Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Holiday Cooking: Secret Healthy Fixes to Kick it Up a Notch!

Does holiday eating always have to ruin your health and waistline? Absolutely not! If you are the cook, there are plenty of ways to plan your meal to be not just healthy, but tasty too. Here are a few tricks of the trade to sneak in better nutrition when no one is looking. (I won't tell!)

Substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream
To cut down on the saturated fat, substitute sour cream in any recipe for plain, nonfat Greek yogurt. This will also add protein. Note that if the dish should be especially creamy, this may not be a good swap - or you might instead try a low-fat Greek yogurt.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

4 Keys to Keeping Your Health and Performance on Track this Holiday Season

In my last post, I provided 4 fantastic tips to prepare yourself for the holiday season. If you missed it, check it out here. This time, lets talk about how to keep yourself going as the holiday season continues on. While preparing is very important, there are things you can be doing to keep yourself on track as the weeks continue on and temptations surround - treats that beckon or a cozy couch that suggests you not work out today. When you feel the pull of the holiday coming on strong, try these key tactics:

1. Conduct a "treat clean-up" every few days
I find that somehow more and more treats appear in my kitchen as the season continues. Whether it is leftovers from a family party, a well-meaning neighbor sharing joy through food or my own purchases/creations, it seems that I am surrounded by treats! To better control how much is at arm's reach, I do a treat assessment every few days or so. Look around your kitchen and in your fridge to check what is available to you/your family. If I think it's getting a little of hand, I'll do one of the following: throw the food out (very rare, actually), freeze what can be frozen (very common) or give to my husband to take to his coworkers (also pretty common). I like to put treats in our deep freeze in the basement, so it requires even more effort for me to get at it. This isn't done in an effort to restrict or take away all treats, (because I obviously know where they are) but simply to keep aware of how much is easily available. You simply want more healthy options than treats at easy reach in the kitchen when snack time rolls around (for you and your loved ones). So, just keep tabs on this, and I promise it will make choosing healthy so much easier.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to prepare yourself for the season of eating

The approach of the holidays can be quite stressful. This stress may come from the need to decorate, shop or see certain family members. However, if this stress comes from being surrounded by holiday FOOD, take heart and use these tips to mentally prepare yourself for the next 7 weeks of holiday eating.

1. Remember that food is just food
Food has no power to make you happy, sad or any other emotion. Food is just food. Food can only nourish our bodies. Remembering this may help you at those times of high stress when you are looking for something to relieve your emotions. Those emotions, and the reason for them, will still exist after eating. So, use eating for what is meant to be used; don't let your emotions trick you into using it for anything else.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

10 ways to *easily* reduce added sugars this season!

Happy Halloween! As all the kiddos prepare to gather their candy stash for the next few months (or at least until Christmas?), it is a good time to remember that the USDA recommends that we only eat about 32gm or 4 teaspoons of added sugar daily. To reach that goal without giving up ALL of the fun Halloween candy, sometimes a few swaps or substitutes on a daily basis can do the trick. Here are few ideas to reduce the added sugar in your diet! (Note: this is an updated version of a posted I created 2 years ago, but it still rings true today!)

1. Cut out regular sodas or reduce your total amount. Currently drink 16 oz daily? Try dropping to 12 oz and keep going from there. Soda is pure added sugar.

2. Choose canned fruit in it's own juice or light syrup (not heavy!). Also, don't drink the syrup.

Friday, October 7, 2016

What you should do the week before your marathon

I love the fall for so many reasons, and one of them is that marathons are in full swing. So many of my athletes have been training all year for this "A Race," so it is exciting to see what they accomplish. One question I often get from my marathoners is how they should be changing eating the week of the marathon. Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the 7-day countdown:

1. Know the course
I really hope you didn't wait until 7 days out to check the course, but I suppose now is better than race morning. Check the course online so you know where the aid stations are and what they will be handing out at each station. At which mile is the energy gel? Are the products being handed out ones that you have trained with and know you tolerate? If not, you need to come up with a plan B. You shouldn't be using ANY new products on race day. Know the course - and know it as soon as possible.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Portable, Shelf-Stable Snacks for School or Work

It's back to school time! The summer flew by, and suddenly here we are in September! One of the biggest challenges athletes have during the school year is continuing solid performance fueling during school hours. Challenges of no snacks in class, no nuts in snacks and other roadblocks can threaten to derail efforts to consistently fuel muscles during the day. However, with the right snacks and a little discreteness, there is no need to arrive at afternoon practice starving. These snacks are also great for work, in the car or walking across campus!

Before reading through the list of snack options,  remember the cardinals of building a solid snack: a source of carbohydrate (fruit, grains, dairy) plus a source of protein (nuts, seeds, protein or animal meat). While some of those foods like deli meat or yogurt won't appear on this list because they are not shelf stable, it is good to remember that they can be a part of a great snack when available.

Beautiful Performance-Enhancing, Shelf-Stable Snacks

Peanut butter & jam/honey sandwich
Sunbutter or soy nut butter & jam/honey sandwich*
Trail mix of dried fruit, nuts and your favorite whole grain cereal 
Trail mix of dried fruit, seeds and your favorite whole grain cereal*
Granola bars: my favorite are Clif bars, Picky Bars, Kind Bars and Luna Bars
Energy bites: there are many recipes available online, but look for great ones to include a nut butter or seed butter, whole grain oats, chia seeds or flaxseeds, honey and even chocolate chips!*
Piece of fruit with nuts or seeds*
Piece of fruit with lean turkey or beef jerky
Whole grain crackers, bagel or English muffin topped with peanut butter, sunflower seed or soy nut butter*
Dry cereal that is high in protein, such as Kashi cereals*
Whole grain cracker topped with tuna (buy in packets)*
A piece of fruit or dried fruit with a container of shelf-stable low-fat chocolate milk (like that pictured above*


This is certainly not an all-inclusive list, so get creative and find what works for you, your family or your athlete. If you have the challenge of no snacks in class, eat in passing period, choosing foods that are quick and easy to eat, such as trail mix (only about 1/2 cup is needed), energy bites or a granola bar.

Your Nutrition Coach,


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Easy, quick lunches for young athletes cooking on their own

In an ideal world, every young athlete would have a parent waiting at home after a morning practice or before a late practice, prepping and serving a nutrient-dense lunch that will help them perform their best. The reality is that, in the summer, many athletes are on their own when it comes to finding a lunch - either because parents work or are driving around other siblings. The good news is that great lunch options can be created in a short time with little cooking expertise. As long as the ingredients are there, the feat is easy.

Sit down with your young athlete and review the list below. Pick at least 3 options each week that your athlete is willing and able to make on their own. Use this to create your shopping list. Doing this assures you can be away from home with less stress, knowing your athlete is fueling well in your absence.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Your sweat rate: How to check it and why it matters

When I work with any athlete, one of the first questions I ask is, "what is your sweat rate?". Ninety-five percent of the time, I get a blank stare. When creating a performance nutrition plan, knowing your sweat rate is critical to make sure fluid replacement during exercise is adequate (but not too high). Here is why:

The importance of water
Water plays major roles in the body at any given time, but especially during exercise. During exercise, water inside your body cools your core and muscles, keeping you from overheating too quickly. This helps your perform stronger and longer. In addition, water transports nutrients to your muscle for use in exercise metabolism and then "cleans up" by transporting metabolites away from your muscle to be filtered and excreted. Water plays a key role in preventing dehydration, which also keeps the athlete mentally "on" throughout the workout. Finally, water acts as a cushion to your organs to protect them in case of impact during sports.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

5 recipes every athlete should try this summer

As the weather warms, some athletes begin competitive season, while others hit off-season training. Either way, warmer weather calls for a solid nutrition base to help the body stay hydrated and fueled. Here are five lighter recipes that will keep you cool (and well-fueled) this summer.

Avocado Smoothie
Instead of the usual fruit, try a new smoothie using avocado instead! A refreshing drink bursting with omega-3 fatty acids to help those training muscles recover. If you do not drink cow's milk, replace with soy milk to make sure you still get a source of protein.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is Beetroot Juice the Answer to Your Performance Woes?

In the sports world, many supplements come and go - some are food-based and others...not so much. A recent food-based player is beetroot juice or beetroot powder. Companies such as Beet Elite and Beet Boost sell powdered beetroot that can be mixed into water and taken like a shot 30-60 minutes before exercise. But what is beetroot juice, why all the hype and does it really improve performance?

Nitric Oxide
Beetroot juice or powder is a source of nitrate, which is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide regulates blood flow and muscle contraction within the body. Higher levels of nitric oxide equals more oxygen to flow to the muscles. This can be beneficial for athletes because better blood flow means better oxygen supply to working muscles, allowing the athlete to push harder for longer instead of hitting the wall too soon. However, beets are not the only food source of nitrates. Other vegetables considered high in nitrates (over 250 mg/100gm fresh weight) include celery, arugula, rhubarb, butterhead lettuce and spinach.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Runner’s Cramps: Why You Get Them and How You Can Prevent Them

runner's cramps: how to prevent them
Thanks to Jessica Bratko from Athletico for the interview and writing of today's blog post!

Most runners have experienced it: your run is going smoothly and you’re feeling great, then all of a sudden you succumb to the dreaded side stitch, calf cramp or that feeling of “having to go.” Muscle and stomach issues can stop a runner dead in their tracks. With varying spring temperatures, muscle cramps are more common, as there is little opportunity to adjust to the change in weather.

Even with all advances in modern science, the true cause of exercise-induced cramps is still widely misunderstood. Kate Davis, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, consultant sports dietitian/nutritionist and owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition in Naperville, Illinois provides great insight regarding why cramps may occur while running. Kate has had numerous experiences working with institutions like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as well as the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO and IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. Check out what she had to say below to learn how to minimize, prevent, and act quickly when cramps occur.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to plan and grow a performance-enhancing garden

In the Midwest, it is almost outdoor vegetable garden time! Those who start seedlings inside have already begun the process; outside planting generally begins around Memorial Day Weekend. While you wait, now is a great time to plan your garden. Here are some tips to help you plant a successful and performance-enhancing garden.

1. Determine your garden location
Here is a great resource for choosing a smart site for your garden. In short, choose a spot with plenty of sunshine and with access to a water source. Don't plant next to a large tree or shrub, as the plant will not only create shade but also take nutrients from the soil. Once you have determined your spot, the soil quality makes a huge difference. However, to best know what to add to the soil to make it great for planting, do a soil test. Soil testing is the best way to know where your soil falls short in nutrient content. It also will make the actual gardening part easier since you have already perfected the soil.

2. Find your planting zone calendar
To know when each vegetable can be planted or transplanted, find a planting zone calendar for your location. A quick internet search for "garden planting zone" will bring up many links that allow you to enter your zip code to find your zone number. Once you have your zone number, you can find a planting zone calendar like this one

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Does coconut oil improve athletic performance?

As coconut oil has gained in popularity, articles written on the possible health benefits of this oil have skyrocketed. Coconut oil has been labeled as everything from a weight loss supplement to a cure for cancer and facial moisturizer. Yet, the numbers of reliable clinical trials to back up these claims are scarce. In this post I am going to focus on a claim targeted towards athletes: “coconut oil improves athletic performance”… doesn’t it?

Coconut oil is primarily made up of saturated fats. There are three categories of saturated fats: short chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids, and long chain fatty acids. The length of chain refers to the number of carbon atoms present, 6 or fewer (short), 8-10 (medium), or 12 or more (long). Coconut oil contains 63% medium chain saturated fatty acids, 30% long chain saturated fatty acids, and 7% long chain unsaturated fatty acids. Primarily made up of saturated fats, this composition sets coconut oil apart from other oils, especially in the oil’s medium chain triglyceride (MCT) content. Many researchers believe the MCT content is what gives coconut oil health-boosting properties.

The abbreviation, MCT, may sound familiar. Like coconut oil, MCT oil has emerged as a dietary supplement. While MCTs are naturally present in coconut oil, palm oil, human breast milk, and full fat cows or goats milk, pure MCT oil is hydrolyzed from palm and coconut oil.

Medium chain triglycerides are more readily absorbed in the intestines compared to long chain triglycerides. For this reason, MCT supplementation is commonly prescribed to cystic fibrosis or epilepsy patients, and those with conditions that affect nutrient absorption in the intestines.

Some scientists claim that replacing long chain triglycerides with MCTs in one’s diet can aid in weight loss through fat oxidation and improved thermogenesis. Compared to LCTs, a meta-analyses published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found a diet including MCTs over an average of ten weeks reduced total body fat, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat as well as waist and hip circumferences. However, no significant difference in blood lipids was found between diets containing LCTs or MCTs. While a diet high in MCTs may actually help with fat loss, MCTs are just as high in calories as other fats. Therefore, if not consumed in moderation, MCTs can cause weight gain. 

With easier absorption plus increased fat oxidation and thermogenesis, can MCT oil improve athlete performance? Many internet articles claim MCT oil to be beneficial to endurance athletes. Websites such as want to convince you that MCT oil supplementation is a must for athletic performance; however, four published clinical trials say otherwise.

The first study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism measured the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) and maximum aerobic capacity (VO2) in eight ultra-endurance cyclists. The cyclists performed at timed intervals on two separate occasions. During the first set of timed intervals, the cyclists were given either 75g of carbohydrate or 32g of pure MCT oil, followed by 200mL of a 20% carbohydrate solution or a 4.3% MCT + 10% carbohydrate solution every 20 minutes during the intervals. Results found no difference in RER or V02 between the MCT and carbohydrate trials. GI symptoms occurred in 50% of the MCT trials.

The second study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included seven cyclists that performed four separate exercise trials while consuming either a 10% carbohydrate solution, 10% carbohydrate-electrolyte + 5% MCT solution, a 5% MCT solution, or a placebo. Results found no differences in performance between the carbohydrate, carbohydrate + MCT, and placebo solutions. However, the MCT solution had a negative effect on performance with a 17-18% lower rate than the other solutions. Plus, the carbohydrate + MCT and MCT-only solutions did not raise the rates of fat or carbohydrate oxidation or utilization. GI symptoms occurred in association with MCT solutions.

The third study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness assessed trained runners that performed a maximal and endurance treadmill test after consuming a dietary supplement containing either 56g of corn (LCT) oil or 60g of MCT oil for two weeks. After the tests, the runner’s blood was taken to measure blood concentrations of lactate, glucose, beta-HBA, free fatty acids, glycerol, and triacylglycerols. Respiratory exchange rate (RER) was measured during exercise and performance was measured by length of run before exhaustion.  Results found no difference in blood concentrations between the LCT and MCT trials. No significant difference in RER or performance was found between the two trials.

The fourth study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition measured blood concentrations of free fatty acids and beta-HBA, and exercise performance in 9 cyclists consuming either a 10% carbohydrate solution, 10% carbohydrate + 1.72% MCT, or 10% carbohydrate + 3.44% MCT solution. Cyclists consumed 400ml at the start of exercise and an additional 100ml every 10 minutes. Results found the consumption of MCT solutions raised blood concentrations of free fatty acids and beta-HBA. There was no difference in performance between the carbohydrate and carbohydrate + MCT groups. No gastrointestinal symptoms were reported.

The bottom line: coconut oil is a 90% saturated oil with a high MCT content. MCTs have potential health benefits, and can be hydrolyzed from coconut oil to produce pure MCT oil. Currently, research does not support that coconut oil or pure MCT oil supplementation enhances athletic performance.

This post written by: Ellen Wittneben, RDKate Dietetic Intern

Your Nutrition Coach,


Did the low-fat era make us fat? PBS. 2008. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2016.

St-Onge, M-P, Bosarge, A, Goree, LLT, Darnell, B. Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil Consumption as Part of a Weight Loss Diet Does Not Lead to an Adverse Metabolic Profile When Compared to Olive Oil. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2008;27(5):547–552.

Goedecke, JH, Clark, VR, Noakes, TD, Lambert, EV. The effects of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion on ultra-endurance exercise performance. International journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2005;15(1):15–27. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2016.

Jeukendrup, AE, Thielen, JJ, Wagenmakers, AJ, Brouns, SF, Saris, WH. Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998;67(3):397–404. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2016.

Misell, LM, Lagomarcino, ND, Schuster, V, Kern, M. Chronic medium-chain triacylglycerol consumption and endurance performance in trained runners. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2001;41(2):210–215.

Goedecke, JH, Elmer-English, R, Dennis, SC, Scholss, I, Noakes, TD, Lambert, EV. Effects of medium-chain triaclyglycerol ingested with carbohydrate on metabolism and exercise performance. International Journal of Sports Nutrition. 1999;9(1):35–47.

Mumme, K, Stonehouse, W. Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;115(2):249–263.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sleeping your way to better sports performance

We all know we need more sleep. Whether it is a gentle reminder at our yearly doctor visit or that daily rush of fatigue at 2pm, sleep is something we should all prioritize just a bit more. But in a world of too many things to do and not enough time, I often see athletes push sleep to the back burner, slowly decreasing how many hours they will dedicate to getting that shut eye. However, athletes need to understand that sleep is imperative to not only improve athletic performance, but also help reach body composition goals. Here are three reasons why adequate sleep (an average of 7-9 hours nightly if you are 18 or older - more if you are younger) is so important:

1. Recovery
Sleep is when the body performs the majority of recovery from the day. This could be recovery from the high intensity workout you had that afternoon or recovery from the high pressure meeting you had that morning. Giving your body that recovery time is imperative to help your muscles adapt (which means that training actually improves your performance) and to protect your immune system function (which means you don't get sick as often). This allows you to wake up feeling rested and ready to work out again the next day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Momma Athletes: How to drop the baby weight for good

As a mom of two awesome children, I understand the desire to get rid of the "baby weight" post-birth. I work with many young moms who often don't realize these 4 key things they should be doing to help them achieve this goal.

1. Plan
Do you plan your meals on a weekly basis? If not, pick one night each week that you will sit down and write out at least the dinner plan for each night. Use this to then build your grocery list. Focus on easy prep foods such as crockpot cooking. Meal planning sounds labor intensive, but it doesn't have to be. This simple step to plan will save you time and stress during the week. Less stress means better weight loss response. Planned out meals probably means better food will be eaten overall, which is also good for your waistline.

2. Hydrate
Nursing moms especially get dehydrated fast. However, any mom knows that in the craziness of responding to a newborn, running after a toddler or driving around young children, water often isn't on the mind. To change this, carry around a water bottle at all times. Your efforts to stay better hydrated not only will help the body flush out toxins, but also contribute to muscle building and fat loss.

3. Keep it real
Just because you have children doesn't mean you have a license to bring in child-marketed food into the house (think fruit snacks, animal crackers, juice boxes, etc.). You don't need that food and neither do your kids. Teach your kids that snacks consist of real food like vegetables and fruits. This helps start good habits in them and keeps the junk food out of your reach as well.

4. Be forgiving
Keep in mind that it took 9 months for the weight to go on - it isn't going to all fall off in 3 months. Try to keep your focus off the scale and just enjoy the beautiful blessing you have been given. This is especially important if you are a nursing mom, as extreme dieting can cause your milk production to dry up. Be forgiving with yourself and take it slowly to assure that you are dropping the weight for good. Expect around 1 pound of weight loss per week to truly drop body fat. Weight loss much more than 2 pounds per week often means you are losing either water or muscle.

Your Nutrition Coach,


Picture source:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Which supplements should I take for concussion protection or treatment?

Concussions are hot news, and athletes are looking to do whatever they can to not only protect themselves from concussion but also treat a concussion that may have already happened. One area of growing interest is supplementation for concussions. But what does the research up to now show to actually be effective? Lets find out by briefly exploring 5 potential supplements for those at risk of or post-concussion.

1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Numerous animal studies have shown supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids to not only protect the brain before a concussion happens, but also heal after a concussion occurs. However, as of now, no human studies have been completed to show the same. Except for one case study, there is nothing in the research to indicate that supplementation in HUMANS is effective. The good news is that there are currently two double-blinded randomized control trials in place to evaluate DHA supplementation and concussions in humans (one at East Carolina University and one at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center). So, stay tuned...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

6 Tips to most effectively use leftovers and decrease food waste

According the United Nations Environment Program, around 30-40% of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month! Worldwide, about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten (see more stats here). Those facts blow my mind! Especially when it is so easy to use the food that you buy, minimizing the amount that is wasted. Here are some steps you can take to decrease your food waste on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

1. Meal plan
It sounds basic, but simply planning to use what you plan to buy is one of the most effective ways to cut down on food waste. This will assure that fresh food is used quickly and completely. Pick one day of the week as your "meal planning day" (mine is Monday night) - preferably close to your shopping day (mine is Tuesday morning). When planning, be sure to assess your current stores in the fridge, freezer and pantry before bringing in more. Finally, consider which meals often create leftover components, such as rice or potatoes. Use those for dinner 1-2 days after the first meal to assure that component get eaten.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Athletes: Why you should start 2016 with a nutrition plan

If you are like many athletes, you are busy planning and preparing your workout and/or competition schedule for 2016. You carefully write your goals and select your competitions. You cycle your training during the year to match that plan. You measure your heart rate, cadence, mile pace and a myriad of other things you don't quite understand. What many athletes are missing is another type of plan - a nutrition plan. Whether it is your plan for day-to-day eating or fueling before or during a competition, missing a plan can have a big impact on whether or not you meet your 2016 goals. Here is why:

1. Planning your daily nutrition assures your body recovers well on a daily basis
Good recovery can ward off illness and injury as well as help your muscle properlys and fully adapt positively to your workouts.