This month we have been focusing on the top five vitamin and mineral deficiencies that are commonly found in athletes: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc. This is the last of the series on this week we are diving into iron.
Iron deficiency is near and dear to my heart because I struggled with it for YEARS (and still do if I’m not being mindful and proactive with my iron intake). The fatigue I struggled with was no joke. I chalked it up to over-training, but even after days off, I still felt horrible. And I know I’m not alone. Endurance athletes, especially female runners, have been identified as being high risk for developing iron deficiency. A recent review from The University of Western Australia, Edith Cowan University, and the WA Institute of Sport found that up to 35 percent of female athletes are iron deficient compared to about five percent in the general female population. Male athletes were also iron deficient by approximately 11 percent compared to one percent of the general male population.
Exercise can inhibit the body's ability to absorb iron which puts athletes at a higher risk for iron deficiency than those that don’t exercise regularly. This poses a large concern for athletes because iron deficiency can leave you feeling lethargic and fatigued, it can hinder your ability to recover properly from exercise and in general, it reduces your athletic performance.
THUMBS DOWN to that!
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
Early onset of iron deficiency can be asymptomatic. But if left untreated, it can lead to a whole host of symptoms and even iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency is a condition resulting from too little iron in the body. It is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the world.
Anemia is a condition in which you do not have enough hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that is responsible for carrying adequate oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. Iron plays a role in the production of hemoglobin in the body, which explains why iron deficiency and anemia are so closely related.
So if you want to breathe easy during exercise, you can see why having enough iron is important! You can also see why one of the leading symptoms of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia is shortness of breath.
Other symptoms include:
Menstruating women are at a high risk for iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia due to monthly blood loss. If those women also run (especially on hard surfaces, like asphalt or cement), they have an increased risk due to a condition called hemolysis. Hemolysis is the destruction of red blood cells and the shock of multiple foot strikes on hard surfaces mile after mile damages red blood cells.
Vegans and vegetarians are also at high risk for iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. This is because the most absorbable form of iron is mostly available in animal products. What limited iron is available from plant based foods is limited in its absorption due to the phytic acid found on these foods. Soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting can help make the iron in plant foods more bioavailable.
Any condition that results in blood loss can lead to iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia, including heavy menstruation, pregnancy, frequent or excessive blood donation, fibroids, digestive tract disease (including infections), surgeries and accidents.
Alcohol and aspirin abuse have also been shown to reduce iron levels in the body.
The tests most commonly used to detect iron deficiency are:
A diagnosis of iron deficiency can only be made by a medical professional when a person has both low hemoglobin and hematocrit, low mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) (functional ranges should be between 27.7-32), low serum ferritin and high red blood cell distribution width (RDW)(functional ranges should be between 11.7%-15%). Iron deficiency without anemia is diagnosed when a person has a normal hemoglobin, but below normal serum ferritin.
It is not uncommon to see a CBC ordered on a standard annual blood panel, but no iron panel ordered. If you check your latest blood panel and you don’t see an iron panel, check your CBC for both hemoglobin and hematocrit. If one or both are low, it is in your best interested to talk to your doctor about ordering an iron panel.
If you need help ordering or interpreting your blood work to see if you show signs of iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, reach out to me. I’m happy to review your blood panel and help point you in the right direction. You should never self-diagnose an iron deficiency.
There are many reasons your iron panel can look off on paper and just taking an iron supplement without consulting a professional can result in iron overload, which is a very dangerous condition. Iron overload can cause hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes, hyperpigmentation of the skin and cardigan failure.
While I am a huge advocate of incorporating lots of plants into your meals, it has been found that those with iron deficiency should reduce their intake of all plant based foods and instead focus their meals around iron-rich foods.
If you are a vegetarian due to ethical reasons, then some of the foods you can focus on to up your iron levels include:
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron for all age groups of men and postmenopausal women is 8 mg/day; the RDA for premenopausal women is 18 mg/day. Here is a list of some iron rich food sources:
Additionally, the level of iron will increase in your foods if you cook them in a cast iron skillet. This is especially true for high-acid foods such as applesauce, eggs, and tomato-based recipes as these foods encourage the leaching of iron out of the pan. The greater the acidity of the food and the longer you cook it, the more iron is transferred. Generally speaking, one cup of acidic foods cooked in a cast iron pan will gain about six to eight milligrams of iron. Note that highly acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus juices, should not be cooked in a brand new cast iron pan until the cookware has been highly seasoned.
You can achieve a higher bioavailability of dietary iron by increasing the content of food components that enhance iron absorption, such as ascorbic acid, and by decreasing the content of inhibitors, such as phytates and tannins found on unsoaked plant foods. As previously mentioned, aim for 500-1000mg of vitamin C per meal to optimize the absorption of iron.
The body has a remarkable ability to regulate the uptake of iron through the intestines, so overdose with food consumption is rare and usually only occurs when people take supplements.
One more reason to also optimize your diet before jumping to taking a supplement!
If diet and digestion have been optimized, and any diseases resulting in a loss of blood have been ruled out, but iron levels are still low, supplementation can be helpful. Many iron supplements cause constipation and other undesirable side effects, so only use them as a final resort.
Iron is present in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed from the gut with greater efficiency. Therefore, when supplementation is necessary, look for a natural form of heme iron, like this one.
When taking iron supplements, try to avoid taking it with meals or other supplements as this can decrease the absorption of the iron. Since iron supplements can have unwanted side effects, I typically recommend clients take their iron supplement at least 2 hour after their last meal of the day, right before bed.
Iron is an important mineral necessary for many biological pathways, but especially for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Various degrees of deficiency can occur in all athletes and can result in symptoms that range from very little to severe fatigue. Iron deficiency, even if not anemic, can have an adverse effect on athletic performance.
There are many causes of iron deficiency which include poor iron intake, menstrual losses, gastrointestinal bleeding, foot strike hemolysis, and even sweat losses. For these reasons, athletes are a higher risk for iron deficiency than sedentary people. Female athletes, runners and vegan/vegetarian athletes are also higher risk.
If you have or are experiencing shortness of breath (especially with every day activities like walking up a flight of stairs), fatigue, heart palpitations, hair loss, dizziness, depression, cold sensitivity (or low body temperature), loss of interest in daily activities such as work, recreation and relationships, restless leg syndrome or pica (the desire to chew ice), you should get your iron levels tested. Either talk to your doctor about testing options, or reach out to me for testing and a comprehensive evaluation of your blood results.
As with ALL the minerals we’ve discussed this month, iron doesn’t work independently to itself so exploring lifestyle factors and other iron cofactors can have a significant impact on your iron status. Don’t sit back and be fatigued when you can make a few changes to your diet and lifestyle and feel energized again!
Many of us know that zinc is required at adequate levels to have a healthy immune system. But did you know that adequate levels of zinc are also required for wound healing, collagen formation (hello healthy hair, nails and skin!), and even hormone production?
Zinc is also required to convert vitamin A into its active form which is required for proper vision, especially at night.
Although a blatant zinc deficiency is rare in the United States (it is estimated that approximately 10% of the adult population in the US is deficient), studies have shown that zinc loss through urine increases by 10-45% after moderate exercise.
Zinc, like many of the other minerals we have been discussing this month, is also lost in sweat.
With many athletes' diets being low in mineral density and an increased rate of mineral loss during exercise, it is no wonder why we see thousands of reported clinical trials and studies devoted to exercise performance and mineral status.
And the findings are clear.
Magnesium, zinc, calcium, copper, and iron appear to be the leading minerals impacted by exercise, with magnesium and zinc impacted the most.
Zinc is a key micronutrient for proper cell division and cell growth, so it’s needed to maintain strength in the muscular and skeletal systems. It also helps with the release of growth hormone, testosterone and insulin-like growth factor-1, all of which build muscle mass and help you maintain a healthy metabolism.
Zinc deficiency has been shown to lead to chronic fatigue and low energy levels because it is a key nutrient when it comes time to absorbing both protein and carbohydrates from our food.
There is no question about the increased needs for minerals in athletes, especially zinc. So let’s take a closer look at the signs of deficiency, risk factors, some real food options for optimizing uptake, testing and even best supplementation practices.
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
Usually the first sign of a zinc deficiency is in the skin.
It is not uncommon to see patches of dry skin that lead into acne and/or blisters if the deficiency isn’t resolved.
Other more severe signs of zinc deficiency include:
Vegans and vegetarians are at higher risk for being zinc deficient because the majority of zinc in our diet is found in animal products.
There are many plant based foods that contain zinc, but the bioavailability of the zinc is quite low.
This is because of the plant's natural chemical protector, phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to zinc and reduces it’s absorption in the intestines.
Athletes and those that sweat a lot are also at a higher risk for a zinc deficiency because zinc is lost in sweat.
Both inflammation and poor absorption in the digestive tract are also common reasons of zinc deficiency. Therefore, if a zinc deficiency is suspected, both digestive health and overall inflammation should be looked into.
Interestingly, low zinc status has also been shown to affect PMS symptoms in menstruating women.
A small study which measured blood levels of zinc and copper in 10 PMS patients (compared to 10 women without PMS, aka the controls) found that zinc deficiency occurred in PMS patients during the luteal phase (typically days 15-28 of your cycle).
Although this study was small, the differences found in zinc levels in the PMS patients compared to those who did not experience PMS during the luteal phase were significant.
When zinc is not present in adequate levels pre-menstruation, it is not uncommon for women to experience cravings.
If this is you, try adding more zinc into your diet from days 15-28 of your cycle and see if the food cravings reduce and/or disappear.
For a list of foods that can help you identify which nutrients you may be low in, check out my free food cravings list available HERE.
The most reliable way to know if you have enough zinc is with a plasma zinc test. It is critical to measure zinc in the plasma, rather than the serum.
Functional ranges for a plasma zinc test should be between 100-120 mg/dL.
Alternatively, if a blood test is not possible, you can do a zinc taste test (and I HIGHLY recommend doing this!).
The zinc taste test is an easy, inexpensive, at home testing method to assess zinc status based on studies of taste and smell.
To do this test, you will need 5-10mL of aqueous zinc (like Zinc Tally from Metagentics).
Here is how it’s done. Place approximately 2 teaspoons (10mLs) of aqueous zinc in your mouth and hold for 30 seconds. Describe your initial taste according to the following categories (for accurate results, refrain from eating, drinking or smoking for at least one hour prior to the test):
Response 1: No specific taste or other sensation is noticed after the solution has been held in the mouth for up to 30 seconds. This strongly suggests a zinc deficiency and foods rich in zinc and zinc supplementation should be considered.
Response 2: No immediate taste is noted, however, after a few seconds a slight taste develops, variously described as “dry”, “mineral”, “furry”, “sweet”. This suggests a zinc deficiency and foods rich in zinc and zinc supplementation should be considered.
Response 3: Definite, though not strongly unpleasant taste is noted almost immediately and tends to intensify with time. This suggests that zinc is likely inadequate and a strong focus on increasing zinc rich foods and it’s cofactors is strongly suggested.
Response 4: A strong unpleasant taste is noted almost immediately. This suggests that zinc status is sufficient and no zinc supplementation is needed.
The liquid can be swallowed or spit out once the test is completed.
Zinc is most abundant in animal based foods, such as oysters, grass fed beef, lamb and cheese.
There are many plant based foods that contain zinc, but due to high phytate content in those foods, the zinc has a low bioavailability.
Soaking your nuts, seeds and grains prior to consumption can help decrease the phytic acid and increase bioavailability to the zinc.
Therefore, if you are relying on plant rich sources of zinc, be sure to soak your grains, nuts and seeds first.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is 15 mg for a healthy adult. You can easily get your daily needs by eating any of the following food:
As with all other vitamins and minerals, optimizing the diet with zinc rich foods, addressing any chronic inflammation and optimizing digestion should always be your first steps to address any deficiencies.
If after these have been addressed, a zinc deficiency is still suspected, consider supplementation. Always talk to your doctor about taking any over the counter supplements to ensure they are safe for you and will not interact with any other medications.
According to Chris Masterjohn, PhD, zinc acetate, gluconate, sulfate, citrate, or methionine should be used when supplementing with zinc, and not zinc oxide or zinc picolinate.
Ideally, zinc should be taken on an empty stomach, but if this causes nausea it should be taken with some food and should be taken as far away from phytate-rich meals as possible. The zinc should be spread out as much as possible to ensure better absorption. For example, 15 milligrams three times per day five hours apart is much better than taking 45 milligrams once per day.
Zinc supplementation higher than 45mg per day should never be used unless under medical supervision. Excess zinc consumption can cause a copper deficiency as they compete for the same receptors in the body.
Zinc is a mineral that is found in every single tissue of the body and it plays a role in hundreds of different reactions in the body. Majority of sedentary people are consuming enough zinc in their diet, but athletes have been shown time and time again to have mild to severe zinc deficiencies.
According to a study published in Sports Medicine in 2001, endurance athletes who follow a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and lower fat diet often leads to suboptimal zinc intake in 90% of those athletes. Mild zinc deficiency can be difficult to detect because of the lack of definitive indicators of zinc status. This can put athletes at risk for reduced endurance, loss of muscle mass and at greater risk of stress fractures. Zinc deficiency has been shown to reduce muscle strength and power, so inadequate zinc levels could affect performance during exercise.
The bottom line is you need to get tested. If a plasma blood test is out of the question, get your hands on aqueous zinc and do your own at home zinc taste test.
You don’t want a mineral deficiency hurting your overall health or athletic performance!
2. Chuong and Dawson, Zinc and copper levels in premenstrual syndrome, FERTILITY AND STERILITY, Vol. 62, No.2, August 1994
3. Sports Med. 2001;31(8):577-82.doi: 10.2165/00007256-200131080-00002. Zinc status in athletes: relation to diet and exercise. A Micheletti, R Rossi, S Rufini
If you’re just joining me this month, I’m spending some time addressing five of the top nutrient deficiencies in athletes and exercisers. We spent the last 2 weeks addressing both magnesium and calcium deficiencies and this week, we’re talking about vitamin D.
Like many, if you are an athlete who spends time recreating outdoors, you might suspect that your vitamin D levels are adequate.
Maybe. But maybe not.
The latest research being done on vitamin D levels and sports performance is finding that athletes, even those that regularly workout outdoors, have vitamin D levels that are comparable to those of the general population (aka- low).
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. It is a fat soluble vitamin whose main role is to help the body absorb calcium, magnesium and phosphate through the intestines.
For decades, we have known vitamin D’s role in bone health, but in the last decade, more and more research is being done on vitamin D and the science is finding the importance beyond just bone health.
For example, the evidence is showing that vitamin D also plays a role in:
In plain English, all things that affect sports performance!
Vitamin D has been shown to improve muscle mass and strength, accelerate the recovery of muscles from intense exercise, prevent muscle degeneration, improved oxygen exchange in the lungs, and improve the structural remodeling of cardiac muscles.
A meta-analysis completed in 2011 that grouped together 23 different studies and was composed of 2313 athletes found that 56% had insufficient levels of vitamin D!
So please don’t assume that just because you regularly workout outside, that you are vitamin D sufficient. Read on to learn more about testing so you can find out exactly what your vitamin D levels are and take action, if needed.
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
The most common symptom of a vitamin D deficiency is muscle pains.
It is not uncommon for people with vitamin D deficiencies to have musculoskeletal pains that are misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Muscle strength, or lack thereof, can also be a sign of a vitamin D deficiency.
Two separate studies from 2011 and 2013 found that low vitamin D levels were negatively associated with muscle strength markers.
That means that the lower the vitamin D levels, the weaker the muscles!
The main risk factors for a vitamin D deficiency are cultural and environmental.
Because the majority of our vitamin D is obtained via sun exposure, things like atmospheric pollution (which decreases the UVB rays from reaching the Earth's surface), the use of sunscreens, latitude, weather and lifestyle will all affect our vitamin D levels.
Athletes who have darker skin are also at a higher risk for a vitamin D deficiency since the pigmentation of the skin can block UVB rays from reaching the skin cells.
One study showed that athletes with darker skin need up to 10 times longer exposure to UVB radiation to obtain the same levels of vitamin D as lighter skinned athletes.
25(OH)D, also known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D is a serum (aka - blood) test and is the current gold standard for testing vitamin D status.
This test was developed in 2017 and measures the concentration of unbound vitamin D which is the biologically active form that can pass through the cell membrane and actually carry out its intended function.
This test also measures vitamin D obtained from all sources (sun, food and supplements).
Protein bound vitamin D levels can also be measured by a blood test.
However, the issue here is that your body can have a problem converting the bound vitamin D to unbound vitamin D. If that is the case, and you only measure the protein bound vitamin D levels, you may get a “normal” result but still have inadequate active vitamin D., but if there is dysfunction in the unbinding process, this test will be irrelevant.
When getting a vitamin D test done, you should refer to the functional 25(OH)D range for optimal vitamin D which is between 30-40 ng/mL.
Since levels of vitamin D are highly affected by sun exposure, I highly recommend all athletes get their vitamin D levels tested twice per year.
One time in the winter and again in the height of summer.
These results will be suggestive of your high and low levels of vitamin D throughout the year and can be used to put together a proper supplementation protocol specific for your body.
There are two biologically inactive sources of Vitamin D: Cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3 and Ergocalciferol, or vitamin D2.
Once obtained in the body, both forms must undergo activation within the liver and/or kidneys to be biologically available to our tissues (this is the process I referred to earlier that people may not realize is not working properly. This is why it is important to measure your free or unbound vitamin D levels).
The main source of vitamin D obtained by humans is vitamin D3.
It is created endogenously, primarily through the interaction of sunlight (specifically UVB rays) with our skin. However, a very small amount of vitamin D can also be obtained exogenously through diet.
Consuming adequate levels of vitamin D through the diet is difficult because very few foods contain it naturally. The exceptions are:
Traditionally, many people obtain vitamin D through foods that have been fortified with it, such as milk, breads, and cereals.
Since the majority of vitamin D is synthesized in your skin from UVB rays, it is important to address any vitamin D deficiency with lifestyle first.
Getting out into natural sunlight without sunscreen or clothes that cover your skin for a short time each day is the best way to increase your vitamin D naturally.
If lifestyle changes still don’t increase your vitamin D levels, and you are consuming foods rich in vitamin D regularly, it may be time to consider supplementation.
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for adults ages 19-70 years old is 600 IU daily.
However, testing is critical before supplementation.
Excess vitamin D intake can increase your risk for soft tissue calcification. And for many, 600 IU of vitamin D will not be adequate to bring their vitamin D levels into a functional range.
Keep in mind that like all micronutrients, vitamin D status is not independent to itself.
Calcium levels, sun exposure and inflammation will all have an effect on your vitamin D levels and need to be addressed if vitamin D status is low.
When supplementing with vitamin D3, one should look for a supplement that also includes vitamin K. Like vitamin D, vitamin K is also a fat soluble vitamin. It is found naturally in leafy greens, fermented vegetables, egg yolks, liver and cheese.
Vitamin D and vitamin K work together in the body as a team.
Vitamin D ensures that your blood levels of calcium are adequate, however, it does not control where the calcium ends up within the body. That is the role of vitamin K.
Vitamin K promotes calcium accumulation in the bones, and reduces the risk of calcification of calcium in the soft tissues, such as your kidneys and blood vessels.
My favorite vitamin D supplement is made by Designs for Health and is called Vitamin D Supreme. Just remember, before just ordering and taking any ol’ vitamin D supplement, test your levels first and consult with your medical provider over the results.
With a growing body of evidence that supports having an adequate level of vitamin D in athletes to not only to sustain normal health, but also to positively impact athletic performance, it is critical that all athletes test their levels.
Given the evidence of high incidence of vitamin D deficiency, the relatively few sources of vitamin D in the food supply, and the environmental factors that limit an athlete’s ability to synthesize vitamin D, proper supplementation may become one of the most essential parts of an athlete’s nutrition protocol.
If testing and crunching numbers isn’t your thing, set up a free discovery call to talk to me about how I can help you look at not just your vitamin D status, but how all of your blood markers are working together to create optimal health for you.
1) Role of Vitamin D in Athletes and Their Performance: Current Concepts and New Trends, Nutrients. 2020 Feb; 12(2): 579. Published online 2020 Feb 23
2) Forrest K.Y., Stuhldreher W.L. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr. Res. 2011;31:48–54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001.
Welcome to Part 2 of this month's blog series which is focused on the five most common micronutrient deficiencies in athletes and exercisers.
Not only can having an active movement routine leave you short on calories if you aren’t being mindful of your true calorie/energy needs, but it can have a serious effect on your micronutrient status as well.
Micronutrients aren’t called “micro” because they are less important than our macronutrients.
They are called micronutrients because we need them in smaller quantities than our macronutrients, but they are equally, if not MORE important.
If you have an active movement routine, you are certainly at a higher risk of becoming micronutrient deficient!
The most common sign of a deficiency are food cravings!
These can come from high stress, low caloric intake, high intake of processed foods (which are void of natural micronutrients) and low protein intake.
When your body becomes micronutrient deficient, you might experience a whole slew of symptoms, including numbness and tingling in hands, legs or feet, balance problems, anemia (which is NOT just an iron deficiency problem!), swelling, weakness, fatigue, impaired immunity, higher risks of injury and even paranoia!
Ugh, no one wants ANY of that! Especially if you are trying to move your body to PROMOTE health, not make it worse!
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially food cravings, you should check out my free food cravings chart to learn which foods you should be targeting to increase in your diet!
This week, we are diving into the details on calcium deficiency, including the signs of deficiency, risk factors, what role calcium plays in athletic performance, real food options for optimizing uptake, testing and even best supplementation practices.
AND, I’m focusing on NON-dairy sources of calcium since dairy tends to be a top allergen for many people (and most don’t even know it!) and we don’t need dairy to be calcium sufficient!
Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the body.
We know that it is essential for the formation of bones and teeth, but it is also critical for optimal athletic performance!
Besides aiding in healthy bones and teeth, calcium aids in:
Approximately 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones, but cells, particularly muscle cells, and blood also contain some calcium.
There are 2 main hormones in the body that help very precisely control the amount of calcium in the blood: parathyroid hormone and calcitonin.
If you do not consume enough calcium in your diet, these hormones will steal calcium from the bones to meet the needs of the blood and can result in much higher risk of stress fractures.
Since early signs of calcium deficiency are not apparent, a DEXA scan is the best and most accurate way to learn if you have decreased bone density or osteopenia (the less severe form of osteoporosis).
I have to say, I have seen a lot of DEXA scans in my private practice and I am always saddened by the lack of bone density in endurance athletes, especially compared to the DEXA scans I see from strength based athletes. Beyond just a lack of weight bearing activities, this can be one of many signs that there may be a calcium deficiency.
To maintain a proper level of calcium in blood without weakening the bones, it is recommended to consume at least 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium each day from real food sources.
Calcium works very closely with both Vitamin D and phosphorus.
When you're consuming and absorbing enough calcium, your need for vitamin D will go down.
The opposite is true for phosphorus, where when you over consume it, it will drive up your need for both calcium and vitamin D! This is an important reminder that just willy-nilly taking random supplements without really knowing if you truly need them can actually drive a deficiency in other micronutrients!
The goal with micronutrients is about finding balance: not too much and not too little. This is especially true with Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus!
If your head is already spinning just wondering how you’re going to be able to figure out your own balance and needs, don’t worry! Tailoring diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes based on bioindividual needs is what I love to do. So if you’re looking for some help, you can schedule a discovery call to learn about how I can support you!
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
Signs of calcium deficiency include:
However, since these signs appear under more extreme calcium deficiencies, getting a DEXA scan to assess bone density levels can be a helpful first step in discovering potential calcium deficiencies.
Athletes who consume a diet low in dairy products, edible bones and leafy greens are most at risk for a calcium deficiency.
Female athletes who have developed amenorrhoea (loss of menstrual periods) or other menstrual irregularities due to low estrogen levels are at greater risk for reduced bone density, fractures and osteopenia. This is because low estrogen levels lead to low calcium levels and can result in bone loss.
Since Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus all work closely together, it is important to obtain an accurate picture of all 3 micronutrients when looking for deficiencies.
25-hydroxyvitamin D is a standard blood test you can obtain from your medical doctor. This marker will measure your serum vitamin D levels. If your results come back low, this can be the result of a calcium deficiency or presence of excess phosphorus.
Functional 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels should be between 30-40 ng/mL.
Parathyroid Hormone, or PTH, can help you understand your Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus levels. A deficiency in either calcium and/or vitamin D levels can raise your PTH levels above normal values.
Functional parathyroid hormone levels should be between 10-55 pg/mL.
Calcitonin, the hormone that is responsive to calcium levels in the blood, can be measured in the serum. Excess consumption of calcium will raise this marker. This marker can be especially useful when someone is supplementing with calcium to ensure excess calcium isn’t being consumed and absorbed.
Function calcitonin levels should be less than 10 pg/mL.
It is always critical when you have testing completed that you work with a practitioner who understands the individual values in addition to how they all work together to create optional health. Having the knowledge about your own body is one thing, but knowing how to use that knowledge to optimize your health is another. Always consult with a knowledgeable medical provider when obtaining and reviewing testing!
If you need help interpreting your lab tests, reach out to me for help!
Dairy has the highest amount of calcium per serving than any other food. However, since many people have a dairy intolerance, here is a list of non-dairy foods that are also high in calcium:
Spinach, which is often thought of as a good source of real food calcium, is purposefully left off of the list of recommended foods because spinach is particularly high in a substance called oxylate. Oxylate reduces absorption of calcium!
Another substance that adversely affects calcium absorption is phytate, found in many plant foods and especially legumes, nuts and seeds
Phytates are considered by some to be “anti-nutrients”. They are a plants defense mechanism since, unlike animals, plants cannot run away from their predators! So they have these compounds that help them survive.
Unfortunately for us, phytates can be irritating to our GI system and they can bind minerals in the digestive tract, preventing them from being fully absorbed.
This is why it is recommended to soak and rinse your beans, nuts and seeds prior to consumption, as this can help breakdown the phytates.
Since many plant foods have limited ‘bio-availability’ of calcium, this means that you need to choose several different foods on the list above to meet your calcium requirements if you don’t consume dairy products or animal products with bones!
The notion that “more is better” is NOT how this works.
Vitamins and minerals work in close balance with one another. When one is too high, it can easily deplete another.
So prioritizing a nutrient rich whole food diet that is varied in many different types of foods is always your best approach to nutrient sufficiency. However, there are times when we can’t consume enough food to meet the demand of our nutrients (for example, during times of high training or stress). It is during these times that proper supplementation can be helpful.
If you avoid dairy products, I highly recommend you get a free Cronometer account online and track your calcium intake for a few days. If you find that you are consuming under the daily RDA of calcium (1,000-1,500mg daily), you might want to consider a calcium supplement.
800-1,200 milligrams of calcium citrate should be considered.
Since calcium relies heavily on Vitamin D and phosphorus status, you will also want to keep a close eye on those levels. High levels of phosphorus will deplete calcium levels. A diet high in processed foods is the largest risk factor for excess phosphorus intake. Therefore, avoiding processed foods, especially soda which is high in phosphoric acid, is your best defense against high levels of phosphorus and low levels of calcium.
MORE TO COME + A RECIPE!
Stay tuned for next week's blog when I will go into depth on Vitamin D!
If you don’t want to miss it, or any future posts or announcements, be sure to sign up for my Wednesday Wellness email where each week I’ll send helpful nutrition tips right into your inbox!
CAESAR SALAD DRESSING
If you’re like me and you don’t consume dairy, but you also don’t love fish, here is a great recipe to use to hide the fish but still get all the calcium from the edible bones:
As an athlete, you know you need to consume more calories than a sedentary person in order to keep your energy levels high and have optimal performance.
But calories aren’t the only thing you need more of!
Micronutrients are also needed in larger quantities by those who use their body more regularly than the average person, and this is especially true in more extreme weather, like very hot summer days. Nutrient deficiencies are more common than you might think in athletes and these deficiencies can lead to poor performance, injuries, sickness and long term health issues.
This month, I’m focusing on the 5 most common nutrient deficiencies seen in athletes:
Each week, we are going to dive into the details on each micronutrient including the signs of deficiency, risk factors, what role each plays in athletic performance, real food options for optimizing uptake, testing and even best supplementation practices.
Get ready to fine tune your diet to optimize your health, performance and recovery...starting with magnesium.
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in the body and is involved in over 300 metabolic functions.
As an athlete, magnesium is particularly important as it is known as the “muscle relaxing” micronutrient. It also aids in protein synthesis, cellular energy production, proper nerve and muscle function, proper immune system function, proper blood glucose levels and calcium absorption (another common deficiency in athletes!).
If you have gone through the “fat adaptation” process, magnesium plays a key role in creating energy (ATP) from fatty acids. So if you live a low carb, high fat lifestyle, this nutrient is critical for you to feel great!
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium ranges from 400-420mg for males ages 14-70 years old, and 310-320mg for women ages 14-70 years old.
It is estimated that approximately 60% of adults in the US do not consume the RDA for magnesium.
Since athletes are typically putting a higher demand on their bodies and are losing magnesium more quickly through sweat and urine than the average Joe, it is recommended for athletes to consume between 500-800mg of magnesium daily.
Signs of Deficiency
The most common signs of magnesium deficiency include:
If you’ve ever felt like you have ants crawling under your skin, it’s likely a magnesium deficiency!
Another sign of magnesium deficiency is a craving for chocolate! Chocolate has one of the highest concentrations of magnesium so it is no surprise that we crave the stuff if we are deficient.
(There are other food cravings that can indicate a nutrient deficiency, download my FREE Food Cravings Chart to learn what your food cravings mean!)
The most commonly reported diseases which involve magnesium deficiency are all associated with chronic inflammatory stress conditions. With athletes of all types putting high stress demands on their bodies, this should make magnesium sufficiency a top priority for long term health, optimal performance and adequate recovery!
Consuming a standard American diet which is low in fruits and vegetables, and high in processed foods, is one of the highest risk factors for a magnesium deficiency.
Protein pump inhibitors and antacids also block the absorption of magnesium, which will cause a deficiency.
Any medication or disease (such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes) that increases the rate of urination will increase the rate of magnesium lost and will create a deficiency.
All regular sauna users and all athletes are at high risk for magnesium deficiency, especially if they workout in hot conditions. Magnesium is lost in sweat, which means summer months or athletes who workout in warm indoor environments are more at risk for a deficiency.
Numerous studies have been conducted over the years on athletes and their nutritional status of magnesium. Time and time again, results come back with a low dietary intake of magnesium across all ages and athlete types. Other tests have also indicated a link between magnesium deficiency and low antioxidant status, suggesting that magnesium plays a role in antioxidant production. Antioxidants are critical to reducing oxidative stress, promoting recovery and enhancing performance, so you want to make sure you have enough magnesium on hand to optimize this.
The most common method used to test magnesium in the US is through serum (aka- a standard blood test). However, less than 1% of our body's magnesium is in the serum, which makes this method less accurate than other testing methods.
Other testing methods include:
All 3 tests can be ordered from www.DirectLabs.com. However, having a practitioner trained in reading test results is critically important to setting up the right protocol. If you're interested in exploring testing options, click here to schedule a free discovery call to learn about how I can help you choose the test that's right for you AND evaluate it.
All minerals and vitamins have cofactors, so a low or high test result can be an indication of more than just magnesium status. For example, red blood cell magnesium may be low in a test result which can be an indication that the cofactors needed to drive the magnesium into the cells are missing.
So just taking more magnesium may not help you if you don’t have the nutrients required to get it into the cell.
Food Sources of Magnesium
If you suspect you have a magnesium deficiency, you should always start by examining your diet. If your diet is low in vegetables and other magnesium rich foods, your first approach should always be to consume more magnesium rich foods, which include:
If changes to your diet are made and a magnesium deficiency is still suspected, supplementation may be warranted. You should always use the cleanest version of magnesium possible with no added fillers or bad ingredients. Here are my favorites:
Pure Encapsulation Magnesium Glycinate- magnesium glycinate is the most absorbable form of magnesium. Therefore, if you are feeling twingy muscles, palpitations or just a general unsettling in your muscles, this is the best option.
Pure Encapsulation Magnesium Citrate- magnesium citrate is less absorbable by the gut than glycinate and will be more likely to cause loose stool. If constipation is a concern, this is your best option. Start slow (1 capsule in the AM) and slowly increase your dose until more regular bowel movements are obtained regularly. Keep in mind that hydration, and other factors, play a HUGE role in regularity. If you’ve increased your dose to 350mg per day and are still not seeing any regularity in your motility, speak to someone who can help you explore additional options.
Trace Minerals Topical Magnesium Spray or cream- It is not uncommon, especially for athletes, to need a large amount of magnesium to maintain sufficient status and avoid symptoms associated with deficiency. It is also not uncommon to need more magnesium than your GI system can handle without causing loose stool. If you suspect this might be your problem, or you already struggle with loose bowel movements, try applying magnesium topically instead. You can apply a spray or cream to your affected muscles, or take a nice long epsom salt bath. Your skin is the largest absorptive organ in the entire body, so use it to benefit your magnesium status! If you're not into soaking in a epsom salt bath, soak your feet instead. Our feet have over 7,000 nerve ending and the largest pores on our skin surface, so you're able to absorb efficiently through them.
Excessive oral supplementation of magnesium will result in loose stool or diarrhea as magnesium is a laxative. For someone who suffers from constipation, this might sound nice, but keep in mind that you are losing much more than just magnesium when your body flushes like that. Diarrhea is never good long term and is an indication that something is not right in the body.
When it comes to supplements, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional.
How to Know if You are Getting Enough
Based on the majority of the research conducted on athletes and magnesium status, it seems as if most athletes don’t consume enough magnesium. If you are curious if you eat enough magnesium, the best way to check is to track your magnesium intake for a few days.
My favorite free online micronutrient tracker is Cronometer.
If you find that you are not reaching 500-800mg daily, or that you still have any of the signs of magnesium deficiency mentioned earlier, consider taking a clean supplement for a few weeks and see if you notice a difference!
As mentioned above, a magnesium deficiency can impact more than just your magnesium status. Since all minerals are connected to each other, and there are cofactors in the body that work alongside magnesium, a deficiency in one area usually means an imbalance elsewhere.
Next week, I will be talking to you about Calcium. Although so many of us believe we are getting enough calcium in our bodies, the fact is that we don’t OR we are deficient in the cofactors that help our body absorb and utilize this micronutrient.
Make sure you don’t miss next week’s blog by signing up for my weekly newsletter here.
1) Magnesium and the Athlete. Volpe, Stella Lucia PhD, RD, LDN, FACSMAuthor Information
Current Sports Medicine Reports: July/August 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 4 - p 279-283
2) Altura BM, et al. Magnesium depletion impairs myocardial carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and cardiac bioenergetics and raises myocardial calcium content in-vivo: relationship to etiology of cardiac diseases. Biochem Mol Biol Int 1996 Dec;40(6):1183-90.
I’m so excited to see people starting to get back into some regular exercise routines since gyms are starting to reopen and the weather (at least in the northern hemisphere) is more cooperative (especially for open water swimming!).
I know this is not EVERYONE’s situation, but it is starting to happen around the world.
I certainly don’t want to get into a debate on whether or not gyms should be reopening, but whatever you believe, one thing is FOR SURE...we are not starting back up where we left off!!!
Our body is in a different place now then it was pre-quarantine.
And listen closely: THAT IS OKAY!
It’s okay to have lost some momentum during this time. But PLEASE do not re-enter the gym, guns blazing, thinking you’re going to be able to lift or move in the same way you once did without injuring yourself.
I know that can be a frustrating concept to take in but:
So instead of getting frustrating and feeling down on yourself about “everything you lost while in quarantine,” here are some tips to help you get back to regular movement safely:
TIP #1 - Cut your workouts in half
If you have had the ability to keep working out at the same capacity, then this may not apply to you. But since the majority of us lost access to equipment and spaces, we likely had to scale back a ton even if we did work out during lockdown.
So, if you were swimming 3,000 yards before quarantine, consider swimming 1,500 yards the first few times you jump back into the pool.
Again, I know you may want to just get right back to your old distances, weights, and reps but I promise if you start low you can build up, without injuring yourself, in no time! Plus, something tell me that half of a your old workouts is still more than your quarantine workouts so look at it as a step forward.
If you are still concerned about getting in enough volume, try tip #2.
Tip #2 - Split your workouts into 2 sessions.
I realize that some people can’t logistically make this happen, but if you can, you should.
Since you might not be used to the volume you were doing pre-COVID, allowing your body some reset time between sessions by splitting them up into 2 smaller sessions is wise.
Instead of reinforcing bad form, which can develop when you get tired, allow some rest, maybe even eat a meal or two, and finish up your session later in the day when you are more fresh again.
Then you get to say you’re doing 2-a-days ;-)
Tip #3 - Add more rest between intervals.
This is another one that might be difficult to do for some of you. But rest is crucial, whether you have been consistent with your workout routine or not.
If you were used to only resting 10-20 seconds between sets, consider doubling that for a few weeks.
This will give the muscles a fighting chance of repeating your movement with good form. There is no sense in continuing a workout when your form is completely gone. This will just reinforce improper movement and greatly increase your risk of injury.
Whether you’re going back to the gym or going outside for more frequent workouts, please keep these tips in mind. The last thing you need is to jump into something too aggressive only to find yourself back on the couch due to injury.
We all want to get back to a normal workout routine, but let’s do it safely so that we can ensure long term physical health.
If you’re looking to get back into a regular routine but are not sure where to start or are nervous that you may do it incorrectly, let’s chat! I offer training support alongside nutrition coaching so that you can find what works best for you and allow your body to thrive!
For many of us, stress and eating go hand in hand.
Sure, there are the rare few who forget to eat when they get stressed out, but the majority of people tend to turn food during times of stress to help them feel more in control.
Both situations, ‘stress eating’ and ‘stress starving’, are usually pretty undesirable.
If you are a stress eater, you probably wish you were the type of person who forgot to eat when you are stressed out.
But ask those folks how they feel about forgetting to eat when they’re stressed and they will tell you they hate it!
Forgetting to eat throughout the day has its own consequences like blood sugar drops which inevitably leads to a poor mood (aka “hangry”).
No one wants that. Not the person who's grouchy, and not anyone around them either.
Eating, or not eating, during a stressful time is not always a bad thing.
For example, when you eat certain foods, your body can release serotonin, the happy hormone, which can help you temporarily feel better. On the flip side, when you are stressed out, your digestive system is not functioning at optimal capacity, so skipping a meal isn’t horrible either.
But in both cases, moderation is key. And the only way you are going to be able to moderate these behaviors is if the stress is reduced or eliminated.
Well...easier said than done, especially over the last 3 months!
2020 seems to be turning into the year of chronic stress. If it’s not a global pandemic driving us into total seclusion, it’s unacceptable human behavior driving people into self reflection on their own behavior and that of those around them.
For the last 3 months, people have been under non-stop stress to some degree or another and it’s taking a toll on our health. Since some of these stressors are out of our control, it’s time we looked at how we can use nutrition to mitigate the damage until we start to see some change.
STRESS MANAGEMENT THROUGH NUTRITION
I had the honor of being a guest on “A Little Dabble Do You” with Sara Cory and Heather Daenitz last week.
Sara & Heather are sisters that have always been dabblers; pursuing whatever diversion tickles their fancy. They have an Instagram show called A Little Dabble Do You, where they encourage their followers to pursue their interests by sharing their own with love and enthusiasm.
In every episode, they give you tips on how to get started with whatever they’re discussing, which in my case, was stress management through nutrition.
And since we can ALL use a little help in that department, today I want to share those tips with you!
TIP #1 ADD UNREFINED SEA SALT TO YOUR WATER
When your body is under stress, your body will divert most available nutrients to the production of cortisol, our body’s main stress management hormone.
Without getting TOO deep into the biology, cortisol shares a pathway with a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone controls our sodium balance in the kidneys.
When we are stressed, aldosterone is depleted in order for cortisol to be produced. This can leave you craving french fries and potato chips, when really what your body is trying to tell you is it needs more sodium.
Instead of spending your day eating deep fried salty treats (which is okay SOMETIMES), try adding a small pinch of unrefined sea salt to your water instead.
A small pinch can go a long way! You shouldn’t feel like you’re tasting the ocean!
Speaking of cravings and nutrient depletion, did you download my FREE food cravings chart! It’ll help you understand what your body is REALLY asking for so you can start filling up on real food and possibly stop the cravings all together!
TIP #2 - PRIORITIZE YOUR SLEEP!
During things like global pandemics or even just everyday life, stress is non-stop. From the moment you open your eyes, until you go to bed, you are worried, busy, multitasking, planning, changing plans and just non-stop go, go, go.
That means that sleep is the only time we give our bodies to restore...and boy do we need it!
Think of sleep as putting money into your bank account, while being awake and on the go is taking money out. You need to stay in a positive balance or else you’ll start to run into problems.
To help you with this, here are 2 things you can start doing immediately:
TIP #3 - ELIMINATE ANY KNOWN FOOD INTOLERANCES, ALONG WITH GLUTEN AND DAIRY.
As I mentioned earlier, your digestive system doesn’t work so great when you are stressed.
We need to move out of our “fight or flight” nervous system and into our “rest and digest” nervous system to properly digest our foods.
Since this can be a challenge for some people to manage during times like these, you can work hard to avoid the foods that we know are harder to digest.
Both gluten and dairy are very long proteins in our food system. In order to digest them completely, we need our digestive system to be on it’s “A” game, and that is certainly not during times of stress.
So whether you have a gluten or dairy intolerance or not, it’s wise to limit or completely avoid these foods when you’re stressed out.
TIP #4 - AVOID “NAKED” FOODS AND PRIORITIZE NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS.
“Naked” foods are foods that have been highly processed and are void of their natural micronutrients.
These foods can fill you up, but oftentimes leave your body craving more foods.
Why? Because your body needs those micronutrients in order to stay healthy. So if you find yourself craving all sorts of foods in times of stress, it’s probably because you’re deficient in certain micronutrients.
Luckily, I have a FREE FOOD CRAVINGS CHART available for download where you can see which nutrients you likely need when you are craving certain foods.
Generally speaking, eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy wild or pasture raised proteins whenever possible, and using natural fats from things like avocados, coconuts, nuts and seeds can all help you fill your body with the micronutrients you need to be healthy!
DARK CHERRY FROZEN YOGURT RECIPE
The recipe below can help you with Tips #2,3, & 4! Plus, it’s delicious which means you’ll enjoy a hit of endorphins to help your body feel good!
Did you know that a food craving can be a sign that you might have a nutrient deficiency?
Yes ladies, that chocolate craving around your period can really be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. Or the desire to chew ice can indicate an iron deficiency.
The body is a very intuitive machine and the feedback loop between your body and the brain is strong. If the brain perceives a deficiency, it is not uncommon to see a food craving that might be high in that nutrient.
Chocolate is one the richest sources of food based magnesium and it is not uncommon for clients to notice a significant drop in their chocolate cravings when they increase their intake of magnesium (either through magnesium rich foods or a supplement).
There is no doubt that food cravings can come from other factors as well, such as cultural factors, stressful environments and hormonal fluctuations. But if you suspect you’re not getting cultural or social pressures to eat specific foods, that you are managing your stress well, and your hormones are balanced, maybe it’s time to start feeding your craving with real foods.
Cultural and social pressures to eat
Do any of the bribes below sound familiar?
“If you eat all of your dinner, you’ll get dessert.”
“If you get straight “A’s” we’ll go out for ice cream.”
“If I exercise for an extra 20 minutes, I can have that glass of wine.”
We’ve all heard them - or something similar - and even used them with our children and ourselves!
They seem innocent or well-intended but the reality is they create a feedback loop that leaves food as the reward. So regardless of if we are actually WANTING something, we feel compelled to have it because we “deserve it.”
If you have seen any of the work done by Gretchen Rubin, James Clear or Brendan Burchard on creating better habits, then you know that the reward is a VERY important part of creating a new habit, or good behavior.
So, yes, a reward can help you create new habits. However, rewards do not have to be food! When is the last time you allowed yourself to relax for an extra 30 minutes? Or take that yoga class that you’ve been meaning to take? Or go to bed earlier?
There are so many ways to shower ourselves with rewards that don’t involve food!
If you can find ways to replace your food based reward with a non-food based reward, you might just notice your food cravings go away after a while.
Why we crave foods when we’re stressed
Our body is controlled by hormones, little chemical messengers that communicate between tissues. One of those hormones is cortisol.
Among it’s plethora of roles, cortisol releases stored sugar from the liver so you can fight or flee.
When this sugar is released, it is not uncommon for people to experience sugar cravings. This is because the brain wants to refill those sugar storage cells so if you have to fight or flee again soon, you will be ready!
If you are noticing mostly sugar cravings, you might want to do an honest assessment of your stress levels. Remember that stress doesn’t just come from fighting with your spouse, or your mean boss at work, or financial trouble.
It can also come from dehydration, or lack of restorative sleep and even from eating foods your body is sensitive to.
Why we crave foods when our hormones are fluctuating
Two of the most common monthly hormone fluctuations for women are between estrogen and progesterone. In the early phases of a woman's monthly cycle, estrogen surges.
Estrogen is an appetite suppressant.
Once ovulation occurs and we enter the second phase of our monthly cycle, estrogen drops and progesterone surges.
Progesterone is an appetite stimulant.
This is an evolutionary response because if you get pregnant, your body wants to make sure you are eating enough calories to sustain your pregnancy. So it is not uncommon to notice stronger food cravings, especially for sugar and/or salt, during the second phase of your cycle.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, this can be a struggle. For some women, just knowing that this will happen during the later phases of their monthly cycle can help them fight the stronger urge to eat more food.
If just knowing this is what is happening doesn’t help you, try increasing your protein and fiber intake during the 3rd and 4th weeks of your cycle. Protein and fiber are slower to digest and can help you feel satiated for longer.
Why we crave foods when our digestive system isn’t functioning well
The entire point of eating food is to obtain the nutrients it contains.
In order to absorb those nutrients for our body to use, we have to first be able to digest them down into an absorbable form.
Our muscles aren’t made from chicken, they’re made from the individual amino acids that chicken contains. When we eat chicken, we digest it down into the individual amino acids that make it, then we can absorb them. If your digestion isn’t functioning well, it is not uncommon to partially absorb foods, and therefore miss out on some of the nutrients those foods contain.
When that happens, you might start seeing food cravings. In this case, you need to work on optimizing your digestion.
Start by making sure you are chewing your food well. The physical act of chewing starts the mechanical breakdown of our foods into the individual nutrients that make it up. If you already know you are taking your time and chewing your food well, but still experiencing digestive problems (gas, bloating, heartburn, undigested food in your stool and diarrhea are all signs of poor digestion), it might be worth trying to add a digestive enzyme complex to your meals to see if it helps.
One of my favorite digestive enzymes is Pure Encapsulation Digestive Enzymes Ultra, which contains a mixture of vegetarian enzymes developed to promote optimal nutrient bio-availability and absorption.
Food cravings due to nutrient deficiencies
If all of the above scenarios don’t seem to apply to you, or you are just interested in learning more about which nutrient deficiencies lead to which food cravings then you, my friend, are in luck!
I’m sharing with you a list of the most common food cravings and what nutrients you might really be deficient in that you can download here: FREE FOOD CRAVINGS CHART.
The point here, is that you work towards increasing your intake of nutrient dense foods that contain these nutrients rather than succumbing to unhealthy cravings!
Post it on your fridge at home, or anywhere that you will see it, and work to increase those foods that provide specific nutrients for a few weeks.
Who knows, you might just see your food cravings go away!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to heal your digestion and squash your cravings, you can schedule a free discovery call by clicking HERE.
So far, we've learned how to grow our own herbs for a beautiful dressing. Then, we learned how to grow lettuce from seed. Easy peasy!
Now, it's time to take your homegrown salad from plain to GORGEOUS.
Growing flowers is a passion of mine, and edible flowers are extra special because they are equally beautiful and useful. When you add edible flowers (usually just the petals) to your salad, you are elevating your meal to a whole other level.
Oh, and your dinner guests will think you are tres chic.
Today I'm sharing my top five easy-to-grow edible flowers. These flowers are easy to access either by seed or from your local garden center.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please know that not ALL flowers are edible. Carefully research before you eat flowers that are not on this list, as some can be quite poisonous. For example, sweet peas are a beautiful cut flower, but all parts of that plant are incredibly toxic. Please have fun, but be careful here.
Nasturtiums are quite possibly my favorite annual edible flower.
They are so easy to tuck into empty spots in your kitchen garden or edible landscape. Their beautiful, lily pad-like leaves have a lovely bold texture, and their flowers come in so many different colors.
I'm sure you'll find a variety that calls to you. Nasturtiums are not fussy about good soil and will reseed themselves readily if you let them. Who doesn't love free plants?
Growing Note: If you are starting nasturtiums from seed, soak the seeds for 12 hours before planting. Pre-soaking helps to shorten germination time. If you are starting them inside, when it is time to plant them out (usually when they have 6-8 true leaves), take care not to disturb their roots. They do not like to have their roots jostled or pulled. Pop them out of their container and directly into the soil in a full sun location.
Flavor: Peppery, like arugula
Favorite Varieties: Ladybird Rose, Gleam Salmon, Aloha Mix, Vanilla Berry
TWO: VIOLAS & PANSIES
These sweet little flowers can be added whole or as petals to salads or sugared for a delicate decoration on desserts.
These are cold hardy plants and grow all winter in my Zone 8b garden. They don't love the heat, though, and will likely die back in the summer. But they reseed easily, so you'll see volunteer baby plants popping up when the weather cools off in Fall.
Growing Note: If starting indoors, the seeds require darkness to germinate, so cover lightly with soil.
Flavor: delicately floral
Favorite Varieties: Antique Shades Pansy, Gem Pink Antique Viola, Dynamite Lavender Pansy
This plant is the workhorse of the edible garden. They bloom almost year-round for me, reseed and volunteer readily, and are a pollinator magnet.
Thankfully, we have so many beautiful new varieties than just the original orange type. I pull the petals off the flower and sprinkle them on my salads for a pop of bright color. Use your calendula flowers to make nourishing skin healing salves too.
Flavor: can be spicy, tangy, peppery (reminiscent of saffron)
Favorite Varieties: Ivory Princess, Bronze Beauty, Greenheart Orange
Borage is a best friend of bees and other pollinators. They have a wildflower look about them with pretty, star-shaped blue flowers that can be added whole to your dish.
They will seed themselves around quite a bit but are easy to dig up and relocate if needed
Height: 1.5 - 2.5'
Flavor: Reminiscent of cucumber
Favorite Varieties: I only know of one type of borage. It is blue-flowered with fuzzy leaves and stems.
Roses are, by far, one of my favorite shrubs in the garden. I've been collecting them for years, especially the fragrant ones. I prefer the smaller, aromatic English varieties for my edible flower dishes since the petals tend to be smaller. Don't worry, you don't have to eat the whole flower head! Again, pull the petals off the flower heads and sprinkle them into your salad bowl and mix. The white, pink, coral, or red-colored petals will stand out. I have roses that smell like melon or grapefruit, so those tend to be the ones I use in salads because the scent isn't overwhelmingly "rosey."
Height: Varies; 2' - 5'
Flavor: delicately floral and slightly sweet
Favorite Varieties: Scented varieties like Crown Princess Margareta or Lady Emma Hamilton, or bicolored petals like my Bulls Eye Rose
Here are some other edible flowers that didn't make my top 5, but are still very good:
USING EDIBLE FLOWERS IN YOUR GARDEN DESIGN
When I'm designing a kitchen garden or integrated edible garden for myself or a client, I rely heavily on edible flowers to fill in the gaps between other plants. Tucking a viola between a couple of broccoli plants looks sweet and adds that pop of color that our kitchen gardens are usually missing.
I also love planting nasturtiums at the edge of raised beds and letting them spill over the side for a full, billowy look.
Try tucking any of the annual edible plants I mentioned above (basically everything except for the rose) into your kitchen garden and notice how many more pollinators visit.
Mostly, I hope you have fun with it! I know it can seem a little weird to eat flower petals at first, but the flavor is usually mild, and the unique color they add to a dish is worth it. I hope you give it a try!
It has been a pleasure to guest post on the Tri For Real Blog for the past month!
I hope that these posts have shown you just how easy it is to grow food in your backyard, or front yard, or balcony!
I'd love to know that there are more gardeners out in the world eating beautiful, flavorful, and nutrient-rich food.
Show me those gorgeous salads!
Tag me @revivalgardenco if you post the pictures to Instagram. In the meantime, happy gardening!
Sara Cory is a garden designer, garden coach, and founder of Revival Garden Company. She is dedicated to helping new and established gardeners create edible and cut-flower gardens that are both beautiful and productive.
Because every good flower needs a happy plate of food to sit on...
Keto Berry "Cream Cheese" Bites
Recipe by: Tiana Rockwell, FNTP
⬢ 1 Cup Halved Pecans
⬢ 2 Tbsp. Coconut Flour
⬢ 2 Tbsp. granulated Swerve
⬢ 2 1/2 Tbsp. Refined Coconut Oil, melted
⬢ 1 Tbsp Creamy Almond Butter or Cashew Butter
⬢ 1/2 tsp. Pure Vanilla
⬢ large pinch Sea Salt
Berry "Cream Cheese" Filling Ingredients:
⬢ 8 ounces cashew cream cheese, softened
⬢ 3/4 cup blueberries, raspberries, or other low sugar berry of choice
⬢ 6 tablespoons salted butter or ghee, softened
⬢ 1/4 cup confectioners swerve
⬢ 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. In a food processor, process the pecans until they are crumbly. Do not over process. You do not want pecan butter!
2. Add the remaining crust ingredients and process until combined.
3. Spoon the mixture into 12 silicon muffin cups and press the crust evenly into the bottom.
4. Place in the freezer while you make the filling.
5. Meanwhile, place the berries in a blender and pulse until pureed.
6. In a large bowl, combine the berry puree, swerve, and vanilla and stir until mixed well.
7. Add the softened cashew cheese and butter to the berry puree. With a hand mixer, mix until smooth and no chunks of butter or cream cheese remain.
8. Remove the crusts from the freezer. Using a spoon, top each crust with a layer of berry "cream cheese" filling.
9. Optional, but pretty awesome- top each dessert with an edible flower (pansy's are great for this!)
10. Freeze the desserts until hard, approximately 2 hours.
Today's post is from garden coach, Sara, from Revival Garden Co.
My first experience growing lettuce was during a stint when I lived on an organic farm. We had a sizable patch with mixed varieties, including some non-lettuce plants like bok choy and arugula. In the cool of the morning, I'd visit the garden, a hot cup of coffee in hand, to harvest fresh lettuce greens for my lunchtime salad.
Fast forward to today, my lettuce harvesting habits haven't changed much. However, I have developed a method to ensure we always have enough lettuce for our almost daily salads.
The process of planting and replanting certain crops in the garden is called succession planting. Succession planting will take your gardening productivity to the next level, and it's a lot more simple than you think! Gardeners and farmers usually succession plant the crops that have a short lifespan, making lettuce an excellent candidate!
In this method of succession planting, you will continuously work within three planting zones. I'll give you some ideas for how you can grow your lettuce using this method, but the sky's the limit here!
Here’s what succession planting would look like in your garden so that you can get an idea of what it’s all about:
Start with transplants, if you want, to get a jump start. The same day you plant your lettuce starts, sow your first round of seeds.
A month later, sow your next patch of lettuce seeds and harvest leaves from your lettuce starts for your first home-grown salad.
A month after that, your first lettuce plants are probably getting a little bitter and old. Pull them out, replenish your soil if needed, and sow another round of seeds in the same spot where your lettuce plants used to be. By this time, your second patch of lettuce, where you started your first round of seeds should be ready to harvest!
Do you see where this is going?
If you follow the method, you will always have a patch of lettuce that you are harvesting from, one that is getting ready for harvest, and one that is seeded and germinating.
Succession planting in this way is how you ensure you always have lettuce in the garden and it is an essential step toward creating a garden that is not just a place of feast or famine, but a constant supply of beautiful food.
What you'll need for this project:
Step 1: Prepare Your Soil
If you are planting into pots, fill them 2/3 full of potting soil and 1/3 with compost. Add your slow-release fertilizer as prescribed by the manufacturer. Mix well.
Step 2: Plant your transplants
Now you'll start your "first succession." Since these plants are usually 3-4 weeks old when you buy them, they are giving you a jump start toward an earlier first salad. Plant your “lettuce starts” 4 inches apart if you can.
TIP: Your soil surface must remain damp while your seeds are germinating
(usually 3-10 days depending on the temperature).
Once you see some green growth from your seedlings, you can ease up a little bit. In the heat of the summer, it's best to sow your seeds in the shade and water at least twice a day.
Step 4: Mark your calendar for one month from the day you planted your lettuce starts and started your first round of seeds. That is when you will plant your next succession of lettuce. You can also take your first cuttings from your lettuce starts!
TIP: I love the cut-and-come-again method for lettuce.
It lets you plant closer together and gives you multiple harvests from one patch of lettuce. The technique is easy! You can either cut or pull lettuce leaves from the outside of each plant. Be sure to leave at least four leaves on each plant. Or you can take some kitchen shears and cut the leaves about 1" above the soil level. In a few days, you will begin to see new growth coming from the center of each plant. Harvesting leaf-by-leaf takes more time but leaves the plants looking prettier. The shearing method is much faster but doesn't leave your plants looking very pretty. Either way works equally well. You will usually get 2-3 harvests from each planting before they start tasting too bitter. At that point, you should remove them (see Step 5).
Step 5: Two months after you've started, it's time to pull out your old lettuce plants (i.e., the ones you bought as starts or transplants). In their place, start another round of seeds using the method in Step 3. Begin harvesting lettuce off your second patch, the one you seeded at the beginning of this project.
It might seem a little complicated at first, but once you get the hang of the flow, succession planting is awesome! I have a recurring reminder on my phone that reminds me to start my next round of lettuce every month. It's a simple step that helps me remember those tiny chores in the garden that make a significant impact on my diet.
So, are you going to give this a try? I hope you do! Be sure to tag me @revivalgardenco on Instagram when you do so that I can cheer you on.
Sara Cory is a garden designer, garden coach, and founder of How Revival Garden Company. She is dedicated to helping new and established gardeners create edible and cut-flower gardens that are both beautiful and productive.
Today's post is from garden coach, Sara, from Revival Garden Co.
If you have Tiana as your nutritionist as I do, you know a big part of creating a menu for the week is finding any way to make your daily 8-10 cups of veggie servings more interesting. And herbs are THE BEST way to do that.
I can roast a huge plate of veggies and then use my homegrown herbs to change the flavor profile to be any number of ethnic cuisines. Plus, nothing feels quite so luxurious as walking out to your back door to snip sprigs of fresh herbs from your herb garden.
Tiana asked me to come here to teach you how to grow herbs that are typically more expensive and not as easy to store in the fridge for a week. I don't even want to think of how much cilantro and basil alone I have let wilt in my fridge before using it. I'm going to guess it's in the range of hundreds of dollars worth and drives my husband insane. Oops!
The very first one that came to mind is our beloved basil. Few things make me cringe more than having to go to the grocery store to buy 2 slightly wilted sprigs of basil packed in a tiny plastic container for $5! Don't even get me started about the packaging of some herbs, let alone the cost.
Once you how to grow basil and you experience just how easy and prolific is it, you will never want to spend money on that sad little container of basil leaves again.
HOW TO GROW BASIL FROM SEED
Basil is a pretty simple plant to grow from seed once you have the technique down. The great thing about growing from seed is that you have so many more choices of varieties to grow than your local garden center will offer as transplants.
If this feels like a fun project you'd want to try, here's how you do it:
A NOTE ABOUT HARDENING OFF SEEDLINGS
Gardeners call the process of preparing baby seedlings for life outside, "hardening off". I have to admit that this is my least favorite job of starting seeds, but it pays off. When your seedlings live inside they are living a pampered life and will suffer and even die if they are exposed to strong sunlight and wind all of a sudden. So, take your baby seedlings outdoors in the late afternoon for a few days and let them experience the setting sun for a few hours, then bring them inside. After that, if the nighttime lows are above 50 you can leave them outside overnight.
Once they have spent the night outside, you can expose them to a few hours of morning sun before you place them in a shady spot for the heat of the day.
In about a week you'll have seedlings that are ready for full-time life outside.
CAUTION: I've done some serious damage to my seedlings when I've rushed this process, so be patient and take it slow while hardening off your plants.
What if growing seeds isn't for you or you want to plant basil plants now?
No problem! Most garden centers are selling basil transplants (aka basil seedlings) that are ready to be planted right into your garden or a container right now. While you won't have as many options as you do when you buy basil seed packets, you do get the instant gratification of getting a plant in the ground right away.
I'd suggest buying transplants and starting seeds at the same time! Then you can enjoy your basil plant while the seeds are germinating and growing up.
ONGOING CARE FOR BASIL
Soil: Basil likes moist, fertile soil.
Water: Basil is not drought tolerant.
Hardiness Zones: Basil is an annual, so it grows from late spring until it is killed by the first frost. For me this is October or November.
Days to Maturity: 68 Days (This means the number of days from when you seed your basil to when it is likely to begin flowering.)
HOW TO HARVEST
A happy basil plant can get BIG, sometimes up to 2' around. It's a sight to behold. You can begin some light-harvesting of your basil plants once they have become pretty established, around 8-12" tall.
Harvest your basil leaves early in the morning, if you can, when its cooler out. This will ensure you won't have wilted leaves.
If you start to see flower buds begin to form, you'll want to do a full harvest which means cutting the entire plant to 4-6" above the ground. This harsh cutting will encourage the plant to flush out a second growth of leaves.
BASIL FOR CUT FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS
If you don't know me, you must know that I have an undying passion for growing cut flowers and creating arrangements. I grow massive amounts of basil every year because I love to cook with it, but it is also an excellent foliage plant in a flower arrangement.
If you want to try using your basil for flower arrangements, you'll want to harvest when stems feel pretty firm or as soon as flower buds begin to form.
Like I said above, harvesting in the cool of the morning is best for basil, whether you want to eat it or arrange with it because the leaves are prone to wilting in the heat once cut. Take a vase full of cool water with you and place your stems directly into water to rest a few hours before arranging.
Basil has a pretty good vase life. You can count on stems lasting around 7-10 days. I've even had it last long enough to start growing roots, which you can put in a pot with soil and keep well watered to propagate another basil plant. Cool, huh?
If you choose to let your basil flower for arrangements or just as a flowering bush in the garden, just know that this may shorten it's life span a bit, but to me to worth it. Plus pollinators LOVE basil flowers.
VARIETIES I LOVE
Genovese: Probably the most well-known basil variety for cooking and making pesto. It has large luxurious leaves and an intense basil flavor.
Mrs. Burns Lemon: Newer to me, but I'm loving it so far. It has a clean, citrusy scent mixed with the hints of basil. I'm excited to make basil with this variety since I prefer a lemony pesto more than any other style. She's got bright green leaves and white flowers that are gorgeous in arrangements. An arrangement with Mrs. Burns Lemon fills that room with that aromatic lemony scent; a perfect Summer through Fall bouquet option.
Sweet Thai: If you love to cook Thai food, try this one! This plant is known for it's intensely spicy, anise/clove flavor that is a perfect complement to Thai and sweet dishes. Sweet Thai basil has medium green leaves and beautiful purple stems and blooms, making it a great edible landscape choice.
Dark Opal: A purple-leaved basil that looks almost black that has clove-like scented leaves. I love this one for iced teas, cocktail garnishes, and arrangements.
Well, have I convinced you to give growing basil a try?
Tell me how you like to use basil in your home?
Is there a certain variety that you are most excited to try?
Tiana's Favorite Basil Recipe
Fresh herbs are a fantastic addition to many dishes, but I especially love them for dressings, marinades and dips.
One of my favorite recipes comes from Beth Manos Brickey, FNTP of Tasty Yummies.
FIVE-MINUTE GREEN GODDESS DRESSING
-1 cup packed fresh basil
-1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
-1/4 cup organic olive oil
-1/4 cup water (or more as needed)
-3 tbsp avocado based mayonnaise
-1 large clove of garlic
-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-black pepper to taste
-1 jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, optional
1. Add all ingredients to a high speed blender or small food processor. Pulse a few times, then blend until well incorporated and super creamy. Add more water as needed to reach your desired consistency.
This can be served as a salad dressing, dip, sauce or spread! Get creative with it!
As an adult, it has always been a fantasy of mine to see if I can live completely off my land for a year. I realize the likelihood of being able to do this completely without relying on outside commercialism is low. However, I can certainly be doing SO MUCH BETTER than I am right now.
My husband and I currently live on 1/8th of an acre.
Our dogs basically own the backyard, and since they are young and full of insane amounts of energy, we have mostly left that space open for them to run around.
Right now, we have 1 peach tree, 2 concord grape vines and 1 rosemary bush that will never die. Outside of that, we purchase all of our other fruits and vegetables from local farmers. Fortunately for us, we are surrounded by farms, but this has also made me complacent in my efforts to grow some of my own food, which was fine until a few weeks ago when COVID hit.
Like so many others, I tried to limit my trips to my local co-op to 1x per week. Which has been fine since the majority of the vegetables I purchase from there last a really long time.
Since the co-op purchases the majority of their produce from local farms, the time from harvest to my kitchen is very short. This expands the lifespan of that vegetable (and the nutrient density of that vegetable!). So I quickly found that almost everything we eat regularly lasted an entire week.
Everything except lettuce.
And boy do we eat A LOT of lettuce. So much that I would swing by the co-op every other day for more!
But that all recently came to a halt. And it made me realize that this is the perfect time to start growing my own fresh lettuces!
Luckily, my good friend is also a garden consultant and she has a deep-rooted love for helping people grow their own food from home. So I’ve had her over to my house for a consultation and I’m eager to get started being more self-sufficient with my efforts to grow my own food.
What I have found is that many of us are feeling this same pull to self-sufficiency. So rather than keeping all of this amazing information to myself, I have asked my garden consultant friend, Sara, to come onto my blog and share some of her favorite tips for growing your own food from home.
She will focus on delicate foods that don’t last in the fridge for very long but that are also very easy to grow. We plan to talk about herbs, lettuce, and even edible flowers! At the end of each blog, I’ll share one of my favorite recipes or tips to help you take your food from the garden to your table.
Before Sara joins us, however, I wanted to share with you 3 reasons why, even after this pandemic is over, we should still prioritize getting our green finger polished!
Did you know that approximately 20% of fresh vegetables in the US come from overseas? That “fresh” vegetable traveled thousands of miles likely for several days to get to you.
How fresh can that really be?
Every single day that a vegetable is away from its native plant and native soil, it is no longer being fed. Instead, it is using up store nutrients to keep itself alive.
That means less nutrients are available for you when you actually get around to eating it.
It is estimated that vegetables today have up to 40% less nutrients than their counterparts from just one century ago.
Beyond the distance traveled for these commercial grown fruits and vegetables, many of the commercial crops have been genetically modified and/or grown to prioritize yield instead of quality.
This means more fruit/vegetables are available from the same plant/soil, but that also means each fruit/vegetable has less nutrients available inside of it.
If reaching optimal health is a goal, we need to prioritize nutrient rich foods!
When you grow your own food, you make this possible by using soil rich in nutrients, natural fertilizers, and growing practices that don’t deplete your soil and plants.
2. NO RECALLS!
Remember that spinach recall in 2019? I don’t know about you, but when I buy fresh produce, I fully believe I’m doing good things for my body.
I certainly don’t expect to get E. coli, salmonella, or listeria because I’m eating well!
And guess what? It is estimated that just 2% of the produce imported from overseas is inspected. 2%!!!
No wonder we have issues with recalls.
When you grow your own food, YOU control the environment. That means that you can use clean water and safe fertilizers to ensure your plants are getting all the nutrients they need without worrying about getting sick from them!
3. IT CAN SAVE YOU MONEY!
Depending on the food you love to eat, certain foods have been shown to be much cheaper to grow at home than to purchase.
If you notice, these plants continue to provide harvest throughout the growing season which means they save you money in the end.
Single yield plants, such as radishes, carrots, garlic and onions, all yield one vegetable per seed, so you only get 1 harvest.
They can be fun to grow, and the taste can certainly go well beyond something you would get in the grocery store. Plus, don’t forget what I said in #1 and #2 above!
But if we’re talking strictly about money, they may cost you more to grow than to buy. So if saving money is a priority for you, look to get these single yield vegetables from a farmers market instead.
These are just 3 reasons to start gardening but there are so many. Including spending more time outdoors (hello, Vitamin D!) and stress relief (which we can ALL use more of these days!)
I am so excited to have Sara on the blog so I truly hope you come back to check out all of her tips so that you can continue to take the steps necessary to get closer to optimal health!
My hope is that you can be inspired by this stay-at-home order to grow and homemake more of your own food.
So, let me know what else you want to grow at home!
Let’s use this as an opportunity to be more self-sufficient AND create new habits that can support our health for years!
In January of this year, I hosted a Vision Board workshop in my home town. We started the workshop off with some guided yoga and meditation, then jumped into action making a vision board for the year.
If you’ve never made a vision board, you should consider it!
There is an enormous amount of research that shows that the body will follow the mind. If you tell yourself that you are terrible at something, the likelihood of getting really good at that activity is much lower.
It’s the same with your eyes. If you constantly see negative statements or images (hello news!), your mind will perceive things in a much more negative way.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true. If you get into the habit of telling yourself that you are good at something, or surround yourself with positive images, you increase your likelihood of those positive things happening.
This is where the vision board can become very helpful.
There is no right or wrong way to create a vision board, but the idea behind them is to create a visual cue.. Something that you can see often that will spark motivation, inspiration, and positivity!
This can be something as simple as a bulletin board with images pinned to it that inspire you, or as complicated as a 3 dimensional object that you create using paper mache!
The main point is that your vision board is full of uplifting images and is placed in an area of your house or office that you see regularly (ideally, multiple times per day). When you get into the habit of looking at this vision on a regular basis, your mind will start to drive you in that direction.
Since I already wrote an entire blog post on vision boards before (which you can check out here if you’d like!), I’m not going into the ins and outs of vision board creation. Instead, I want to use the concept we used in the workshop to help you RIGHT NOW with finding more balance in your life. Because I think given our current circumstances, we can all use a little more of that, right?
When I lead clients through creating a vision, we use the concept of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is a visual representation of all areas of your life.
Usually this is represented by a circle that has been cut into slices, each of which represents a different area of your life. For example, work is one slice, hobbies are another, and relationships are yet another.
You then take a look at each slice, or area of life, and give them a score based on how satisfied you are currently with each one as well as where you’d like each one to be. This allows you to understand what areas of your life are in need of some attention and what the gaps are between where you are and where you want to be.
This exercise may seem silly but once you have a visual display of the current realities of your life, it’s like something clicks! And you are now better equipped to create a plan to achieve it!
The entire goal of this, and the vision board in general, is to create a life of balance. It’s very easy for many of us to become ultra focused on one area of our life while neglecting others, despite wanting those other areas to be fulfilled.
This type of behavior can lead to unhappiness and frustration, especially in times like these when certain parts of our lives have been changed (or taken away) against our desire.
For example, instead of getting mad that our gym is closed and we can’t take our favorite spin class right now, we can look at other areas of our Wheel of Life that could use a little more attention right now.
Eventually, the gym will reopen and you can recommit to your spin class. But for now, what other areas can you give some attention to that can help you achieve your overall vision and obtain more life balance? Because, the reality is, life will always throw us curve balls! It’s okay, and necessary, to pivot and adjust as necessary. THAT is what the Wheel of Life can help us do!
Common Life Categories to Consider
Personal Development- which includes things like your life's purpose, learning, spirituality, health and fitness. Have you ever wanted to learn a new language? Maybe now is the time!
Career- which includes areas like your business life, work environment and finances. Does your current career path provide fulfillment? Do you wake up and love to go to work? Does your career provide you with the financial freedom to live the life you want to live? If not, now is a great time to explore ways you can make some changes.
Relationships- which includes things like your marriage, love, friendship, family, and can also include spiritual relationships. These things take work! If you find that you are less satisfied than you would like to be with any of your relationships, how can you change that to make them more fulfilling?
Social Life- We are social creatures and we were made to interact with one another. So this area can include things like volunteering, community, environment, mentoring, having fun and possibly your hobbies if they involve a group.
The important thing when you sit down to create your own personal Wheel of Life is to create a wheel that includes categories that are most important to YOU. Be sure to include all aspects of your life, including your strengths and the areas that you already know could use a little focus.
As humans, we oftentimes tend to focus on our strengths, and neglect areas that we know we aren’t as great at. This can be fine with some things in life (aka- working with a team where all members are focused on their strengths but other team members are strong in areas we are not), but this can leave your basic human needs unbalanced.
For example, you may be a family woman/man! You prioritize the needs of your friends and family and make sure they are happy, healthy and thriving (all part of the relationships category). However, you will drop any plans you have for yourself to work out, or sit down to eat a nutritious meal, or take time to read or do your favorite craft (all part of the personal development category), all to make sure your families needs are being met first.
Creating your own personal Wheel of Life and honestly answering each category independent of the others can really help shine some light on imbalances in your life's basic human needs. Once you can visually see this, these areas can be brought into the conscious mind and a plan can be created on making some changes. Take the time to create 2-3 action items that you can do for each category to find better balance. If you are ready to take this to the next level, find images in magazines, online, or in catalogs that depict these action items and put them onto a vision board.
It is VERY COMMON to have certain areas of our life be more dominant at certain times, so don’t get discouraged if your Wheel of Life is not currently balanced. I personally had a major shift when the gyms closed and the shelter in place was put into effect. My primary focus on health and fitness shifted. This allowed me the opportunity to revisit my Wheel of Life and see what areas had been pushed to the background and spend a little more time on those. You can do the same thing!
The Wheel of Life can and should be revisited regularly. By doing so, you give yourself a chance to explore whether or not you are living in alignment with your values and beliefs. It also gives you the opportunity to be kind to yourself when different seasons of life cause you to shift focus unexpectedly!
So what are some areas of your life that could use a little TLC right now? Or, what areas of your life do you want to give more attention to that you have been neglecting?
If you don’t already have a Wheel of Life to work off of, you can download one HERE for free. Once you complete it, if you feel stuck with your action items on how to spend your time to be most effective in each area, reach out to me! Many times creative ideas can be developed in a short, free discovery call!
This week, I want to tell you a story about my client Ryan. It's certainly an inspirational one that shows you just how important our habits can be for our goals.
In mid November 2019, I was contacted by a fellow Nutritionist about a friend of his who was interested in running a 50 mile ultra run. His friend was a law enforcement officer who, up to that point, had been mostly focused on keeping fit by building strength in the gym. However, something inside of him had changed and he wanted a new challenge. For him, that was running. My colleague is an AMAZING gym owner and nutritionist who can help anyone get leaner and stronger, but ultra running wasn’t his specialty. So he reached out to me and got his client and I connected.
Ryan and I met for the first time on November 11, 2019 for a quick discovery call. I wanted to get to know him a little better and learn more about what his goals were. In our first call, I learned that Ryan is engaged to be married, has 4 kids at home ages 7-17 years old, and works 45 hours per week in law enforcement. I also learned that he has a military background, loves to push himself and has an honest fear of failure. He had already signed up for his first running challenge, the American River 50 mile Ultra Run in April 2020 and had a training plan he was excited to follow. However, he knew in order to finish his race feeling good, he needed some guidance with nutrition. After a short time learning more about Ryan and his goals, I knew working together could help get him the results he was looking for, so we lined up 3 months of coaching to lead him into his event.
On December 3rd, Ryan and I met for the first time face-to-face via Skype. This was a much longer consultation where Ryan got to tell me so much more about him and what he really wanted. His main goals were to lose 15 pounds of body fat and learn more about how to fuel his body to be able to perform at an optimal level. When I asked about his current diet: “I am keto, kind of” he said with a laugh. Typically, he skipped breakfast. For lunch, he ate meat. And for dinner he ate more meat. If he wanted a snack throughout the day, he ate...you guess it...meat (jerky). Sometimes he would eat a handful of almonds, some cheese or a Quest bar. He already had great habits established around drinking water, but also loved his coffee. Occasionally he would have some whisky, but it was rare and he typically avoided it during times of training.
To get started, we needed to know exactly where we were starting from, so I got a copy of his blood work, and we lined up an appointment at a local testing center and had Ryan complete a DEXA scan. From that scan, not only did we learn what his body fat % was, but also how much lean tissue he had, what his resting metabolic rate was, and that he has an incredibly fast metabolism! We used this data to help dial in a nutrition plan for him. The goal was to transition to clean keto for a few weeks that include many more vegetables. We used a keto mojo to test ketone levels to make sure we were hitting our targets.
Within 2 weeks, his usual afternoon dip in energy was gone and he was feeling less bloated. Between eating clean keto and his increased running volume, he was also losing weight...pretty quickly.
Within 1 month of starting our protocol, Ryan was feeling a little low in his runs and he had reached his goal weight, so we started doing some carb testing. The goal for this was to use a blood glucose meter to learn which carbs his body responded well to, and which ones didn’t work as well. We also added in carbs strategically around his longer training days on the weekends, and were well into testing different race foods he might be using on race day. Ryan is lucky because many foods he tested resulted in blood sugar levels that were in the normal range!
By February 15th, Ryan was curious about the changes he had made to his composition and went back for a comparison DEXA scan. He had lost 21 pounds and his body fat % had dropped from 22.76% to 16.58%. When I asked him how he felt about the results from his new DEXA scan, his exact words to me were “I feel great, so that’s all that matters.” Over the process of working together, Ryan worked really hard to tune into his body so he could learn more about what made him feel good, and what didn’t. This is so important for endurance athletes, especially ones who stay consistent with weight lifting in the gym, because the scale doesn’t always tell us the full picture! Plus, he’s going to be out there alone on race day and he needs to be able to listen to his body and respond to what it needs. The new habits he created were helping him do just that through all his training runs and in his day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, on March 12th, Ryan got the very unfortunate news that his race had been canceled due to COVID-19. Of course he was devastated, especially since most of the hard work had already been completed. But Ryan had become an ultra runner and his lifestyle was one of eating healthy and running. He was feeling better than he had in a really long time, so he certainly wasn’t going back now! Instead, he kept after his regular routine he had established. He ate clean. He completed his runs. And he focused on his recovery, even though there were no races on the calendar for 2020 anymore. Meanwhile, like so many other athletes, he waited for news about what to do next. Luckily, after a few weeks, the race directors of AR50 offered the athletes an alternative race. Instead of racing all together on the race route on 4/4, the athletes could set up their own 50 mile course, complete it in under 11 hours, and submit their times to the race directors for verification. Since AR50 is a qualifier for other 100 mile races, Ryan was already hoping to ‘punch his 50 miler ticket’ and be able to enter into Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Ultra Run in November 2020. This was great news for Ryan, because that meant, although VERY different, his race was still on!
He spent the next few weeks developing his own race route, asking friends and family to be his aid stations and support along the way, and finished up his training plan.
On the morning of April 4th, he set out for his race. The day was ‘hard and fun all at the same time’ Ryan said afterward. He definitely had his highs and lows on race day. There were times when his body hurt badly, but quitting never crossed his mind. He had practiced this day so many times in training that he knew finishing was the only outcome. Just like he had practiced on the weekends with long run after long run, he ate 300 calories per hour using Tailwind, Skratch chews and Spring gels. He took approximately 400mg of salt each hour and drank approximately 20 ounces of water per hour. All of this had been personalized, tried and tested for weeks leading into his event he knew this formula would work for him.
Although Ryan did all the hard work leading into the race, no athlete gets to the finish line alone. He dedicated his run to two heros he had lost the week leading into his run, his grandfather who was an Army veteran and Nevada Highway Patrol Sergeant Ben Jenkins. These two men helped him get out of rough patches on race day, as did his friends and family who showed up to crew for him.
After the race was over, I got a message from Ryan’s fiance, ‘Thank you for all of the help. He didn’t $hit his pants, I’m very thankful for that.’ LOL! We laugh, but any endurance athlete knows how much of a reality this is when your nutrition isn’t completely dialed in.
Ryan is a shining example of how to set up your goals, trust the process, set up habits to make it happen, and enjoy the ride on race day. Thank you Ryan for letting me be a small part of the success you had at your first 50 mile Ultra Run. Here is to many many more (but next time with volunteer run aid stations, other runners, and an actual finish line).
Something really interesting happened that I wasn’t expecting to ever happen during this quarantine. I realized that I am actually NOT a triathlete.
For the last 12 years, I have been competing in the sport of triathlon and I LOVE it. I guess I always assumed that would be who I was...Tiana, the triathlete.
But when all the races were canceled or postponed, and all the pools were closed, something interesting happened...I didn’t really care to bike or run. I mean, sometimes I did. But more times I didn’t.
What I DID want to do was workout. Nearly every single day I was doing something, but generally speaking I desire to lift weights, practice gymnastic skills and trail run. It got me thinking about what really drives me to do triathlon and I realized a few things about myself:
This realization got me thinking about my life as a triathlete and the habits I have had over the last 12 years to train for this sport. I guess I just assumed that after 12 years of swimming, biking and running that the habit of doing those things was solidified into my core.
But I just learned that it’s not. Interesting.
It also made me feel really bad for a week or two. Like an imposter. I mean, if you don’t love all aspects of a sport, should you really be dedicating so much of your life to it?
I’ve finally come around and realized ABSOLUTELY! Just because I may not do triathlon forever, doesn’t mean that there are not lifelong habits that I will take with me when I choose to do something different. They just may not be swimming, biking and running, and that is OK!
I also wonder how many other athletes are feeling terrible about themselves for not sticking to their training plan or having a deep rooted drive to continue training as they did before COVID-19?
I mean, if you do, fantastic!
That’s great that you can keep the same drive and intensity in your training. But for those of us that are driven by something different than the training itself, should we really feel bad that we don’t want to train the same way?!? HELL NO!
There is a big difference between a lifelong habit and a temporary habit.
LIFELONG VS. TEMPORARY
Lifelong habits are habits we need to have in place for our entire lives to be healthy and happy.
For example: drinking enough clean water or moving our body regularly.
Temporary habits exist to help us reach a desired goal.
For example: finishing your first marathon or losing 20 pounds.
Running 6 days per week for 16 weeks into something like a marathon doesn’t make you a lifelong runner.
The running required to complete a marathon may be a temporary thing that helps you reach your goal. The race is the trigger you need to develop the temporary habit of running.
For me, I have set myself up with 12 years of races so I have never really had a period of time when I didn’t have something to train for. I mistook this for having created a lifelong habit of swimming, biking and running, but now that the races are off the calendar (for the time being), I realize the truth about my habits: I have created a lifelong habit around exercise, but not around triathlon.
IT’S OKAY TO SET NEW GOALS
So if you have lost your desire to keep training in the same ways you did before COVID, don’t feel bad about it.
Instead, I would highly recommend you take a deeper look into why you trained the way you did before COVID. Then, take those same desires (for me, it’s competition) and consider setting up a different goal.
Let’s call this a quarantine goal. Something you can work towards right now.
Because when this is all over, any habits you set up for yourself during quarantine will likely be lost (see last week’s post HERE on how change is a driver for new habits! Going into quarantine is one change, while coming out will be a whole new change!).
This is a temporary time and likely, the habits we create now will also be temporary.
Valuable! But temporary.
It’s not that you won’t take parts of these habits with you when your life returns to our new normal, but as we already know, every habit needs a trigger.
Your triggers that are in place now will likely not be the same when we get back to work, or are training into an event. So rather than stress about losing training, or eating less structured, or staying up later and sleeping in, how about we be kinder to ourselves and focus on small, consistent habits we can put in place for just this period of time that help us reach a quarantine goal.
When we get back to ‘normal’ life, we can reassess our lifelong habits at that time.
So what is your quarantine goal? I’d love to hear what you are working on during this temporary period of time. And, if you’ve thought ahead, what are you planning for once this quarantine is over?
Grab your FREE guide to Meal Planning and Prep at the end of this article!
If you have ever taken one of my courses, or you have been following me for some time, you have heard me speak of Gretchen Rubin’s work on habits.
She is an author and researcher who has written multiple books on habits, including The Four Tendencies and Better Than Before. Two other authors who have written books on the topic of habits that I have enjoyed include Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
Although all the authors speak about habits in a slightly different way, their messages are all the same. Our life is exactly what it is because of the habits we routinely follow every day.
As this is being written (April 2020, during the COVID pandemic), I think we can all agree that our version of “everyday” has changed drastically over the last few weeks. Many of us are facing a new reality and we don’t really know for how long this new reality is going to last. It’s no surprise our old ways and routines have been kicked to the curb! To top if off, the question many of us are asking ourself is ‘will things ever go back to the way they once were?’
I bring this up because I am seeing all sorts of memes like this one on social media…
Cute cat, but you guys...NO! Seriously, a lot of damage can be done in 30+ days of a shelter in place if you don’t have a plan. I know this time is temporary, but it can either help our health, or hurt our health, and the choice is ours! I know many people don’t have as much control over the foods that are in their houses as they would like (either someone else is buying food for us, or what they want isn’t readily available to them at the store), and add in that gyms are closed around the world, but a plan for this time is necessary to come out of this healthy and well!
So instead of just letting yourself go completely for 30+ days (which is a strategy you can use, but I don’t recommend), let’s look at how we can approach our new temporary situation, specifically around food, that can help us be better than before.
In Gretchen's work, she speaks of ideal times in life to make habit changes. Just take this quote from her book Better Than Before:
‘Any beginning presents an important opportunity for habit formation, because a beginning allows two powerful elements to combine: novelty and habit. The novelty of a new start wipes out our previous habits, and that absence allows new habits to crowd in.’
What she is telling us is that we are in an ideal time for habit changes now. A few weeks ago, many of us experienced a change in what was our normal day-to-day living. For some of us it felt like a complete transformation, and for others, a small inconvenience. If you felt that, you were presented with an opportunity to create new habits.
In a few weeks when life starts to return to ‘normal’ (whatever that will look like) we will have yet another opportunity to create new habits. Are you ready?
It’s moments like these that Gretchen calls the power of a ‘Clean Slate.’ If you have ever set a New Years resolution, then you have used the strategy of a ‘clean slate.’ If you have ever started a new job or moved into a new house, you have experienced a ‘clean slate.’ If you have ever ended or started a new relationship with someone important, you have experienced a ‘clean slate.’ These are opportunities for a fresh start. These opportunities for a clean slate can come as a surprise. But today, we can take advantage of the fact that we know that this COVID-19 situation is temporary and things will return to a new normal soon. So we have two chances to set ourselves up for success. Now, and again in a few weeks.
Let’s talk about how both can look from a nutrition perspective.
First, before we discuss the here and now, I encourage you to reflect on what your life was life before COVID-19. Ask yourself these questions:
-Did you love your life? Are you excited to go back to it exactly as it was before?
-Were you happy with your routines around your diet? Did you prepare healthy meals at home? Did you eat because you were actually hungry, not because you were bored or sad? Was the majority of the food you put into your body nutrient dense whole food?
-Were you happy with your routines around your movement? Did you exercise enough each day, but not too much? Did you have a great routine around stretching and mobility? Did you have enough recovery time in your schedule?
The answers to these questions can help you decide how to tackle the “right now”, and what to do once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
For most people, my recommendation during the pandemic is to minimize damages. So many people have temporarily lost their gym, have had a minor or major change to their work environment, have been given extra responsibilities of things like homeschooling or caring for a loved one, and from a dietary perspective, are having a hard time eating the same way they did before. I’m not talking about from an emotional perspective, but from an actual physical perspective. If you are truly minimizing your time going into public, that means access to fresh fruits and vegetables will be limited, unless you are growing them yourself. That’s why I am recommending to my clients to let go of ideals and go with the flow! That doesn’t mean we can or should be eating whatever we want whenever we want it, but to be more relaxed on whatever diet you might have been following before all of this started. To help manage the current situation and set yourself up for a smooth re-entry post COVID, here are my tips:
That’s right, actually write out your menu for the week. I know you might be home and can make a last second call about what sounds good for lunch, but generally speaking, those last second choices aren’t always the best choices. My recommendation is to pick a day to plan (most of my clients find Sunday is a great day for this), and start off by eating a good balanced meal. With a full belly, sit down with your calendar and plan out your meals for the rest of the week. If you have a great recipe book, or some boards on Pinterest saved, reference those for inspiration. Keep in mind that fresh vegetables will be limited as the end of the week approaches. So plan for your fresh salads and vegetable dishes to be earlier in the week, and save the dishes that are made up of heartier vegetables for later in the week. If you have access to frozen vegetables, plan for these later in the week too!
I know you might be home, but cooking a meal for yourself 3x per day is exhausting and really time consuming! If you absolutely love to be in the kitchen, and you have a lot of time on your hands, this might be a viable option. But if not, I highly recommend you food prep 1-2 days per week so you have grab-and-go meals in the fridge. Reheating when it’s time is simple and fast. And decision making, gone! You made the choice on your food prep day, so save that brain space for something else today!
WHEN PLANNING AND SHOPPING FOR INGREDIENTS, LOOK FOR NUTRIENT DENSE INGREDIENTS THAT LAST A LONG TIME IN THE PANTRY AND FRIDGE
If you are like me, you prefer FRESH! I generally avoid canned fruits and vegetables, and even choose fresh over frozen most of the time. But we are in a unique time that calls for some flexibility! If you are following general recommendations to minimize public exposure, you are hopefully making 1 (or less) trips to the grocery store each week. That means you need to pick foods that are going to last! Look for recipes that include foods like:
-onions and garlic
-dried legumes (homemade hummus anyone?)
-frozen fruits and vegetables such as peas, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower (look for it riced!), organic corn and berries.
If you don’t know how to use any of these items, turn to the almighty Google! I typically use Pinterest and use the search terms “Paleo _______ recipe.” For example, if I want to use my acorn squash, I will search for “paleo acorn squash recipe.” In fact, I just did this search for you and found this caramelized onion, apple, and sausage stuffed acorn squash recipe...YES PLEASE! These search terms will eliminate most recipes with dairy and gluten (two foods my body doesn’t love) and has generally given me great results. If Pinterest isn’t your thing, you can use the same approach in a Google search!
Eventually, things will progress into our new normal. I doubt it will look exactly like our old normal before COVID-19, but no matter how it looks, we have this golden opportunity to establish NEW habits! Do you want to be someone who meditates daily? You can do that. Do you want to be someone who arrives at the gym 15 minutes early so you can do some extra mobility? That can be you! Do you want to be the person whose coworkers are jealous about their lunches? Go for it!
Here lies the problem. We humans are creatures of habit. If we are not ready, and have not made plans to create NEW habits, we will easily fall into old habits as soon as things go back to ‘normal.’ If you want that, great. If you reflect on your answers to the questions I asked earlier and you are excited to make some changes, then you must plan for them now. In Better Than Before, Gretchen encourages her readers to start how they want to continue. When your shelter in place is up and you can return back to your new normal, you have to be disciplined enough from the very start to act the way you want to act for the future. In other words, if you want to be the person who packs a lunch for work each day, you have to start planning to either make dinners large enough to have leftovers, or pack your lunch the night before. Don’t get caught up in the business of getting back to work and think you can start this a few weeks into your new routine. Your work is going to be as busy in 3 months as is it when you return. Start your new habit from the very beginning! This won’t be easy. You will have to be disciplined. But with some pre-planning, it’s completely possible.
There are so many possibilities to new habits you can create when the shelter in place is lifted. What are you most excited about?
If you want to get back on track with meal planning and food prep NOW, download this FREE meal planning guide. This guide will help you plan out an entire week's worth of meals, a shopping list by the different grocery departments, and even includes a list of foods that last for weeks in the fridge and pantry!
And stay tuned for more tips on creating healthy habits during and after COVID in the coming weeks!
I’m excited to be on Day 3 of a “Real Food Reset!”
If you missed the announcement, I am in the middle of hosting a free 7 day challenge. This is something I put out into the Universe to help people refocus on the few things that are still within our control during COVID-19.
Every day for 7 days, we’re tracking:
If you missed signing up for this challenge, make sure you get onto my email list so you can be the first to know when I do another FREE challenge like this!
What makes this challenge special is that, for the first time, the only real restriction on what we should be eating and should be avoiding is only limited by what meals we can make from scratch.
If I want ice cream, I can eat it...but first I have to make it from non-processed foods.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that we should eat a bunch of homemade ice cream, homemade baked goods, and homemade sugary foods all week.
Those are allowed and can be enjoyed but the goal during this challenge is to prioritize home cooked meals built from nutrient dense foods!
With this in mind I am encouraging the challenge participants to release all the pressure and expectations they have around their diet and just get back to eating REAL FOODS, just like our great grandmothers ate.
THE AGE OF COVID
We are currently in the middle of an unprecedented time.
The stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has created around the world is most certainly affecting our health.
It has been interesting for me to see how my nutrition clients are responding to this challenge. Some of them are attempting to use food as an antianxiety drug by eating all day, and some are forgetting to eat all together due to loss of structure in their daily routine.
Either way, goals are being sabotaged!
This breaks my heart because when this crisis is over, we could be ahead of where we were when this whole thing started, so long as we feel empowered to make a few good decisions that work to support our long term goals.
There was a study published in 2011 that followed 160 non-obese women. These women were asked to report their eating behaviors and emotional state every 2 hours for 10 days.
The researchers discovered a few things.
This study is one of many that shows that what we eat can directly affect our mood.
And what I’ve noticed the past couple weeks is that some of us have become much less structured with our eating because we’re stressed out.
This is precisely the time when we should be supporting our body with everything it needs to create positive emotions and not eating foods that fuel more stress and negative emotions.
That is one of the main reasons I included ‘real food meals made with single ingredient items’ as one of the challenges for 7 days.
Not only are many of us in a shelter in place and shouldn’t be going out to coffee shops and restaurants for meals, but this is also a high stress time and most of us can use all the help we can get to minimize anxiety and promote positive emotions.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BEAT BOBBY FLAY
With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my favorite scratch cooked recipes today.
Some of these recipes are quite simple, and some are more complicated to prepare.
Even if you are not participating in the 7 Day Real Food Reset Challenge, now is a great time to embrace the spirit of your great grandmother and get back to home cooked meals!
If home cooking is new to you, be KIND to yourself!
This thing called cooking takes practice.
Someone who has never swam freestyle in their life doesn’t expect to jump in a pool and immediately have the techniques and skills to swim with Michale Phelps! And you shouldn’t expect to be Emeril Lagasse either.
So get in the kitchen with an open mind and explorative attitude and just try to have fun with it! You will fail a few recipes and that’s okay. Failure is how we learn.
Laugh about it.
Learn from it.
And get right back after it.
Who knows, you might find that cooking becomes a form of stress relief over time and who couldn’t use more stress relief right now?!?
1. Sweet Potato and Sausage Breakfast Casserole- This recipe takes time to cook in the morning, so if you like to eat breakfast immediately upon waking, you’ll need to prepare this one ahead of time and reheat it in the morning. Depending on the size of your family, this recipe makes great leftovers!
2. Gluten Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread- Who doesn’t love home cooked bread? And if you are gluten free like I am, finding a good recipe can be very challenging. But I have had success time after time with this recipe. In this recipe, I swap the regular milk for homemade oat milk (to make this dairy free) and also cook mine in my Breville bread maker on the gluten free setting.
3. Vegetarian Power Bowls- If you follow me on social media, you know how much I love making Buddha Bowls. This is the same idea! As this recipe creator states in her blog, think of this as a giant collection of goodness. Roasted vegetables + lean protein + creamy sauce. Usually all things we have left over from a previous meal. YUM!
4. Enchiladas with Poblano-Pork Stuffing & Creamy Avocado Sauce- This recipe requires a good amount of ingredients and a few more steps than normal, but when you are craving dairy free mexican food, it’s worth it!
5. Instant Pot Creamy Butternut Squash + Apple Soup- This is by far one of my favorite pre or post workout soups. It’s easy to drink (no spoon required), has a good blend of protein and carbs, and after a hard workout, it’s easy to digest.
6. Coconut Chia Quinoa Breakfast Bars- Another one of my favorite pre workout bars. These are great to eat before a long bike ride or a big hike! If you are part of the Real Food Reset Challenge, just make sure everything you use only has 1 ingredient on the label.
7. Thai Red Curry Paste- This is a staple condiment at my house. And if you are working on making more foods from scratch, this is a great recipe! The curry paste stores well in a jar in the fridge for 2 months, so make a big batch and enjoy it with your favorite protein and veg combo!
8. Cilantro Avocado Dressing- Great on top of roasted vegetables, as a dipping sauce for kebabs, or on top of your favorite salad!
9. Creamy Lemon Ice Cream- Because sometimes it’s nice to have a sweet treat! I use a local honey from a friends hive (instead of stevia) for this.
10. Instant Pot Coconut Yogurt- For some reason, I avoided home making my own yogurt for years. I thought it would be too hard. Once I finally made my first batch, I was surprised how easy it was. I haven’t looked back since! I use 1 tsp grass-fed beef gelatin instead of the agar-agar flakes. I also use 1 capsule of a traditional probiotic capsule because I don’t have probiotic powder at home. Make sure you break the capsule open and just add the powder to the yogurt.
So there you have it!
Ten of my favorite FROM SCRATCH recipes that are regulars in my house.
Do you have a traditional family favorite you want to share in the comments?
Well...it finally happened. My first Ironman of 2020 has officially been postponed.
In a way, I’m happy I finally just know. I sat around for a week watching others get the news that their races had been canceled or postponed, but for some reason, Ironman St. George (originally scheduled for May 2, 2020) remained on the schedule.
Even my second race of the season, Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa (originally scheduled for May 8, 2020 in which I was a swimmer on a relay team) had been canceled. I could tell this uncertainty about Ironman St. George was causing an unlying level of anxiety as every single time I saw I had a new email, I’d lose my breath for a split second wondering if it was the cancelation/postponement email.
Now I can stop worrying about when or if that email is coming and just start planning for the next steps.
Which brings me to one very important point about planning an annual training and nutrition plan. I brought it up in the very first blog of this series, but I’ll say it again here.
Schedules will change. It’s part of life.
That is why I always recommend you create an outline for your training and nutrition plan, and fill in the details as you get closer to each phase.
This means that you should schedule out your macro and meso cycles, but wait on the details of the micro cycle until closer to those dates. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, revisit the first blog of this series which talks all about cycles HERE.
The reason I suggest an athlete take this approach is this: if you had spent hours and hours planning out the finer details of each and every swim workout in January for the entire year, you would be spending another few hours modifying the whole thing!
This Coronavirus pandemic was very unexpected and is greatly impacting our ability to train normally. Sure, some of us can go outside for a run and take our bike out for a ride but, unfortunately, there have been full pool closures in most areas around the world. That means, most of us triathletes aren’t swimming for the unforeseeable future.
The same example can be seen with your nutrition plan. If you had all the details of each and every meal planned out for the coming weeks, they might all need to change as life throws you curveballs and you have to change up your training and therefore your nutrition too.
Given our current circumstances, food right now is hit or miss! I don’t know how the grocery stores looked in your area, but shelves were empty in my town for a while. It’s just not as easy to find our “usuals”. Obviously this created a situation for meal creativity on the fly because half of what was on my grocery shopping list wasn’t available for purchase.
My suggestion for creating these plans is to get a rough idea of your schedule, both from a macro and meso cycle. Leave the fine details of the micro cycle for daily or weekly planning instead. Trust me, it will save you a ton of time and headache down the road WHEN things change, because they will.
What Do We Do Now?
I know this may not fully comfort you but the good news is, we are in this together!
All of us are being impacted, mentally, emotionally, and physically due to changes in our race schedule. Personally, 2 of my 4 races for 2020 have been postponed.
That means that right smack in the middle of my race specific phase of training for Ironman St. George, I was thrusted right back into my...well...I didn’t really know where I was.
With so much uncertainty about when the next race was going to be, I wasn’t sure if I was back in a build phase? Base phase? Pre-season? Who really knows!?!
So instead of stressing too much about it, I temporarily put myself into a recovery phase, because that is what felt right to me at the time. Let’s be honest, like so many of you, I was feeling stress from all the uncertainty from COVID-19. Not just with my training, but for my friends and family, my business, my husband's business and my community. It seems like a pretty natural reaction for most people in this situation to say “screw it” and eat whatever they want, whenever they want it.
And I certainly felt myself going down that path when all this first started.
Luckily, I was able to refocus quickly! Maybe it helped not having my race canceled early on because an Ironman 6 weeks out can certainly keep you focused! But I think it also helped to know that the “screw it” mentality never worked well in the past and typically made me feel worse in the long run!
So, instead of allowing myself to go down that path again, I focused on the vision board I created for myself at the beginning of the year. I spent hours looking at my goals and deciding that despite what was happening in this very moment, I still want all of those things.
Sure, there are other perspectives I have now, and I certainly plan to add a few things to my goals for the year in response to this viral outbreak, but my goals for 2020 haven’t changed. And throwing 2 sheets to the wind and not taking care of myself is most certainly NOT part of my goals for 2020!!!!
And you should feel the same way, too! This is not the time to give up. Instead, this is the time to refocus.
I still have so much uncertainty about exactly what I’m doing with my training at the moment so I decided to adopt the recovery style of both training and nutrition, for the time being.
There was a brief moment when I thought, ‘gosh, this blog series I’m in the middle of... it doesn't matter right now! It’s not important in comparison to what is happening in the world. I should put it on hold.’
But here is the thing, I really truly believe with all my heart that the absolute best thing we can be doing for ourselves right now is trying to
1. Keep things as normal as we possibly can and
2. Be setting ourselves up to be STRONGER and more resilient for when this is all over.
So if you are like me, and you have no idea when you are going to race again, I highly advise that you keep on point with your training and nutrition in a way that sets you up to be AHEAD of the game when you have more certainty about your future.
From a nutrition perspective, treating this like a recovery phase of training is EXACTLY what I recommend. So we’re forging ahead and we are going to wrap up this blog series with the details of EXACTLY that...your recovery phase!
Recovery Phase Nutrition Plan
As we have seen over the last few weeks, a well structured training plan will include progressions through various phases that elicit different and desired adaptations to prepare an athlete for an event.
If you have been keeping up on the last 4 blog posts, hopefully you are starting to see that structuring a nutrition plan to shadow your training plan will also help you get better results.
Today, we look at the finer details of a recovery phase of training. And since there are (in my opinion) two different types of recovery, I want to first address these from a training perspective.
Recovery in training
For most of us, we race more than 1x per year.
That means that we most likely will not cycle through a pre-season, base, build, race specific and recovery phase of training in its entirety multiple times per year.
Instead, we would likely start off the year in pre-season, then create a base, then cycle through the build, race specific, and recovery phases of training over and over again until our last race is completed.
After that last race, the recovery phase will likely be longer, and hopefully the training will look MUCH different than the recovery week(s) you have mid-season.
Mid-season recovery for training should last approximately 1-3 weeks. During this time, it is likely that you will continue to practice your sports details. If you are a triathlete, you will likely continue to swim, bike and run.
However, these will be done at much lower intensities and with much less volume than during the other phases of training. It is also very likely that you might throw in more recovery days, which can be complete days off, or active recovery days where you practice yoga or some other type of low level restorative sport.
Postseason recovery for training looks much different than mid-season recovery.
Here, it is suggested by most coaches to take a break from the monotony of the sport you have been repeating over and over again, day in and day out for months. Instead, it is usually encouraged to adopt a different sport.
One that still keeps you fit, but gives you both a physical and mental break from your main sport.
If you are a triathlete or a runner, maybe you adopt a cross country skiing routine. If you are a road cyclist, maybe you dust off the mountain bike and spend some time on the trails.
Depending on how eager you are to get back to training, this is also a time for athletes to manage any imbalances that their sport can create. For many endurance athletes, this is dealing with the posterior chain. So this can also be a time to hit the gym and build back some strength in specific areas that may have been neglected over the past few months. However, remember that pre-season and base training phases call for strength training so you don’t have to go all out while you are in recovery.
From a nutrition perspective, regardless of which recovery phase you are in (i.e., mid-season or postseason), I highly encourage athletes to also ‘take a break’ from a structured nutrition program.
That doesn’t mean eat french fries and ice cream every day.
Instead, I encourage athletes to follow an unstructured, high quality diet that follows the 80/20 rule.
80% of the time you continue to eat nutrient dense whole foods that are mostly plants.
20% of the time, you allow yourself to “indulge” in foods like french fries and ice cream. But high quality ones!
Instead of driving through a fast food joint that uses hydrogenated oils that cause a whole bunch of inflammation in your body, why not purchase organic potatoes, and cook your own fries in an air fryer?
There are great recipes you can follow online so use this time to explore and get creative in the kitchen!.
The glory of making them from scratch at home is you get to control the ingredients. With less training on the schedule, you should have extra time to spend in the kitchen creating these fun treats for yourself without using ingredients that are harmful to your body.
Personally, I love ice cream so I go ahead and make my own! Check out this recipe for a dairy free Almond Joy ice cream made without refined sugar! It’s too easy to not do!
Regardless of what your “indulgence” is, the point is that you are enjoying them 20% of the time compared to the little to no intake during your other phases of training!
Macronutrient Ratios During Recovery
During a recovery phase, I don’t recommend following a specific macronutrient ratio.
Remember, this phase is about taking a break!!! That means you shouldn’t be weighing and measuring food either. Your mind needs a break from so much structure, so take it and enjoy it!
If this makes you nervous, don’t be. As long as you continue to move your body daily and eat mostly plants, moderate amounts of quality proteins and fats for 80% of the food you put into your body, the likelihood of your body composition changing too much is low.
At the end of the day, recovery passes by quickly!! If you are in a mid-season recovery phase, you are looking at 1-3 weeks max before you jump back into either a build or race specific phase of training.
If you are in the postseason, again, this phase will typically only last 3-8 weeks before most athletes jump back into some style of pre-season training.
So rest assured that if you focus on the 80/20 approach, the amount of damage that can be done, if any at all, is negligible.
Wrapping It All Up!
So there you have it. All the details you need to create an annual nutrition plan to help you reach your health and performance goals!
If you are just hopping in on the series, make sure you go back to read the rest of the articles which cover the other phases of training:
I know many of you are still grasping the reality that your race was cancelled or postponed. Go ahead and be sad, mad, frustrated! Feel those emotions without the guilt because you have been working hard and it sucks to have something ripped away from you!
But then remember, that how you respond to these weird times is all in your power! You can choose to be upset and give up, or you can choose to be upset and then wipe away the tears and refocus!
On the bright side, you have just been given a chance to go back and improve on yourself. And if you take that opportunity, you may end up doing even better than you expected to have done if your race had still been on!
If you have questions or want some help putting a nutrition plan together, or if you are confused as to what you should be doing as a result of a race cancellation or postponement then do not hesitate to reach out to me! Creating training and nutrition plans is what I LOVE to do! So if you don’t love it, I’m here for you!
Whew! We’re doing this!
We’ve made it through a series of blog posts already that have covered how to build an annual nutrition plan and the finer details of the nutrition requirements for base training and a build phase of training.
I am so excited to jump into the weeds today on the most exciting phase of all...race specific training and nutrition.
It’s the most exciting because this phase encompasses the actual race itself! What’s not to be excited about that!?!
Before we jump into exactly how you should be eating in this phase, let’s first discuss both the goals and the typical training in a race specific phase of training.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS DURING THE RACE SPECIFIC TRAINING PHASE?
During this time your main focus is on the following:
HOW LONG DOES THIS PHASE LAST?
The race specific training phase typically starts anywhere from 4-8 weeks prior to your main event. This time frame depends on many things, including your experience in the sport at that specific distance, your prior training load, and how quickly your body responds and recovers from the stress that race pace efforts can create.
Everybody is different. Some people respond and recover quickly. Where other athletes need more time to slowly build to these race efforts, and require more time to recover as well.
It’s important you listen to your body and work closely with your coach to find out what the right amount of time is for you! If you are training for a race without a coach and feel like you need some guidance on this, reach out to me! I’m happy to set up a free discovery call to help you fine tune your taper.
The race specific training phase is building on the previous training phases before it, both base training and build training.
In those phases, we have built up our endurance engine to be able to handle a larger amount of volume. Once we are nearing our key event, we transition to the race specific phase of training and begin to get more specific to the demands we will face during our event.
Workouts will likely include race day efforts with short periods of rest between sets.
This is also the training phase where athletes can and should consider other stressors they may encounter on race day and prepare for them. An example of this is temperature.
If you are planning to race in a hot and humid environment, doing some heat training, or regular sauna sessions leading into your event can help your body be more prepared for that stressor.
OKAY, NOW ONTO THE FOOD!
From a training nutrition perspective, during the race specific phase, you are mostly executing the plan you developed during your build phase.
In that phase, you tested multiple types of nutrition to discover what works and what doesn’t. You also tested how much is too much, and how much is too little.
Now you know which foods you can tolerate, and in what amounts.
In the race specific phase, it’s all about practicing. There should be no new food introductions or tests done!
Come race day, your food should be the least stressful part!
This is because, if you follow the suggestions I’ve laid out for you for training, you will know your nutrition plan like the back of your hand.
That way, as other things arise (which they will), you have the mental space to manage those without faulting on your nutrition plan.
So don’t change much now, just make sure you have what you need in place to spend these few weeks before the race practicing your plan.
The main difference from a training nutrition perspective in the race specific phase is your need to practice your pre-race meals.
Many training programs call for race style simulation training days. One of these days, you can and SHOULD also be testing your nutrition exactly as you have it planned out for race day.
This means you practice your pre-race meals too!
So what would this look like?
The night before your biggest training day, you consume your planned pre-race dinner and then go to bed early.
Wake up at your planned wake up time for race day.
Eat the breakfast you plan to eat on race morning.
Drink all the things you plan to drink race morning, and then start your race simulation training day at the same time you would start your race.
Over the years, I have found 2 main pre-race meals for the night before the race that work best for me:
If I have access to a kitchen, I will almost always make the risotto!
Yes, risotto is made from rice which might be surprising for you. But I have tested how my body responds to rice and it does great every time.
The homemade bone broth in the risotto is rich in minerals and L-Glutamine (the most abundant amino acid in our muscles).
And I always make enough to eat for breakfast on race morning.
I usually dilute the race morning portion with extra bone broth and eat it more like a soup. I love it.
Do you have to do it exactly as I do? Absolutely not!
You need to find what works for you! Maybe it’s chicken risotto. Maybe it’s salmon and potatoes. You won’t know unless you test and testing happens during the build phase.
Whatever it is, you want to find something that you enjoy and satisfies you but doesn’t spike your blood sugar, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night hungry.
I typically eat a small breakfast on race morning about 3 hours prior to race start. This is either leftover chicken risotto soup, or gluten free bread with almond butter, or a smoothie with sweet potato, coconut milk and a clean protein powder (link Equip Prime Protein HERE).
IN THE KITCHEN
One thing to note is that while WHAT you eat should stay mostly the same, there will be slight variation in quantity as you get closer to your event.
As your intensity and volume decreases, so does your caloric need.
BUT THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU GO ON A DIET!
You still need to eat enough calories to sustain your energy expenditure.
Instead, be mindful of your activity levels and meals. If you have rest days, you may not need to be loading up on starchy carbs on those days.
You also may be able to cut your caloric intake down by a few hundred calories per day.
This might look as simple as eliminating a snack between meals, or cutting your portions down slightly at each meal. Nothing major!
If your early morning training session is easy, you may be able to do this fasted again (like you did in the base phase).
The key here is to listen and watch your body.
The last thing an endurance athlete wants to do is put on weight in the weeks leading into an event. So if your clothes start fitting more tightly, be aware and make slow and purposeful shifts to your diet to maintain energy and body composition.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTRIENT DENSE, REAL FOOD MEALS (INCLUDING CARBS!)
On the flip side, you also don’t want to be malnourished coming into your key event of the year. So keep up with regular meals that are built with nutrient dense whole foods and avoid snacking on foods that are void of micronutrients.
If you love tracking macros, I highly advise you to continue to eat your calories in a 40% carb, 35% fat and 25% protein ratio.
Even though you will be cutting your training volume and intensity 1-2 weeks before your main event, there is recent research that shows that the gut is trainable. And since we will be consuming mostly carbohydrate during our race, we need our gut to be capable of uptaking those carbs when we need it.
One study showed that exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rates (i.e., how quickly our body metabolizes carbohydrates that we eat) were higher after consuming a high-carbohydrate diet for 28 days compared with a low-carbohydrate diet.
This tells us that if we eat carbohydrates for a period of time, our body is better able to utilize them. Thus providing evidence that the gut is indeed adaptable and this can be a useful tool to prepare the gut for the reality of increased carbohydrate consumption on race day.
So, although our training may not dictate the need for high carbohydrates in the week or two leading into a key event, making sure that the gut is adapted to absorb the carbohydrates on race day is still needed.
Therefore keeping your carbohydrate intake around 40% of your caloric intake, and instead decreasing your caloric intake to match your energy expenditure is advised in the weeks leading into an event.
“NEVER TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY”
There are certain types of foods that you can place a greater focus on that can support race phase training, allowing you to arrive on race day as ready as you can be.
Foods high in nitric oxide:Nitric oxide is the nutrient required to help open up blood vessels and carry oxygen through the body to the muscles!
Some great options: beet root, garlic, grass-fed meat, dark chocolate, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and pomegranates!
Foods high in L-glutamine: L-glutamine is an amino acid (ie., a building block for proteins). It is great for immune system function and supports gut health!
Some great options: bone broth, meats, fish, dairy (if you can handle it), eggs, beans, beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, and kale.
Foods high in fiber: specifically, I’m talking about cooked vegetables, like leafy greens, as they are typically easier on the digestive system. Fiber is fantastic for keeping your gut healthy and supports overall health!
Caffeine: just stick to coffee here! Test this on your longer workouts and enjoy some on race morning. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that has been proven to help with cognitive function and sharpness!
Additionally, in a race specific build, it is more important than ever to make sure you are prioritizing sleep and proper hydration. These 2 factors can help keep your immune system stay strong as you taper into your main event.
IT’S RACE TIME!
By the time you hit this point of your training, most of the work has been done.
Not only have you built up your training, but you have also tested multiple aspects of your nutrition strategy and now you get to just practice, practice, practice!
The time you spent planning out your nutrition and training in the prior phases can now be spent planning out the finer details for your race weekend. And sleeping. Did I mention that this is a great time to sleep more. ;)
Congratulate yourself for getting through your pre-season, base training and build training to get here. Getting to the start line healthy and ready to race is a HUGE testament to how well you planned and executed your training and nutrition strategies.
And if you are reading this as you are getting ready for your training season and feeling overwhelmed, then you may need some support and guidance. Especially if this is one of your first races where you are taking your training nutrition seriously!
If you are curious how I can help you, we can hop on a discovery call where I can answer any questions you have and tell you all about how I work with clients to help them get results. If we feel like we are the right fit for each other, then we can get started on your plan right away!
Welcome to part 3 of a 5 part series on building an annual nutrition plan to reinforce your annual training plan.
The whole goal of this series is to help you understand how to create and implement your own nutrition plan so that you get the most out of your training. Because the reality is that what you eat when you train can either help you or hurt you!
If you are going to dedicate hours each week to a sport you love which takes time away from your friends, family and other important things, let’s make the most of all that time. Deal?
If you missed the previous 2 posts on building an annual nutrition plan and the details on how to build and execute the nutrition piece during base phase of training, I recommend you spend some time reviewing them.
This week, I am excited to jump into the ins and outs of your build phase!
Before jumping into the ins and outs of the diet side of things, here is a little information on what the “build phase” is all about when it comes to training.
In the build phase of training, you are doing exactly that...building!
This phase involves an increase in both volume and intensity with a subsequent increase in your energy requirements (i.e., calories!).
The main goals in build phase are:
The build phase can last anywhere from 8-16 weeks, depending on the length of your event. After the build phase, you move into a race specific phase.
Now that we’ve loosely defined how the training might look during a build phase of training, let’s jump into the details of the nutrition piece.
NUTRITION DURING A BUILD PHASE
In this phase, since your distance and speed increase with training, so do your energy requirements.
That means that you need to increase your caloric intake from one (or more) of your macronutrients (carbs, protein and/or fat).
Before we talk about which one(s) and by how much, let’s talk about how your body utilizes each macro during training and racing so you can make a better informed decision about how to adjust your daily meals.
CARBS VS. FAT
There are plenty of ‘nutrition experts’ on the internet that scream that LCHF is the only way to go! All day, every day!
On the flip side of the coin, we have ‘scientific experts’ who argue that for over 50 years science has proven that we have to carb load in order to be good athletes.
It gets confusing so I totally understand you wanting to say “whatever” when it comes to your training nutrition!
So who’s right?
Well...if you are an endurance athlete, partially both.
In order to create energy (or ATP) during exercise, our skeletal muscles can either use fat OR carbohydrates.
The rate of intensity (i.e., how hard you are working!) of the work you are performing is what determines whether fat and/or carbohydrate will be used to generate that energy.
The harder you are pushing, the more carbohydrate is being used to create ATP. The easier you are working, the more fat is being used to create ATP.
So let’s translate this to training:
If you end up eating mostly carbs during your base phase,the body will turn that carbohydrate into fat and either store it or use it. Which typically is NOT a goal for an endurance athlete!
Alternatively, if you are eating LCHF during your build phase, you are risking muscle catabolism (aka- your body burns muscle for energy) and/or you can’t push the paces you are trying to push (aka- you bonk).
Both scenarios are bad! And this is PRECISELY why I advocate for periodizing your nutrition plan!
There is a time in an athletes season when eating a LCHF diet is important (BASE phase). This allows them to burn mostly fat and not store any extra body fat.
There is also a time in an athletes season when it is crucial to start introducing more carbohydrate into the diet, at appropriate times, to improve recovery, speed and endurance (BUILD AND RACE phases).
IN THE KITCHEN
If you follow my recommendations for nutrition requirements for the base phase of training, then you should be eating a LCHF/ketogenic diet.
Once you are ready to transition your training into the build phase (which is marked by an increase in volume and an introduction of higher intensity), it’s time to adjust your macros!
Just like in the base phase, you can make these adjustments by tracking in a calorie tracker online, or you can use a 3 compartment container to help you create correctly portioned meals quickly.
I found these Eco One BPA-free 3 compartment portable Bento Boxes to be a lifesaver for this phase of eating!
It takes the weighing and measuring out of the equation and all I need to do is fill the large section with low starch, high fiber vegetables, fill one of medium compartments with a single ingredient starch (like sweet potato, rice, quinoa, black beans or corn), and the other medium compartment with protein.
I either add 1 tbsp of quality fat to my vegetables or starch, or make sure I am using a high fat piece of protein to meet my fat requirements (for example: chicken thighs!).
I recommend athletes eat either 3 or 4 of these containers per day, depending on their energy needs.
If weighing, measuring and counting macros is your thing, then it’s time to adjust your macro ratios in your online program.
I suggest shifting your macros to a ratio of 40% carbohydrate, 35% fat and 25% protein (versus 10% carbohydrate, 70% fat, and 20% protein!).
In addition to adjusting your macros, you will also need to increase your caloric intake to match your energy demands since they will likely also increase.
This shift in eating can feel quite shocking at first!
Going from 10% of your caloric intake from carbs to 40% of your caloric intake in carbs can take a few weeks of getting adjusted to. This is why I am a fan of athletes tracking their intake for at least a few weeks during the transition and until this way of eating feels more natural or comfortable.
A CAVEAT ABOUT INCREASING YOUR CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE
As I mentioned before, the build phase of nutrition is when you increase your carb intake but it must be done at the appropriate time so that it actually supports your performance!
I highly recommend that you eat the majority of your carbohydrates around and during your training.
This means that if you only have 1 training session that day and it’s happening at 5pm, you may want to forgo the carbohydrates in your breakfast.
Instead, you would eat vegetables, quality fat and protein for breakfast, then consume your meals with carbohydrate both before and after your evening training session instead.
If you have 2 workouts per day that are both fairly long and/or demanding, you will likely need to add carbohydrates to every meal to meet the energy demands of 2 workouts.
Additionally, the carbohydrates you consume after your morning session will help you recover for your evening session!
MEAL PLANNING TIP
Shift your focus from training to eat to eating to train. Preparing for an event takes more than physical training. How you fuel your body matters and it’s important to prioritize your nutrition!
This means that you need to plan your meals AHEAD of your training sessions so you optimize your meals at the right times. There are no “last minute meals” during training season!
So just like you would review your training sessions for the week and make sure you are prepared for them, you should also have a weekly menu in place so you have a general idea of what you will be eating, and when.
Finishing a morning session and not having a plan for what you should eat to optimize your recovery is only going to leave you eating junk, or sometimes worse, not eating anything at all.
NUTRITION DURING TRAINING
Although the length of training plays a role, during base phase you are likely not consuming race food during training as your requirements are much lower.
However, since the build phase is setting you up for race day distances, it is the perfect time to TEST, TEST, TEST!
Start introducing various “race food” options into your longer sessions (i.e., the nutrition you will be taking on hand with you for race day!)
Some options that I’ve seen work well include:
Additionally, a mixture of simple and complex carbohydrates can lead to better and higher absorption of those carbohydrates from the gut into the bloodstream giving you more energy to utilize during the race!
The goal here is to learn two things:
I recommend my athletes start longer sessions in the mornings in a fasted state. Often, I find, athletes will eat a breakfast to avoid consuming food during their training which is the complete opposite of what should be done for longer sessions in the build phase.
When you don’t eat anything prior to a longer training session, it forces you to start testing your race foods within the first hour of training.
image from Skratch Labs
RACE DAY OPTIONS
Build phase is also the time to test the nutrition that the race will have on course.
You may not be planning to use it, but if you drop your nutrition, or your special needs bag gets misplaced, or your crew doesn’t arrive when/where you think they should, you may need to know if eating the on course nutrition is an option or not.
I also recommend trying multiple different foods!
Just because you found 1 food you like doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find 3, 5, or 10 more.
At the end of the day, finding what works best for your body is all about experimenting during the build phase!
Many athletes do very well with 250 calories per hour, but it’s not about them… it’s about YOU!
You might find that you can tolerate 350 calories per hour and feel better at that level! The only way to know is to test, and build phase is the time to do that.
Once you hit the race specific phase, testing should be over. More on this in my upcoming blog, so make sure you check back to get all of the details on how you can fine tune your race phase nutrition plan to optimize your results!
ONE LAST NOTE ABOUT MINDSET
Build phase is often the phase when I tell athletes “it’s GO time!” .
That means that the priority has shifted to making athlete gains, and not so much on making body composition changes. So if you are wishing you could still lose more body fat, or gain more lean tissue, the build and race phases are NOT the ideal phases for this focus.
Your training intensity and duration increases as does your energy intake, so while this may result in body composition changes naturally, it is NOT the priority!
This can be hard mentally for athletes, especially when they look in a mirror and don’t love what they see. Work hard to change the language in which you speak to yourself and know that the time will come again when you can refocus your efforts on making body composition changes after your event.
Plus, those changes may result in your PR so it’ll likely be worth it!
Have an event coming up or in the near future and want to dial in on your nutrition plan? Let’s chat! Click here to schedule your free discovery to get you started on your journey to your best race yet!
I want to spend the next few weeks outlining a typical annual nutrition plan (ANP) to correspond with your annual training plan (ATP). In the last blog post, I did a 10,000 foot overview on why you should consider building an ANP and how to get the general skeleton of one designed.
For the next few posts, I’m going to dive into the details of each phase from a nutrition perspective so you can start plugging in the details of your plan and TAKE ACTION.
Base Phase Nutrition Planning
In order to build a successful base phase nutrition plan, one must consider their actual training plan first.
The “base phase” is what comes after your “off-season” and before your “build phase”, both of which I will dive into in future blog posts.
Not all coaches call this phase “base phase” and most stock plans that an athlete purchases online won’t include one. So getting clear on what the “base phase” is, is important!
The base training phase for each athlete is going to look a little bit different depending on their own specific schedule, goals and skills.
But generally speaking, and depending on how long your event is (i.e., a sprint triathlon or 5k vs an ironman or marathon) this phase lasts about 8-12 weeks long.
You know when your base phase starts by counting backwards from your first key race or event by approximately 24-28 weeks.
In this phase, the three main goals are:
NUTRITION FOR BASE PHASE
For any athlete who’s primary sport requires them to keep moving for more than 90 minutes, doing a basic low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet is recommended during the base phase.
Ideally you would get yourself into ketosis for a few weeks during this phase.
LCHF vs. Ketosis
Although some people tend to think they are the same, there is a difference between eating LCHF and getting yourself into ketosis.
In fact, there are plenty of people out there who follow a LCHF diet who are NOT in ketosis. And there are some people who can tolerate eating a moderate amount of carbohydrate and still stay in ketosis.
So what is the difference?
The most notable difference is that a ketogenic diet is actually measurable and is defined by the production of ketones, whereas a LCHF diet is not.
A ketogenic diet is one in which your body favors burning fat (over glucose) as a fuel source. The byproduct of burning fat is a ketone body (produced in the liver).
These ketones float around in your bloodstream and can be measured by a device similar to a glucometer (such as this one).
To create a situation in which your body favors burning fat over burning sugar, you need to follow a clean ketogenic diet, at least initially. But exactly how low carb you go is completely dependent on your body.
Some people can get into a state of fat burning and ketone production with 50g of carbs per day, whereas some people need to eat closer to 30g of carbs, and some people can tolerate much more, sometimes upwards of 100+g of carbs per day.
It doesn't really matter how many carbohydrates you eat on a ketogenic diet AS LONG AS YOU ARE PRODUCING KETONES (as measured by a ketone monitor!).
If you are measuring your level of ketones on a device and seeing a positive reading, then you are burning fat!
The device I prefer to use is the Keto Mojo.
This device is affordable, quick and accurate.
It does however require a prick of the finger for a very small drop of blood. If pricking your finger isn’t your thing, your other option is using a breath ketone meter. However, I will tell you that - as of this posting - I have yet to see the reliability of these meters compared to a blood spot test.
image from: fatforweightloss.com
You can also purchase urine ketone strips that will tell you if you are excreting ketones in your urine. This can be helpful for the first few days of transitioning your body from a sugar burning state into a fat burning state, but after that, you will get false readings.
Because when you first start dropping your carbohydrate intake and your body starts burning fat and producing ketones, the body’s tissues don’t know how to upregulate the ketones.
Since the liver is producing them, and the tissues don’t quite know how to use them, they will be excreted through the urine. Eventually, the tissue gives up hope on glucose and starts learning how to use ketones for energy.
Once this happens, you should no longer be wasting ketones in your urine which means you will stop seeing positive results on the urine ketone strip.
Although this can be frustrating at first, it is a sign that your body is USING the ketones rather than wasting them and this should be celebrated!
It is at this point that you need to switch to either a blood spot test or a ketone breath meter to get a more accurate picture of your true ketone level.
Why does burning fat matter for endurance athletes? I thought we were supposed to burn carbs!
Most of you endurance athletes out there have probably been educated to “carb up” to ensure you have fuel for training and events. So, why should you care about burning fat instead? And, what if you don’t have body fat you want to lose?
Both are GREAT questions!
The reason why becoming fat adapted (i.e., your body burns fat for fuel) is key is because the more fat your body burns, the less reason you have to obtain your energy from exogenous sources like gels or goos to be able to perform at your peak.
The body can only store approximately 1,400 - 2,000 calories worth of carbohydrate. That means that you only have about 90 minutes worth of energy stored as sugar in your liver and muscles. So if your event is going to last longer than that, you will need to get more energy from somewhere!
And that somewhere is typically gels and goos! It may seem harmless, and sure they give you “energy” but many of us also struggle with GI distress due to our consumption of these so-called “foods”.
On top of that, when we eat anything, our body shunts blood away from other areas of your body (i.e., working muscles!) so that it can focus on digesting. That means you are taking away precious energy from the muscles you are using to crush your event!
On the other hand, even a lean athletic body has approximately 50,000 - 80,000 calories stored as fat!
The FASTER study, published in 2012, showed that after 20 months of following a LCHF diet, ultra endurance runners had a fat oxidation rate (i.e., the rate at which your body burns fat for fuel) that was 2.3x higher than that of the standard high carb athletes.
And when you consider that fat has twice as much energy available than carbohydrates (and protein), I’ll take fat burning over sugar burning for low intensity exercise ANY DAY!
So how does that actually look in your kitchen and while you are training?
IN THE KITCHEN
You can make this as complicated or as simple as you want to make it.
Let’s start with simple which is my “3-2-1 Rule”.
Depending on your caloric needs, you would build a plate that includes 3 servings of high fiber, non-starchy carbs (such as dark leafy greens, cucumbers, broccoli, artichokes, bell peppers, etc.), 2 servings of healthy fats (such as avocados, nuts/nut butters, oils, and fats included in protein you eat), and 1 serving of quality protein!
1 cup of high fiber, non-starchy carb = 1 serving
1 tablespoon or the size of your thumb = 1 serving of fat
The size of your palm = 1 serving of protein
I highly recommend that you work towards eating most of your meals in an 8 hour window and avoiding snacking between these meals.
That might mean that you eat your first meal at 10am, eat again at 2pm, then your final meal at 6pm. You would then drink nothing but clear liquids (like water, herbal teas and black coffee) from 6pm until 10am the next morning.
This gives your body a break from being in the fed state all the time and allows it to tap into stored energy.
Since you aren’t eating a lot of carbohydrates in the form of starchy tubers, grains, breads, pastas, fruits or other high sugar foods, your body will start looking at stored fat for energy.
Eating within a short eating window will help you get ‘fat adapted’ more quickly. However, you need to be realistic with what your life requires of you because the last thing you want to do is undereat because you are limited to a particular feeding window! It is still important to consume your body’s energy requirements from your daily meals.
On the more detailed side of things, you can actually track your macros using an online program like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal.
I think tracking your macros is a fantastic way to learn what you are eating and how much. If you have never done it before, you should!
On the contrary to what most people think, what I find is that many of my clients under eat and they don’t learn how little they are actually eating until they start tracking their macros.
Under consuming calories on a regular basis is a great way to wreck your metabolism. No one wants that.
As informative as tracking may be, it is time consuming and tedious, especially if you are eating food without labels, which I HIGHLY suggest you do!
Therefore, my recommendation is to track your macros for a given period of time. I suggest 1-2 weeks which will give you an idea of what you are putting in your mouth, in what ratios, and the types of adjustments you need to be making to meet your energy needs.
During base training, to support your body’s transition to burning fat, I recommend starting out with a macronutrient ratio of 20% protein, 10% carbs, and 70% fat.
Fiber is incredibly important to a healthy body, so make sure you are still getting the recommended daily fiber intake of 25-30g daily.
Some of my favorite low carb fiber foods are: chia seeds, ground flax meal, marinated artichoke hearts, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Remember, you don’t HAVE TO track. You can keep your daily eating simple by just following the 3-2-1 rule with all of your meals!
DURING YOUR WORKOUTS
Since your base phase is all about building an aerobic (remember, WITH oxygen) endurance base, you shouldn’t be doing any training that gets really intense and you shouldn’t get out of breath for too long!
At this lower intensity, you will be hanging out in your fat burning heart rate zone during training. Most of the endurance training sessions in base phase last less than 4 hours in length.
If you stay true to this style of training, this will also help you get ‘fat adapted’ more quickly!
Since you have plenty of stored body fat, you can also go longer periods of time during training without needing to put in a bunch of calories.
For training that is less than 90 minutes long, I recommend sticking with pure water and electrolytes (making sure that the electrolyte mix does NOT have sugar in it). That’s it!
A simple way to get electrolytes without all of the other junk found in some drinks, I recommend adding a pinch of unrefined sea salt to your water.
As soon as you are done with your training, and you start feeling hungry, go ahead and eat a real food meal that is LCHF. For some people, this is immediately following training. For others, this can be hours after training.
The idea here is that you follow your body’s signals on this one. Eat when you are hungry, don’t when you aren't.
The exception to this rule is after strength training, in which you should aim to get a real food meal that is rich in a quality protein that has a complete amino acid profile within 1 hour of finishing your training session.
If your training is longer than 90 minutes, but less than 4 hours, consider using liquid calories. Something like Tailwind or Skratch Hydration are my suggestions. Both have electrolytes mixed in and offer some carbohydrates to help get you through the longer session.
At the 90 minute mark of your session, slowly start consuming the liquid calories. The goal is to SLOWWWW drip in the calories until you finish your session.
For most athletes, getting about 100-200 calories in SMALL SIPS per hour is enough!
But you are you. You might need to play around with the amount of calories you need to help you get through a session without bonking but not overdoing it either.
One great sign to look for that indicates that you might be under eating during training is a rapid decline in both your energy and mood. If your training session was enjoyable and fairly easy, and then all of a sudden it’s not anymore, this is a sign that you are low in calories. Aim to consume a little bit more per hour during your next session.
You might be over eating during your training session if you feel full all the time, aren’t eager to eat, or you get kicked out of ketosis and can’t get back in for a few days after training. If you load yourself up on carbohydrates during your base phase training, you can easily knock yourself out of ketosis which defeats the entire goal of becoming a better fat burner.
During base training, I recommend starting with less calories per hour and slowly increasing the amount as needed. You can always eat more if you find your energy levels drop, but you can’t take calories away once you’ve eaten them.
If your training is longer than 4 hours, it’s likely that you’ve moved in “build phase”, which I will be going into greater detail on in a separate post for stay tuned (and if you’re not already, subscribe to my email list so that you don’t miss it when it comes out!)
From Base Phase Training to Build Phase Training
Since the base training phase lasts approximately 8-12 weeks, you should spend the same amount of transitioning your body to burn fat for fuel!
In the next post, I am excited to talk in more detail about how to transition from nutrition in base training to nutrition in your build phase.
We’re going to hit on how to carb test, carb cycle and how to eat to fuel your harder and longer session.
I can’t wait!
In the meantime, if you need a step-by-step guide on how to burn more fat during your base phase, download my free ‘5 easy steps to burning fat as fuel’ on my website!
Dear Endurance Athletes,
Please stop assuming that you can train for an event without appropriately setting your nutrition plan up. That’s an assumption that will lead to lack of progress and sub-par performance!
Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh but sometimes the truth can be!
For example, let’s say your goal this year is to PR your Half Marathon time!
Would your approach be to just run 13.1 miles at your goal pace every single day of training? (I’m praying you’re screaming NOOOOO on the other side of the screen right now!)
That sounds hard (physically AND mentally), destructive on the body (talk about a recipe for holding on to fat tissue!) and down right boring!
Instead, if you have a great plan, you are going to periodize your training so that you have phases where you build a base of endurance, then you build some speed, then you practice some race simulations (test nutrition, gear, etc), then you test (RACE DAY!), then you recover.
If we take it even deeper, each week of training will call for different types of training too.
Some weeks will have more volume than others. Some weeks will call for more speed work and maybe even some overreaching workouts. Some weeks will be recovery weeks so you can soak up all your training!
Even your individual workouts are broken down: you start with a warm-up that is slow and easy, then maybe you do some skill work, then some speed work, then you cool down.
This, my friends, is periodization.
Periodization is the concept of breaking something up into defined blocks or periods. If you have been an athlete for awhile, especially one who has a “season,” you should be familiar with this concept.
So if you understand the value and necessity of varying your endurance, intensity, frequency and recovery to get the best out of your body for your sport, why wouldn’t you do the same thing with your nutrition?
Guess what? YOU SHOULD.
This article is going to be a 10,000 foot view of nutrition periodization and how to apply it to your training and performance goals so you can start seeing better results!
Let’s start with the training cycles. Any athlete who wants to achieve some type of performance goal should have in place an Annual Training Plan (ATP). Many athletes who work with coaches have this plan put together for them by their coaches.
If you don’t have a coach, you can purchase a stock plan to follow online. There are plenty of great stock plans available for purchase from coaches through Training Peaks, or you can reach out to me at Fifth Element to put the right plan together for you and your goals.
Whether you are building your own annual training plan or purchasing one, there are a few components that must be included:
CREATING YOUR OWN ATP
To create your own ATP, start by plugging your races onto your calendar.
Then, using whatever training plan you obtained, work backwards from your race date to plug in your specific training blocks.
For example, if you plan to follow a 12 week training program into your first half marathon of the year, which is on May 31, then your first training block will start on March 9th (12 weeks before May 31). Everything between your last event last year and March 9th of this year is considered by most as your “off-season” and/or “pre-season.”
This annual training plan is what we call a macrocycle, which makes up your entire season.
For most ameteur athletes, this is usually one year in length.
For an athlete training for something like the Olympic Games, this cycle might be 4 years.
Within the macrocycle, we have multiple mesocycles. These mesocycles usually refer to a single block of training which usually lasts for several weeks.
For example, a 4 week build block would be a mesocycle.
Within each mesocycle, we have microcycles. A microcycle is a very small block of training which usually lasts about 1 week in length.
For example, within the 4 week build block (mesocycle), you will likely have 3 gradually increasing weeks of endurance and a 1 week recovery. Each of those weeks would be an individual microcycle within your mesocycle.
Photo Credit: Sportlyzer Academy
A TIP FOR YOUR ATP
When you are building out your own annual training plan, it is a great idea to get down on paper your macrocycle (your entire season), and the mesocycles (the individual blocks that will make up your training into each event).
It is not necessary at the beginning of the year to build out the fine details of each microcycle as these can and will likely change as the season progresses. If this is not something that comes naturally to you, consider hiring a coach to do it for you.
I know you’re likely thinking “I thought we were going to be talking about diet cycles, not training cycles!”. And you’re right. But explaining the breakdown of the training plan itself will help you understand how to approach your nutrition plan!
This is because once you know your macro and meso cycles, now we can apply the same concepts to create your annual nutrition plan.
It is not uncommon for athletes to come to me and say “I want to lose body fat and gain lean muscle.”
If you don’t understand how challenging this is to do at the same time, refer back to my last blog that addresses this topic HERE.
To put it simply, attacking both goals at once can lead to overwhelm and failure. Instead, focusing on one goal (i.e., lose body fat), then focusing on the other (i.e., gain lean tissue) can be incredibly effective.
The demands on your body for each of these goals is different and in order to achieve them, you would need to eat differently.
Think about it. An overweight athlete trying to lose excess body fat does NOT eat the same diet as an Olympic weightlifter trying to gain more muscle and strength.
I bring this idea up with you because it is a concept that can be applied to endurance athletes interested in getting faster for a future event.
As you cycle through the various training blocks in your ATP, your body will have different energy requirements that will need to be met (just as your body requires different things when you have different goals!).
This is when having a great Annual Nutrition Plan (ANP) can be helpful!
The goal of any great ANP is to strategically combine your exercise with your nutrition to obtain positive adaptations that support your performance.
For instance, did you know that eating an increased amount of carbohydrates for a few weeks leading into an event can increase the absorptive capacity of your intestines which in turn reduces your risk of GI upset?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste anytime in a port-a-potty at a race, especially when this is something that can be avoided with proper nutrition!
WHY NUTRITION PERIODIZATION IS KEY
Periodizing your nutrition can have a direct effect on:
NUTRITION STRATEGIES FOR YOUR PRE-SEASON
Pre-season is the best time for you to prioritize body composition changes.
For most athletes, this usually means losing body fat or gaining lean tissue.
This is also the time of year that GOOD HABITS around your diet and lifestyle need to be established.
Spending time learning how to plan weekly menus and meals, cooking and bulk prepping food can all be very helpful. Once you officially start training, you won’t have nearly as much time or energy to devote to this.
If you already do those things, pre-season is a great time to break up the monotony of your regular meals and experiment with new recipes.
Other habits like proper hydration should also be established.
NUTRITION STRATEGIES FOR YOUR BASE PHASE
Base Phase of training is when most athletes transition away from whatever fun sport they have been doing in their off season, and start to build back an endurance base in their specific sport.
Nutritionally, this is a great time to focus on fat adaptation (i.e., transitioning your body to burn fat over carbohydrates). The body can be taught to oxidize (burn) more carbohydrate or fat, depending on training and diet.
The average person has approximately 1,400 - 2,000 calories worth of carbohydrate stored in their body and 50,000 - 80,000 calories stored as fat. Clearly the body has plenty of resources in the form of fat that it can utilize for energy purposes.
When the body burns more carbohydrates, it will naturally store more fat (something most people, especially endurance athletes, don’t want). Whereas burning more fat will allow the body to preserve the small amount of carbohydrates it has.
Every endurance athlete will benefit from training their body to burn more of their stored body fat instead of relying on exogenous glucose from external sources like gels and goos! The more energy we can obtain from our own body without having to eat it, the better off we will be in training or in a race.
Think about it this way: every single time we put calories in our body, we shunt blood away from our working muscles to help digest that food we just put in our system.
So if you want to keep your blood in your muscles, it’s always a good idea to train your body to need less exogenous calories from food for training/racing.
FROM BURNING CARBS TO BURNING FAT
For athletes who have fat adapted in the past, doing a “reset” during your base can get your body burning more fat again in as little at 5 days!
For athletes who have never gone through the process of fat adapting, it may take a little longer to effectively burn body fat and this process can and should be started much earlier in the year.
If you need tips on how to get this process started, I have a free guide (including a meal plan!) to help you jump start the process!
STRATEGIES TO SUPPORT YOUR BUILD PHASE
In the build phase of training, we start focusing more on endurance, speed and intensities. This also means that our energy demands typically go up!
Nutritionally, these energy demands need to be met in order to obtain the desired training adaptations. In other words, you have to make sure you are eating enough!
If you don’t meet the energy demands of your body, your training will suffer. Who wants that?!?
Most of the time, this increased energy demand is met with an increase of carbohydrates to support your harder and longer sessions.
But “carb loading”, as it’s so well known, doesn’t mean eating pasta on Friday night before your weekend training! Instead, it might mean eating more root vegetables with meals and occasionally throwing in some non-glutinous grains if your body tolerates them well.
How well our body tolerates carbohydrates is known as our “carbohydrate tolerance” and is determined based on our genetics as well as whether or not your body is responding well to insulin.
How do you know if your body tolerates different types of carbohydrates well? You test!
Carb testing is a really important piece to discovering if your body likes specific carbohydrates. For example, I learned through testing that my body does fine with non-glutinous grains, like rice, but not well AT ALL with fructose, like bananas.
We don’t always FEEL our blood sugar fluctuations so testing is definitely the most accurate way to figure this out.
Considering how broad this topic is, I am definitely going to be devoting a whole blog to it so stay tuned! And if you’re not on my email list, sign up here so you don’t miss it!
EATING TO TRAIN
I highly encourage athletes to use this training block to start ‘eating to train’ (rather than ‘training to eat’).
This can be a mind shift for some athletes, but it’s an important one. It is important to start planning out your meals around your training.
For example, in this phase, if hard workouts are being completed in the morning hours, intermittent fasting might have to cease in order to recover from workouts, especially if there is another workout in the afternoon.
Lastly, this phase is our last chance for testing different foods.
Use this phase to TEST TEST TEST. Once you move into your race specific phase, it’s time to PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!
STRATEGIES TO SUPPORT YOUR RACE SPECIFIC PHASE
If you did your homework in your build phase and tested different meals and race specific foods you should now know what you like, and more importantly, what your body likes.
Now it’s time to put it all to the test.
Typically, in a race specific phase of training, you are adding in race simulation workouts as well as running through a dress rehearsal for race day nutrition (including what you eat the night before!).
If you can, it’s ideal to dial in your race day nutrition plan so it goes into autopilot on race day.
There will be plenty of decisions to make on race day with regard to performance, so give yourself a break by making nutrition a no brainer!
If you need to, set up alerts on your watch to remind you to eat and drink at specific intervals so you don’t miss your nutrition timing. Once you start your taper into your specific event, then your calories can slightly go down as your training load also decreases.
At that point, the focus should shift to clean eating, proper hydration and lots and lots of quality sleep!
NUTRITION STRATEGIES FOR YOUR OFF SEASON
This is the time of year that you should consider taking a break from all the structure, both physically with your training, but also with your diet.
I highly encourage athletes to follow an unstructured, high quality diet during the off season. This means you’re still prioritizing a mostly plant based diet with high quality fats and proteins but you loosen the reigns a bit on counting, tracking, and dieting!
Yes, this is me giving you permission to indulge a bit more! Ideally, aim for an 80/20 approach where 80% of your meals are clean and nutrient dense whereas the remaining 20% is more relaxed!
For most athletes, this phase of training doesn’t last very long, so the amount of damage that can be done with enjoying yourself 20% of the time is negligible. And for most athletes, it certainly helps create motivation to get “back on the wagon” when preseason starts and a more regimented diet is being followed.
WRAPPING IT UP
So there you have it, my high level overview of a basic nutrition plan for your training and race season. Interested in getting more details about the nutrition recommendations during each phase? You’re in luck. I’m dedicating the next few articles to exactly that, so stay tuned! And make sure you’re subscribed to my email list so you don’t miss anything!
Do you have a family member or friend who could benefit from learning more about creating an annual nutrition plan to shadow their training plan? Share this article with them and make sure they’re also signed up to get all the latest email updates from me!
If you're following along with my Real Food Reset on Facebook, then you know that I just finished my Winter 2020 Three Day Water Fast, along with a whole bunch of people who did it with me (WAY TO GO you guys!!!).
I realize that many of you may see “3-day water fast” and want to click X but hang tight and read through this whole post. Not only will I be sharing with you the data I collected from this most recent experience, but I am also going to be giving you my reasons for fasting which may motivate you to try it out yourself.
First I want to say that generally speaking, I don't exactly love water fasting.
There are things about it that I appreciate, but let's be crystal clear...I freakin' love food. LOVE. IT.
I use it to bring together some of my favorite people to celebrate the little and big things in life.
It nourishes my body and makes me faster and stronger!
And for most of my life, like some of you, I have used food to help me deal with stress, sadness, and a whole host of other emotions (see I’m not perfect either, friends! I don’t recommend this behavior but once in a while it happens, and that’s okay!)
So WHHHHHHHY on earth would I fast for 3 days straight consuming nothing but water?
Well...the short answer is longevity.
My grandmother struggled with Alzheimers disease that eventually took her life, and my aunt is currently living with it too. It scares me to think that someday, due to genetics, I may lose control of my mind and forget the people I love the most. I have done enough reading and research to help empower myself to make choices that can help me avoid the same fate as my family so why wouldn’t I do whatever I can?
That is MY why!
And knowing how prevalent diseases like Alzheimer’s are, I wouldn’t be surprised if your ears perked up a bit too. Because the reality is, why wouldn’t we want to figure out a way to have a higher quality of life for a longer amount of time?
So let me explain how water fasting helps me sleep at night knowing that I'm doing everything I can to be sharp as a tack when I'm in my late 90's (or older)...
A QUICK NOTE
The point of this post is not to teach you how to properly and safely conduct a longer term water fast. Instead, I will be focusing simply on the benefits of water fasting and what you might expect from the experience. If, after reading, you are interested in learning more than I’d love for you to contact me so we can setup a time to talk more!
REASONS TO WATER FAST
There are two main reasons to choose to do a water fast: weight loss and longevity (aka - anti-aging). Let's take a look at both.
In my experience with private clients seeking a lower body fat percentage, the common scenario goes something like this: change the diet or movement routine - lose some initial weight - get stuck at that weight.
The weight loss journey is hardly ever a straight road.
I consider 'being stuck' when someone has been getting results (whatever those are for that person), and then no longer gets results doing the same thing for 7+ days. It obviously doesn't make sense then to continue to do the same thing we've been doing and expect to get more results. Isn't that definition of insanity?
So...we change things up.
Sometimes we change the diet or movement routine again, or sometimes we use fasting as a tool.
It's just ONE of MANY tools we can use to get different results.
Fasting is something our body was designed to do. If we weren't equipped to go long periods of time without food, we wouldn't be here.
Our great ancestors did not have the luxury of swinging by the 24 hour food mart on the corner in the middle of the night if they were hungry. They had to deal with their hunger until they were able to obtain food from either native trees/shrubs, or harvesting an animal.
Sometimes, that was days, or even weeks!
The Science Behind Fasting and Weight Loss
One of the best known, modern day experts in this area is Dr. Jason Fung. I have personally learned a lot from his work.
According to him, fasting is part of a natural process. Each day we are either in a “fed state” (i.e., our body is storing the food we ate) or in a “fasted state” (i.e., our body is burning the food we ate).
When we eat, our insulin levels rise. This causes some glucose to be burned as quick fuel for our cells and the remaining glucose, as well as fats, to be stored for future use.
When we don’t eat, the opposite happens. Insulin levels decrease resulting in our bodies burning the stored energy (i.e., glucose and fat) for fuel.
The longer we abstain from eating, the more energy (aka - calories) our body will burn through. If we choose to follow a low carbohydrate diet, on top of utilizing fasting as a weight loss tool, our body will also have less stored glucose to burn and thus head straight to the stored fat for energy use.
Essentially, what Dr. Fung is saying, is that the longer we fast, the longer we are burning stored energy (i.e., calories) and so weight loss will follow.
It’s relatively obvious!
Despite there being plenty of science to backup the fasting-weight loss connection, I think we all intuitively know that weight loss occurs when you don’t eat for multiple days.
After about 32 hours, your body runs low on stored body sugars, and will begin to favor burning body fat instead.
Since the goal for most people is to lose body fat when they say they want to 'lose weight' then getting past the 32 hour mark for a fast is a great goal.
Once you decide to break your fast, you can expect to have a bit of a rebound in weight. There are lots of factors here, but it is not uncommon for some weight to come back on (again, I think this is something we all intuitively understand).
Let's say for example you fast for 3 days and lose 6 pounds. With a very strategic re-entry eating plan, it would be common to see a 2 pound rebound in weight, and to successfully keep off 4 pounds. A pretty solid trade off, since typical weight loss goals hover in the 1-2 pounds per week range!
More importantly, this fast can give the body the shift it needs to get back onto the weight loss train again (aka- get un-stuck and finally see those numbers start moving in your desired direction!).
So ultimately, for your fast to result in the greatest weight loss that actually stays off you need to have a plan in place for your “break-fast” meal as well as the meals that follow it. If you build it correctly, with the appropriate help from a professional, you can expect to see a minor bounce back but an overall loss that can re-energize your body to continue on the weight loss track!
I have been using fasting as a strategy for some of my private clients for years and not only does it work, but I repeatedly hear clients say “that was way easier than I thought it would be!”
Everybody is different, but I typically use this tool 1x per month with clients who are looking to lose a large amount of weight and have high fasting blood sugar.
Personally, this is why I fast.
We can spend days going into the details of how fasting can help prevent protein build up in the brain, prevent cancer, and even increase mitochondria growth but obviously we don’t have days. So instead, what you need to know is the term “autophagy”.
Autophagy is a natural process that occurs in our body when we are in a fasted state. Essentially, it is our body’s way of cleaning and recycling unneeded or damaged proteins. These proteins are broken down into their individual parts (i.e., amino acids) which the body then determines whether a) they should be excreted or b) they should be rebuilt into something better! Fascinating right?
How does this apply to Alzheimer’s? Simple. Alzheimer’s is a condition in which there is a build up of so-called junk protein in the brain which is caused by a dysfunction of the process of autophagy.
So, if there is a process in the body that naturally breaks down excess and defunct proteins, then activating it could prevent the onset of this horrible disease.
Now do you understand a little better why I feel so strongly about this?
Autophagy has also been shown to destroy pathogens such as bacteria and viruses and might help prevent cancer, metabolic diseases, and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
I would love to live a long time, but only if I can have both my mind AND my body to enjoy it! If that means a few days without food 2-3x per year, I'll do it. And honestly, it's really not that bad.
As an overachieving, type A, perfectionist endurance athlete, it's one of the only times I truly give myself time to take it easy.
Sounds kind of nice, right?
This is also why I choose not to fast at home! If I did, I would clean my house, do my laundry, work on my to-do list… and so on.
Instead, I avoid it all together so that I can give my body the full break it needs, including digesting!
It actually feels really amazing to do this. It's a gift that I know my body deserves and I often don't give it.
So since we can't measure autophagy right now outside of the lab, we can only speculate from the data we can measure that it is happening. There is all sorts of talk now that you can get the benefits of autophagy and still eat minimal calories a day. But it is all speculation!
Once we have the technology to measure it, I will gladly change my protocol to match what the science says. But until then, I will stick to a 72 hour fast because that is what the science stated is the amount of time needed for autophagy to occur!
Now that I know water fasting is actually quite easy and is, in a way, relaxing and freeing, I actually look forward to how great I feel afterward. I still don't love not eating for 3 days, but it's a small price to pay to live a long and happy life.
So let's look at my results so that you can get an understanding of what may occur during a water fast..
I measured what I could with the tools I have, which included:
I started my water fast by first getting myself into ketosis.
This isn’t 100% necessary but it makes the transition to a water fast so much smoother you are already burning stored body fat for fuel.
I started this process in early January and was using a keto mojo to measure my ketone levels.
On Wednesday (2/5/20), I ate my last meal around 6pm at the airport before boarding a flight to Scottsdale, AZ.
Why Arizona? My husband had a conference there and it's warm. :)
Since he was fasting along with me (you can’t go wrong with a good support system!), we drank water with sea salt and herbal tea until Saturday (2/8/20). We then broke our fast with bone broth and steamed cauliflower around 5pm.
We ate our first full meal about 90 minutes later at a really great all paleo restaurant near our hotel. Notice how we were very strategic in our “break-fast”. We did not go “all out” and devour whatever we could. We planned a gentle return to food and focused on the most nutrient dense foods possible.
I know we all love numbers so here are some numbers by the day:
Wednesday - 2/5/20
Body Fat: 17.3%
Skeletal Muscle: 48.2%
Travel day and last meal (chicken, spaghetti squash with pesto, and roasted vegetables) at 6pm.
Thursday - 2/6/20
Body Fat: 17.3%
Skeletal Muscle: 48.2%
The first day is always just keeping busy. I worked most of the day on my computer, and when I felt little pangs of hunger, I would get up and move around.
Sometimes that meant going for a walk outside, sometimes that meant sitting in the spa at the hotel. Just something to help change the routine.
That night, my core temperature dropped, which is pretty common when fasting. That is one thing I advise people to be aware of. I was grateful to be in a warm location with a spa to sit in whenever I felt really cold. I took 360mg of magnesium glycinate before bed that night and slept soundly through the night.
Friday - 2/7/20
Body Fat: 16.9%
Skeletal Muscle: 48.4%
Day two was GREAT! I had really high energy levels and my focus was much sharper than usual. My energy felt high and I decided to go on a very slow jog/walk in the middle of the day. But notice my HRV dropped dramatically on this day. That’s because fasting is a BIG stressor on the body. A good one, but a stress none-the-less.
Saturday - 2/8/20
Body Fat: 16.6%
Skeletal Muscle: 48.6%
Day three has always been the hardest for me. I think part of it is psychological...knowing that I will be eating that evening. But my energy levels were lower on day three, even though my brain still felt incredibly sharp.
I spent most of the morning at a coffee shop working on my computer drinking herbal tea.
We broke our fast with Vital Proteins powdered organic chicken bone broth and steamed cauliflower before eating our first meal about 90 minutes later.
As an athlete, I'm mostly concerned about the rebound effect from a water fast.
As I mentioned, I don't do this for weight loss, but instead for longevity. I always want to make sure that I am doing good things for my body and a big priority with these fasts is making sure I don't lose lean tissue. However, despite what we commonly hear (that fasting or starvation can lead to muscle loss), it isn’t necessarily true.
Some studies have even found that fasting could preserve lean mass when using it as a weight loss tool, in comparison to calorie restriction alone. The reason for this has to do with the hormones that spring into action when insulin drops - in particular growth hormone!
During the fast, growth hormone is high! Because no protein is being built, our lean mass doesn’t actually increase. However, growth hormone remains high once we feast again and so we experience a rebuilding phase as the so-called “clean up phase”.
The scale, although not nearly as accurate as something like a DEXA scan, showed lean tissue growth during the fast, with a settling back near baseline within 1 week (I started that fast with 113 lbs of lean tissue and 1 week post fast I was at 116 lbs of lean tissue).
This makes sense as adrenaline and natural human growth hormone surge during a fast.
So if you look at my data post fast, I have basically settled back almost exactly where I started. My weight is hovering between 147-149, my skeletal muscle is at 48.3% and my body fat is back to 17.3% (which is lower than what my DEXA scan shows...meaning my scale is not accurate but that's okay with me since I'm looking for trends, not pointed data here).
Since my focus was not on keeping my weight down, I personally went right back to eating and working out the same way I did when I went in. Except I felt well rested and energetic about 1 day after breaking the fast.
My HRV, which plummeted pretty low by day 3 (expected as fasting is a stress), rebounded back up to 9.1 within 2 days and has mostly stayed in the high 8's and low 9's since the fast.
I'm sure the HRV score has more to do with 3 days of full rest and recovery than anything to do with the water fast.
All in all, I'm super happy I did the fast the way I did it.
I will continue to do multi day water fasts until more science comes out that shows something different is better. I will also continue to use these water fasting days as a full body recuperation as that is what feels best to me! I already have my next one on the calendar. This time, at a hot springs resort. I can't wait!
If you are curious about water fasting and how it can help you live longer, lose weight, or benefit your sports performance, reach out to me !
Most people have forgotten or completely given up on the goals they set for themselves on January 1st.
I have been parking in an overflowed lot at my gym for the past 5 weeks, and this week, I've gotten nearly front row parking spots every time I've gone.
Yes, I’ll be honest. I am happy to not have to wait around for a swim lane.
But more parking at the gym says a lot and it makes me sad that so many people have lost sight of their goals for 2020 already.
It’s not even the end of February!
Unfortunately, this is a habit problem, not a lack of desire to 'make your goal a reality' problem. I see this often and decided that now is the perfect time to address this, because truth is it's not too late to recommit to what you want.
READ THAT AGAIN: IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO START AGAIN!
I received an email earlier this year from a client asking me how I stay motivated day after day.
There are a thousand ways I can answer this!
But they all have to do with little habits that I have adopted over the years (did you hear that...YEARS).
None of what I do now happened in 30 days.
The healthy life I have in place now is a result of little baby steps that became part of my normal routine coupled with the missteps that helped me learn what to do and when!
No one reaches their long term goals without messing up here and there.
Along the way I’ve tried many things. Some worked and have stuck around while the so-called “failures” were learning experiences that ultimately led to growth.
Which means, for every failed attempt, I'm actually got one step closer to finding what works best for me. And let's be very clear... I'm not finished.
There is still SOOOOO much work to be done! This is a journey that will last a lifetime and that’s part of what keeps it exciting.
My New Normal
To prove to you that I haven’t always had it all-together, here are a few examples of habits that I definitely did not have 5 years ago that I have now:
Again, I didn’t just wake up one day and implement all these. There was no extreme overhaul but instead a long term commitment to making the changes I wanted in my life.
The Magic Sauce
Above are just a few examples of habits that have become part of my everyday life. And it’s possible you’re thinking “I don’t even know where to begin!”.
I get that. Which is why, when I look at my success with habit change, along with the clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years, it all comes down to one variable: the belief in who we are or the belief that we are already the person we want to become.
A little back story to explain...
Growing up, I was a competitive athlete and my body composition has always been maintained from exercise. My diet was 80/20 but just slightly different than my current 80/20 approach: 80% fast food and candy, and 20% home cooked meals that were mostly carbohydrate (so by “slightly different” I mean drastically different…).
At the time, we didn't know any better! Since I was fit, I could eat anything I wanted (or so we thought!).
Unfortunately, what we didn't realize was that the habit of driving through a fast food joint and eating in the car from packages was a habit that became deeply rooted into who I was.
I was the girl who was too busy to prep and eat good food at a dinner table in a relaxed environment. I was the girl who was "healthy" even though I was eating crap. I was the girl who didn't know how to cook, even if I wanted to because I never did it growing up.
Fast forward to the day when I became an adult and all of a sudden had 1,000 responsibilities and 'had no time' to cook, workout or even sleep enough (I say 'had no time' in quotes because I see now that wasn't true. I didn't MAKE time for it.).
What I believed to be true about my younger self (basically, 'I got this...I'll be fine'), was slowly becoming an 'OMG- this isn't working anymore.'
I was gaining weight.
I was sleeping terribly.
I was fatigued all the time.
And I basically felt like crap.
So what did I do? I leaned on the one thing that I knew would help: exercise.
To keep myself accountable to it, I signed up for something that SCARED THE $HIT OUT OF ME...my first triathlon!
I was so scared about it, that there was no way I was going to miss training for it or else I knew I wouldn't be prepared to finish it. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, this didn't work.
I found myself getting more tired.
My sleep felt like it was getting worse.
And I wasn't enjoying the movement routine as much as I used to.
Nutrition Education to the Rescue!
Long story short, I realized (with the help of a local nutritionist) that my diet and lifestyle needed a major overhaul. At first, the accountability of meeting with her monthly kept me on track. But it became very obvious to me that meeting with her FOREVER was not an option.
So I had to figure out a way to stay motivated without her.
For me, this involved 2 things:
But the reality was...I WASN'T that girl because I wasn’t willing to do what I had to do to become that girl. I just WISHED! And it wasn’t until I made the mental shift away from what I wished I was, and FULLY, 100%, no-holds-back, believed with all of my heart that I AM the girl who IS all of those things did they actually happen...permanently!
The Rest is History!
It's really easy to shop healthy.
To cook healthy.
To eat healthy at home AND when I'm out with friends.
Because THAT IS WHO I AM.
That is the person I chose to become and once I made a commitment to that choice, there was no looking back!
Who we are and how we are is a choice! No matter what habits or mindsets you currently reside in, they are a choice.
I know people with less time than you, less money than you, less overall resources that you that decided they wanted more and went after it.
So when it comes to staying dedicated to making changes, it’s all about how you see yourself right now.
And until you start believing that you too are the healthy, vibrant, full of energy person you desire to be, you'll have a hell of a time getting there.
My Tips for You
Don’t worry. I wasn’t planning on telling you a story without giving you some action steps you can take to recommit to your goals!
Here are some of my favorite tips to help you fully embrace that person you want to be, because let’s face it, REALLY, TRULY believing you ARE that person doesn’t just happen overnight or by going through the motions but hating it every step of the way.
CREATE AN ALTER EGO
This might sound crazy to you, but it ACTUALLY WORKS.
I was first introduced to this concept from the book 'The Brave Athlete- Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion' by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson.
This is a book written specifically for triathletes, but can certainly be applied to all endurance athletes, and I HIGHLY recommend it!
The basic concept for creating an alter ego is this: fake it until you make it.
If you can't be the person who loves to cook. Who loves to eat healthy. Who loves to exercise. FAKE IT!
As Simon says in the book, "It turns out that following advice to 'just be yourself' is often the worst thing you can do."
He goes on to say that pretending to be an alternative identity can favorably alter your biochemistry and improve your performance, or in this case, your life!
Even Queen Be did this! The queen of confidence was once not confident in her abilities so she used to perform as "Sasha Fierce" until she felt like she could embody the performer she wanted to be.
So...you do the same, but for the areas of your life that you want to have healthier habits around.
I know this is exciting but don’t OVER do it!
Typically when we get some motivation our tendency is to go from 0 to 100. Please do not do this! This is another reason so many resolutions fail!
Instead, I'd advise that you start with ONE area, for example, the kitchen, that you want to change for the better.
Want to love cooking? Think of all the attributes of a person who LOVES to cook. You can make these up, or you can think about someone you know who already loves to cook.
First person that comes to my mind? Emeril Lagasse...BAM! Talk about someone who LOVVVVES to be in the kitchen!
Go ahead and dive into who that person is and then apply these attributes to your alter ego.
Once you have this list and a very clear picture in your mind of your alter ego, it’s time to step into their shoes! There’s no sense in fantasizing if you’re not going to take action.
Start pretending to be them when you’re in the kitchen. Wear the same clothes. Say the same things. Act the same way. BE THEM. Every single time.
This strategy might seem silly at first and it may have to be used for years, but eventually, your own identity in the kitchen will start to develop into someone who actually DOES love to cook.
Who actually DOES loves to eat healthy.
Someone who actually IS just like Emeril (or whoever your alter ego mimics). Trust me…this works.
Remember those old rubber friendship bracelets that people us to wear in the late 80’s with the acronym WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”)?
These were intended to be worn as a reminder to make moral decisions.
Well, you can do the same thing around specific areas of your life. Pick someone that you admire, look up to, or are inspired by. Then ask yourself, “what would [insert name] do?"
For me, I think about people like Christine Crup (from Castaway Kitchen) for meal prep, Emily Schromm for a balanced movement routine, and Daniela Ryf (a professional triathlete from Switzerland) for workout motivation and gratitude.
When I’m getting ready to plan my weekly menu, I think “what would Christine prep?” Sometimes she’s busy and she needs to stick with healthy staples to get her through, and sometimes she is ready to experiment with new recipes for some upcoming cookbook she’s developing.
When I’m planning out my workouts for the week, I think “what would Em do?” Usually, she is up early and getting her workout done because she has a REALLY busy day.
So I often get my @ss to the gym early so I can’t talk myself out of it.
And when I’m exhausted and feel like my body might need some rest, I think “what would Em do if she felt like this?” Ya, she would rest! So I do the same.
When I’m losing motivation and questioning myself as a triathlete, I think “what would Daniela do?”
She would reach out to her coach and support crew for motivation and support. She would give tons of love and encouragement to other athletes, knowing that what you give comes back to you.
She is one of the most humble athletes I know and not only do I try to think like she thinks, but there are parts of her in my athlete alter ego too.
And in case you’re worried, it is totally okay to tap into other people’s way of life as motivation and inspiration.
Your idols have their own idols that they look up to. Don’t be too stubborn to realize that there are people slightly ahead of you and instead take advantage of their teachings to help you reach your goals faster!
KNOW YOUR TENDENCY
Do you know the book “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Ruben? If not, you should.
According to Gretchen, people fall mostly into one of four different behavioral tendencies. These tendencies explain how we respond to different expectations in our lives, like eating healthier or meeting a deadline. Understanding your tendency allows you to set and tackle goals based on who you are.
Here is a quick summary of the four tendencies:
Who they are:
Tips on Creating Better Habits:
The best thing an obliger can do to ensure they reach their goals is have someone to hold them accountable.
For example, if your goal is to exercise more, hire a trainer or find a workout buddy!
An obliger does best when they know there is a deadline and someone else is expecting something of them. It is also important to build in so-called treats for an obliger to re-energize and avoid burnout (PS - treats do not mean food! You can read more here to get a better understanding).
Who they are:
Tips on Creating Better Habits - Upholders:
It’s important for upholders to utilize to-do lists and calendars! According to Gretchen, “whatever appears on the calendar, gets done”.
However, the best thing an upholder can do to ensure they reach their goals is really understanding WHY they are doing so. Since their expectations of themselves are just as important as the expectations of others, there needs to be an inner connection to their actions.
For example, if you want to eat healthier, you have to educate yourself fully on why eating healthier is important. In other words, you need to be crystal clear on your ‘why.’
You have to fully ‘buy-in’ to whatever ‘diet’ you are going to follow, or else you won’t follow it.
It is wise for upholders with a goal like this also have a “back up plan” like a healthy meal prep service for example. Upholders have a hard time delegating and can become overwhelmed easily with all the things they have to do. Forcing yourself to delegate tasks out from time to time can help you stay successful with your goals of being healthier.
If you haven’t caught on yet...I am an upholder! And this is exactly why going to school for nutrition helped me fully buy into the lifestyle I have now, and why so many of my little successful habits have to do with scheduling them on a calendar!
Who they are:
Tips on Creating Better Habits - Questioners
Because questioners have to know what they are doing and why, CLARITY around goals is top priority!
Go ahead, ask your questions and seek out all of the answers. Do your research, because if you don’t you will never be fully convinced! Questioners may do well wearing tracking devices (i.e., FitBit) or even keep food journals as a means of self-monitoring.
But questioners do need to be careful! As it can be easy getting stuck in a rabbit hole of information, questioners risk getting stuck in the learning phase and never taking action. If this is you, it’s imperative you set deadlines for your research and education period so that you can go out and actually do the thing and make the changes!
Who they are:
Tips on Creating Better Habits - Rebels
The best thing a rebel can do to ensure they reach their goals is employ the Strategy of Identity. According to Gretchen, “because Rebels place great value on being true to themselves, they can embrace a habit if they view it as a way to express their identity.”
Freedom, self-expression, and authenticity are important to rebels. They tend to dislike schedules, repetitive tasks, and supervision.
So, if you are a rebel and you want to stick to your grocery shopping list, you need to remind yourself that YOU made your list. And these are things that YOU want. YOU are choosing to follow your list and be healthier.
If you want to stick to a workout routine, mix it up! Find a few different workout types that you enjoy and allow yourself to do them when you most want to do them. So you don’t skip a workout, have everything you need packed in the trunk of your car, so if you get the urge to workout, you have everything you need in that moment to make it happen.
If you’re curious about what your tendency is, you can take the free quick HERE.
Now go on and be your best self!
Ok, so there you have it. My three tips that you can start using now to recommit to (or restart) the goal(s) you set for yourself in January! My hope is that you can use one (or more) of the strategies I listed here to help you try something different so you stick to your goal longer (hopefully permanently) this time around.
Remember, don’t overwhelm yourself by doing all of them all at once!
Bookmark this page and come back to it every few weeks and see how you implement one more piece of this to your 2020 goals and habit building.
Do you have a tool you have used to help you develop a long term healthy habit that I haven’t mentioned here? Tell me about it by leaving me a message in the comments below!
After posting last week’s Wellness Wednesday Blog, which was focused on meal replacement smoothies, I got a lot of questions about protein powders!
First off, questions are GREAT! I love to hear them, so keep them coming. They help me tailor my information to YOU. But I realized that a quick post on social media wouldn’t suffice for a topic as large as protein powders, so I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to it.
First, let me be CRYSTAL CLEAR that in most circumstances, I am a REAL FOOD FIRST person.
Typically, the less processing we do to any natural food, the more nutrient dense that food will remain. That means, not only will we get our dose of protein, but we will also benefit from the other nutrients in that food such as vitamins and minerals. Both which are important in the utilization of the macronutrients, including protein!
Just check out the chart below from Stephan van Vliet, who conducted a review of research with colleagues on the efficacy of whole foods supporting muscle remodeling and recovery:
Now that I’ve talked a bit about the importance of real food taking the front seat, let’s get real!
Sometimes eating a real food meal, especially post workout, isn't always an option for a variety of reasons. That means, our second best option is a meal replacement smoothie you make from scratch with as many real food ingredients as possible.
It's pretty easy to get a natural liquid base (homemade nut milk, coffee, tea, or even plain water), natural fiber (from things like chia seeds, ground flax meal, and vegetables), natural carbohydrates (from things like cooked sweet potato, cauliflower and leafy greens), and even natural fats (from things like raw nuts, seeds and avocado).
But protein. Who wants to blend a steak into a smoothie.
Enter, the protein powders!
Since we're trying to stay as close to REAL FOOD as we possibly can, I'm going to avoid even talking about protein powders that are full of chemicals and additives. You know, the ones made with junky ingredients such as gluten, soy, dextrins (such as maltodextrin), artificial sweeteners (such as saccharin), thickeners and gums (such as cellulose and xanthan gums) and emulsifiers (such as polysorbate 80).
These ingredients are usually added to protein powders to improve the flavor and to make the powder mix easier, but they often come with a price of gastrointestinal distress, inflammation, headaches, bloating, and even disrupt our hormone balance. Those are the things I highly recommend you steer clear of.
There are so many great natural options out there like whey, casein, hydrolyzed beef, hemp, pea, and rice. I really don't see the point in using a bunch of synthetic ingredients.
So, let's look at the different protein powder options (pros and cons) and you can decide which is best for you and your needs....
A PRIMER ON PROTEIN
Before we get into the powders...we have to talk about protein itself!
Protein is a macronutrient (along with carbohydrates and fats) that we consume in our diet. As a food, proteins are comprised of long chains of amino acids.
These individual amino acids are what are taken up by cells throughout our body to do their jobs at that particular location. Whole proteins can not be taken up by cells, they MUST BE broken down!
That means, a HUUUUUUUUUGE part of making sure our body has all the protein it requires is having optimal digestive function! We can be consuming all of the protein we need but if our GI tract isn’t digesting it properly, we won’t be able to utilize them (I’ll save the topic of digestion for a whole other post!)
There are 20 different amino acids that make up all the different types of proteins in our diet. Out of these 20, 9 are considered essential. That means we have to get them from our diet, in the right quantities, in order to be healthy. The other 11 amino acids can be manufactured by our body.
The only food sources that naturally contain all 9 essential amino acids come from animals, such as meat, dairy and eggs.
Plant foods contain some of the essential amino acids, but not all of them. If animal based foods are being avoided in the diet, eating a wide variety of plant sources is recommended to ensure you get all 9 essential amino acids in the diet from different plant sources.
POST WORKOUT RECOVERY IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE WORKOUT ITSELF
The fact is that we all workout in order to create a healthy stress on our body, but the GAINS from that workout comes from that workout's recovery!
Yes, you read that right. We break down muscle during our workout, and build it up in our kitchens and our beds!
AFTER the workout has finished, our body does the biggest job of all...it adapts to stresses from that workout. It's trying to respond to the stress you just created by making metabolic changes so next time that same stress is created, you are more equipped to handle it (in other words, you are stronger next time).
For example, in the time after a workout, protein synthesis increases, muscle fibers are rebuilt, fluid is restored to help deliver nutrients to organs and muscles, and metabolic waste products (such as the acids built up during a workout) are eliminated.
So many endurance athletes spend so much time focusing on nutrition during their workout, and completely fail to address the most important fueling (AND HYDRATING) window of all...post workout.
Now of course there is more to optimizing recovery than just food (like sleep, hydration, and stress reduction), but for this conversation, we are going to focus solely on protein intake post workout.
WHAT DO AMINO ACIDS HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Extensive research has been done on optimizing post workout recovery and much of the evidence keeps coming back to protein. Besides supporting the rebuilding of muscle, protein intake shortly after a workout can actually help with the development of new muscle.
Much of the benefits we experience from protein is due to amino acids. Besides being considered the “building blocks of protein”, our body needs the full spectrum of amino acids (all 20) to build cells, support muscle growth, and promote energy production.
As I already mentioned, our body can make 11 of the amino acids. That means we want our post workout focus to be on consuming all 9 essential amino acids (EAA) that our body CANNOT produce.
Of those 9 EAA's, 35% of what makes up our muscles are the three “Branched Chain Amino Acids” (BCAA).
These BCAA's help preserve muscle glycogen stores and reduce the amount of protein breakdown. When it comes to muscle growth and recovery, leucine has been shown to be the most important BCAA of all while Isoleucine has been shown to play a role in blood sugar regulation.
All of these amino acids (essential and non-essential) are present in different amounts in different types of protein sources. But since getting an adequate amount of them in post workout is key to optimizing recovery, just eating protein isn't always going to cut it.
Making sure you are consuming a protein source that has a complete complex of essential amino acids, and especially high in leucine, can optimize recovery.
Foods that are naturally rich in leucine include:
But if you aren't able to do this due to time constrictions or preferring a plant based diet, protein powders can come in handy!
MY PROTEIN POWDER TIPS!
To get the most out of your protein powder, you need to know WHAT benefit you are trying to get out of it.
It is always best to pick a protein powder that you love, that loves your body back, and meets your health and fitness goals.
Sure, whey protein has been hailed by many as the best protein powder out there, but if your body doesn't like whey, it is NOT the best one FOR YOU.
Here is my list of favorite protein powders, for different goals, as well as their pro’s and con’s:
GOAL = WEIGHT LOSS
Casein is a slow digesting dairy protein that is often considered by many as a "time release" protein. Casein makes up approximately 80% of milk protein (the other 20% being whey).
MY FAVORITE BRAND:
Naked Nutrition Micellar Casein Protein Powder which is made from rBGH free dairy cows from the US. It is gluten free, soy free and made with non-GMO ingredients. It has no Artificial Sweeteners, Flavors, or Colors.
GOAL = MUSCLE GROWTH
Option #1 - WHEY PROTEIN
Whey protein is the other 20% of protein derived from dairy sources. Research has consistently shown that whey protein powder is the best for promoting muscle growth and recovery.
Excessive consumption of whey protein can potentially cause digestive distress. Similarly, many people have a dairy sensitivity, and some don't even know they have it. If your body doesn't love dairy, using whey protein powder can create an underlying level of inflammation that will negate the benefits of working out!
MY FAVORITE BRAND:
Vital Proteins Organic Whey which is a cold pressed organic whey protein, with no added ingredients or fillers. It has 5g of BCAAs and a complete complex of amino acids in each serving.
Option #2 - HYDROLYZED BEEF PROTEIN
A protein derived from an infusion process of beef that preserves critical nutrients, amino acids, peptides, nucleotide fractions, vitamins and minerals. It’s a complete protein derived from a 100% natural, Non-GMO, raw beef with absolutely no hormones or other additives.
It contains less leucine than whey protein does (and remember, leucine is the BCAA known to support muscle building and recovery)
It often doesn't blend well without a blender and it can become gelatinous fairly easily when it has sat for a few hours. So, if you blend your smoothie in the morning before your workout, let it sit, then go to drink it later, you may need a spoon.
MY FAVORITE BRANDS:
Equip Prime Protein which is gluten, dairy and soy free; made from hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef; has no artificial flavors or preservatives; and is made from just 3 ingredients: grass-fed beef, natural cocoa powder and stevia.
GOAL = MEET THE DAILY REQUIREMENTS FOR PROTEIN... without eating a bunch of meat!
MIXED PLANT PROTEIN POWDERS
Since we're aiming for complete amino acid profiles, and no plant source has this by itself, it is best to look for a protein powder that has blended 2 or more of the following plant proteins. This ensures that you obtain the adequate amino acids needed by your body post workout:
These blended protein powders are free from animal products for those that are looking for a vegetarian or vegan option.
These blended protein powders are often blended with many other fillers too, so read the labels carefully!
MY FAVORITE BRAND:
Thorne MediPro Vegan protein supplement which has a complete multi-vitamin/mineral, digestive enzymes and probiotics. MediPro Vegan is more like a multi-vitamin/mineral daily protein supplement, which makes it great for a meal replacement shake. It also contains a complete amino acid profile, so it is great for a post workout shake.
COLLAGEN... A BIG NO NO!
I can't leave this post without addressing the BIGGEST MISTAKE I see athletes make when using a protein based shake post workout.
And that is...using collagen as their only protein source post workout.
The reason for this is that collagen protein, although being the most abundant protein in our body, is made up of a different mix of amino acids and does not include all essential amino acids. Collagen is high in three amino acids - glycine, proline and hydroxyproline - which are important to building collagen in your body, a protein that provides strength and structure.
Whereas post workout protein focuses on building and repairing muscle, collagen intake leads to improved connective tissue function. This actually lends itself to supporting muscle and can help in the post workout recovery process. However, you still need a complete source of protein to support protein synthesis and exercise performance otherwise you’ll have strong connective tissue without any muscle to support.
You can certainly continue to use collagen post workout, but timing of collagen intake is less important than timing of a complete protein source. So if your goal is to improve athletic performance, gain muscle, or lose fat, then utilizing one of the protein sources I listed above should be priority whereas collagen can be used as an additional support supplement.
If I am being honest, I can write tons more on the topic of protein and protein supplements. But at least now you have a fantastic starting point to understand why a complete protein post workout is essential to reaching goals and what sources of protein are best for you to choose from.
Personally, my body doesn't love dairy. My protein powder of choice right now is the Equip Prime Protein and I will add in a scoop of Clean Carb Vanilla if I need some added carbohydrate and I can’t add in a real food option, like a green tipped banana or pre-cooked sweet potato. I use a little battery operated handheld blender (like THIS ONE) to mix it up , but honestly, it is still a little chunky.
There are so many great, natural protein powders out there. Do you have a favorite that I didn't mention? Leave me note in the comments about which one you use. I'd love to give it a try!
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!