Recipe: Quinoa with Spinach, Almonds, and Cranberries

You’ve heard by now that quinoa is good for you.  Whole grain, high protein, high fiber, and gluten free….need I say more? Plain quinoa, however, is a little boring so spice dinner up with the recipe below. It saves well for leftovers and can be served with a protein and veggie of your choice for a complete and delicious meal.


Tofu and Brussels sprouts make it a delicious and healthy meal!

Makes 4 servings

1 cup dry quinoa

2 cups spinach

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup sliced almonds

2 TBSP olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

Cook quinoa based on package directions using vegetable broth instead of water (usually 2 cups liquid for 1 cup quinoa and simmer for 15-20 minutes). Add dried cranberries and almonds during last 2 minutes of cooking and stir.

While quinoa cooks wilt spinach in olive oil over medium heat. Add cooked spinach to quinoa mixture and stir to fluff. Serve warm.


Should You Eat: Chia Seeds

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! If you wephoto(15)re around in the 80s your first association with chia seeds was probably the same as mine, that is that they are for growing weird little grass pets.  I have to admit that because of this association I was at first skeptical about eating them when they started to get popular.  Nowadays chia seeds are toted as a nutrition superstar, capable of everything from controlling hunger and aiding in weight loss, hydrating you, fueling your workouts, and fighting cancer and heart disease.

But do they live up to the hype?

One tablespoon of chia seeds contains approximately 60 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrate, 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams fat, and 2 grams of protein.   Most of those 5 grams of fat are from polyunsaturated fats, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is an omega-3 fat.  It’s probably not new news to anyone these days that omega-3 fats are full of health benefits including promoting heart and brain health.  In those 2 grams of protein are all of the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source and a good option for vegetarians in particular.   In addition, chia seeds are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium and zinc.  That’s quite the nutritional punch!

So what about sports performance?  The omega-3 fats in chia seeds are anti-inflammatory, meaning they could be helpful with recovery from strenuous exercise.  Chia seeds were supposedly used for energy by the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who were said to be able to run hundreds of miles after drinking chia seeds soaked in water.  Chia seeds can help with hydration, as they are highly absorbent. Soak chia seeds in a glass of water for 10 minutes and you’ll see how much they soak up the water, becoming thick gelatinous blobs. Gross? Kind of, but this is why they are able to help with hydration.

Chia seeds also contain magnesium, which is thought to help with muscle cramping, another possible benefit for athletes who struggle with cramping.  So chia seeds could be beneficial for athletes, although studies on sports performance and chia seeds are scarce.

And what about all the other hype?  Chia sees are said to help with weight loss and feeling satiated.  They are high in fiber, which can help aid weight loss by helping you feel fuller longer.  It’s also believed that because chia seeds expand  in water they can help create a feeling of fullness as they expand in your stomach.  Chia seeds (and all seeds really) are pretty calorie dense however, so the calories can add up pretty quickly.  So if you are watching your weight stick to 1-2 tablespoons per day.

Chia seeds are a good source of antioxidants, which help eliminate free radicals in the body. Since free radicals may cause cellular changes that could lead to cancer, chia seeds could potentially be helpful with cancer prevention, but this by no means guarantees that eating chia seeds will prevent or cure cancer.  They could, however, along with other antioxidant packed fruits and vegetables, help form the base of a healthy diet that would provide potential cancer protection benefits.

As I mentioned above chia seeds contain omega-3 fats, which is why they have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fats help raise the HDL or “good” cholesterol as well as lower trigylcerides. Because they are anti-inflammatory this means they can help reduce inflammation in blood vessels, thus helping stave off heart disease.  Unfortunately the only omega-3 that chia seeds contain is ALA, where as the omega-3s DHA and EPA have been correlated with greater health benefits.  Some ALA is converted in the body into DHA and EPA, but it may be best for heart health to eat foods that contain DHA and EPA, such as fish.


Bottom Line:

Chia seeds are certainly packed with nutrition and may provide some benefit for weight loss and heart health, however studies on this are limited.  Chia seeds are not a superfood though, because there are no superfoods! Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no one magical cure-all food. It’s best to aim to eat a wide variety of foods, since different foods contain different nutrients.  That being said, because chia seeds are highly nutritious they are worthwhile to incorporate into your diet.

Chia seeds are a bit pricey. I paid about $17 for a 15 oz bag (35 tablespoons).  Granted they were organic and I bought it at Whole Foods so I’m sure there are better deals to be had.  A little bit goes a long way though, as 1-2 tablespoons a day is sufficient.

If you want to try chia seeds for sports performance, consider soaking them in water and drinking them as part of your pre-workout fluids.  Remember never to try anything new on race day!  Make sure to experiment with this on training runs or rides first as the fiber could cause GI distress for some people.

Chia seeds can be eaten raw or cooked, ground or whole. Unlike flaxseed, the human body is able to digest whole chia seeds.  They can be sprinkled on top of oatmeal, yogurt or salads or even baked into breads and other baked goods.  Beware that chia seeds have a tendency to stick to your teeth when eaten in oatmeal and yogurt!

Or try this delicious dessert recipe that contains my last “Should You Eat” blog topic as well, chocolate!

Chia Seed Pudding

  • 2 cups of coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste) or cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon or more sweetener of choice (optional)- honey, agave, Stevia, pure maple syrup

Put in a blender and blend until smooth. Divide amongst 4 small bowls or cups and put in fridge to thicken. Pudding will thicken in about 10 minutes in the fridge.


Can You Improve Your Pain Tolerance?

Pikes Peak 2013

Suffering through the final mile of the 2013 Pikes Peak Ascent

I am in a daily plank competition, and it’s really starting to hurt.  It started at 4 minutes and now it’s up to 22, and it just keeps hurting more every week.  I’m not even sure how I’m doing it frankly, as there have been so many days I wanted to quit. I won’t go into the details of the competition, because that’s not the point of this blog.  What I’ve been wondering is if all this painful planking is making me mentally stronger (I know it is physically!)  To be a successful athlete, you have to be able to deal with a certain amount of pain.  I know that I’ve had experiences that taught me just what level of pain I can really handle.  For instance, when I went to France and rode my bike around the French Alps on some of the classic Tour de France climbs.  There were hills that were so steep that, by looking at them, I didn’t think I could physically pedal up them without tipping over.  But I dug deep and I did it, and in the process I learned just how much my body could hurt and still not blow up- literally.  I also think that I made some breakthroughs in my ability to handle pain during races this past summer.  It was mostly mental adjustments that I made- accepting it would hurt, and finding a way to deal with it such as reminding myself of my goal or why I was doing the race.  You’ve probably heard that when it comes to exercise your mind will give out long before your muscles.  It’s so true…but what to do about that?!

I’ve read that athletes have a higher pain tolerance than the general population, and that elite athletes have higher pain tolerances than their recreational counterparts, but this is one of those “which came first, the chicken or the egg” situations.  Do elite athletes develop a higher pain tolerance because of their training? Or do they get to the elite level because they can naturally better deal with the pain of training?  I’m not sure that can be answered, just like I still don’t know if the chicken or the egg came first!

But, even more importantly, can you train to improve your pain tolerance?  I think that you can, both mentally and physically.

I once read an interesting article in Outside magazine (see link at bottom) about pain tolerance.  The article stated that researchers found people who had experienced more physical pain in their lives (like from injuries or childbirth) had a higher pain tolerance than those who didn’t.  One of the ways they discovered this was by having study participants stick their hand in freezing cold water for as long as possible. Those who had more past physical pain tended to be able to keep their hand submerged longer.   To me, that means that training your pain tolerance for exercise is quite possible.  So aside from sticking your hand in frozen water, how can you increase your pain tolerance for exercise?

I did some online sleuthing and also spoke to my sister Kim, who regularly sticks her feet in a bath of freezing cold water after training runs, and here’s what I found out.

*Side note: it’s important to clarify that we are talking about mental pain during exercise and the pain from exhaustion/pushing yourself hard and NOT about the pain from injury, which you should not push through!

Physical Training:

  • Do interval workouts close to VO2 max.   They hurt.
  • Try “trick yourself workouts”, such as going for your planned 8 mile run, then making yourself go a mile or two more.  Having to manage more than you originally planned helps teach your mind to deal with painful changes.  For these it helps to have a coach or running partner spring the change on you, since it’s harder to trick yourself!
  • Practice negative splits- where you run the last miles of your training run faster than the first ones.
  • During challenging workouts don’t stop just because it starts to hurt and your brain tells you to (which it will).  Instead, tell yourself you’ll go another 5 minutes and then reassess if you can slow down. After those 5 minutes are up, tell yourself the same thing.
  • Ice bath!  There is conflicting data on whether or not ice baths help with recovery, but man do they hurt.  A cold Colorado stream works well. Be sure not to give yourself frostbite though.

Mental Training:

  • Practice positive self talk: such as “I don’t feel this pain” or as Jens Voigt says “Shut up legs!”.  Think about how much you have accomplished so far, not how much you have left to go.  Try reciting a positive mantra such as “I feel fast, efficient, and strong”.
  • Have a purpose/goal for the pain and remind yourself of that goal.  Remind yourself the pain is temporary. For instance, the most helpful sign I saw during my last half marathon was one that read “Pain is temporary, but Facebook is forever”.  It’s lame, but I really wanted to post that I had PR’d on my Facebook page, and that little reminder helped me to pick up the pace during my roughest miles.
  • Don’t think too much about how tired you are or how long you have to go.  If those thoughts arise, try to let them go and instead focus on the things you can control, like breathing and good form.
  • Commit to hurting. You have to accept it to deal with it.  Visualize yourself doing it anyway, successfully, and tell yourself that you can do it despite the pain.  As one of my favorite quotes goes “ You aren’t gonna get out of this pain free so pick your pain- the pain of the race or the pain of regret!”

To read the Outside article:

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos

Looking for a healthy vegetarian meal? Look no further than these tasty tacos!

photo(14)1 large sweet potato

1 can black beans

1 small yellow onion

1 avocado, cut into bite sized pieces

½ bunch kale

8 6-inch tortillas (white corn/wheat mix works well)

Cumin or coriander

Olive oil


Pre-cook sweet potato in the microwave for 3 minutes, then cut sweet potato into ½ in cubes.  Toss cubes in 1 tablespoon olive oil and bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes, or until tender and golden.

While the potatoes are cooking heat the beans over low heat, adding a pinch of cumin or coriander midway through.

Dice onion and sauté in olive oil until tender.  (If you are feeling adventurous and have a dark beer around, cooking the onions in beer instead of olive oil yields a nice flavor).

Rip washed kale into bite size pieces and sauté in a pan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Divide sweet potato, beans, onion, kale, and avocado evenly amongst 8 tacos.

Should You Eat: Chocolate?

chocolateI’ve decided to add a new feature to my blog, the “Should You Eat: XX” blogs!  Here I will choose a particular food, usually one with lots of hype around it, and break it down to see what it really offers in terms of nutrition and sports performance enhancement, and whether or not I think it’s worthwhile to incorporate it into your diet.

First up, chocolate.  Let me preference this blog with a confession:  I love chocolate.  Most days of the week I have a piece or two, and it’s not always the dark “healthy” kind.  I don’t do it for my health so much as for enjoyment, but I do sometimes wonder if all this chocolate is helping or hurting my health and sports performance (physical health that is, there is no doubt it helps my mental health!).

Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, which is a good source of a group of phytochemicals called “flavanols”.  These nutrients have antioxidant properties and are thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood flow, and lower blood pressure.  There have also been studies that found improvement in memory and cognitive function with an increase in flavanols from cocoa in the diet, possibly from increased blood flow to the brain.  So that’s why you often hear that dark chocolate is good for you.  The difference between dark chocolate and regular milk chocolate is mostly the cocoa content.  Dark chocolate also contains much less milk than milk chocolate and it is generally only dark chocolate that is thought to have health benefits.

The downside is that chocolate is full of calories in the form of fat and sugar.  There have been some studies (on animals mostly) about the addictive properties of sugar and fat combined, meaning you may have a hard time stopping after just 1-2 pieces!  I, however, would like to think that I have a little more mental strength than a rat so I’m not sure how applicable those studies are to humans.  Still, it’s important to consider that to get 200mg of flavanols from dark chocolate (70% cacao) you would need to eat 2 ounces, which would contain about 300 calories**.  That’s no small sum.  Milk chocolate is too low in flavanols to even pretend you are eating a health food, so no luck there, sorry.

The good news is there is another form to try if you want to reap the health benefits of chocolate- cocoa powder.  Because it’s less processed it contains more flavanols than any other form of chocolate.  And because it doesn’t have sugar and milk added to it like chocolate, it doesn’t contain the fat or sugar either.  To get 200mg of flavanols from cocoa powder, all you need is 1 ¾ tablespoons, which will only set you back 20 calories!  Chocolate lovers beware though, cocoa powder is not sweet. In fact, it’s quite bitter and, well, kinda gross tasting.

Wondering if chocolate or cocoa powder can improve your sports performance? It would make sense that increased blood flow could be beneficial.  After all, that’s part of the reason beet juice helps.  A quick search on Pub Med didn’t yield a whole lot of results though.  There was one study that found reduced oxidative-stress markers and increased mobilization of free fatty acids after exercise but no observed effect on exercise performance with regular dark chocolate consumption.   I also found an article referencing a study claiming “eating dark chocolate improves athletic performance just as much as exercise”, which I find hard to believe. Turns out it was a mice study. I didn’t realize mice liked chocolate!  Anyway, looks like we need more studies on athletes and dark chocolate. I’d volunteer for that!  The down side with chocolate and sports performance is potential weight gain.  As I noted above, you’d have to eat 300 calories worth of dark chocolate to get the health benefits.  That’s a pretty big chunk of your daily caloric needs if you are eating, say, about 2200 calories a day.

So, the question is, should you eat chocolate?  Like so many things with food and nutrition, I’m not going to give you a straight yes or no answer! First of all, I’m only talking about dark chocolate here.  There aren’t enough flavanols in milk chocolate to provide any health benefits, so if you really like milk chocolate make sure to have it as an occasional treat, not a daily occurrence, and don’t kid yourself into believing you are eating it for your health.  That being said, I think that there are some great possible health benefits to eating dark chocolate, but these must be weighed with the cost, i.e. lots of calories from fat and sugar.  However, if you don’t like dark chocolate and already eat a healthful diet there is probably no point in starting to add in dark chocolate.  If you are interested in amping up your diet but don’t care for dark chocolate, try incorporating cocoa powder.  Add a tablespoon or two to smoothies, recovery shakes/drinks, or coffee or even top your yogurt or oatmeal with it.  Now, if you do like chocolate then I say go for it!  Not only are there the potential health benefits, but there is also the pleasure factor to consider.  Depriving yourself of something you really enjoy is likely to make you want it more-and to end up eating a whole pan of brownies when you finally let yourself have some.  That will put way more of dent in your diet and health than a piece or two a day.  Plus, it’s okay to incorporate foods you enjoy into your diet (within reason of course). Just make sure to opt for dark chocolate (70% cacao minimum) most of the time and be sure to factor the chocolate into your daily caloric needs as well as your total sugar intake to avoid unwanted weight gain.

Next up, Should You Eat: Chia Seeds.  What other foods would you like to see featured?

**Statistics from Nutrition Action Healthletter, December 2013 issue

No New Year’s Resolutions!

Ah, 2014, we finally meet.  I’m looking forward to this year, as I plan on having lots of epic bike and running races on the calendar!  Not only that, but I’m joining a team this year: the Runner’s Roost Mountain/Ultra running team!  These are no resolutions however, since it seems to me that most resolutions don’t amount to much in the end.   So here is a blog I wrote last New Year’s about setting goals.  Enjoy!
 I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you want to change something you should do it now and not wait until the start of a new year, so I don’t usually set resolutions. Sure, there are those that want a “fresh start” and so the first of the year makes sense to embark on a goal, but statistically speaking most New Year’s resolutions fail within the first half of the year. Another potential problem I’ve noticed is that sometimes when we set a start date for a goal we give ourselves permission to do exactly the opposite until then, such as eating or drinking as much as we can before giving up alcohol or starting to eat healthier.

I recently read a statistic that by the end of January over a third of resolutions have been given up on. Anyone who goes to a gym can witness this trend. The gyms are packed in January to the point that it’s nearly impossible to find a machine, but by March they’ve generally returned to normal levels.

I’m not totally pessimistic about resolutions though. A majority of resolutions involve health in one way or another which I am all for, and setting goals can be a good way to stay on track and change one’s life for the better, just make sure to be SMART when setting your resolution!

SMART goals are often used in the business world, but they can work for health and fitness related goals as well. You’ll see some variations, but SMART generally stands for specific, measurable, attainable (or achievable), relevant, and time sensitive (or timely).

Specific- A specific goal is easier to stick with than a general one, so instead of saying “I will lose weight” or “I will work out more” make it specific, such as “I will work out 4 days per week in order to improve my body composition”.

Measurable- You’ll need a way to know if you are meeting your goal, so make sure it’s measurable. For the above goal you could say, “I will do 30 minutes of cardio at the gym 4 days a week”. You could also use body composition measurements as an indicator of staying on track.

Attainable- They say reach for the stars, but if you set your goals too high you’ll likely get discouraged and give up. I recommend setting mini goals that feel manageable and work you towards the greater goal. For instance, what’s the goal for this week? This month? Don’t focus too far into the future and don’t set unrealistic goals (like losing 20 pounds in a week or running your first marathon next month when you’ve never ran more than a mile in your life).

Relevant- You gotta want it to stick with it so don’t set a goal you don’t really care about. If it is not really relevant to your life or worth the effort to you, you’ll likely get bored with it quickly. So make sure it’s a goal you really care about.

Time Sensitive- Put an end date on it. Having a deadline can be motivating (as long as it’s realistic and attainable!).

Good luck and Happy New Year!

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad


beetsPerfect for a light lunch or a side at dinner, this hearty salad packs a nutritional punch with antioxidant rich beets and greens as well as heart healthy fats in the nuts and olive oil.  Wonder why beets are so good for athletes? Check out my blog on  Beets  here.

 Makes 4 servings

 4 cups arugula or mixed greens

2 whole beets, peeled and cubed

½ cup walnuts or pecans

2 oz goat cheese

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Toss beets in 1-2 tablespoon olive oil. Roast at 400°F until tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook walnuts in a lightly oiled (or use cooking spray) skillet at medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Spread arugula evenly on 4 plates.  Evenly divide all other ingredients amongst the plates as well, and top with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Keeping Your Nutrition on Track During the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again when dieters around the world tremble in fear: that’s right, it’s holiday time!  Even though I’m not into diets, I do get that the holidays are a time when we are bombarded with parties and social gatherings and food and drink flow abundantly. I believe this food and drink should be enjoyed, but I get that no one wants to sideline their nutrition and health in the process.  So below is a blog I wrote awhile on back on Navigating the Holidays.


YImageou’ve heard the shocking statistics: the average American gains 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s! (Or something equally shocking).  Do I buy it? Not exactly, as a person would have to eat an extra 500 calories every day to gain that much weight in that time frame.  I do believe, however, that the holiday season sets us up for possible weight gain.  Not only do the holidays tend to revolve around big family meals, but there’s also usually lots of goodies lurking in the break room at work.  Holiday parties and travel make it hard to stick to a regular workout routine and eating schedule as well.  Alcohol flows like water.  It’s a set up, I get it, but if you have a plan you can navigate the holidays without weight gain and still enjoy yourself! Here’s how:

At parties:

    • Scan the buffet.  Check out the options before you start filling your plate and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.  Make sure there are some veggies on your plate too.
    • Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later.  This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned.  Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.
    • Keep a glass of water in hand.  If your hand is busy, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for food when you aren’t even hungry.  If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to slow yourself down and stay hydrated.
    • Choose your beverage wisely.  Eggnog is awesome but it’s a calorie bomb too.  Limit your intake of high calorie beverages such as eggnog (or anything with cream), margaritas, and white Russians.  Your best bet? A heart-healthy glass of red wine.
    • Dance.  If there’s a dance floor at the party hit it up.  Not only does dancing count as exercise, but it’s pretty hard to mindlessly eat while getting your boogey on!
  • At work:
    • Don’t eat just to be nice.  That’s so great that your coworker was kind enough to bring in that pie, cake, cookie, or whatever other sugar laden goodie that is calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there.  If you are getting pressured to try some and really don’t want to, you can always be polite and say “no thanks, I had some cookies earlier”.  One little white lie won’t guarantee you get coal in your stocking.
    • Enlist the support of a coworker with similar goals. A like-minded friend can help keep you in check when tempted to over-do it. Also, just telling someone your plan, say to only have 1 cookie, will help you stick to it.
    • Remove yourself from the situation.  Out of sight out of mind, right? If you know the staff lounge is full of treats don’t spend too much time there drooling over them.
  • At family gatherings:
    • Set boundaries and know when to say no.  Have a plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy family members.  Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not weight, such as by saying “No thank you, I am watching my cholesterol” instead of saying that you are watching your weight. Your crazy aunt may think you are perfect and don’t need to diet and get pushy about trying her dessert, but she likely won’t want to raise your cholesterol
    • Bring a nutritious dish of your own such as a veggie tray or vegetable based side dish like roasted Brussels sprouts.  Then make sure it fills up a good portion of your plate (at least ¼ of your plate should be veggies)
    • Have a game plan.  As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating.  The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”)
    • If you’ll be traveling for the holidays bring plenty of your own healthy snacks (nuts anyone?) to stave off hunger and avoid potential cookie binges.At family gatherings: 
  • In general:
    • Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to.  Prioritize the parties you really want to or feel you should attend, and let the others pass by with a polite “Sorry, I already have plans”.  It’s okay if your “plans” include staying home and hitting the hay early.
    • As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want it more (and eat more when you finally do give in).  Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.
    • Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress.  Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating.  Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health.   Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.
    • Lastly, keep your training schedule, at least as much as possible.  Don’t be an all or nothing person; a little exercise is better than none.  If you are limited for time focus on short intense workouts, such as 30 minutes of interval training.
    • Change your attitude.  Sure, it seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about.  Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends.  Start a non-food related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals!

Happy Holidays!

Winter Hydration

It’s an easy mistake to make: not hydrating enough during winter workouts.  The colder weather tends to dull our sense of thirst and water is less appealing in the cold. We typically don’t sweat as much.  It’s easy to assume you don’t need much, if any, water during a cold weather workout but you do!  If you are over dressed you may be sweating even more than you would during a workout in warmer temps.  Your body also loses fluid through respiration, and this is magnified with heavy breathing in the cold.

So who cares? Well you, hopefully.  Studies have shown that more than a 2% loss of body weight from fluids can hamper performance.  Not to mention that water is an essential nutrient to the human body, involved in 98% of all bodily reactions.  You may also feel physically unwell if you are chronically dehydrated.

So how do you know if you are dehydrated after a workout? You may be able to tell by your urine color and volume. If it’s dark and concentrated you are likely dehydrated.  If you barely have any urine to expel despite not peeing in a long time you are definitely dehydrated!  Ideally your urine should be almost clear to pale yellow. Some vitamins and foods can alter the color of your urine, however, so if you are taking supplements be aware that they may be part of the discoloration.  Same with beets and beet juice, which can make your urine pink!   If you are dehydrated you may also notice that you feel more tired or fatigued than usual after your workout.  If the dehydration is extreme you may feel dizzy or nauseous.

How much water do you need during cold weather workouts?  Fluid recommendations vary but generally fall within the range of 6-12 ounces every 15-20 minutes (18-48 oz per hour) during exercise.  That’s a pretty wide range.  You don’t want to over-hydrate either, or you risk uncomfortable stomach sloshing, excessive bathroom breaks or even dangerous hyponatremia in rare cases.  The best way to figure out how much fluid you specifically need is by doing a sweat rate test.   To do this, weigh yourself naked before your workout.  Then complete a 60 minute run or ride without eating or drinking anything during the activity.  Do not use the bathroom during this hour either. Once you are done immediately weigh yourself again, naked of course.  Take the difference between your starting and finishing weights (remember there are 16 ounces in 1 pound).  That is your sweat rate in ounces per hour.  So for instance if you weighed 1.5 pounds less after a 1 hour run you should aim to drink 24 oz per hour (16×1.5= 24).  If your workout will last longer than 60-90 minutes consider adding a sports drink for carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement.  Water is enough for anything shorter.

Remember that your sweat rate will be slightly different during different conditions, at different intensities, and during different activites, so you may want to do this test several times under a variety of conditions.  For instance, if you are at altitude, say cross country skiing, you need even more water than at lower elevations.  At the very least do the sweat rate test once in the summer and once in the winter so you can pinpoint differences in your sweat rate during those seasons.

Struggling to meet your fluid needs now that you know them? Try using room temperature water during workouts since cold water is certainly not appealing when your body is already cold. Adding flavor can sometimes help make water more appealing, so try throwing a lemon wedge, cucumber slice, or splash of sports drink into your bottle.  You can also use warm beverages such as hot chocolate or soup broth for your post workout fluid replacement (or during if your stomach can handle it).  Try taking small sips frequently instead of chugging a bunch at once.  It might help initially to actually set a goal and keep an eye on your watch, such as committing to taking a couple of sips every 5 minutes.

It’s also important to start with good hydration throughout the day.  You may have heard the “8 glasses per day” (64 oz) recommendation, but that’s not enough for everyone.  To roughly calculate how many ounces of fluid you need per day take your body weight in pounds and divide it in half. That’s how about how many ounces you need just for daily life, not including exercise.  So, for example, a 135 pound athlete would need about 67.5 oz a day.  For exercise you need more.   And that’s just a rough estimate. One of the best ways to know if you are hydrated is to pay attention to your urine color. If it’s anything more than pale yellow you need more water. If you can smell it you really need more water! So drink up!

Happy hydrating!

Product Review: Energy Gels

photo(12)I’ve admitted this before, but I feel like a kid in a candy store when I go to the sports nutrition section of REI.  I guess it’s because I’m a sports dietitian and an athlete, but I find all of the product options exciting and interesting.  Gels, bars, waffles, chews, beans, powders…there is so much to try, I just can’t wait for my next run or ride to test out something new (and maybe better than what I’m already doing).  I can, however, see how it might be completely overwhelming for someone not as much of a sports nutrition nerd as me.  So let’s break it down, starting with energy gels.  Gels are one of my personal favorite sports nutrition products because of their ease and digestibility.  They are easy to carry and easy to digest.  If you prefer real food during exercise and it works with your stomach great, but if not gels might just be your best bet.  Below is a product comparison of four of the most popular energy gel brands on the market .  Each obviously varies slightly by flavor.  The descriptions below are based on my favorite flavors of each brand, which are noted under the product column.

Product Price (varies by retailer) Nutrition Breakdown and Ingredients (per gel) Taste and Texture(5 = paste, 1= water) Overall Rating(5= awesome, 1= awful)
 Clif Shot (CS) Citrus $1.25 per gel (at REI)$29.99 for 24 pack (on Clif Bar website)  100 calories24 grams carb90 mg sodium

0, 25, 50 mg caffeine options

Made with maltrodextrin and cane syrup.

90% organic

3.5- CS is a thicker texture than HS and PG and about equal with Gu.I find it too thick to swallow if I am exercising intensely (like mountain running) but use it on less intense runs and rides.  The taste is great! Citrus tastes like Mountain Dew. 4- Clif Shot is one of my favorite products despite the slightly thick consistency.  It seems to digest well and it has a decent amount of sodium compared to HS and Gu.
 Gu (Cu) Peanut Butter


$1.35 per gel (at REI)$31.50 for 24 pack(on Gu website) 100 calories20 grams carb65 mg sodium

0, 20, 40 mg caffeine options

Peanut butter flavor has 1.5 gram fat and 1 gram protein

Made with maltordextrin and fructose.

4- The peanut butter flavor is thicker than the others, but Gu is generally more thick than PG or HS.I find the peanut butter Gu too thick to use when I’m running, but love it when I’m cycling.  The taste is great- peanut buttery and slightly sweet! 4- Although I love the flavor the peanut butter gel is super thick and it’s hard to get all of it out of the package without using your teeth.
 Honey Stinger    (HS) Fruit Smoothie $1.35 per gel$1.39 per gel (organic)$32.40 per 24 pack

$33.36 per 24 pack (organic) (on Honey Stinger website)


100 calories23 gram carb50 mg sodium

0 or 31 mg caffeine options

Made with tapioca syrup and honey.

3- HS has a thinner texture than Gu or CS but thicker than PG. I like all of the fruit flavors. 4- Great taste and texture but less caffeine options and less sodium than the others.
 Power Gel (PG) Tangerine


$1.25 per gel (at REI)$30.00 for 24 pack(on PowerBar website) 110 calories27 grams carb200 mg sodium

0, 25, 50 gram caffeine options

Made with maltodextrin and fructose.

2- PG is significantly more watery than the other brands. That’s why it’s my go to for trail runs. 4-I like that PG has more sodium than the others since I believe sodium is critical for endurance exercise.  The consistency makes it easy to get down during intense exercise.
Winners:  Prices are pretty comparable per gel.  If you want to break it down to price per gram of carbohydrate Power Gel wins. -Each gel has 2 or more carbohydrate sources in it, which is good as this has been shown to improve carbohydrate uptake and utilization in working muscles.-Honey Stinger and Clif are more organic if that is a concern.-Power Gel has more sodium which is good if you are a heavy sweater. Each brand has flavors that I think taste good. The texture is more of a preference thing.  I like the texture of PG best but the flavors of the others slightly better. Who am I kidding, I like them all! My overall winner is PowerGel though due to best price, more sodium, and good texture for strenuous exercise.  That being said, it’s important to experiment and find what works best for you!