Once again, there’s no scientific proof that combining certain foods works.  And if we start limiting the foods that we eat now you’re messing with getting the adequate nutrition that your body needs.
4.     The diet makes you completely cut out fat, sugar, or carbs.  It should be a red flag once again if the diet is telling you to completely eliminate a whole food group (or nutrient for that matter) that our body needs.  Low-fat/no fat diets were popular back when I was in school and I just remember thinking if they’re taking one thing out they’ve got to put something else back in.  It’s better to eat smaller portions in well-rounded meals (I’ll talk about this later).  Once our body gets the right balance of nutrition, it’s less likely to have intense cravings.
5.     The diet requires you to skip meals or replace meals with special drinks or food bars.  Our bodies need energy throughout the day.  If you skip a meal that only confuses your body.  And substituting meals can also mean that you’re not getting the nutrition you need.  Not to mention you miss out on the enjoyment of sharing a satisfying meal with your friends or family.
Remember if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  So what is one to do?  Start adopting healthy habits one step at a time.  If you try to take all the changes on at one time odds are you won’t be successful.  Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Here a few helpful tips/suggestions of things that you can change/work on. 
1.     Drink plenty of water.  Water is calorie-free and we often are not getting enough (just check your urine to see how you’re doing.  It should be clear.  The darker more concentrated yellow in color the more dehydrated you are).  High calorie drinks like specialty coffees and sodas can average about ~400-500 calories/drink.  These liquid calories can add up quick and are the easiest place to cut back.  Think your drink and choose water first!
2.     Eat small meals, 5-6, throughout the day.  This usually works out to be 3 main meals with 2 snacks for the day.  Eating this way helps you from skipping meals and overeating.  It keeps your blood sugar steady, so your energy won’t lag.  At each of these meals/snacks, make sure that you’re balancing your carbohydrate, protein, and fat in the right proportions (this can take some effort in learning how to do but makes all the difference).
3.     Fiber.  Fiber aids in digestion, prevents constipation, lowers cholesterol, and can even aid in weight loss.  Most Americans get only half the daily fiber that they need.  Women need 25 grams per day and men should get 38 grams per day (~14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories).  Good fiber sources include oatmeal, beans, whole grain foods, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
4.     Choose whole, natural foods and eliminate or minimize processed foods.  Processed foods are anything in a box, bag, can or package.  This will take some time to implement but really examine what you have in your house and where you spend your time in the grocery store (the inner aisles are where the processed foods are at, most times).  Remember, start with one change and once you’ve got that down, start with another.
5.     Get moving.  Regular physical activity every day is a must for so many reasons.  Not only does it decrease fat, strengthen and build muscle and help you burn more calories when you rest, it keeps your heart, lungs, and bones healthy and strong.  Studies show that even just fifteen minutes a day is the single best way for people to improve their health.  Why stop there?
These are just a few helpful tips/suggestions to get you going on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.  Balance, moderation, variety, and one step at a time.  It’s not a diet; it’s a way of life.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

That's a Keeper

It’s Sunday morning and it’s time to figure out what to eat for the week.  I’m planning my grocery list so that I’ll have all the items I need to make for the recipes I select.   But how will I decide what to cook?  I go to my “That’s A Keeper” book and see what looks/sounds good.  “That’s A Keeper” started a few years back when my dad and I were eating dinner one night.  He looked over to me after we had just tried out a new recipe and asked me simply, “Is it a keeper?”   I responded with a, “no”, and he said, “well, it’s a keeper for me” and thus began our individualized “That’s a Keeper” books.  The recipes that make it into my book are not always the ones that make it into my dad’s book.  I hate having to try out new recipes for fear that they are not going to be a success.  But at least this way I have recipes that I know will be a success.  My mom is always trying out new recipes and that also helps in adding more “keepers” to my book.  Who wants to cook something if it’s not going to taste good?  Over the years I’ve been collecting all my “keepers” and constantly sharing these recipes with friends so that they too will have “keepers”.   And again maybe it won’t end up being a keeper for everyone, but that’s the beauty of food and recipes that we try, finding the ones that are your “keepers”.  Here are few “keepers” that made it to my book.

This is an easy and quick appetizer to make that’s always a success.  I line the baking sheet with aluminum foil so the clean-up is a little simpler too.


These tacos are light and refreshing.  Just be prepared to have some napkins handy!


Main Dish - Vegetarian:  Linguini with Zucchini and Chickpeas
Here’s another quick and simple meal that you can make on those busy weeknights.  It provides you with all the protein you need, balanced with a vegetable and your carbohydrate.

Salad Dressings:  BalsamicVinaigrette
Salad dressings are too simple not to make at home.  In this recipe I don’t add salt as the mustard is already providing an ample amount (but yet way less than a store bought dressing).  It’s flavorful and you can always double or triple the recipe when you’re making it.
This recipe is definitely a dessert because of the mascarpone that’s added in.  I always get rave reviews when I make this.

So there you have it – a few of my “keepers”.  I still try out new recipes in the hopes that I’ll have more keepers (because I also don’t want to keep eating the same thing over and over).  Today I made a homemade ranch dressing, homemade almond butter, and mini-apple pies – all keepers in my book!!