Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Watermelon

IMG_2843Summer is winding down, but it’s not too late to enjoy one of summer’s favorite fruits- the watermelon. Known mainly as a side dish at picnics that provides mostly water, watermelon is not just delicious but also chock full of nutrition.

What kind of nutrition does watermelon offer? It’s true it has a high water content, so at over 90% water, it is a good option for hydration. It’s also full of potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A. Watermelon contains small amounts of magnesium, vitamin B6, and fiber as well.  And at only 46 calories per cup, watermelon is great option for those trying to lose weight or maintain their racing weight.

Watermelon contains many phytonutrients (compounds found in plants that are not vitamins or minerals but still provide health benefits), most notably lycopene, an antioxidant also found in tomatoes and known for promoting prostate and heart health, among other things.

Watermelon also contains citrulline, which may help lower blood pressure and is of note for athletes specifically for a couple of reasons. First of all, some studies have found that consuming watermelon after exercise may help reduce muscle soreness. Secondly, citrulline may be converted to arginine in the body, which in turn can be converted to nitric oxide, which makes blood vessels relax. Why should you care? Well, nitric oxide is the same substance that the nitrates in beets are converted to, and which have been proposed to help improve exercise performance by allowing blood to move more freely to working muscles. So watermelon in theory could help improve sports performance just as beets do, although probably to a lesser level.  Studies are inconclusive, however, and the amount of watermelon you would need to see a benefit may cause some, uh, other problems. Still it’s something to consider. More studies are needed!

So as you can see, watermelon is a great post workout option. For a perfect post summer workout treat try this: cube a watermelon, sprinkle with salt, chill, and enjoy! Everything you need after a hard workout: fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes (ok hardly any protein but still pretty great) and it even sits well with an off kilter stomach.


Product Review: BeetElite


Finishing the Mt Evans Ascent, fueled by beets!

A lot of athletes are chowing down on beets these days, and with good reason. Studies have shown that beets can help improve athletic performance due to their high concentration of nitrates. These nitrates, once converted in the body to nitric oxide, cause vasodilation, letting oxygenated blood get to working muscles quicker and more efficiently. (See my blog “To Beet or Not to Beet” for more info on the benefits of beets and beet juice).  https://mountaingirlnutritionandfitness.com/2013/04/16/to-beet-or-not-to-beet-that-is-the-question/

If you train and compete at altitude like I do, you probably have a greater appreciation for oxygen than most! So any advantage with oxygen sounds like a sweet deal right? But what if you don’t like the earthy taste of beets or can’t stomach the 2-3 cups of beet juice that some of the studies used?

Enter BeetElite. BeetElite is a beet supplement. It’s actually concentrated organic beetroot crystals that you mix with a small amount of water. A single serving packet (10 grams) is mixed with 4 oz of water and consumed just 30 minutes before exercise. Each packet is supposed to be equivalent to 6 whole beets worth of nitrates. Beet juice, on the other hand, needs to be consumed 2-3 hours before exercise to be in full effect, which means it takes a lot more advanced planning. You also need to drink at least 500mL (about 2 cups) to get the full effect of beet juice. So what’s the deal with BeetElite? Read on!

Price: $34.99 for 10 single serving packets ($3.50 per serving), or $44.99 for a 20-serving canister ($2.25/serving). If you buy a 16.9 oz (500mL) bottle of beet juice at Whole Foods it will set you back $5.99. Given that most studies used about 500mL (which is about equivalent to 3 beets, this actually makes the BeetElite a better deal.


Nutrition Breakdown: A single serving pouch has 30 cBeetEliteNutritionFactsalories, 0 grams fat, 8 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams sugar, and 0 grams of protein.


Ingredients: organic beetroot crystals, natural flavors, malic acid, stevia leaf extract.

The beetroot crystals are formed from organic beets. Malic acid is a common food additive, found naturally in fruits such as apples and rhubarb and used to impart a tart flavor. There are some studies that associate malic acid itself with improved sports performance. It is considered safe. Natural flavors could mean anything. I emailed the company for more specifics about that but have not heard back yet. Stevia leaf extract comes from the Stevia plant. While stevia leaf is natural, the extract is a little bit more processed. It is generally considered safe by the FDA and is probably fine in small amounts.


Taste: I have to admit that I don’t actually like beets. I eat them occasionally due to their health and performance benefits but I don’t enjoy the taste at all. (check out my  Beet and Goat Cheese Salad  recipe for a palatable way to eat them!)

BeetElite comes in a regular and black cherry flavor. So far I’ve only tried the black cherry flavor, and I actually found it to be quite good. It barely tasted like beets and was slightly sweet. Plus, being only 4 oz made it easy to drink. I just ordered some of the regular flavor and am hoping it’s not too beety!

Personal Experience: I’ve used Beet Elite (and beet juice) here and there before tough training runs and rides or races. Most recently I used it before the Mt Evans Ascent, which I did well at. Since I haven’t done an actual study on myself (and probably never will), it is hard to truly say whether or not BeetElite makes a difference. Did I feel strong at the Mt Evans race? Yes. Had I also trained hard for it? Yes. There is always the placebo effect to consider as well, but I’ve always said that if the placebo effect works, who cares? It’s still a benefit (although an expensive one I guess!)

I didn’t have any GI issues using BeetElite, which is always something I’m concerned about when trying a new product. It was convenient to use too. For the Mt Evans Ascent I actually mixed the BeetElite into a Generation UCAN shake and was pleasantly surprised at how the flavors and textures mixed. Maybe I’m on to something here?! Overall I would say I had a good experience with BeetElite.

Bottom Line: Athletes are always looking for a competitive edge, and there are lots of good studies on beet juice and athletic performance, so I think incorporating beets, beet juice, or a beet supplement is a good idea. Using the BeetElite is certainly easier and more convenient than chugging beet juice before a race and is also a great option for those who cannot tolerate the flavor of beets and beet juice. I really like that it only needs to be consumed 30 minutes before exercise and that only 4 oz is needed. It’s also great that it comes in portable little packets-can you imagine going through airport security with a bottle of beet juice?!

Even though I can’t say for sure if I personally noticed an effect with BeetElite, there is enough good data out there that I believe it very well could’ve helped me and I will continue to use it here and there (but not everywhere).

It’s important to remember though, that a supplement will never make up for poor training and nutrition, so don’t expect any miracles with BeetElite or beet juice if you aren’t training and eating well. As always, take supplements with caution and use them appropriately. I would not recommend using BeetElite all the time (only for tough training sessions and races). Also make sure not to over use it. BeetElite recommends no more than 2 packets in 24 hours.



*Disclaimer: I was provided one-time free samples of this product for being a sports nutrition coach with Peaks Coaching Group. I have since purchased my own.

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!

Why I’m Going Bananas for Bananas

bananaThe poor banana.  It gets so much bad press.  High carb! High sugar! Many diets shun the banana.  I get that it’s not the most exotic or exciting fruit.  It might even be considered a little boring, especially with all the pomegranate, acai, mangosteen madness the past few years.  I’ve always been against labeling foods as “super foods” so it’s no wonder that I don’t put bananas lower on the nutrition totem pole than any other fruit (does anyone really eat mangosteen anyway?!)   I admit I also tend to root for the underdog, but the banana really has a lot going for it. Sure it’s not a glamorous fruit, but there is still so much to love.

I have to admit that I too had forgotten about the banana.  I’m not even sure why, but I probably went several years without buying a single one!  It wasn’t on purpose, I was just distracted by other, more thrilling fruits I guess.  I came back to the banana this summer though.   I was trying to up my fruit and veggie intake and also on the lookout for new, easily digested foods to integrate into my pre-workout meals and snacks.  The banana was my perfect solution, and I’ve been buying them weekly ever since.  Below is why I like bananas, and hope you will too!

–          Bananas are portable and easy to eat. There are no messy seeds or juices and no utensils needed, making the banana a great on the go snack.  They are also easy to shove in a bike jersey pocket! (Tip: consider pre-peeling the banana if your bike handling skills aren’t impeccable).

–          Bananas are easily digested and a good source of carbohydrate, making them a great food to consume immediately before and during exercise.  They are a great alternative to gels, bars, and chews for athletes wanting to use real food instead of, or in addition to sport nutrition products. One medium banana provides about 30 grams of carbs, which is comparable to one gel.

–          Bananas are high in nutrition.  Bananas are commonly known for being high potassium, but they are also great sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber!

–          Bananas are cost effective.  Typically costing less than $1/pound even for the organic kind, bananas aren’t gonna break the bank.  It’s also nice that you can buy just a few at a time so that you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you get around to eating them.

–          Bananas may help with weight management.  Bananas are high in resistant starch, a type of fiber that is not easily digested and is thought to promote feeling satiated and  improve glycemic control (aka stabilize blood sugars).  Some studies have linked diets high in resistant starch to lower body weight, but the jury is still out so don’t over do it with your banana intake.  Eat your bananas uncooked to get the full benefits of resistant starch.

–          Banana’s are super versatile and make an awesome addition to all sorts of meals and snacks:

  • Breakfast: slice up a banana and add it to your morning cereal or oatmeal
  • Snacks: add sliced bananas to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, or top a slice of whole wheat toast with banana and your favorite nut butter (that is also one of my go to pre-race breakfasts!)
  • Lunch: make a wrap with 1 whole wheat wrap, peanut or almond butter, sliced banana, and a drizzle of honey for the perfect on the go lunch
  • Dinner: spice up a traditional Hawaiian pizza by adding sliced banana
  • Post workout: make a recovery smoothie by blending 8 oz low fat chocolate milk with 1 frozen banana.
  • Dessert: slice a banana and fill the inside with a tablespoon or two of chocolate chips or bits of dark chocolate. Pop in the oven until the chocolate melts. Bonus points if you have  a campfire to make this over!

So you see, really bananas are an athlete’s best friend.  Eat up!

Product Review: Generation UCAN

I’ve decided to add a new feature to my blog: product reviews!

First up: Generation UCAN.   I first tried Generation UCAN last summer, back when I still believed my stomach couldn’t handle much carbohydrate during exercise.  Turned out it was the type of carbohydrate drink I was using that was the problem, not the carbs themselves, but I’ve still stuck with UCAN for many of my longer workouts.  Generation UCAN is different from other sports drinks on the market in a lot of ways.  It’s made from a “superstarch”, which is a complex carbohydrate derived from non-GMO corn according to the website.  The theory is that this superstarch helps stabilize blood sugar during exercise without causing a spike in insulin or gastric distress.  The gist is that the superstarch moves quickly out of the stomach but is slowly broken down in your small intestine, which minimizes GI distress and also provides a slow and steady carbohydrate source that allows your body to more efficiently rely on its own fat stores for fuel during exercise.  This means you don’t have to worry as much about taking in carbohydrate during your workout.  Utilizing your own fat stores also in theory helps improve overall body composition.

photo(5)Generation UCAN has 2 products, a “sports drink mix” and a “protein-enhanced sports drink mix”.  The sports drink mix comes in 4 flavors: lemonade, cranberry raspberry, blueberry pomegranate, and plain, and is meant to be used as a pre-workout drink and can also be used during really long workouts (supposedly you only need 1 packet for every 2-3 hours of activity).  The protein enhanced version comes in chocolate and vanilla and is meant mainly to be a post workout recovery beverage.

Price: Prices have gone up since I first started using Generation UCAN.  I’m too much of a commitment phobe to get the tub, so I buy the individual packages which are now $19.50 for 6 packets ($3.25 per pouch) of the sports drink .  The tubs are $60 for 30 servings ($2 per serving, however  a serving is defined as 25 grams where as the single serving pouches are 37-38 grams). So if we go gram for gram the pouches are  $0.087/gram and the tubs are 0.080/gram- basically the same.  The protein-enhanced flavors are $25.50 for 6 single serving pouches ($4.25 per 51-56 gram pouch- $0.083/gram) or $60 for a 25 serving tub (interestingly listed as 30 gram servings-$0.080/gram). So again, you don’t really save much by getting more at once. The good news is that if you order online they will occasionally send you discount codes.  Still, the price is higher than many other sports drinks on the market.

Nutrition breakdown: Generation UCAN sports drinks contain about 32 grams of carbohydrate (it varies slightly by flavor) per pouch.  Typical sports nutrition recommendations are for 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour, so if you only use 1 packet for 2-3 hours of activity you are getting way less than the recommendation-but that’s kind of the point.  The protein-enhanced sports drink has about 13 grams of protein per pouch, which is right in line with post workout recovery recommendations for protein. Nutrition labels for selected flavors listed below.

Pomegranate blueberry

UCAN nutrition info pom blue



Taste review: I started by ordering a sample package that included 1 of each flavor.  The plain sounded too unappealing to me and ended up getting handed off to a willing boyfriend/taste tester who no longer remembers what he thought of the product.  No help there!  The lemonade I honestly didn’t care for. The flavor was too mild and not as lemonade-y as I’d hoped.  Sorta like foamy lemon water. The cranberry raspberry and blueberry pomegranate I enjoyed the taste of.  The vanilla and chocolate I really enjoyed the taste of (especially when mixed with milk instead of water).  I have to admit that the texture is a little odd and may take a bit of getting used to.  The superstarch is a very fine powder, that when shaken up, creates a sort of foamy protein shake texture (even the non protein-enhanced flavors do this).  The texture is not bad per se, just different than any other sports drink I’ve tried.  It could be a turn off to some, especially when used during exercise, which I have not yet tried.

Does it work:  Well, there is a fairly convincing scientific study referenced on the website,  but not a ton of details about the study provided.  Did I personally notice a difference? Well sort of, but I am also a big believer in the placebo effect and I, of course, knew when I was drinking it before a run and when I was not.  There is starting to be more anecdotal evidence about metabolic efficiency and training and eating a certain way in order to improve your fat burning during exercise, and Generation UCAN falls nicely in line with this.  It’s an intriguing concept for sure. We (the nutrition world) are still waiting on more actual studies about metabolic efficiency as it’s a fairly new concept, but there are athletes and RDs using it with great success.

I’ve never had any GI distress with the product, and I did feel like I had more sustained energy last summer as I was upping my miles.  Overall, I think it does work, just maybe not quite as amazingly as the website may have you believing! (Seriously, watching the videos about it on the website the other day got me all excited to use it on my next run-excellent marketing!).

Bottom line:  I overall like this product.  It’s probably best utilized by endurance athletes, and particularly ultra endurance athletes who really have to focus on their nutrition strategy.  It’s definitely helpful for those who struggle with carb intake and GI distress during exercise.  Other than price I see no downside to the product, unless you can’t handle the texture. Whether it really does what it claims or not, if you feel better when using it I say go for it. I for one plan on continuing to incorporate it into my long workouts.

For more information visit http://generationucan.com/home.html

*I have no affiliations with Generation UCAN.  Products tested were purchased with my own hard earned bucks.

Racing Weight and Healthy Weight Loss

food scale

Don’t try this at home. Actually, don’t weigh your food anywhere. Ever.

It’s a diet obsessed world out there.  It’s sad, really, how much our society focuses on looks and thinness.  Working in the eating disorder field I’ve grown to hate the “D” word.  But this is not a blog about the pitfalls of our society.  No, this is a blog about finding the balance between managing ones weight for sports performance and not sacrificing ones mental and physical health in the process.  There are many athletes with unhealthy and disordered eating habits and athletes are thought to be at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.  This is not surprising seeing as the reality is that weight does, to some extent, affect endurance sports performance.  Some runner’s talk about their racing weight as if it was a holy grail that they would do anything to obtain.  You hear stats like “your mile time improves by 10 seconds for every pound lost”, or some crap like that.  Cyclists talk about how every pound lost improves power output by so much.  I don’t remember the specific statistic because I don’t care.  I mostly ride my bike because it’s fun.  It’s important not to lose sight of that in the process of trying to lose weight.  You probably started running or riding because it was fun too.  Sure there is a correlation between weight and performance-to some extent– but I challenge any athlete to cut off their hand (that weighs about a pound right?) and suddenly drop 10 seconds from their mile time! Okay, I kid, but seriously, the point is that the mere act of losing weight will not necessarily guarantee that your performance improves.  Lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly and your performance will suffer.  And you might lose your love for the sport in the process.

If you want to lose weight solely because you feel you don’t look like the stereotypical runner/cyclist/fill in the blank kind of athlete then stop right there.  Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and I am a firm believer of not modifying ones diet and exercise in order to change how one looks.  If your only motivation for weight loss is because you think you “have” to or because you want to look better in your underwear then this is probably not the blog for you.  Trust me it’s not worth risking falling into disordered eating or even a full blown eating disorder.  I’ll even admit to my eating disorder patients: sure you can modify your nutrition and exercise to manipulate your body to look however you want, but at what cost? What kind of life would that be? How about working on body acceptance instead of weight loss?

Losing weight for health or sports performance is different, but even those motivations can be taken too far.  It’s not always easy to know when an innocent desire to drop a few pounds to become a better athlete starts to become an unhealthy obsession with weight. As an athlete AND an eating disorder professional, I am acutely aware of the issue and believe that I have developed a pretty healthy and moderate approach to the subject.  I truly believe that if you focus on training right and eating well your weight and body composition will take care of themselves over time.  However, if you feel that some weight loss is truly justified and want to get a jump start read on to learn how to do it as healthfully (for your mind and body) as possible.  I could probably write a book on this topic (maybe I will someday…..) but below are some of my top tips.

  • Don’t count calories.  Just because you meet your body’s caloric needs doesn’t mean you are eating right or getting the nutrients your body needs.  You could meet your daily caloric needs with ice cream for Heaven’s sake!  Calorie counting can easily become compulsive, as it puts so much emphasis on hitting numbers and looking at nutrition labels.  Instead of counting calories, count servings from the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and fats.   All the rest, desserts and alcohol for example, would fall into the category of extras and you wouldn’t have a target for those, you would just aim to not have too many of them! (Not sure how many of each group you need? Consult an RD!)
  • Keep a food journal.  But not all the time, especially if you know this tends to become a compulsive “diet” activity for you.  Keeping a food journal for a few days will give you a picture of how much you are getting from all of the food groups mentioned above.  Once you know your baseline, you can work on eating more from some of the food groups, and possibly less from others.  Keeping a food journal can also help you keep tabs on mindless eating and boredom eating, which are common problems.  A handful of food here and there might not seem like a lot in your head, but it can add up quickly, and having it on paper helps put it in perspective.
  • Keep an eye on portions.  Most people have no concept of portions, and it’s not surprising given the ridiculous amount of food we are served at some restaurants.  Note: a giant plate of pasta does not count as one serving.  One grain’s worth of pasta is actually only ½ cup- the size of ½ of a baseball.
  • Focus on what you want to eat more of, not less.  The answer will probably be vegetables and fruits, as most Americans don’t meet the minimum recommendations of 5-9 servings/day.  I think that it’s mentally more helpful to focus on what you want to eat more of, instead of what you want to eat less of, since telling yourself you can’t have something will likely make you want it more (blame human nature). Plus, I find that when I’m able to up my vegetable intake I naturally do not have room for, or crave, the less than healthy foods I typically like (desserts and wine mmm!).
  • Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not.  You’ve also probably heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s because that is where most of the whole foods are, like fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and to some extent whole grains.   There are plenty of healthful foods that come in packages though, so don’t avoid the inner aisles completely.  When buying packaged products aim for ones with very few ingredients (i.e. if you are buying brown rice the ingredient list should look like this- ingredients: brown rice).
  • Don’t make food rules.  Then you fall into the good food, bad food trap and feel like a bad person when you eat a “bad” food.  Take the judgment out of eating. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods.  Just foods. Some foods you should eat more often and some foods should be occasional treats.
  • Don’t skip breakfast.  I truly believe it’s the most important meal of the day and studies have consistently shown that breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers.  This could be because skipping breakfast makes you hungrier and more likely to overeat later in the day.
  • Listen to your body.  Try to check in with your hunger.  If you are hungry eat.  If not, wait until you start to feel some hunger.  Don’t wait until you are starving to start eating, as you will be more likely to reach for high sugar/more processed foods and to over eat.  Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Plan ahead.  Think about what you want to make for your meals during the week and make sure you have the food on hand.  I know that if I leave work hungry and with no dinner plan I’m not going to have the patience to go to the store and cook something healthy. I’m doing take out.  Same with snacks. Bring your own snacks to work so that you don’t have to rely on the office donuts for a mid afternoon pick me up.
  • Drink up.  Water that is.  Thirst is often mistaken for hunger.  Make sure you are meeting your fluid needs.  Not sure if you are? Hint: your urine should be a very pale yellow.
  • Know when to use sports nutrition products.  Sports drinks, energy gels, and protein shakes are all great when used appropriately.  But if you are drinking Gatorade throughout the day or eating gels on 45 minute runs you are taking in more sugar and calories than you need to be.
  • Be safe.  DO NOT use diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any other weight loss aid. Period.
  • Monitor your body fat too, not just weight.  Your body fat percentage tells you a lot more than a number on the scale. Healthy ranges are:
Males Females Rating
5-10 8-15 Athletic
11-14 16-23 Good
15-20 24-30 Acceptable
21-24 31-36 Overweight
>24 >37 Obese

(from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD, and Michael Gleeson, PhD, on the Human Kinetics publishing website)

  • Don’t weigh yourself more than once a day.  Don’t even weigh every day if you can help it. Your weight will fluctuate naturally from day to day and seeing those fluctuations may just psych you out. It’s more important to look at overall trends, taken into consideration with body fat percentage, than daily numbers.
  • Be realistic. Set small and slow weight loss goals.  If you lose too much weight or lose it too quickly you will sacrifice your performance. You shouldn’t lose more than 1-2 pounds/week.  You might not lose any weight one week, and that’s okay too-it doesn’t mean you need to lose more the next.
  • Monitor your sports performance as you lose.  You may not need to lose as much as you think to hit those time goals.  You may also need to accept that your body may be built a certain way, and to change that may involve extreme deprivation or excessive exercise.  If you find that you have to cut your intake to the point of starving to drop weight your body is telling you something. Listen to it.
  • Train right.  As I mentioned above, to some extent your body will adapt and change naturally in response to your training. Be patient with this process.  Try to focus more on your training then your weight.
  • Don’t try to lose weight during the middle of your racing season.  Your performance will likely suffer if you do so.  The off season and pre-season are actually the best time to tackle weight loss goals.

Electrolytes and Muscle Cramping


Finishing the Pikes Peak Ascent in 3:51:55 (goal was sub 4 hours)

Oh Pikes Peak, how I miss you already!  I’m feeling a little lost now that my main race of the year is over, but it went well so I’m happy about that.  Time goal met!  And I was able to finish without feeling like absolute garbage, which I was pretty worried about going into the race. My stomach started feeling a little nauseous during the last 2 miles but other than that I felt pretty good, which is not something a lot of runners at the Pikes Peak Ascent can say at the end (or middle) of the race.  One of the many interesting things about the race was how many people I passed who were pulled over to the side of the trail stretching due to muscle cramps.  I’ve been lucky in my training and racing that I’ve never (knock on wood) experienced issues with muscle cramping.  Stomach issues, sure, but no muscle cramps.  Or is it luck? I’m pretty good about taking in adequate amounts of fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. I even added an electrolyte tab to my Nalgene the day before the race in an attempt to start the race with all my electrolytes topped off, since I’ve recently read about the benefits of this (not to be confused with eating a high sodium diet on a daily basis, which is not good for your health).  Muscle cramps are an interesting, if not painful, subject and researchers are still trying to understand them completely. It’s commonly believed that electrolyte imbalances, namely lack of sodium, potassium, calcium, and/or magnesium, are the cause of muscle cramps, but many scientists now believe that muscle cramping may actually be related to muscle fatigue from overexertion, not electrolyte issues.

The bummer about scientists not knowing what exactly causes muscle cramps is that there is not one perfect solution if you get them, but there are some things you can do.

–          Eat from a wide variety of foods that provide adequate electrolytes on a daily basis.  For potassium: bananas, potatoes, dark leafy greens, beans.  For magnesium: dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, nuts, whole grains.  For calcium: dairy products, dark leafy greens, (noticing a trend here?) sardines, fortified orange juice.  Consume  moderate amounts of sodium (no more than 2300 mg/day).

–          Adequately hydrate before, during , and after your races and training runs.  Determine your personal sweat rate by weighing yourself immediately before and after a 60 minute run (don’t drink water on the run if possible, or if you do factor it into the equation).  For every pound lost, you need to drink 16 oz of water.

–          Replace electrolytes during exercise when appropriate, such as when exercising for extended periods of time (>2 hours) or in the heat.  Aim to consume 110-170 mg Sodium/ 8 oz fluid, 20-50 mg potassium/ 8 oz fluid, as well as small amounts of calcium and magnesium

–          Be properly trained for your event.  Include high intensity workouts that mimic running on tired legs.

–          Warm up and stretch pre race.

–          If you do get  a cramp, stretching and massaging the affected area will usually lessen it.

–          A lot of people swear by pickle juice to cure cramps, possibly due to the sodium content. I’ve never tried it myself but if you can stomach it go for it!

What other “tricks” do you use to manage muscle cramps?

Pre Race Nutrition

Whelp, here I am again, in the week before a race.  Taper week.  I’ve written before about the perils athletes face during race week.  You’ve done all the training, and at this point too much training might actually hurt your race.  You’re ready. You just want to do it already!  Plus there are the worries about injuries or illness popping up.  It can be a frustrating and anxiety provoking time period but there are things you can focus on.  What’s that you ask? Mainly proper nutrition and adequate rest!

So what is the key to pre-race nutrition?  Well, nutrition professionals don’t always agree on the specifics about the “right” way to do things, probably because there isn’t one perfect way.  Conventional wisdom calls for carb loading for endurance activities lasting greater than 2-3 hours and this is the protocol I typically follow as it seems to work for me.

More recently there have been RDs and athletes experimenting with fat loading instead of carb loading, and having success, particularly with ultra endurance events.  It’s important to find out what works right for each individual athlete based on sport, special nutritional needs, and preferences.  One thing most nutrition professionals will agree upon regardless of where they stand on fat vs carbs is this: do not try anything new or different the week before the race.  This is not the time to check out that new Indian buffet down the street!  Continue eating foods your body is familiar with to avoid any GI distress.  If your event will last longer than 2-3 hours consider upping your carbohydrate intake for 2-3 days prior to the event.  Avoid the fallacy of the pre-race pasta binge.  Eating  one giant carb-packed meal the night before the race won’t help you maximize glycogen stores and may cause stomach upset.  Proper carb loading requires increasing your carb intake to up to 10 grams carb/kg body weight (4.5 grams/pound bodyweight)  for 2-3 days leading up to the event.  If you carb load correctly you will gain some water weight, as each gram of carbohydrate is stored  (as glycogen) with 3 grams of water.  However, during this phase you will need to slightly cut back on protein and fat to avoid exceeding your energy needs and gaining true weight.

The type of carbs you choose to fill up on can vary with preferences. A mixture of whole grain and processed carbs is okay during this time, as too many whole grains may cause GI issues due to the high fiber content and too much white bread/processed carbs can lead to blood sugar highs and lows (and accompanying symptoms). My carb loading days include lots of oatmeal (mix in pumpkin for a tasty bonus!), bagels, French toast, pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits, low fat yogurt, and cereal.  It’s fun for a couple of days to splurge on carbs, but if you are doing it right you’ll likely be sick of them by day three!

As mentioned above your body stores carbohydrate with water, so it’s important that you are drinking adequate fluids during this time as well (although water is always important!). Carbohydrate drinks can be used to meet carb and fluid needs.

Morning of the race:

The guidelines for carbohydrate intake prior to an endurance event are 1-4 grams carb/kg body weight 1-4 hours pre-event.  The closer to the event you are eating, the less you’ll want to consume- i.e. 1 gram carb/kg body weight if you are eating 1 hour pre-event.  How early before the event you eat depends on what time the race is, how early you are willing to get up, and knowing how long it takes for your stomach to feel digested before an intense workout.  Most athletes will aim for 2-3 hours pre race.

My plan for the Pikes Peak Ascent(tried and true for me, I’m not saying I recommend it for everyone) is as follows :about 1.5 hours pre event I’ll eat a bagel thin w/ 1 TBSP peanut butter, 1 TBSP honey, 1/2 banana, coffee, and ~4-6 oz beet juice.  Then 30-45 min prior: 1 packet Generation UCAN made with 12 oz water.  I’ve tried all these things before and they seem to work with my digestive system. But wish me luck anyway!

To sum it up: good nutrition, lower training volume, hydration, and good sleep = good race!

Good luck to all the Pikes Peak and Leadville runners this weekend!  🙂


High Altitude Training and Racing

Kim during the final stretch of her record breaking 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent race

I think that the weekend of August 17th just might be the most epic weekend in trail racing in Colorado, if not the country.  Not only is it the weekend of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, but also the Leadville Trail 100 Run.  This summer training for the PPA I’ve learned what these athletes already know: training at altitude is a whole different ball game than training at sea level, or even at a mile high in Denver.

Given this, I thought I might recruit the girl once dubbed “The Queen of Uphill”, my sister and the Pikes Peak Ascent female course record holder Kim Sommer Dobson, for her advice on training and racing at altitude. Here’s what she said:

What’s the secret to running well at high altitude?  Unfortunately, there is no secret or magic supplement.  Running at high altitude is grueling, but just like the old adage “practice makes perfect” suggests, any runner can improve their altitude performance with a little practice.

In the three months prior to when I set the Pikes Peak Ascent course record in 2012, I hiked or ran above 13,000 feet as much as possible.  I knew that I would race my best if I spent as much time as possible above treeline.  That time included tempo runs, intense intervals, long runs, and several hikes.  With each bout at altitude, I could feel myself getting more and more acclimatized.

If you want to perform well at high elevation, you must prioritize training up high.  Here are a few tips for you to think about next time you are running or racing at altitude:

  • Stride:  Focus on taking short, quick steps and using a powerful arm swing.  Think forward momentum!
  • Breathing:  Focus on rapid, deep breathing.  If you are worried that everyone around you can hear how loud and fast you are breathing, then you are breathing correctly.
  • Fueling beforehand:  Running on an empty tank can increase the lightheadedness and nausea often experienced at high altitude.  Make sure you are properly fueled and hydrated before your activity.
  • Fueling during your activity:  Exercising at high altitude suppresses appetite, so plan what and when you should eat prior to your activity.  Make an effort to stick to your plan even if you don’t feel hungry.  Chose foods or gels that require a minimal amount of chewing.
  • Pacing:  Start out slow and gradually increase your effort.  Stay in tune with your heart rate, breathing, and movement.   Focus on being relaxed and efficient as you power your way through the thin air.
  • Practice:  Run, hike, bike, camp, sleep…any activity at altitude will help you acclimatize.  Believe that it will get easier, get creative about fun altitude activities, and enjoy being up high.

It’s race week! Up later this week: nutrition the week before the race

MMMMM Chocolate Milk (and Recovery)

If you are an endurance athlete of any kind you likely heard long ago about the use of chocolate milk as a post workout recovery beverage.  It started with a study that compared chocolate milk to typical sports drinks, such as Gatorade, and found that chocolate milk was superior for recovery.  Ever since many cyclists have touted it as the “perfect” post workout beverage and magazine ads and commercials promoting chocolate milk are everywhere.

chocolate milkSo what’s the big deal?  First of all it’s important to understand the concept of a recovery beverage and why and when it is necessary.  Here is the simple version:

When we exercise we burn a mix of fat and carbohydrate.   Lower intensity exercise burns mostly fat, which even the leanest athlete has plenty of stored up.  Higher intensity exercise burns mostly carbohydrate, which the body can only store so much of (in the form of glycogen).  On average, a person will burn through all of their body’s glycogen stores during 2-3 hours of exercise.  That’s why endurance athletes have to consume a carbohydrate source of some kind to keep going during activities of that duration or longer.  That is also why it is important to consume carbohydrates as soon as possible (ideally within 30 minutes) after strenuous exercise-in order to replenish your body’s glycogen stores.  It is also recommended to consume some protein post workout to aid in muscle recovery.  Fail to do so and your next workout will probably suck.   So why would chocolate milk be superior?  First of all, it is a good source of carbohydrate.  It is also a good source of protein, and it specifically contains a good amount of the branch chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) which are particularly important for recovery from exercise.  Another benefit of chocolate milk is that it is a liquid. A lot of athletes suffer from GI distress or suppressed appetite after workouts and have a hard time eating solid foods during that all important recovery window 30-60 minutes post exercise.  Liquids are often more easily tolerated for these athletes.  Bonus: it’s super affordable.  Sports nutrition supplements can get pricey.  A whole gallon of chocolate milk will only set you back 4 bucks.

That being said, not everyone needs to be concerned about a post workout recovery beverage (or meal).  If your workout is 1 hour or less and at a moderate intensity you don’t need to worry much about post workout recovery nutrition.   Your next meal or snack, as long as it is well balanced, should provide adequate carbohydrate and protein for your body to recover.  Be particularly careful if your workout is sub 1 hour and your goal is weight loss. An 8 oz serving of lowfat chocolate milk still packs in 200 calories.  This is why it annoys me to see personal trainers at the gym pushing hefty protein shakes on overweight women who are likely doing less than an hour of exercise-they don’t need it and it might actually contribute to weight gain- probably the exact opposite these women are at the gym for!

So what’s my final verdict? Although I don’t personally use it, I think chocolate milk is a quality post workout beverage (for those who actually need it, see above).  It’s a good source of the nutrients you need post workout, it’s easy to digest, it’s cost effective, and it tastes pretty good (I think).  I’m actually not sure why I don’t use it! Maybe I’ll start.   However, chocolate milk is by no means the only post workout beverage and I don’t believe that it is necessarily superior to some of the other options out there.  So if you dislike the flavor there is no need to choke it down.  There are plenty of other ways to get in the nutrients you need after a workout.  If you don’t know what those are-speak to a sports RD like me!

So how does chocolate milk add up?

Post exercise nutrition recommendations :

  • Carbs: 1-1.5grams/kg body weight
  •  Protein: 10-20 grams
  • Fluids: 16-24 fl oz for every pound lost
  • Electrolytes- particularly sodium (1 pound of sweat loss contains about 100 mg Potassium and 400-700 mg Sodium)


Chocolate Milk (based on 8 oz low-fat, numbers will vary slightly by brand)

  • Carbs: 28 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Electrolytes:  154 mg Sodium, 422 mg Potassium
  • Fluid- 8 oz (duh!)