Nutrition Daze and Concussion Recovery

Literally it has been a few months since my last post.  Recovery from a concussion incurred when walking my dog has set me back months on 1) Resigning my from eighteen year post as the lead nutrition strategist for Clif Bar & Company 2) Launching my own nutrition strategy company, and  3) Training for mountain adventures!

No matter how a head injury is obtained, it is no joke. After a febal attempt at slowing down for two weeks and coming back to full speed the third week post concussion, I set myself back further. Big plans and big ambition have had me in over drive for the last year. When my doctor said take two days off and take it easy for a few weeks, she had no idea how ampt up my baseline was.

Leaving one of the best offices and companies to start my own business from the mountain town of Truckee has been a year in the making and had me in a whirlwind of driving, texting (not while driving, thank you!), learning, planning, strategizing, and running with my running people to stay sane. I have been living out of a bag for months, leaving my family every week , and “spare bedroom surfing” in the Bay Area to make it all work. Then SMACK, enticing my dog to run between my legs and hanging my head down at her level, we cracked noggins.

One month later, my head is still not straight but, it is better enough to share with you my nutrition regimen for concussion recovery. While the science isn’t certain on this methods, it certainly can’t hurt. Here is my nutrition prescription for healing mind and body rocked when dog walking:

  1. One five gram scoop of creatine powder blended with plain greek yogurt, banana, and nut butter (daily)
  2. 2000 IU Vitamin D
  3. 2000 IU Omega 3
  4. Topical arnica on shoulders each evening
  5. Arnica tablets as directed on bottle

Setbacks are rarely planned. When the inevitably hit there is a process that must be respected (reminder to self).  I realize this incidence could have been much worse.  Finding gratitude in even the slightests of struggles can help bring comfort in doing just what we can today and the patience to not push ourselves for more all the time.

Stayed tuned on progess towards and ways to work with me in the near-er future.

Fourth in a Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude

Got iron? I am continually challenged by low iron storage (aka pre-anemic state). My first experience with low iron was during my high school running career when I decided that I didn’t like meat, not for any other reason than I preferred bread and pasta. Being the avid, OCD, calorie counter I was back then, I swapped protein calories for carbohydrate calories.

This of course was not smart but at sixteen,  it made  perfect sense. The most absorb-able source of iron of course is red meat. As my meat consumption decreased so did my iron status. This is important because iron is the critical mineral in transporting oxygen to muscles, and when muscles are running they use more of it. This little dietary stunt sent my long-distance running, low-iron-storing, menstruating  female body into declining athletic performance that cost me my entire senior year of competition and athletic scholarship.

The lesson was clear. Study nutrition and begin enjoying steak at least once in a while. Even now, as a meat eater and someone who knows that iron absorption from green leafy vegetables can increase when consumed with orange juice, I really have to work during training to keep iron levels out of the pre-anemic state.

The pre-anemic state is no big thing when the muscles aren’t demanding tons and tons of oxygen. A runner however, can feel the effect of low iron storage even before meeting clinical criteria for anemia. I have had to convince my doctor to test my ferritin levels (iron storage) despite not showing signs of anemia.

Any low iron state will be exaggerated at altitude because iron has the job of carrying the limited oxygen available around the body to the muscles. Getting a baseline blood test as training for a mountain objectives begins can allow time to adjust the diet and take a supplement if needed. It can take six to ten weeks of iron supplementation and increasing iron-rich foods to get stores back up.  There can be however, side effects of too much iron. Diets consisting of iron rich foods won’t likely put someone over the top but, before hitting the supplement bottle based on an assumption, get that test.

Running on low-iron felt to me like moving in slow motion beginning at about mile three of any run. It can feel a lot like over training, and it can be very discouraging to then increase training only to worsen performance. I found it very satisfying after running my first fifty kilometer trail race to discover my iron status was in the dumps. Why? Because I knew how to fix it. Get the test.

Practice Discipline in these Three Areas to Support Athletic Performance

Speaking on a panel at the Spartan World Championships in Squaw Valley, California may be one of the most interesting angles I have come at nutrition from yet. The panel topic is discipline.

Learning to eat in a way that supports what you set out to achieve – in this case completing thirty plus obstacles, over thirteen or more miles while running up and down mountain peaks at elevation – requires discipline to change from eating behaviors that do not support what you hope to achieve.

For many non-competitive athletes who want to improve and achieve in sport as a hobby they first have to shift in mindset from exercising to burn calories to then be rewarded with food  to that of an athlete who exercises to train and who eats to train for the reward of achieving something more than the calorie credit to eat lots of pizza after a race.

How does someone begin to change the mindset? Well, in my experience as an athlete and working with the pros I have found applying discipline  in these three areas can change the reward mindset to one that makes the participation in the sport the reward rather than loads of food.

Three disciplines to practice daily:

 

Eat to train. Don’t train to eat. Skipping meals, skimping on food during training and events lasting longer than one hour, and delaying eating after activity have major consequences on how well the body can feel during the activity. Stop holding  out on providing the body  the right fuel at the right time through out the day and through activity.

Eat with purpose.  Eating with purpose is being conscious of what is going into the body and why. The purpose could be anything like to nourish, energize, recover, and even to celebrate or relax. This empowers the eater to make the food choice with feeling deprived while also eating the right to suit the occassion.

Eat before, during, and after hard training and events.  Eating an energy dense meal the hours before like a big bowl of fruit and yogurt will top of energy stores in the muscles. Eating an energy gel or three energy chews every twenty to thirty minutes during activity lasting more than an hour will give you the edge over competitors who skip it. Eating a protein bar or drink after the effort to kick start recovery helps to get the body prepared for the next challenge.

Discipline isn’t holding off or delaying gratification. Discipline in sports nutrition comes from learning what to it when and  changing the behavior mindset so it isn’t all about will power but rather, a healthy routine if eating the right food and the right time to suit the occasion, even if that occasion is a celebration!

 

 

 

 

Third in a Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude

Planning to spend fourteen to twenty one days at altitude before competing is not directly a nutrition consideration. It is however, worth mentioning because adjustment time can indirectly impact nutrition by altering appetite and, how the body feels overall.

Unfortunately, before some of my biggest mountain races I haven’t had the extra time to hang out high up. So I searched for clean short cuts of which I learned, are limited.

In short,  there are not short cuts for adapting your body at altitude. It takes the time it takes. How much time it takes specifically will vary because, as with nutrition, how the body responds is individualized.  Everything I have read says get to your altitude twenty-one days ahead of your race.

With work, kids, and other obligations it just isn’t realistic to get that kind of time at elevation (unless I move there!).  So here are some the strategies that helped when time at elevation is limited:

Go up the night before if you can’t do two-three weeks! So save the PTO and head up the day before. Going up on five to ten days before puts the body into a race while smack-dab in the middle of the acclimatization process, which can be extra tiresome.

Push the training at sea level to get used to low oxygen. Talk with a coach about specific training to mimic low oxygen state so you get used to running through it. For me this looks like lots of stairs or hill repeats to the point of puking. Fun times!

Propose a telecommute option from altitude. If you have a job that you can take anywhere and the other humans counting on your presence are flexible, this can be a great option.

Convince the office to provide a hypobaric conference room. This is a long shot but, given the number of active people in my office who prefer to compete in the mountains, it is possible.

Convince spouse/partner to sleep with a hypobaric tent over the bed each night. I have never been able to present a convince argument or budget for this. I have also “heard” it is of limited value.

Drink up beet juice concentrate per usage instructions.  Studies suggest it can help some with oxygen efficiency. I find it does help. It could be placebo, but does it matter?

The best option for me has been to accept that I will be slower, it will be more difficult, and slow my roll to enjoy the view from up there.

 

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

While I am a back at sea level for the moment, my attitude remains elevated post adventures above tree line.  My Broken Arrow Sky Race  experience has my giddy weeks later. The run started off slow for me as one can expect going up a mountain at elevation. The air, however, was crisp, sky clear, and snow (in June) slushy for bombing down the mountain without wiping out on jagged rocks!

Toeing the starting-line a running friend asked me for last minute nutrition advice for running at elevation. Scanning my mind for tidbits that would be useful to her on short notice, I opted for this piece of intel:

 

Eat early and often!

Experience (aka fails) has confirmed for me that the body indeed runs at a higher intensity at altitude (as if there is room to doubt) due to the stress of less oxygen. This stress results in an increase basal metabolic rate, respiration, and heart rate creating increase demand for energy (food with carbohydrate calories).

The trick is to remain conscious of eating regularly, at least every thirty minutes beginning at the start. Early race adrenaline, excitement, and fresh legs can leave even me to forget that I need to begin fueling in the first hour. My Broken Arrow choice was an organic energy food pouch followed by three energy chews which, I let each dissolve slowly, one at a time, for full effect on mind and body (check out this sweet science).  If I don’t get my energy nutrition in early I can forget strong quad moves for seriously stellar descents like the one from KT-22 to the bottom of Shirley Lake Canyon at Squaw.

Add the fact that  altitude has been  shown to blunt appetite, and it is easy to get behind on energy nutrition needs from the start. This is of course where I like to preach about planning out ‘what to eat when’ to maximize all the fitness and training. Having a plan that has become so routine through practice and mind replay that I don’t have to think is ideal.  Having a plan doesn’t mean I don’t adapt my intake based on what is happening. Rather, it allows me freedom to assess my body and adapt as needed from a solid foundation .

Realizing my running friend asking for last minute advice may not have a plan, I don’t want to freak her out. So I ask her  what nutrition she is carrying. Great! She has enough to cover the minimum of thirty grams of carbohydrate per hour. That is likely not going to be enough so I tell her what is at the aid stations where she can pick up another thirty grams in the form of the most familiar looking carbohydrate source on the table – which for her is likely gels.  Then, set the alarm on the watch to go off in thirty minute intervals to remind the brain to eat something and drink.

The old alarm trick is a classic sports dietitian recommendation. But, I must be honest! I have NEVER done it. Why? Perhaps it is because I am a dietitian who is entertained by tracking consumption against miles, time, distance, and how my body feels. I am always assessing where I am at and what I need next. Climbs are also useful as a checkpoint for nutrition intake. I find it difficult to breath, chew, swallow, drink, and move all at the same time at elevation. So, I eat as I approach the climb so I can focus on the footing and breathing.

Many athletes underestimate their needs at elevation and then over compensate with too many calories and carbs at one time trying to recover when they hit the “wall”. This can do a number on digestion. Steady consumption is what is needed throughout, just like the pace.

Note: I happened to know my friend  is not fat adaptive and she has a pretty fast top gear so this amount of grams of carbohydrate suited her. Some people do just fine with thirty grams per hour. We are all different.

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).

 

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.