Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sink Your Next Putt with Good Nutrition

A recent trip to the golf course was the inspiration for today's blog. While I don't claim to be the best golfer, I do enjoy a good 9 holes every now and again. Many athletes (golfers or not) believe nutrition has nothing to do with performance on the green. Let me tell you why good nutrition can make the difference between making par and making a birdie...or maybe even an eagle (okay well THAT might be a stretch purely based on my own experience).

Hydration Matters
Golf is a game of skill and technique. One slight adjustment can mean the difference between a beautiful shot straight down the green and a trek through the woods. When it comes to staying focused, hydration matters! In a game of golf, you should be drinking frequently. Take at least one gulp every hole and drink 8 oz. at the turn (hole 9) if you are playing 18 holes. If you are not a fan of plain water, try G2 or Propel Zero. G2 provides a small amount of energy and both drinks provide electrolytes as well as fluid. If it is an uncharacteristic hot or humid day, be sure to increase your fluid intake and plan on taking a G2 with you. You'll need the extra energy and electrolytes as your sweat rate will be much higher than usual.

Balance Your Blood Sugar
Concentration isn't just about staying hydrated. Think of the last time you went a bit too long between meals. How did you feel? Tired? Groggy? Perhaps had a hard time focusing? That is likely because your blood sugar (or the amount of available energy in your bloodstream) was dropping, causing these common symptoms. Clearly these are not optimal on the golf course. To assure you keep your blood sugar stable without also spiking it too high, take along snacks with complex carb and protein to munch on as you golf. Some easy snacks that fit neatly in your bag: granola bars such as Kashi or Clif bars, trail mix that has both protein and carbohydrate, or fruit with a small bag of unsalted nuts (though I wouldn't recommend a banana as it may get mushy if accidentally left in your golf bag for too long...). A good rule of thumb is to take a bite or two of your snack every 2-3 holes. Be wary of snacks such as candy, energy drinks or chips. Candy and energy  drinks will often spike your blood sugar, giving you a temporary wake-up only to leave you crashing shortly after. Chips often contain a hefty amount of fat, which can sit heavy on your stomach, causing you to feel sluggish leading to a breakdown in technique and focus.

Golf is a sport of endurance (yes - it is!), so make sure you are providing your body with the fluid and energy it needs to get you through all 18 holes. Sink that putt with good nutrition!

Be extraordinary,


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CAUTION! Important Race Ahead!

It's crazy to realize we're almost through September. You know what that means - fall road races!!! From 5Ks to Marathons, September through mid-December is a popular time to race. It's getting too cold for triathlons and bike races, but it's still too warm for cross country skiing or snowboarding. I've got some friends getting ready for the Chicago Marathon on October 9th and I myself am preparing for the Detroit Marathon on October 16th. If you are closing in on your fall competition, there may be only a few weeks left to perfect your nutrition plan. Just like you train your muscles for exercise, you've got to make sure your stomach is ready as well. Just drinking a flavor of sports drink provided on the course that you normally wouldn't could throw off your entire race. Take these steps now to make sure you are ready......

1. Check how often there are aide stations on the race course. Is it every mile? Every 1.5 miles? Generally the longer the race the more aide stations, but you want to check that. I once ran a 10K that had NO water stations (it was pretty painful)! Figure out which stations you will need to stop at based on your planned mile pace. Remember: You should be drinking at least every 20 minutes.

2. Check what will be provided at aide stations. Just water? Water and sports drink? What type of sports drink and what flavor? Gu's or gels? How about real food like pretzels? If you want to use it during the race, you need to start training with it NOW. You don't know how your stomach will react to the nutrition provided if you don't try it ahead of time.

3. Once you complete numbers one and two, create (and by that I mean write out) your race nutrition plan and use it as soon as your next run. The best time to try your plan is on your next training run that is most similar to your race. For example, a 20-mile training run would be a great time to try a marathon race nutrition plan.

4. Don't forget about race morning. What will you eat for breakfast and at what time? Again - try it ahead of time to make sure it actually works for you....meaning you tolerate and it keeps you energized until you get to the starting line.

5. If you're planning to carb load the week of the race (defined as a calculated increase in carbohoydrate intake in the 2-3 days prior to the race - accompanied by a decrease in training), then you also need to try this ahead of time. Not everyone responds favorably to carb loading - especially if not done properly. Try it during an earlier week first to make sure you're ready. And remember that this type of carb loading is really only beneficial if your race is longer than 90 minutes. Not sure how to carb load? I think it's time to see a sports dietitian!

There are of course many other things you need to do in the days prior to the race, but completing steps 1-5 now will assure you arrive at race week confident, focused, and ready to implement your plan.

Be Extraordinary,


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are muscle cramps cramping your performance?

It was big news last week when pro tennis player Rafeal Nadal "collapsed" during a press conference while having severe muscle cramping in his legs. During an interview afterward, he quickly laughed and brushed off the reporter saying, “[It's] nothing new – It’s nothing important...I just drink - that's all. ” While Nadal was very nonchalant, muscle cramps are no laughing matter and can severely hinder your performance.

What are muscle cramps?
The reasons behind why muscles cramp are often unclear. It’s difficult to distinguish a single culprit, but an imbalance of electrolytes in the muscle may predispose the muscle to cramping. Electrolytes are present to help muscles contract and relax appropriately during exercise. You have probably heard the term “electrolytes” in sports drink or recovery drink commercials. This is because during exercise the body can lose a substantial amount of electrolytes in sweat. If they are not replaced appropriately, it creates an imbalance within the muscle, locking the muscle in a painful spasm.

Why would someone have problems with cramping?
If due to a nutritional imbalance, a few habits can lead to muscle cramping. The most common is an infatuation with drinking only water during exercise. While this is fine during moderate or even semi-intense short-term (lasting <60 minutes) exercise, those doing prolonged vigorous exercise – such as someone like Nadal playing for multiple hours at a high competition level – need more than just water because they are losing more than just water. As I mentioned above, there can be a substantial amount of electrolytes lost with water during sweating. So, those who are particularly heavy sweaters or those exercising for long periods of time need to cognizant of this fact. Other habits that can increase the likelihood of developing muscle cramping is exercising in hot and/or humid environments when the athlete is not acclimated or simply not drinking enough of anything during exercise – water or not.

How does one prevent muscle cramping?
So the obvious way to prevent cramping? Plan ahead and don’t drink just water during or after heavy exercise. This will assure that you are replacing your body’s losses. During exercise, use a sports drink or perhaps diluted 100% fruit juice with added salt. Particularly heavy sweaters may need something with extra electrolytes such as Gatorade Endurance, or may choose to add a separate electrolyte supplement to their regular sports drink, such as Nuun tabs. Read my blog here for more information.
After exercise, you may need to continue that sports drink or instead use a recovery drink such as low-fat chocolate milk. Assure you are also getting enough potassium in your daily diet from foods such as pinto and kidney beans, tomatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, and milk. Some athletes may need to use the salt shaker liberally at meals or eat salty foods such as pretzels, pickles, or canned foods to maintain sodium levels.  But remember, these types of recommendations are very individual and don’t apply to every athlete every day of the training year.

If you are having problems with muscle cramping during or in the hours after exercise, it’s important to re-evalute your hydration plan before, during, and after exercise. What happened to Nadal may be COMMON in high-level tennis, but it is not smart and it IS preventable.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Don't let work saboutage your health goals!

For many athletes, finding time to stay on top of everything in their life is difficult. Getting in good training, good sleep, and good nutrition sometimes takes a backseat to having a good marriage, good friendships, or success at work. ABC News Health posted a great article last week about staying healthy at work. Whether your "work" is a job or going to school, here 7 ways work can actually help contribute to your health goals....

1. Take a Walk
At mid-morning, lunchtime, or mid-afternoon, get up from your desk and go for a walk either in a close-by park, along a quiet street or simply around your place of work or study. A recent study found that memory span improves by 20% after a 50-minute nature walk. Maybe we can't all afford 50 minutes outside, but certainly 10 minutes is possible...and leave your phone behind!

2. Surf the Web
Researchers discovered that surfing the web rejuvenated employees and boosted productivity. Another study showed that students who were allowed to surf the Internet during "10 minutes of leisure" were more productive and effective at tasks. It's important to relieve your mind as well as your body!

3. Make Your Desk a Mini Gym
The article gives great ideas for how to use your chair, the edge of your desk or the floor to do dips, squats, and push-ups. Or why not just bring dumbbells to work!?

4. Keep Moving
We hear it all the time - take the stairs! But this is really true! Take a break every hour or two; get up and move around. Sitting for long periods of time is often the reason for lower back pain and other issues because supporting muscles get weak. Set an alarm to remind yourself to get up and move. Read the article for more ways to keep moving, such as walking meetings.

5. Check Your Posture
It is especially important for athletes to have good posture to help avoid injury and muscle imbalances. Check the article for the steps to take to check and adjust your posture while sitting at your desk.

6. Plan Ahead
The key to good nutrition! Work places and libraries are full of vending machines, fast-food type convenience stores, and other nasty temptations. Pack and bring your snacks and meals to avoid turning to that late-afternoon vending machine candy bar. Have an office refrigerator? Use it! And don't forget to drink your water...

7. Be Aware of Good Hygiene and Food Safety
The American Dietetic Association just published results from a survey that found that 62% of Americans eat lunch at their desk, 50% snack at their desk, and 27% eat lunch at their desk. That can lead to issues with food safety, so make sure if you eat your desk that you are keeping it clean.

Be extraordinary,


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sports Dietitians Fueling Top Football Programs

An amazing article was released yesterday highlighting some of the sports dietitians across the country that guide their college football teams to success through carefully planned nutrition recommendations. Because I wanted to share this with you, I have decided to forego my planned blog and instead refer you to the link for the short but awesome article. Since college football season starts tonight for many universities, it also seemed rather fitting!

Read to learn what sports dietitians at Nebraska and Alabama do on a daily basis to assure their football players are ready for the game and why what they do is so important:

Be Extraordinary,