Food, Mood, and the Athlete

You’ve heard the positives (often via commercials) and the negatives (often from foodie purists) on meal replacement “foods”.  These foods are designed to provide, according to the manufacturers, nutrition to fuel performance in easy, convenient packaging for athletes on the go. But our contention has been that something is lost when food goes through the processing it takes to pack all that powdered protein and lab created vitamins into a bar that has a decade long shelf life. Emily Deans just published a great article explaining, in clear terms, why our body NEEDS whole foods.

She, as a practicing psychiatrist with a bent toward how evolution and environment play into mental disorders, has broken down the need for whole foods into two easy to understand ideas (at least as it relates to brain development):

Our brains evolved to work with the raw materials provided by whole, minimally processed foods. Processed foods will interact poorly with the brain in two basic ways:

  1. Unbalanced, micronutrient-poor but calorie rich food leads to overabundant energy without sufficient cellular repair machinery to deal with it, leading to inflammation and damage. It would be like putting purified alcohol in the car in lieu of the gasoline the spark plugs are designed to work with.
  2. Processed foods will introduce novel chemicals, particularly from grains and food dyes that will cause inflammatory reactions in certain people.

As athletes, we know how critical optimal brain function is to high performance.  Concentration, will-power, split-second decision making, and reaction time are critical brain functions.  No matter how much raw fuel and muscle to utilize it the body has, if the brain isn’t functioning optimally, the body won’t be able to either.

So let’s get back to whole foods versus highly processed foods:

When you’re eating whole foods, the macro-nutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins) are being consumed in ratios we have, through our evolution, learned how to utilize.  Most high carb foods contain lots of fiber which slows the absorption of the carb, which eliminates the sharp blood sugar spike followed by dramatic blood sugar crash.

Micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, etc.) are also being consumed in ratios that are balanced to the body’s needs.  Which means you are unlikely to miss a nutrient like fat that helps absorb other nutrients like vitamins.  It is likely that nature has provided the means for us to utilize the nutrients in foods in the combinations they are naturally found.

We can’t say the same thing about a meal replacement bar that has had all the fiber stripped out of the grains.  Along with the fiber, many of the vitamins and minerals have been stripped out, as well.  But it all gets added back in, right?  Well…some of the more well-known micronutrients do — but only the ones we have identified and understand.  And adding back does not create the same outcome because micronutrient proportions are going to be much different that those found in nature.

Let’s face it, with water and air pollution, many of our foods (even whole foods) coming wrapped in plastic, we are not living in the world our bodies evolved in.  We are going to suffer some of the effects of our changing environment because we just can’t help interacting with some of what isn’t ideal for us.  And let’s be honest, sometimes, highly processed foods are the most sensible choice we can make.

But…we need to make sure we are truly balancing our short-term needs for convenience, portability, and athletic demands with the long-term needs of ensuring our body is getting the nutrients it needs in a form that it can make use of.

Knowing the Rules so you can break Them

A while back, I found myself part of a discussion with a few of our coaching and PT staff.  It centered around philosophies of running style and how, in an effort to address pain and/or injury, these professionals approach adjusting client’s running form.  The consensus was:

There is not a single best running form for everyone.

Mechanical nuances makes it impossible for a one-size-fits-all running style.  That being said, our physical make-up (two legs, two arms, one spine in more or less good condition) is similar enough that general principles can guide us as we refine our running skills.

Several problems arise when individuals seek to change their running style.  First, they might adopt the Now Trending running form as gospel.  The best example that comes to my mind is barefoot running.  For a brief time, barefoot running was touted as “the best way” to reduce injuries and return to a more “natural” running form.  As the injury rates (and lawsuits) bear out, plenty of people who weren’t injured suffered injuries from this more “natural” gait.

Not all of us are forefoot runners.  Not all of us will unconsciously alter our foot’s landing pattern to the forefoot just because we reduce the level of cushioning provided by our running shoes.  Some of us will continue to clomp along landing heavily and shockwave after shockwave of impact through our feet, knees, hips, and up our spine.

The flip side of that coin? Barefoot running has improved the experience of a select group of runners.  It all depends on what idiosyncrasies you’re bringing to you runs.

A second example is Good Form Running.  With its quick cadence, shorter strides, and focus on arm swing, this is a highly structured running form.  Again, while it’s great for some, this regimented form is going to cause problems for others.

The real keys to being a successful runner are to find a form that optimizes your natural physiology, take time to strengthen both your prime moving muscles AND your joint stabilizing muscles, and to improve the efficiency of your movements.  This is a tall order and takes consistent and intentional training.

If you’ve got pain or suspect your are dealing with a physiological dysfunction, it’s a smart move to get in to see your Physical Therapist sooner than later.  They will work with you to determine the likely source of your problem and suggest ways to improve the situation through form changes, strengthening, or both.

If you’re feeling healthy and strong but want to take your performance to the next level, it may be time to see a Performance Coach.  A gait evaluation, speed work, or perhaps even shoring up your base might be what you need to get you there.

The take home is: although we all have components to our movement that are our very own, we have to know the basic rules of performance before we can tweak them.  And that, more often than not, takes a professional with the skills and knowledge to guide you through the process.


Life Lessons from a Champion

Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, you’d had to have been living under a rock to not have heard about Derek Jeter playing the last game of his pro career this last September.  While you likely know about his career and possibly you know about his program Jeter’s Leaders, you may not know he has recently announced a publishing partnership with Simon & Schuster.

What really piqued my interest about this publishing deal is one of the lead books aims to keep kids healthy, educated, AND engaged in sports.  His book The Contract  is set during Derek’s first Little League year and discusses the first baseball contract he ever signed — one drawn up by his dad in an effort to ensure Derek lived up to his responsibilities in all aspects of his life not just in the pursuit of baseball.

From his experiences, he has distilled a list of 10 Life Lessons to help kids grow on along the path to their dreams.

Derek Jeter’s 10 Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams:

1. Set Your Goals High
2. Deal with Growing Pains
3. Find the Right Role Models
4. The World Isn’t Always Fair
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
6. Have a Strong Supporting Cast
7. Be Serious, but Have Fun
8. Think Before You Act
9. Be a Leader, Follow the Leader
10. Life is a Daily Challenge
If you’re struggling to help your youth athletes along their path, this may be a great resource for you.  The credibility of the man who has walked the talk may help them to connect the dots between personal values and athletic success.  In an era of athletes behaving badly, an athlete taking the time to share solid values that can be used for success on and off the field is a refreshing change!

Drinking your meals on the go…some things you may not have thought about

With our busy schedules, shakes and smoothies can seem like a great option for ensuring we get the nutrients we need AND keep ourselves out of the drive-thru lines.

Recently, Fooducate posted an interesting article comparing the benefits of juicing versus blending.  It got me thinking about two important points to consider when deciding whether you should reprioritize so you have time to sit down and chew or whether drinking your meal on the go is an actual necessity.

1. Chewing takes time — which means it is an effective limit on how many calories we can consume in a given amount of time.  The more **processed a food is, the less chew time it takes. Think about how fast you could consume medium McDonald’s shake (700 calories) versus how long it would take you to consume 700 calories of chicken breast (that’s 15 ounces….almost a pound!) Obviously, the chicken would take much longer to eat.

Drinking your calories makes controlling your portion size all the more important.

2. Blenders and juicers are some of the most contaminated pieces of equipment in American kitchens.  As your blending your morning smoothie, are you also drinking high levels of Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold?

Make sure you’re following your device manufacturer’s cleaning instructions or click here for some help!  It is likely that you’re not doing everything you can to ensure your healthful drinks contain only healthy ingredients!

These two reasons are not enough to say drinkable meals are a bad choice — and quite the opposite in the case of blended fruit/veggie smoothies high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.  But you may want to consider balancing out the portability and ease of consumption of your drinkables with salads and lightly prepared foods and making sure you spend some of the time you’re saving my drinking your meal on the go cleaning up the blender you used to prepare that smoothie.

**For this discussion, consider processing anything that happens to the food to move it further from it’s most basic state.  Marinating, cooking, blending, and chewing all break down the chemical structure of food to some extent.  The completeness of this breakdown will determine how quickly the food enters the blood stream in a form useable by the body as fuel.

Are Tight Hips Slowing you Down?

Today’s post is from our Performance Coach, Steve Ball.

Steve Ball

Many exercises work the hip flexors, the front part of the hips, necessary for maximizing speed and quickness. But fewer exercises work the hip extensors, or the glute and hamstring muscles. Too much hip flexion and not enough hip extension can lead to an imbalance called anterior pelvic tilt. Too much of a forward tilt, and you won’t be able to stride through a full range of motion, limiting your power.

Hip flexors are commonly used in abdominal and cardio routines. They are the prime movers in Leg Lifts, Sit-Ups, Decline Sit-Ups, and V-Ups, as well as in elliptical work, the arc trainer, and stair climbing or stepping. High-rep intervals of exercises such as Mountain Climbers and Burpees also work the hip flexors, as do walking and running.

Testing for Overuse

Many people have tightness about the hip and don’t know it. It may feel like stiffness in the front hip or thigh, or it may cause pain or tightness in the lower back on one or both sides. To gauge your hip tightness, try the Thomas Test. Be sure to test both legs.
•Stand at the end of a table or your bed.
•Sit just on the edge, grab one knee, pull it to your chest and lie back, keeping your other leg fully relaxed.

If your thigh starts to come up off the table, the iliopsoas (primary hip flexor) is tight. If your leg begins to straighten, the rectus femoris (front of quads) is tight. In either case, you should avoid excessive hip flexor work and add hip flexor stretching and hip extensor work to your routine, along with hip extensor work.

Remedies for Tight Hip Flexors

If your hip flexors are tight, you should avoid Leg Lifts, Sit-Ups, Decline Sit-Ups and V-Ups. These exercises will only increase hip flexor tightness. Instead, for your core routine, use exercises that specifically target the abdominal wall and lower-back muscles rather than the hip flexors.

Alternate Core Routine:
•Planks – 3 x 30 sec (working your way towards 60 sec)
•Side Planks – 3 x 30 sec (these will be harder, so work toward 45 sec)
•Bridges – 3x 60 sec (easier than planks, focus on using the glutes)
•Roman Chair Back Extensions – 3x 10-12 reps (this exercise needs little weight added to it)
•Stir-the-Pot – 3 x 5 circles each direction (work up to 10 each way)

Also, vary your cardio routine to avoid overuse of any specific joint. Try biking, swimming, rowing or skiing to vary your movements. This is especially beneficial for those who are not runners or those who find it difficult or painful to run.

Lastly, focus on hip extension. Romanian Deadlifts are an especially important exercise, because they help develop the glutes, hamstrings, back and shoulders. Hip Thrusts, Bridges, and Glute Presses are also good for developing the hip extensors.

Hip Extensor Routine:
•Romanian Deadlift – 3 x 12-15 reps
•Rolling Bridge – 3 x 8-12 reps (body weight only, best to use a foam roller under your feet)
•Hip Thrusts – 3 x 8-12 (best to put the upper back and shoulders on a bench with the bar across the hips)
•Glute Press – 3 x 12-15 reps (either a machine or on all-fours with a band)

Be sure to use weight that allows you to complete the set with some discomfort without sacrificing technique. Focusing more on hip extension and less on hip flexion is crucial to avoiding overuse in the hips, preventing improper tilt of the pelvis, and maintaining lower back health.

This article was originally published here.

A Surprising Health Issue for Elite Athletes

Here’s an interesting issue amongst elite athletes:

A new study found that oral health may be a significant problem amongst elite athletes.

Really??  Who knew?  Doctors and dentist have long known an unhealthy mouth can cause be part of greater ill health but I, for one, hadn’t ever given any thought to athletics contributing to greater oral health challenges!

As survey of athletes at the 2012 London Olympics found:

“18% of athletes said that their oral health had a negative impact on their performance and 46.5% had not been to the dentist in the past year.”

This is more than a matter of not taking time to brush (although, how many of you are brushing the literal as the PSA’s recommend?)  Athletes have some special obstacles to overcome when maintaining the health of their teeth and gums.

First, many of the sports drinks, goos, and gels are high in sugar.  That’s exactly what’s needed from a sports performance perspective but from an oral health perspective, the high sugar and acid levels of sports supplements can erode enamel in much the same way soda does.  And even something as simple as dehydration can play a role in tooth decay since saliva acts to prevent erosion and tooth decay.

Added to these issues, athletes, many times, are under nutritional stress as they strive to attain proper nutritional and caloric demands to both fuel their training and meet the everyday demands of maintenance and repair of bodily tissues.

While the study frames the issue for elite athletes, non-elite level athletes face many of the same pressures.  Many studies link oral health to the overall health of an individual and all of us want to live the healthiest life we are able.  So take some time to remember a part of our body we don’t normally consider when thinking of athletic performance: your mouth.  And don’t let the health of your teeth and gums get in the way of your performance.



Budgeting for what’s important

I recently sat down to create a new financial budget.  As many of you budgeters already know, budgeting when and how you spend you money is a great way to keep yourself financially in tip top shape.  But sometimes, a budget get stale or loses it’s meaning because, over time, goals have been accomplished but new goals haven’t replaced them.  So then, the budget becomes more about an autopilot function, which often, does not serve our best financial interests.

In an effort to be a rockstar home financier, I took some time to research household budgets to see if there were some skills and techniques that could offer better results than the ones I was currently using.  One of the most impactful things I found was one expert’s point that budgets are continually in flux.  Car repairs or other expenses pop up unexpectedly and you have to deal with them somehow.  Hopefully, when that happens, you’ve got enough money in savings to cover those costs and reduce the stress that goes along with unexpected expenses.  Some expenses, however, are not unexpected, like the fact that my heating bill will be increasing as it gets colder.  How much it increases is a little bit of a mystery right now depending on the weather but I can say with certainty, it will increase every month from now until March.  This means, once I get my budget set, I will need to make adjustments to it for the foreseeable changes coming my way AND still keep putting some money away for unexpected expenses.

As I was working all of this out, it occurred to me how similar my time budgeting is to my financial budgeting.  Obviously, like money, we all have a limited amount of time.  We can use that time however we want but if we’re not careful, we could burn through our allotment and not accomplish the things that are really important to us.

As with money, there are always foreseeable time “expenses”, things like work, family dinners, and cutting the grass. There are also unexpected “expenses” like a friend coming into town which means whatever you had planned is likely to get tabled when you make the time visit with them.

Attaining performance goals is just like being successful at attaining financial goals.  It takes time, intention, planning, and the willingness to sacrifice immediate gratification for success that, at times, may be far off in the future.

Also, much like financial budgeting, performance budgeting needs constant evaluation to make sure the process we are using to improve our performance meshes well with the other “expenses” in our lives.  For most of us, performance can be our top priority at some times, but not all the time.  How we budget our time during those periods with unexpected “time expenses” unrelated to performance will mean the ultimate success or failure of our athletic performance over the long haul.

So what do you think?  Is it time to get out the pen and paper and redesign your time budget?  Are you using your training time optimally to ensure you get the greatest return on your investment?  Don’t guess — be sure.  Your ultimate success is riding on your answer.

Grass fed v. Grain fed beef

Organic.  Free-range.  Cruelty-free.  Local.  Sustainable.

Do you remember when eating was just eating and not a political statement?  ….yeah, me neither….but my mom tells me of time when she was young when there weren’t so many questions or concerns about eating.  You just ate.  Usually sitting down at a table with your family.  Ahhhh, the good old days :)

Let’s face it, this is not the way most of us live now.  So! Instead of moping about wishing for a time that is unlikely to come back, let’s try to make some sense out of what we’re facing today so we can make better choices about what we are choosing to eat.

Today, let’s tackle the idea of grass-fed beef.

For those of you not living in the Midwest, let’s start with the idea that (unless otherwise indicated) most beef you come into contact with is going to be feedlot cattle.  This means the cows grow up under industrial farm settings where many cows are housed in relatively small feedlots where they are fed grain mixtures and do not graze on grass.  This allows for more cattle to be raised on smaller area of land.  It required much less grain to provide nutrients for the cattle, as grains are a far more calorically dense food source than the grass cattle have historically eaten.  Feedlots make the whole process of raising beef cattle much more efficient and cost effective.  This is one of the reasons we find hamburgers on $1 Value menus.

Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, has grass as the cows’ dominate food source.  These cattle require a much larger area per cow to graze which means the herd is spread over lots of land.  This increases the cost of production for the farmer and, therefore, raises the price we consumers pay at the meat counter.

The price aspect aside, much like people, changes in diet alter the composition of the beef.  Grass-fed beef actually contains 100 fewer fat calories per 6 ounces than does grain-fed beef.  And not only does it contain less fat, it contains more Omega-3 fatty acids (these are the heart healthy ones!), more Vitamins A and E, and higher levels of antioxidants.

So what does this actually mean to you, the athlete?

We’ve heard the warnings that Americans should cut back on their red meat consumption and while the jury is still out on how much of a role dietary cholesterol really plays in the development of heart disease, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, in general, most of us could be better off with more veggies and a little less meat on our plates.  That being said, if you’re going to continue to eat beef (and I know I will!), it may be worth looking into your local options for grass-fed beef.  A little less fat and a few more Omega-3′s, Vitamins, and antioxidants from a less industrial food source could not hurt!

Healthier eating made easier? Declutter your kitchen!

We all know it’s important to our performance to eat healthier.  We also know, in an age of convenience foods, fast food, protein meal-replacement bars, and crazy schedules, cooking nutritious meals sometimes takes a backseat to other things but here is an interesting tip for making healthier eating choices in your kitchen:

Declutter your kitchen.


According to Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of a number of interesting books on eating behaviors, cluttered kitchens prompted people to eat 44% more of their snack food than a kitchen that was organized and decluttered.

This means making sure what is out on the counters actually supports your nutrition goals: fruits and veggies, washed and insight.  The flip side of that is to get everything else (cutting boards, caddies of cooking utensils, toasters and any other food) off the counter!

In one study, Wansink found women who had even one box of breakfast cereal visible anywhere in the kitchen weighed an average of 21 pounds more than those who didn’t have any cereal in plain view.

So, clean off those counters and take control of your home eating environment.  Sure, it takes a few minutes to do this but the payoff is to create a kitchen that supports your training instead of sabotaging it!

Interested in more ways you can take control of your eating environments to improve your health?  Click here to read about Wansink’s new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

(ht to M.Boyle for pointing us in this direction!)

Female Triathletes at Risk for Pelvic-floor Disorders more often than You Think

Now I know this isn’t something we like to talk about but….

A new study from researchers at Loyola University Health System found:

One in 3 female triathletes suffered from a pelvic-floor disorder such as urinary incontinence, bowel incontinence and pelvic-organ prolapse.

The female triathletes surveyed ranged in age from 35-44 and 82% of them were training for competition during the time of the survey.

1 in 3!  That is a lot of women!  According to USATriathlon, there were upwards of 510,000 triathlon participants in 2012 — with 36.5% of them being female, that’s just over 186,000 women participants.  That also means (if the population is representative of the whole field of female triathletes) that nearly 62,000 women could be experiencing pelvic-floor disorders.  That is a LOT of women!

Let’s be clear: this research does NOT tell us that triathlons CAUSE these problems — what is says is that many of women who participate in these events suffer from pelvic floor disorders.  Because this can be a sensitive subject for many women to discuss, some women might think they are experiencing these issues alone but the numbers tell us a very different story.

And more importantly, there are things women can do if they experience these issues!  First and foremost, don’t be embarrassed and talk to your doctor.  They can help develop a treatment plan that is right for you and your active lifestyle. Physical therapists specializing in female health may be an option to eliminate some of the incontinence issues.  Most of all, know you aren’t alone and don’t have to silently accept this as your fate!

We want you to keep moving, keep training, and keep loving the active life!  Don’t let something like this keep you from training – speak up and make sure you are getting the medical guidance you need.