Metabolic Efficiency, Part 1

Metabolic efficiency refers to the body’s efficiency in utilizing its internal stores of carbohydrates and body fat at various intensities of exercise and at rest. Our bodies constantly burn a mix of carbohydrates and fat to fuel us through our daily activities and exercise.  As intensity of exercise increases, the body naturally starts to burn a higher percentage of carbohydrate and a lower percentage of fat for energy; this is simply how the human body works.  After as little as 2 hours of moderate to intense exercise, the body’s internal glycogen (carbohydrate) stores may be depleted, causing a noticeable dip in energy levels or what endurance athletes commonly refer to as “bonking”.

But, did you know that with strategic nutrition and exercise adaptations, the body can actually learn to burn more fat at higher intensities of exercise, thus preserving our limited supply of glycogen and preventing or delaying onset of “the bonk”?  Eating a metabolically efficient diet can bring about other benefits such as decreasing the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) distress during exercise, improving body weight and composition, and improving health markers.

The standard American diet is very carbohydrate-centric, and many people are accustomed to over-consumption of breakfast cereals, bagels, muffins, bread, pasta, refined grains and starches, snack crackers, cookies, candy, and soda.  But, what most people don’t realize is how much added sugar is lurking in other foods, including foods often perceived as “healthy”:  flavored yogurt, salad dressings, marinades, soups, sauces, those fancy flavored coffee drinks, granola bars, energy bars, and bottled iced tea and fruit juice beverages, to name a few.

Over-consumption of sugar and carbohydrates is the basis of metabolic inefficiency; that is, a body that always, or almost always, burns more carbohydrates than fat as its fuel source.  Simply put, eating carbohydrates teaches the body to burn carbohydrates as its predominant form of fuel.  This in turn leads to poor utilization of the body’s fat stores; an increased need for supplemental carbohydrates during exercise; increased risk of GI distress during exercise; and higher body weight and body fat (which we know are linked to increased risk of various chronic diseases).

If you are interested in becoming more metabolically efficient, you can start now by decreasing the quantity of added (refined) sugars you’re consuming.  Become a thorough label reader: scan the ingredients and try to avoid savory products (ie, soups, sauces, marinades) that contain a form of sugar in the ingredient list.  Here are some easy swaps you can do now to decrease the added sugar in your diet:

  • Replace flavored yogurt with plain yogurt topped with fresh berries or fruit slices
  • Swap out your mid-afternoon granola bar for a handful of raw almonds, or celery sticks with peanut butter or almond butter
  • Replace soda and sweetened beverages with water (add a spritz of lime or lemon juice for some flavor) or unsweetened tea
  • Opt for plain rolled or steel-cut oatmeal topped with cinnamon, butter, berries and/or chopped nuts or nut butter instead of the flavored single-serving varieties
  • Make your own salad dressing by mixing equal parts of olive oil and balsamic, apple cider, or red wine vinegar; or olive oil and lemon juice (add salt/pepper to taste), and you’ve got yourself an easy, homemade option that is not only free of added sugars, but also free of icky preservatives/stabilizers.

More to come!  If you’re interested in doing a walk-through of your diet and learning how you can become more metabolically efficient, drop me a line!

The Nutrient Thief

In my recent posts about sugar, I discussed why sugar and excess carbohydrate consumption leads to fat storage (read here!) and places where sugar hides and some strategies to reduce the added sugar you’re consuming (read here!).  My first post explained how over-consuming carbohydrates and sugars raises your blood sugar above your body’s comfort level, and subsequently the body secretes insulin which transports the sugar into fat cells for long-term storage.  Consuming a highly sweetened beverage like soda, or eating a bag of Skittles, will instantly exceed that comfort level and turn on the insulin response and subsequent fat storage mechanism.

But, there’s another reason why excess sugar consumption is unhealthy.  Not only is it bad for your waistline, but it could also be leading to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

You’ve heard the old adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, right?  Well, there’s no such thing as a free digestive process, either!  Digesting and metabolizing carbohydrates and sugar requires specific nutrients, including B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

You can visualize your body as having a “nutrient bank” that collects and stores nutrients from food and vitamins you’re taking.  The body uses these nutrients for all of its processes, from hormone production and regulation to regulating circadian rhythms to your mood and ability to concentrate to athletic performance to repairing and maintaining your tissues.  When you’ve got a full nutrient bank, you’re feeling great! But when your nutrient bank runs low, you are feeling tired, irritable, foggy-brained and maybe you’re getting sick often.

Any time you eat carbohydrates, your body needs the specific vitamins and nutrients mentioned above to digest and metabolize them.  Often, fruits and vegetables contain the very same vitamins and minerals that are needed to digest and metabolize them.  How convenient!  And, fruits and vegetables provide additional vitamins and minerals in addition to what is needed for digestion.  By consistently eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you’re making deposits in your body’s nutrient bank to build a foundation for optimal health.  On the other hand, consuming foods with added sugar that contain few or no nutrients (cookies, crackers, candy, soda) will force your body to make a withdrawal from its nutrient bank.  With time, overconsumption of sugar will lead to insufficiency or deficiency of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and zinc.

The best thing you can do is to be cognizant of how much sugar you’re consuming and try to reduce or avoid when possible.  The FDA has recently announced that it will be requiring changes to nutrition labels in the near future, and food manufacturers must report the added sugar content (vs naturally occurring in fruit, milk, and vegetables).  Many people are unaware of how much sugar may be hiding in foods, or how much sugar consumption can add up over the course of a day. Track how much added sugar you’re consuming in a day, and then think about which strategies from this post you can implement to cut back.

8 Ways To Reduce Sugar Consumption

8 Practical Ways to Reduce Sugar Consumption (Sugar Blog Part 2)

In my first blog post on sugar, I discussed the impact sugar has on our blood sugar and why consuming sugar puts us on the “blood sugar roller coaster” and is bad for our weight-loss goals.  Sugar turns OFF our fat burning mechanisms and turns ON our fat storage mechanism – not what we want!

How can you utilize this information?  You can be cognizant of how much sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis.  Reduce consumption of desserts and sweet snacks, sodas, sweetened teas and flavored coffee beverages.  Be especially wary of sweetened drinks delivering a sugar overload: A seemingly innocent 12-oz vanilla latte from Starbucks has 14g (3.5 teaspoons!) of added sugar in the flavored syrup, while the 12-oz white chocolate mocha packs a whopping 33g (8 teaspoons!) of added sugar.  (For the record: that’s more sugar than the World Health Organization and American Heart Association recommend consuming in an entire day, neatly packaged into a single beverage that you can consume in under 15 minutes.)

If you eat a lot of processed, packaged foods – even those that are not “dessert-like” or that you would suspect to contain sugar (granola bars, store-bought salad dressings, soups, marinades, sauces, flavored yogurt, cereal… to name a few), you are probably consuming more sugar than you realize.  Read labels and look for sugar or its many aliases (high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, agave, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, corn syrup).  You’ll be shocked when you realize all the places where sugar lurks!

Here are a few ways to reduce the sugar in your diet:

  • Mix fresh fruit into plain yogurt instead of buying fruit-at-the-bottom or flavored yogurt (which carries added sugars!)
  • Eat plain nuts and sunflower/pumpkin seeds with fresh fruit instead of store-bought granola bars
  • Make your own salad dressing by combining olive oil with lemon juice, red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar instead of using store-bought dressings
  • Snack on veggie sticks with peanut/almond butter, hummus or salsa instead of cookies or crackers when you’re craving something crunchy
  • Replace soda and sweetened bottled teas with water (still or sparkling) with lemon, lime, or cucumber wedges
  • Replace flavored coffee creamers with half & half, milk, or heavy cream. Gradually cut back on the sugar you’re adding to your coffee.  Consider trying “bulletproof coffee”: blend coconut oil and unsalted organic butter into your coffee with a hand immersion blender for a frothy treat that will keep you feeling full ‘til lunch!
  • Have fresh fruit and cheese for dessert instead of sweets
  • Replace candy or milk chocolate with dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa)

Interested in learning more about cutting back on sugar or reviewing what you’re eating to see where you can do some dietary “post-holiday cleaning”?  Contact me to see how I can help you!

Setting SMART Goals for 2017

Are you thinking about the 2017 Race Season yet?

I know I am!  I’ve got a pretty big race on the radar for July, but I’m keeping it under wraps until it’s officially confirmed.  Since that will involve a trip across the pond (hint!), I’m planning on doing more local, or relatively local races this year that can be done with only a one-night-away-from-home trip OR even better, sleep-in-your-own-bed races!

Here are my tips for setting goals to set yourself up for success.

First… Consider the following question:  What is your motivation for lining up at the starting line? Do you simply want to cross the finish line? Do you have your eye on a specific finish time, or are you looking to set a new personal record (PR)? Do you want to land a podium spot or win the race? Knowing what you want to get out of the race is crucial goal setting.

You’ve probably heard of “SMART” goals, right? SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented. To simply say “I want to get faster” is not an example of a good goal. How much faster? Faster in a particular discipline? Do you want to be faster next month, next year or in the next decade?

Here is how to set up a SMART goal for yourself:

Specific: Does your goal apply to a specific distance, particular race or particular discipline?  (Examples: Half marathon, the Philadelphia Olympic Triathlon, or biking abilities – 20 min average power, for example)

Measureable: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Instead of saying “get faster”, which is very vague, you could say “I want to shave 3 minutes off last year’s 10k triathlon run time” or “I want to finish in the top 10% of my age group”.

Action-oriented: Your goal should have defined actions you can take to get there. “I will run 3 days each week” is an action-oriented goal that you could take in order to reach the above example of taking 3 minutes off a 10k run time.

Realistic: It’s great to shoot for the stars. But, your goal also needs to be realistic; something that with the right attitude, training and execution on race day, is within your grasp. If you ran your personal best-ever 5k of 25:00 in May, then setting a goal of a 19:00 5k in October is not probably realistic for most people (that’s 2 minutes off per mile!). But, an October goal of breaking 24:00 or even 23:00 is probably realistic for many people.

Time-oriented: Put a timeframe on your goal to stay on track. In general, by committing to a race, you’re establishing a time-oriented goal. Example: I want to run a sub-24:00 5k by October.

Goal setting can be tricky – especially if you’re a newer athlete, or if you’re taking on a new distance or a new course for the first time. Looking at past race times and recent workout metrics, as well as the course itself, can help you determine realistic pace and finish goals. Doing some workouts, or segments of workouts, at goal race pace can help you to decide if your goals are realistic. A coach who has access to your training data and recent race or workout paces can be very help with setting realistic goals and recommending pacing strategy for your race.  Want to learn how we can work together to help you reach your goals?  Fill out the contact form on my website to contact me to set up a complimentary phone consultation!

Clean Burn Shape: It’s Detox Time!

Well, here it is…  A brand new year! Many of you are setting goals to eat healthier and be more fit.  Being an endurance athlete, I myself need to get back on track after a few too many treat splurges over the holidays (Mom’s homemade Christmas cookies galore, chocolate mousse brownies, ice cream, did I mention Christmas cookies?!)…. Who else is guilty of too many splurges?!

Here’s where I can help you!

I myself am planning to do the Orenda 10-Day Clean Burn Shape program and I’m inviting you to take this all-important first step with me.  I have been using Orenda vitamins since 2010 and am a firm believer in their products, and I’m excited to try this new detox program.

Clean Burn Shape is different from other nutrition/weight loss products because it isn’t only about food choices or counting calories.  It’s about detoxing and nourishing the body with nutrient-dense foods of your choice – with the support of a health coach (ME!!!) 🙂

DetoxWhy do we need to detox?  We are exposed to toxins everywhere!  Car exhaust, pesticides used on non-organic produce, manufacturing pollution, processed “frankenfoods”, household cleaning products, and parabens and phthalates in shampoo and other toiletries, just to name a few!  These toxins build up in our systems and overload our natural detoxification pathways.  When our internal detox system isn’t functioning optimally, we can feel fatigued and our metabolism slows down.

How does it work?  Clean Burn Shape utilizes 3 products in conjunction with an emphasis on a diet rich in organic veggies and fruit and it is vegetarian/vegan-friendly though you can also add in lean, organic animal protein if you’d like.  Clean provides nutrients that help support the body’s natural detoxifying processes.  Burn utilizes green coffee extract to maintain healthy post-meal glucose levels, supports the body’s ability to lose weight naturally, and supports a healthy lean mass (muscle) to fat mass ratio.  Shape is a nutritional shake that provides plant-based protein, fiber, greens and omega-3 support.

More details on the supplements:

  • Clean: provides nutrients that support the body’s natural detoxification processes, including aronia fruit powder, alfalfa grass powder, aloe vera powder, potassium hydrogen glucarate, peptizyme SP, artichoke leaf extract, ashwaghanda extract, burdock root extract, eleuthero root extract, fennel seed extract, licorice root extract, milk thistle extract, pau d’arco extract, peppermint leaf extract, rhodiola rosea extract, suma root extract, yellow dock root extract, and turmeric extract.
  • Burn: Each capsule contains 300mg of green coffee extract to help the body maintain healthy glucose levels after meals, support the body’s ability to lose weight naturally, and to support a healthy lean mass (muscle) to fat ratio. Green coffee provides support for normal intestinal glucose absorption and support for normal glucose liberation in the liver, which help to maintain a healthy glycemic effect and support the body’s fat-burning abilities.
  • Shape: Nutritional shake mix containing organic flax, spirulina, chia seed, blue green algae, barley grass, wheat grass, spinach, chlorella, oat grass, quinoa sprouts, pea fiber, and kamut grass, along with plant-based protein, fiber, greens, omega-3 support and other vitamins and minerals.

How does the 10-day program work?

Each day, you’ll do 1-2 packets of Clean herbal supplement, 3 Burn (green coffee extract) capsules – one with each meal, and 1-2 Shape shakes.  You’ll receive a calendar that explains when to take each supplement, and a shopping list of foods to eat (hint: lots of veggies!).  The supplements are not intended to take the place of meals but rather to provide additional support to your body while eating clean, unprocessed foods.  The supplements combined with a clean diet lead to a reduction in inflammation and common symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, and joint pain.

What kinds of foods do you eat during this program?  Organic fruits and veggies make up the bulk of your food consumption, and you can also do legumes such as beans and peanuts.  Dairy products, grains, alcohol, and refined sugar are avoided.  Yes, you can still have a cup of coffee or tea if you need caffeine, but you may be feeling so good once your body starts to detox that you won’t even need the caffeine kick!

I’ll be kicking off this program on Monday, January 23.  Who wants to join me?!  It’s 10 days of ongoing accountability from me, membership to a private Facebook group with others who share your goal, and daily nutrition, health and exercise tips.

To get started:  Visit www.try.cbslife.com and enter Gift Card Code CBS-91646 to place your order.  Select 10 Day Reset for everything you need for the 10 day program, plus a free day (to try before the group program starts, OR to give to a friend to try!), and a 30-day subscription to Clean Burn Shape Life, a website that provides recipes and meal ideas as well as guided workouts.  Everything will be shipped directly to your door!  Be sure to order soon so that your Clean Burn Shape will arrive in time to start on Jan 23.

**After you’ve done that, please sign up here with name and email so that you’ll receive daily emails from me during the program and access to the group’s facebook page.

Not sure if Clean Burn Shape is right for you?  Visit the above link and use the code and select 1-day free trial instead.  You’ll receive all the supplies you need for one day of Clean Burn Shape as well as a 14-day trial to Clean Burn Shape Life for only the cost of shipping ($4.95).

Questions?  Contact me at aewcoaching@gmail.com – I’d love to hear from you and am looking forward to working with you in this program!

The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

Sugar, sugar… honey, honey…

We’re all familiar with the catchy tune by the Archies.  But what exactly is sugar, and what is sugar doing to us?

Sugar is found in many forms – cane sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and maple syrup, to name a few.  When we hear “sugar”, most of us think of candy, cake, and other sweet treats.  Sugar also occurs naturally in fruits and starchy veggies (like potatoes, carrots, beets) as fructose.  Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, or rice break down into sugars when they are digested, even though they are not sweet to the taste buds the way candy is.

Let’s start with a quick biology lesson:  Sugar digests very rapidly; in fact, your saliva contains enzymes called salivary amylases that start breaking down carbohydrates and sugars while they’re still being chewed!

Your body likes to operate with your blood sugar in a specific range.  When you consume sugar or grain carbohydrates like bread or pasta (which break down into sugars), your blood sugar level starts to rise. When blood sugar levels surpass your body’s comfort level, the pancreas begins to secrete the hormone insulin.

Insulin has multiple purposes in the body, but in this case, insulin’s role is to take excess sugar out of the blood stream so that your blood sugar can return to a healthy level.  Insulin then transports the sugar to a different part of the body for storage.  The sugar may be converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles for future use as fuel in daily activities or exercise.  However, the liver and muscles have a limited storage capacity in the range of 1200-2000 calories depending on body size (larger bodies have larger storage capacities).  Unless you’ve just finished a long, strenuous workout, your liver and muscle glycogen stores are likely close to full simply by virtue of the carbohydrates you consume daily.

So, what happens when the liver and muscle glycogen stores are full?  When this happens, the sugar is converted to triglycerides for storage in your fat cells.  And guess what the bad news is?  Unlike liver and muscles, which have a limited storage capacity, fat cells have an unlimited storage capacity!

When the sugar is transported out of the blood stream and into storage, your blood sugar levels drop quickly and you may experience that shaky, “hangry” (that’s hungry + angry!) feeling, that typically has you reaching for a snack to boost blood sugar again.  This starts the blood sugar spike, insulin release, and subsequent blood sugar drop all over again; I call this effect the “blood sugar roller coaster”.

Do you want to learn how to get off the blood sugar roller coaster?  Stay tuned for Part 2!

What’s in your bag? Healthy eating on-the-go!

In November, I flew cross-country to spend Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family in California.  Traveling is fun, but it can often throw us all off our normal eating patterns, especially when our food options are limited to airports or highway rest-stops.  These options are usually poor, ranging from sugar-loaded cinnamon rolls to greasy sandwiches and fries.  Some airports offer better options than others, but with a little planning and preparation ahead of time, you can avoid the pitfalls of travel and make healthy nutrition choices when you’re on-the-go.

So, what was in my bag when I flew to California?  Let’s take a look…

  1. Epic Bars

My favorite go-to for keeping in my bag or backpack at all times – whether there’s a flight involved or not – is an Epic bar (link to https://epicbar.com/). Epic bars are made from grass-fed / pastured organic meat; I can best describe them as a “fancy jerky”.  They are free from preservatives and contain dried meat (and often nuts, seasoning, or dried fruit).  My favorites are bison-bacon-cranberry and lamb-currant-mint.  You can find them at Whole Foods, some Giant Eagle stores, or online at Amazon.com or Thrivemarket.com.  I like these bars because they’re high in quality protein and have no added sugar, and keep me feeling satisfied.

  1. KIND bars

KIND bars are another staple when I’m traveling. KIND prides itself on making energy bars that have ingredients you can “see and pronounce”.  The sugar content of the bars vary by flavor, so I recommend checking the labels to find the varieties that have lower sugar content.   Caramel Almond & Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Mocha, Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan, Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt or Madagascar Vanilla Almond are among the flavors with 5g of sugar or less.  KIND bars are available at most grocery stores, Target, drug stores, Amazon.com and various other retailers.

  1. Hard-boiled eggs

In addition to my store-bought snacks, I also stocked my carry-on with hard-boiled eggs (pre-peeled, for added convenience).  Since my flight was early in the morning, I ate the eggs for breakfast while waiting to board the plane.

  1. Fresh fruit

I packed an apple to take with me on this trip, and bananas are also a good travel option because they’re easy to peel and eat on-the-go.  Berries can be easily smushed, so you may want to put them in a plastic container to take with you.  Other fruit that require some peeling (oranges) may be easier if peeled in advance, too.

Other options that are good for taking on a trip include cut-up veggie sticks, yogurt (better for car trips than flying), nuts, olives, and individually-wrapped cheese (such as Babybel).

What’s YOUR favorite travel-friendly health food?

It’s the Off-Season… now what?

The holidays are here, the days are shorter and the weather is getting colder (well, at least that is the case in Pittsburgh).  It’s what most athletes consider to be the off-season.  Now what?

Here are my three tips for how to make the most of your off-season from a non-training perspective.  In a future post, I’ll talk more about off-season-specific training.

1. Take a break from training. Seriously, I mean a real BREAK. Not just a break from structured training, but ANY kind of training.

Many athletes are excited and revved up coming off the summer/fall race season.  They want to try to stay in peak competition shape year-round and continue to train at high volume to continue to build fitness.  Even high-level athletes need a total break, though.  Your body will get some extra rest and time to repair itself, and your mind will enjoy the breakfrom focusing on workouts, too.

Plan 2-4 weeks away from swim, bike and run training.  It may seem like a foreign idea… it may seem scary or uncomfortable… but I promise that you’ll enjoy it and will return to training refreshed and motivated to train!

What are some things you can do with all that would-be training time?  Here are my suggestions:

  • Schedule time with friends or family members to catch up.
  • Go do that indoor rock climbing class or Zumba class you’ve been wanting to try but couldn’t work into your schedule during the race season.
  • Take a cooking class or art class (aren’t those wine & painting studios popping up everywhere now?!), visit a museum, check out a new restaurant… you get the idea.
  • Start a new project around the house (even if it’s just organizing/cleaning out closets and drawers).
  • Research races you want to do next year. Look up course information, entry fees, travel costs, etc.  Read blogs from athletes who’ve done races you’re curious about to learn more about the race.  Let’s say you want to race Ironman Syracuse 70.3.  Google “Ironman Syracuse race report” and I guarantee you’ll have more than enough first-hand perspectives to decide if the race is a good option for you!

2. Reflect on the 2016 season.

Now that some time has passed since your 2016 race season, look back it at as objectively as you can.  Ask yourself:

  • What did I enjoy about the 2016 season?
  • What did I not enjoy so much?
  • What did I learn this season?
  • What did I do right?
  • If I could repeat this season, what would I do differently?
  • How was my work / life / training balance?

3.  Plan for 2017 and think about what want the 2017 season to look like.

Ask yourself:

  • What kinds of races do I want to do in 2017?
  • What are my goals? Do I want to get a Personal Record, complete a new distance, qualify for Age Group Nationals or the Boston Marathon?
  • Do I want to follow the same training plan that I used this year, or should I try something new?
  • What are my weaknesses that I want to improve?
  • What tools/resources do I need to reach my goals?

How can you connect the gaps between 2016 and 2017?  Everyone’s answers will be a little different, but here are a few ideas that come to mind.

  • Invest some extra time to work on strengthening weakness(es)
  • Find a training buddy or group to provide motivation and accountability for long runs
  • Spend time working on form / efficiency vs speed. For swimming especially, slowing down to focus more on form than pace goes a long way.
  • Start a strength training / mobility / flexibility routine.  All of these have been shown to improve performance, but few endurance athletes make time to do these regularly.
  • Consider working with a coach to help you reach your goals. A coach can help you to train strategically and efficiently to improve athletic performance.

My favorite things to do in the off-season are catching up with friends over food and drinks, going to a musical or concert, cross-country skiing, getting some extra sleep in the mornings, and trying new recipes.

What are YOUR favorite off-season activities?

10 Ways To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

The holidays are here: Christmas cookies, fancy chocolates, eggnog… the list goes on and on!  While many may feel that holiday weight gain is unavoidable, here are some tips for how you can stay on track with your weight goals through the holiday season.

  1. Eat before you to holiday dinners or parties. Don’t fall into the trap of skipping breakfast and lunch to “save your appetite” for the big meal… you’ll be ravenous by the time the big meal arrives and will end up gorging yourself.   What should you eat beforehand?  Good quality protein (think organic poultry, beef, pork, eggs), healthy fat (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, nuts) and veggies will keep you feeling satiated through the day and you won’t be tempted to overconsume at the gathering.
  1. Limit your alcohol intake at holiday gatherings. Not only is alcohol empty calories, but it slows down your metabolism (and also stimulates the urge to snack in many people).  If you decide to consume alcohol, limit yourself to one beverage and then drink water for the rest of the day.
  1. Make something healthy to take with you to holiday gatherings. Your host or hostess will appreciate your gesture, and you will have a guaranteed option for a food option that meets your dietary standards.
  1. When possible, take a small plate, like a salad plate, instead of a large dinner plate, at buffet-style gatherings. There’s a natural tendency to fill our plates with food, and by using a smaller plate, you’ll decrease chances of over-eating.
  1. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. We are accustomed to gulping down our food on-the-go, between meetings, or in our cars.  Add that to the body’s natural time delay to register fullness, and over-consuming food can be easy to do.  Take time to savor your food, put your fork down between bites, and enjoy your company.   After you’ve finished your plate, if you think you’re still hungry, wait at least 20 minutes before going back for seconds.
  1. Favor the veggies and protein. Not only is the fiber in veggies very satiating, but you’ll also be choosing the most nutrient-dense foods on the table.  Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, and cauliflower are among some great options to put on your plate.  Be sure to include protein on your plate too; it is very satisfying and will help to curb mindless eating urges.
  1. Be very discerning of sugar and treats. If you want a treat, pick one or two items that look delectable – and sample a bite or two.  Holidays often translate to “splurge!”, and gatherings are disproportionately over-stocked with cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, and candy.  Avoid the temptation to fill up a dessert plate with a sampling of everything.  If you have trouble resisting, remember that getting the extra holiday weight to come off is much more difficult than saying “no” to a plate of sugar-glazed Rudolph cookies!
  1. If you’re hosting a holiday dinner, consider serving food buffet-style at the kitchen counter instead of passing dishes and bowls around the table. When the bowl of stuffing is right in front of you, it’s very easy to keep reaching for additional portions without thinking about it, even after you’re feeling full.  If food is “out of sight, out of mind” in a different room, you’ll avoid reaching for more simply because something is there.
  1. Another tip for hosts and hostesses: Stock up on extra Tupperware so that all of your guests can have to-go containers to take with them, and you won’t be holding onto extra food and tempting treats for days after the event.
  1. Maintain your exercise routine through the holidays – no excuses! With shopping, wrapping, food preparation, and all kinds of special events going on from work parties to school choir concerts, it’s easy to let workout time slide.  Scheduling your workouts into your calendar just as you would a doctor’s appointment or work meeting will help to ensure you stay on track with your physical activity.

Do you have a favorite trick for staying in control of your diet during the holidays?  I’d love to know – please leave a comment for me!

To Race or Not To Race?

That is the question!

When race season rolls around, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and want to sign up for ALL THE RACES.  Races are the reward for the training hours we put in.  Races provide feedback on how we are progressing and if our training is working.  Races give us social interaction with like-minded people (ie, people who are just as obsessed with endurance sports as we are!).  Races often involve travel and getting to spend time exploring a new or different place.

How many races should you do this season?  This largely varies on the individual, their goals, and their other commitments/constraints.  Here are some ideas to consider.

First, consider your budgets – both money and time.  Speaking strictly from a monetary standpoint, running, cycling, and especially triathlon can get expensive.  Not only are there race fees to pay, but if you’re traveling (which is required for most triathlons), you’ll also need to factor in the cost of transportation/gas, lodging, and food.  There are ways to do this on a budget (buddy up and share lodging accommodations, pack food from home in a cooler, and opting for smaller, local races vs traveling to larger, more commercialized ones).   Time is another factor to consider.  What other commitments do you have in your life?  How much can you train and travel to races without upsetting the balance between your career, family, and friends?  Do you really want to use all of your allotted travel time and funds to go to races, or would you rather use some of it to schedule some time at the beach with family or friends to relax?

Next: Ask yourself… What is my main goal this summer?  Do you want to race because you really enjoy the various aspects of racing itself, but aren’t concerned so much with results? Or, are you in pursuit of a big goal like setting a PR, landing a podium spot, or qualifying for Kona?  If it’s the former, you may be able to get away with racing as often as your schedule and budget permit.

On the other hand, if you have your sights set on a big goal – your “A” race – you’ll need to strategically consider how to structure your race season.  Scheduling a race or two before your “A” race is a smart way to assess your fitness level in relation to your big goal and know if you’re on track to meet it.  Adding a race or a few prior to that “A” race will also help you find your racing mindset and fine-tune your race day routines (nutrition, gear, transitions, etc).  However, over-scheduling other races before your “A” race can be detrimental.  Remember that each race you do before the big day will take time away from quality training: you’ll need time to taper before the race, and time to properly recover after the race.  You’re basically exchanging 1 day of hard training in the form of a race for at least 2 weeks of taper/recovery (maybe more, depending on your physiology and the race) which won’t yield the same fitness gains of two weeks of structured, goal-specific training.  Additionally, associated race travel and/or the super-early race day wake-up can further drain your energy and lead to prolonged recovery time.

I generally like to spread races apart by 3 weeks when possible, though 2 weeks apart may be do-able depending on the race distances and the individual athlete. Racing back-to-back weekend triathlons is not recommended because most athletes won’t be able to perform at peak level without sufficient recovery.  If you’re doing an Ironman race, I recommend doing a half-iron race earlier in the season to help to gauge pace or power for the Ironman race.  If you’re doing a half-ironman race, I recommend an Olympic race earlier in the season.  If you’re doing an Olympic race, you guessed it – a Sprint race can be a great way to prep.

What races are on your calendar for Summer 2016?