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First of Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude.

Anyone attempting to train at sea level and, also loves mountain running has probably experienced the challenges of  a high-elevation race. What is the challenge? Well, let me put it this way, my first attempt at climbing mountains in a race felt like being pregnant while also having a big pile of bricks on my chest.  In was difficult. But, as challenges are, also a great opportunity to learn.

Mountain running used to just be me going on a run in the mountains. That however, was when I lived IN the mountains adapted to elevation. Now a seasoned sea level dweller,  mountain running requires more attention to nutrition to feel good and have fun.

Why? Consider the dry climate, potentially abrupt temperature swings, and the exposed climbs.  In conditions like these, even the most fit and altitude adapted athletes suffer many of the same effects of altitude. There are four key nutrition considerations that I take into account to help me ascend new heights above tree line.

Here is the first consideration I will be applying at Broken Arrow in a few weeks and the Ed Anacker Bridger Ridge Run later this summer for the third time.

Hydration!

Start hydrated and stay hydrated. This was one of my mistakes the first time I ran Bridger Ridge Run. I didn’t account for how much more fluid I would need up there over that period of time (6 plus hours). I had the water and electrolyte drink,  I just didn’t drink enough of it. High altitude brings with it little “gifts” like increased urine production and reduced thirst!  High-altitude air also tends to be less humid, resulting in increased water losses with each breath – about twice the sea level rate.  Add intense exercise and sweating, and the needs add up quickly.

My approach is conscious hydration before the expedition, staying present to drinking every fifteen minutes during the run, and loading my hydration pack with electrolyte drink instead of water, opting for water at limited aid stations or carrying water in my hand-held bottle.

Also, in the days before, you will see me carrying around my hydration pack and sipping from it as if it is my “comfort lovey”!  I go about my regular activities of parenting, working, traveling, and whatnot all with my hydration pack close by. I also fill this pack with hydration drink that has some carbohydrate and electrolyte like CLIF Hydration I helped formulate for occasions just like these. For more details on hydration techniques check out this post.

Stay tuned for the next three important consideration for getting high in the mountains!

What worked for you in treating and preventing blisters?

Blisters are a big deal! I have made the mistake of thinking otherwise but, blisters can impede the ability to train and participate in athletic adventures as much as an injury or illness. My advice is to take blisters seriously especially of you feeling one heating up under foot.

Here are a few of my go-to treatments and prevention tools:

When have blisters  bust: https://www.amazon.com/Spenco-Skin-Blister-Sports-Count/dp/B004UOTUXK/ref=sr_1_8_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1493240870&sr=8-8&keywords=blister+pads I used this and made it through Ragnar Trail Relays with blisters that had popped before the event even started. I also added these where needed https://www.amazon.com/Band-Aid-Advanced-Protection-Adhesive-Bandages/dp/B000Y8W50G/ref=sr_1_4_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1493244021&sr=8-4&keywords=blister%2Bprevention&th=1

Super awesome for blister prevention that I use to reduce friction on new shoes and with my orthotics is this ease, simple solution https://www.amazon.com/Blister-Prevention-Patches-Runners-Athletes/dp/B003URZNW0/ref=sr_1_6_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1493243976&sr=8-6&keywords=blister+prevention

 

World Ski & Snowboard Festival, Whistler, and Smoothies

Whistler, British Columbia is a magical place in summer and winter. I have delighted in experiencing both seasons at their best. In April I returned from an event inspired once again to explore wild places both outside and within myself – adding the Spearhead Traverse to the list of places I want to run.

This event was the World Ski & Snowbird Festival. This celebration brings together people who love to hang out in the snow and the mountains.  From roller derby competition to skiing powder along side back country snowboarding wonder Tamo Campos, this event had just the right amount of quirk, inspiration, and beauty all wrapped into one.

As part of this event, I  hosted “wake-up and get-after-it” nutrition talks with Canadian journalists and entrepreneurs. What did we talk about? We talked about rethinking our approach to food. Instead of over thinking food, I encouraged them to focus on “that thing you set out to do or accomplish”. In this case it was a day of chasing after patches of untouched powder over the stretches of Whistler-Blackcomb.

I believe it is impossible to go wrong with any food choice if it is made on the back drop of a healthy foundation. That was the inspiration behind my experimental smoothie making one morning with @yogaceo Julian Brass and @gracetoby of Canadian Living .  This smoothie was nutrient-packed for sure. It had to be to get us through a full day of skiing, concert-going, and some of the most inspiring speakers and believers in pursuing adventure for self-exploration and, quite possibly the meaning of life, I have ever heard. Thanks to Mountain Life for bringing the talks together.

smallsnowsmoothies

Here is a clip of us gettin’ crazy with smoothies. I would advise against avocado UNLESS there is banana to sweeten the deal a bit.

And a stylized glimpse of the week as seen through the lens of one of the photo journalists on the trip

Mother’s Days. Adventures Are On!

Mother’s Day doesn’t seem right unless I am on the Northern California Coastline unplugged and with my dudes soaking up all the outdoor adventures we can squeeze into a long weekend of car camping. Some moms long for breakfast in bed, pampering of the nails, or brunching fine-dining style.  Those things are great but, me? Nah, I ask for a family adventure. Even car camping is an adventure when you add kids and a new puppy to the mix!

I wouldn’t have Mother’s Day any other way right now. Last year we opted for a Mother’s Day of regularly scheduled little league and a nice home cooked dinner. It was great but, we all longed to be under the oak tree near the stream hiking, biking, trail running and roasting s’mores. So this year we went back to the tent.

This time of year Mama is usually training for some kind of mountain running/scramble race. My sights are on running the  Broken Arrow 26km which, covers some of Squaw Valley’s  famous terrain ascending to elevation of 8750 feet covering nearly 5,400 feet of vertical or, vert as the cool kids call it. Take a look at this fun!

Broken Arrow Sky Race Short from Jon Rockwood on Vimeo.

Needless to say my Mother’s Day gift this year was a long training run on the trails. Or as I like to call it “the gift of bliss”!

What does an adventure mama  dietitian do to prepare the night before a training run on an epic family camping trip? Well here is the run down:

  • The night before:  Cold-leftover-fried-chicken, salad, followed by S’mores and an unmeasured, seemingly bottomless tin cup, of wine  while reading in front of the campfire. Before snuggling up in the family-size sleeping bag I fill up my hydration pack and stock it with the necessary energy chews and gels. Then I put on my running clothes to sleep in so I don’t have to think about changing in the chilly morning. Just up and at em’, shoes on, and out! Not quite.
  • The morning of:  I woke, crawled out of the tent to find my main man dressed for his mountain bike ride while our boys slept.  Me being a slow starter and preferring to poop, pee, and enjoy a cup of coffee (not necessarily in that order) before running, I let him go first.
  • Before my long run: Being the good sports dietitian I determine  I also had time to top of glycogen (AKA stored energy) in my muscles with the recommend breakfast of running champions – oatmeal mixed with a spoonful of delicious sunflower seed butter  and mashed banana –  with ample time to digest before he returned.

Now, if I had my sights on winning races the wine the night before would probably not be something I would recommend to myself, or cold store-bought fried chicken (gross), but we are camping on Mother’s Day after all.  Given my goals are set around middle of the pack kind of running, a relaxing night by the campfire is just what this dietitian adventure mama ordered (no cooking, cleaning, or giving a care).

 

Three Principles to Rethinking the Workout to Get It Done

I have four full-time jobs.  I am mom to two beautiful boys, I am in a committed relationship, and I have a career in nutrition. Each one of these things requires my full attention. How on earth do I have time to train for trail races in the mountains?

This isn’t a question of why I feel compelled to add one more “thing to do” into the mix of overwhelm that sometimes spins around me. It is about prioritizing  self-care, soul care, to diffuse the overwhelm so I can properly prioritize my attentions.

Adventures in the mountains, kicking up dirt on the trails, breathing in that low-oxygen air, and moving in whatever silly ways my legs will take me feeds me so that I am able to show up to “work” each day.

I must train and prepare to adventure out in the wilds. How do I possibly squeeze it in? I re-think my workouts, which also brings a little urban adventure into my day!

Three key principles to rethinking a workout:

  1. Get creative. For example, I run commute with work-gear in a pack sometimes! It adds weight and builds strength right?! Yes, some days run with a laptop, fruit, and wallet on my back.
  2. Choose quality over quantity. For example, I skip ineffective junk miles when I am feeling overtired and, instead get good rest so I can run hard the next day.
  3. Be adaptable.  Sometimes I need to opt for bringing my kiddos along on run in order to get it in.  So, I adapt the workout to make it fun for all. For example, I will take the to the track and race them down the straight-aways while they count laps. Another good one is giving them the stop watch to do timed sprints while they follow along on their bikes.

 

Not only do these three principles help me get in the training, they also make it a whole lot more adventurous (fun).

Here is a photo of me run-commuting the hills of San Francisco back to the train after a meeting, with my lap top and lunch in my pack. This is how I get er’ done!

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Adventure Nutrition for Mountain Projects

 

Last Saturday I co-hosted a Adventure Nutrition Workshop at The Mountain Project structured around giving mountain athletes nutrition tools to train and prepare for big days in the mountains. It was day of working out, learning and applying nutrition, and eating!

Too often what we eat (or don’t eat), when we eat, and how we eat limits our ability to meet new challenges and achieve goals. The group who joined us on this day was not only motivated by a broad spectrum of mountain projects (from day hikes to ultra-running races), they were also inspiring athletes committed to their quest, open to trying new things, and just plain fun people to spend a Saturday with!

We closed the day experimenting with nutritious ingredients in the kitchen to make four varieties of one-of-kind energy snacks! While each group made it their own, here was the basic premise of the recipe.

Base Layer Ingredients:
¼ cup chopped flaxseeds
1 cups dates or figs chopped
1 cup steel-cut oats (could substitute with rolled oats or quinoa)
1/4 cup whey protein powder
1 cup raw almond, peanut, or sunflower seed butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup raw honey or ½ cup date paste

Optional Additions for added flavor and nutrition ( get creative

1/8 cup unsalted shelled sunflower seeds
1/8 cup chopped almonds
1/8 cup dried tart cherries or roughly chopped dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ milk or dark chocolate chips
1/8 cup chia seeds
Pinch of salt

Directions:
Line an 8″ square baking pan with plastic wrap. Coat the inside with cooking spray. In a food processor, combine base ingredients and blend. Then add optional inclusions and blend. Process ingredients for about 1 minute, or until pieces are well blended and the mixture starts to move around the blade in one mass. Press batter into the pan and press vigorously to compact, or roll into balls. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut into 16 bars. Leave refrigerated until ready to eat. Makes 16 bars.

At the three hour mark of a long run I am always on the edge of cramping. Is cramping more fitness related, nutrition or hydration related?

 

The answer is that it could be both. Muscle cramps are general caused by tired muscles, which is inevitable in distance running. They can also be caused by a sodium imbalance and dehydration.

Staying hydrated is a tricky proposition because there are so many variables that impact how much fluid and sodium you sweat out during your run. Intensity, fitness, heat, humidity and altitude are some of the things that will impact how sweaty you get. How much any body sweats can vary between ten to eighty ounces per hour!

That is a high amount of variability. The concentration of sodium in that sweat also varies greatly with an average concentration of about one-thousand milligrams per thirty-two ounces. In other words if you lose two pounds of sweat you may have also lose around one-thousand milligrams of sodium that needs to be replaced by drinking and eating sodium!

Of course these numbers are highly variable with the environment and individuality. Determining your sweat rate can be a useful tool in bench-marking how much sodium and fluid you need in different conditions. Sweat rate is determined by measuring how many pounds of fluid you might lose in different types of environments. You do this by weighing yourself before your run and then again right when you get back. For every pound lost you would need to replace it with sixteen ounces of fluid (roughly). You could then use this number as a benchmark for how much fluid per hour you should be drinking to replace sweat. If you are a salty sweater you then match about one thousand milligrams of sodium per hour from electrolyte drinks, salt tablets, and salted CLIF BLOKS. Of course this is always going to be dependent on you, as an individual but, practicing different scenarios in different environments can help you learn your personal best strategy for fluid and electrolyte balance under different environmental and physical circumstances.

If you are like me and always feel like you are in state of dehydration, you can head it off before your run by drinking .068-.14 ounces of water with salt per pound body weight two to four hours before your run.

Performance Nutrition Behavior Number Three: Stop Comparing Your Food Choices with Others

For some people, I get the feeling that eating a meal with their friendly dietitian is like going out with their hair dresser on a “bad hair day”.  Let me set the record straight. I pass no judgement on anyone else’s food choices when we are enjoying a meal together. Just as my hair dresser saves his comments on my hair for the chair; I reserve my comments on the diet of others only when prompted.  I believe in everyone’s right to make their own choices about what best serves them. Their reasons are different from mine. Comparisons of food  choices and habits to anything other than our own intentions leads to mounds of unnecessary shame and guilt over food.

Performance nutrition behavior number three is to stop this comparison game with others. Never “yuck someone else’s yum” and never rate the quality of your choices to those of others. Also, “should eats” get you no where.

Adopting performance nutrition behavior number two provides a standard worth comparison – your own intentions. It allows for the question “why am I eating this?” and lets me become a more conscious eater as I evaluate the purpose eating it serves. Maybe it helps me meet  energy or vitamin needs, or maybe, it is just  a fun thing to eat.

Recognizing the purpose gives me the freedom not to care what other people think of what I am eating or what you are eating. A good friend suggested I stop eating gluten (brave girl to suggest this to a dietitian). Why? Because that choice served her well. I do happen to agree that her physiological unnecessary need to remove gluten served a purpose of helping her control the urge to over eat baked goods. However, gluten-free diets serve no purpose for me.

This goes for eating patterns too. I know plenty of people who would rather eat three squares a day and, that works for them. On the other hand, I know even with a solid three squares I will be hungry at 10am and 2pm so I spread food out throughout the day  instead of doubling up with big meals in addition to snacks.

Other choices dependent on individual purpose?

  • To salt or not salt
  • To drink coffee or not  drink coffee
  • Carb, protein fat – some may feel great with more of one and less than the other

Another great example is the latest craze  fat adaptive diets. This means cutting way down on carbs to increase the bodies use of fat as fuel.  Sounds great right?! BUT you lose the top gear. The speedy gear that helps you move at a higher intensity and higher VO2. Good for some and not so much for others.

For me, comparison gets in the way of eating for the purpose of adventuring! Adventure on.

Performance Nutrition Behavior Number Two: Determine Your Higher Purpose

Here is something for the next person who tells me “all this running can’t be good for you” to read. It is also an example of a man who truly gets how running is training for life.  Not only that, he does not look his age at all. In this Forbes’ article it says he runs to stay fit for a higher purpose. He doesn’t run to be skinny or prove himself. He runs to stay fit for doing “whatever he wants”, which is also how he defines retirement.

Nutrition is no different.  Eating for the purpose of achieving a certain weight, body, or blood lipid level isn’t enough to overcome the barriers keeping so many from eating in a way that they intuitively know is healthy. Eating for a higher purpose  can help. Are you eating in a way that helps you accomplish what it is your want to do?  If not, why not? Maybe it is time to identify a higher purpose to the food you choose. I want to eat in a way that enables me the freedom  to use my own human power to see amazing landscapes and connect with people who inspire me.

Performance Nutrition Behavior Number One: Eat!

Working along side some of the world’s most talented athletes and athletic adventurers I  see and hear a lot of interesting food-related behaviors. Not all are good.  Some folks seem to have a challenging relationship with food that gets in their way of helping them accomplish their goals. Whether those goals are to pick up running again after having a baby or to traverse the big ridge lines in the mountains, it isn’t just what you eat that is important but, also HOW you eat.

Through my work and my  own experimentation with food as fuel for my tara-sized adventures  have identified  three easily stated but, most difficult to accept practices around food. I refer to these behaviors as practices because like a yoga pose, there is always somewhere to realign or let go. Over the next three weeks I will share my food practices.

Eat! Yes, just eat. That is practice-pose number one. Eat in a way that helps you achieve what you have in mind for the day. For example, if you plan to do a lunchtime workout don’t wait to eat your first bite or drink your first drop until ten thirty in the morning. Pause for ten minutes to eat something healthy at the start of the day and, then again mid morning. The noon time workout should feel more energized and like an enjoyable step away from the sedentary office life most of us feel stuck in. If however,  we miss the opportunity to eat the necessary nutrients at the right time, that workout is in serious jeopardy of being any fun at all.

It is crazy to think that some people need permission to eat but, it is true. Restriction and deprivation are rampant. Permission has become my own reset button when I feel that crazy thought that I would be better of without eating. Eat to run I will tell myself. This sets the stage for eating in a way that energizes my body the best. That is to eat small (relative to what I am doing) and  often. This approach does several things for me. It helps spread important nutrients out throughout the day, provides a consistent energy source to my muscles and brain, and make me feel satisfied.

My energy  level is directly reflected in my training, working, parenting, and ability to take care of myself. Visualize your energy level as an arched-shaped horizon of straight-up feel good! If you skip a meal, it will dip.  What if that is the exact time you have planned for a run? The workout will be more of struggle and less satisfying overall. By keeping a steady stream of energy from carbohydrate and stored fat you have a better chance of being “up” when you need to turn it on. Spreading food out throughout the day  also helps my stomach feel more satisfied and keeps “hangry  Mama”at bay! 

So there it is! My first big piece of advice for those seeking to energize athletic performance is EAT. Stay tuned for the next two