Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Packing Gold-Medal Nutrition for the Olympics

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics is fast-approaching. Most athletes arrive on-site weeks early in order to acclimate to the time change as well as any major differences in weather (including temperature, altitude, and humidity). Before American athletes even set foot in the host country, many - with the help of Olympic Sports Dietitians - have spent weeks not just training, but also planning what food they will take along. Olympic athletes are used to traveling for competition, but travel overseas means new challenges such as lack of familiar food and potential food safety issues. Often entire pieces of luggage are sent over with the athletes - solely filled with food. Teams bring their own chefs and dietitians to the games to make sure this good nutrition continues while there. While there is no lack of food inside Olympic Village, there is often a lack of familiar and performance-enhancing choices. The Olympics are not a time to try new things! In lieu of going out to eat, food needs to be quick, easy, and something that can be cooked inside of a hotel room in a sanitary way. Combine this with the fact that many Olympians are on a pretty tight budget (most don't have sponsors and are paying their own way) and you have some definite challenges!

Here are a few foods that the Olympians take on their travels. You might incorporate these into your own travel nutrition competition plan as well!

Cooking Equipment
Travel Water Heater
Hot Pot
Power Adaptor
Heat-resistant spatula
Can opener
Plastic or real utensils, plates, bowls

Ingredients for Meals
Tuna packets or cans
Pre-cooked chicken 
Canned chicken or salmon
Canned veggies
Canned/packed fruit
Canned beans
Jelly, jam, honey
Peanut Butter
Bread, bagels, tortillas
Dry ready-to-eat cereals
Minute rice, couscous
Instant noodles
Shelf-stable entrees (i.e. Healthy Choice)
Spices: salt, pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary
Dehydrated powdered or condensed milk
Shelf-stable boxes of milk (individual-sized if no frig in the room)
100% Fruit Juice Box
Powdered sports drink
Powdered liquid meal supplements

Ingredients for Snacks
Dried Fruit
Nuts & seeds
Bars - variety of kinds

Be Extraordinary & Go Team USA!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is Going Coconuts a Good Thing?

Please enjoy another guest post from my summer intern, Maggie!

Be Extraordinary,


You are jogging in the sand as a salty breeze blows through your hair and turquoise waves dance at your feet. As you look up at the morning sun you see a palm tree decorated with coconuts in the distance making you wonder exactly how good for you they might be. Ah yes, the newest player in the health food arena with a high saturated fat content and an intoxicating aroma. Unfortunately, most of us did not have a revelation about the mighty coconut somewhere along the Pacific Ocean, where islanders cherish it as a diet staple and an essential part of their culture. Chances are you have seen it pop up in your local grocery store or have been bombarded with conflicting claims that it can have miraculous properties and even boost weight loss - among other health-enhancing attributes. Yes, it may have always been in our soaps, creams and lotions but does it belong in the kitchen too? Many athletes have used coconut water to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes but does the oil make the mark as a sports food supplement?

Well as it turns out, the truth is in the details. This plant-based saturated fat has a unique make-up of mostly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these triglycerides do not elevate undesirable LDL cholesterol, like long-chain triglycerides found in meat and butter. However there is no evidence to suggest that they increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind, the body needs). MCTs are metabolized in a way that prevents them from depositing into fat tissue. Instead, they are quickly oxidized by the liver, which allows for immediate fuel, something endurance athletes should keep in mind when it comes to obtaining high-energy foods before a workout. Cook with or add coconut oil to foods consumed 60-90 minutes before intense activity for a one-two punch of flavor and readily available energy for the body. Coconut oil’s MCTs may also benefit athletes who find they suffer from gastro-intestinal discomfort following a pre-workout meal because they are easy for the body to digest. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at the effects MCTs on endurance cyclists. The data suggests that when cyclists consumed a glucose-labeled beverage containing medium-chain triglycerides, how quickly they used muscle glycogen decreased, which led to increased endurance and improved performance.

Because carbohydrates are the cornerstone to any good athletic diet, where is there room for fat? The bottom line is that all fats are not created equal. The goal is to incorporate the “healthy fats” in moderation (monounsatured and polyunsaturated fat from olive, canola oils and nuts) and limit the “unhealthy fats” (saturated and trans found in meat, vegetable oils and butter). If you are looking to limit how much butter you eat, it can be beneficial to substitute coconut oil for butter in baked goods where olive oil wouldn’t complement the flavors correctly. A 1 tablespoon serving of coconut oil has approximately 120 calories (the same as olive oil).  Instead of adding coconut oil to your dietary regimen, it is sensible to replace other dietary fat with coconut oil if you are trying to obtain a certain flavor in your food. Whether using coconut, olive or any other type of oil, keep in mind that total fat intake should be 20-30% of total calories daily (note: only 7% of which are saturated).

But does the special make-up of coconut oil boost weight loss too? A study conducted in Brazil assessed whether coconut oil helped people lose weight when they used two tablespoons in their everyday diet, along with exercising and cutting out an excess 200 calories. After three months, both this group and another group using soybean oil in their daily diet lost the same amount of weight. Research on whether or not there is a connection between coconut oil and weight loss is still in the early stages, therefore the claim that it can have “miraculous” effects on weight loss is unfounded. Because of the proven benefits of coconut oil reviewed above, further research is warranted to discover if the oil's unique make-up might affect overall metabolism. However, before you switch to coconut oil hoping that the pounds will come off, keep in mind that flavor may be the only detectable change you experience.

What we know at this point is that coconut oil does not appear to negatively affect health because the saturated fat found in it is metabolized differently than the saturated fat found in animal sources. More studies need to be done to obtain a complete profile of the pros and cons of coconut oil for both athletes and non-athletes alike. For now it is safe to say it still has calories, but can be sensible to use.  If you’re looking to add some nutty flavor to your food, be sure to opt for virgin coconut oil. It has the most flavor, is trans-fat free, and made from fresh coconut milk, which preserves its vital nutrients. Here are some simple recipes, found here, that incorporate coconut oil:

Salad dressing: Sprinkle 1 tablespoon coconut oil mixed with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar over salads.

White Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup virgin coconut oil, or 2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, optional
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add butter or coconut oil to stand mixer. Add white and brown sugar. Mix until well combined, light and fluffy if your using butter. Add egg, one at a time. Mix until well-incorporated. Add vanilla.
2. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt. Add to stand mixer and mix until just combined.
3. Add chocolate chips, and coconut if using. Mix until just combined. Drop by the tablespoon on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool on rack.

Veggie Scramble:
1 tablespoon Virgin Coconut Oil
2 tablespoons zucchini, finely chopped
1 tablespoon onion, minced
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1-2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk, cream, or plain almond milk
Himalayan salt
Black pepper

1. In a small pan, melt the coconut oil. Add the zucchini and onions and saute until tender.
2. Next, add the cherry tomatoes, stir and saute for 2 minutes.
3. While the vegetables are sauteing, beat the eggs with milk in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Pour eggs into the pan and scramble lightly.

Hobson, Katherine, and Angela Haupt. "Do Coconut Oil and Coconut Water Provide Health Benefits?"
U.S.News & World Report 2012: 1. ABI/INFORM Complete; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 17 July 2012 .

Schardt, D. Special Feature: Coconut Oil. Nutrition Action Health Letter. June 2012.

Stice, Jeanine. "Coconut Oil Fills in for Butter when Olive Oil can't." Statesman Journal: D.1. Gannett  
Newsstand. Feb 14 2012. Web. 17 July 2012 .

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

5 Ways to Mindlessly Eat...Healthier

Many of my athletes are trying to lose weight - whether it is for overall health improvement or sport performance, such as wrestling, MMA, cycling, etc. Some have struggled with following the countless fad diets, encouraging severe caloric restriction. While this works in the short-term, these diets are not sustainable (not to mention even close to enjoyable), typically resulting in weight gain beyond what was lost.

So what is a solution? I like to call it "mindlessly eating in your favor". Many of you may have heard of mindless eating as a negative thing. This is when we are talking about situations such as mindlessly eating an entire bag of chips and salsa in front of the TV as you watch the Tour de France in the evening after work (okay or maybe the evening news of MLB...whatever strikes your fancy). Or perhaps it's snacking constantly throughout the day at work. This type of eating is often not based on hunger, but merely boredom or the need to have something to do with your hands.

How does one "mindlessly eat in his/her favor"? The idea is cutting out 100-200 Calories here and there in ways that you are not likely to notice. This results in successful and sustainable weight loss over time. Here are 5 (of many) ways to do this....all based on research that proves that each does in fact work....

1. See it before you eat it.
Studies shows that when people pre-plate their food, they eat about 14% less than when they first take a smaller amount and then go back for seconds or thirds. Therefore, put everything you intend to eat on a plate before you actually start eating (this goes for all snacks and meals). That means you should avoid eating out of a package or box. Put what you want on a plate, put the package/box away, and exit the kitchen.

2. Replace the "jumbo" size with minis
The bigger the package you pour from, the more you will eat (studies show as much as 20-30% more!). Because buying that jumbo-sized box of cereal or spaghetti may sometimes save you money, just re-package the jumbo size into smaller Ziplock bags or Tupperware containers. Serve spaghetti in smaller dishes. The smaller the box, the less you make and the less you eat. The smaller the serving dish, the less you take, and the less you eat. With foods such as veggie & fruit salads, use this in the opposite way - serve these in large serving dishes to encourage mindlessly taking and eating more. One intriguing study asked people to watch a videotape while eating M&Ms. Those who were given a half-pound bag of M&Ms ate an average of 71 candies, while those given a one-pound bag ate an average of 137 - almost twice as many!

3. Make eating tempting foods in-convenient.
Find it hard to control your portion when faced with cookies, ice cream, jelly beans, or a multitude of other potential sweets and treats? Don't buy them! Or if you do, place these tempting foods in a remote corner of the basement or a hard-to-reach cupboard (think high or out-of-reach without a step-stool). Reseal packages and/or wrap those tempting leftovers in aluminum foil and put them in the back of the refrigerator or freezer. Oftentimes, having to put in the extra work to get to those leftovers gives you enough time to ponder whether you really want them or if eating them is just something to do. Plus, think of it as "out of sight, out of mind". If you constantly see that tempting food, that means you are constantly having a internal mind struggle with whether or not you should eat it. This typically results in your eating more when/if you do give in to that desire.

4. Re-write your comfort foods.
When asked to list comfort foods, many of you might say macaroni and cheese, cookies, ice cream, cake, chips, etc. Comfort foods often gain that status because we associate them with positive events. Contrary to popular belief, these associations are not hard-wired during childhood; it is never too late to form new associations to food. Start pairing healthier foods with positive events. Typically have cake and ice cream at birthday parties or other celebrations? Try to instead have ice cream with fresh fruit on top. Do this enough and you will have a new association - a new comfort food.

5. Develop healthy food policies.
One of the reasons fad or detox diets tend to work so well is because they create a situation in which individuals no longer have choice - only rules. One example for a low-carb diet might be, "Eat meat and vegetables, but nothing else." There is no need for decision-making - it's a rule with no exceptions. While this particular example rule is certainly not healthy long-term, food policies when healthfully created can be a great way to forward you toward your overall goals. Here are a few ideas:
-Always eat breakfast.
-Never eat at my desk.
-Only eat snacks that don't come in wrappers.
-Only drink 1 sugary beverages per day.
Create or pick food policies that work for your current struggles and goals. Remember - these should not be huge sacrifices, but small habits that are altered over time.

Be Extraordinary,


Source: Wansink, Brian. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How I Had Success Using My Mental Game

It was when I started working down at IMG Training Academy in the summer of 2009 that I was first introduced to the area of sports psychology, or mental conditioning. As a runner for many years, it was an area I had never heard of, but that made complete sense. [Ever heard the term, "Running is 90% mental"?] According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), sports psychologists help enhance sport performance in a number of ways, such as by: reducing performance anxiety, improving concentration, building self-confidence, and increasing and maintaining motivation. During my time at IMGA, I was able to sit in on a few of the mental conditioning sessions and experienced firsthand the critical role these professionals play for the development of the total athlete.

I was reminded of my interactions with these sports psychologists after competing in The Downer's Grove 5-mile road race last week. There is no logical reason why I should have done as well as I did, and I attribute much of the success to mental conditioning.

Coming into the race, I had been battling shin splints for about 5 weeks. At 25 weeks pregnant, I had already decreased my pace significantly, but knew that it was the extra belly weight that was wreaking havoc on my legs. Prior to the race, my training runs (if you can call them that) had consisted of 5-10 minutes of a warm-up at which time I was forced to walk due to the severe pain. The remainder of my workout was a run-walk combination of about 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking. As you can imagine, I went into race day fully expecting to have to walk, but actually determined to run. From a fitness standpoint, even though I had not run more than 2 miles over the previous 5 weeks, I was confident I could in fact run the 5 miles, as I had still been training in the pool, on the bike, and on the arc trainer at the gym.

My warm-up before the race provided little reassurance. Same story: ran for 5 minutes, severe pain, walked back to the race start area. While stretching, I began thinking about the race. Instead of thinking "I can't do this - why am I even trying?", I thought, "I know I can do this; I will do this - I just have to stay confident". I lined up for the race with the same positive mindset.

As I began the race, I told myself to relax and pick a steady pace. What happened during the race still baffles me. Was I in pain? Absolutely. However, it was controlled enough that I could keep running. I repeated one phrase the entire race: Feelin' good. Yup - the ENTIRE 5 miles. Any time I felt myself starting to think otherwise, I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and went back to "Feelin' good". I can't tell you who was running in front of or next to me. I don't know who was cheering on the sidelines. It was as if I had tunnel vision the entire race, but all I could see was the finish line. I had steady, but bearable leg pain the first four miles of the rolling course. I didn't dare walk for fear that I wouldn't start running again. At the beginning of mile 5, my shin/calf pain cleared up completely. While the cardiovascular exhaustion began to kick in at that point, I was so overjoyed with the relief of the calf pain that I didn't care. I finished strong, but very ready to see that line.

Did I have a great pre-race nutrition and stretching program? Absolutely. Did the weather cooperate? Yup. Had I been training otherwise to be ready to run 5 miles? Sure. I don't discount any of those factors because clearly they are all important. However, I can say with 100% certainty that it was really the mental stamina that got me through this particular race.

Interested in working with a sports psychologist? Read more here.

Be Extraordinary,