Sports Nutrition: Don’t Be Caught Running On Empty

If you have ever “hit the wall” while participating in a sporting event, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  It suddenly feels way more difficult to achieve the level of intensity that was possible even 5 minutes before; legs start to drag, arms feel hollow, and mentally it feels like an uphill battle (maybe literally and figuratively).

Hitting The WallIf you’re a Canadian reader, you may remember the heartbreak triathlete Paula Findlay experienced at the London 2012 Olympics.  Originally considered a frontrunner, Findlay finished last in the women’s triathlon event.  In her post event interview, Findlay described her legs feeling like lead in the water, during her cycle her legs felt empty and she was dizzy.

Paula Findlay

Her coaches said it was because of a hip injury but after some digging, turns out that the reason Findlay couldn’t garner the steam to get going in London was due to an iron deficiency.  For more on Iron, check out this post.  Though Findlay suffered from an iron deficiency, let’s start with the most common factor for poor performance during sport and that comes from a lack of energy.

Energy Pathways - Sports

In the world of sports nutrition, energy is created in units called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  ATP is created quickly and anaerobically (without oxygen) for activities that are short in duration and high in intensity (think sprints and weightlifting), however, when exercise starts to exceed a couple of minutes the aerobic system kicks in.  Aerobic energy is created more slowly than its anaerobic counterparts, however, the number of ATP units produced are much more plentiful.

Energy Pathways

In all but the initial 6 seconds of activity, ATP comes from the breakdown of glycogen or fat.  When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down until single units called glucose.  While a small amount of glucose circulates in the bloodstream for immediate energy, the vast majority of it is stored in the muscles as glycogen for future energy needs.  When we have superseded our glycogen store capacity, glucose is stored as fat.

In order to have adequate energy, it’s essential that we are consuming enough glucose to fill our muscles with glycogen – our stored form of glucose that comes from carbohydrate based foods.  Of course other macronutrients like fat and protein offer their own sports related advantages, but for this post, the focus in purely on obtaining and maintaining energy.

STEP 1:  make sure that you’re eating enough carbohydrate daily.  The number of grams of carbs required can be calculated using the table below.

Activity   Level grams of   carbohydrates/kg of body weight/day
3-5 hours/week 4-5 grams
5-7 hours/week 5-6 grams
1-2 hours/day 6-7 grams
2-4 hours/day 7-8 grams

For example, if I work out 7 hours a week and have a weight of 60 KG’s (pounds/2.2 = weight in KG) then I should be eating between 300 and 360 grams of carbs per day.  NOTE:  when speaking about grams of carbs, I’m not referring to the weight in grams.  Rather it is the amount of carbohydrate available in a serving size.  Check the nutritional information to see how many grams of carbohydrate are available in a typical serving size.

Nutritional Label

STEP 2:  When selecting your daily carbohydrates (ie: not right before, during or after a sporting event) choose the right type of carbohydrate.  Instead of differentiating between simple sugars and complex carbohydrates, it may be more useful to instead select carbohydrates based on their Glycemic Index value.  Each food has an inherent GI value; low is 0-55, medium is 56-70, and high is 71-100 and it is generally considered more advantageous to choose lower GI foods.  The reason for this is that lower GI foods result in a slow and gradual release of glucose and allow for more stable blood sugar levels – in fact low GI diets are associated with a decrease risk for heart disease, Type II Diabetes, bowel cancer, upper gastrointestinal tract cancer, and pancreatic cancer.  Examples of lower GI carbohydrates include:

Fruit:  apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, berries.

Veggies:  pretty much any veggie except for starchy vegetables.

Multi Grain Breads, oats, muesli, bran cereals

Wheat or bulger pasta, basmati rice.

Beans and lentils

Nuts & Seeds

Fish, Chicken, Eggs

Low Fat Dairy

Pre-Workout Snack

Pre-Workout Snack

STEP 3:  Have a snack 1-2 hours before a workout.  It seems that lower GI carbohydrate choices allow more fat to be burned in comparison to glycogen during a workout.  What this means is that you will keep your endurance up for a longer period of time because glycogen stores are being depleted at a slower rate.  Aim for 30-60 grams of carbs 1-2 hours before your workout or event.  This could include fresh or dried fruit, a granola bar, or a homemade smoothie (add some leafy greens for increased nutrient density!).  Check out this great site for 50 pre-workout snack ideas.


STEP 4:  Re-fuel appropriately during exercise.  It’s said that there is no need to eat during exercise lasting less than one hour.  If you’re participating in an endurance type event, then you must ensure you’re getting 30-60 grams of carbs each hour – the best type of carb to consume in this case would be a higher GI carbohydrate so that the energy hits your system quickly.  It takes Carbs about 30 minutes to be digested and absorbed so when participating in an event longer than an hour, it’s crucial to start your hourly 30-60 gram carb intake within the first 30 minutes of exercise.  There are various gels, sports drinks, and gummies to choose from which can be purchased at any health food/nutrition/sports store.  In Canada, try The Running Room.

STEP 5:  Replenish your glycogen stores after exercise to speed recovery and help prevent fatigue and hypoglycemia.  It’s important to consume about 1 gram of carbohydrate/KG within two hours – choose low GI carbs if you are workout out only once in a day and high GI foods if you engage in multiple same day workouts.

Stay tunned for more on sports nutrition and an upcoming post on a diet fit for muscles and strength!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision.”

– Muhammad Ali


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The Big Brown Elephant In the Room: CONSTIPATION!

I’m only a little bit embarrassed to admit that one of my favourite topics of conversation is in fact “moving of the bowels”.  My fascination with poop started way  before I became interested in nutrition, and long before I decided to become a Nutritionist.  Maybe it’s because for many years of my life, I simply couldn’t poop properly – it’s not like I never went but it was a once or twice a week deal.


I remember my first nutrition teacher exclaiming to the class “can you imagine that some people only go once a week” and the class was dismayed to say the least.  People were shouting in disbelief “NO!  IMPOSSIBLE” to which I silently said “oh, it’s possible Sally and I’m living proof”.  Going once a week isn’t normal, and all joking aside is a major indicator that something isn’t quite right with the digestive and gastrointestinal system.  Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, I thought constipation was a good place to start in optimizing the health and balance of our colon and ultimately, entire body.


The Mayo Clinic defines constipation as infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools.  It feels unfomfortable and can leave people with bloating and gas and according to this BBC article, leads to “rabbit pellet” like bowel movements.  When one is constipated, the bowel movements are normally small and hard which can tear the anus causing further discomfort and pain – and often causes people to “hold it in” to avoid more pain which further exacerbates the issue.


The issue with constipation is that it allows waste to sit and stagnate in your colon for a longer period of time than it really should.  Imagine that the colon cell walls probably don’t like to have toxic waste touching them day in and day out.  Over time, this toxic environment causes intestinal cells to become weak.  In fact, not having a bowel movement daily increases your chances of getting colon cancer, heart attack, colitis, and IBS.  Stagnating toxic stool, when sitting in the colon longer than it should, causes inflammation and allows toxins to be reabsorbed into the body where they can cause cellular damage system wide.


So, you can see that having a poorly functioning colon can negatively impact your entire body and we can safey “poo poo” constipation.  Bowel movements are actually classified based on their appearance according to something called the Bristol Scale – constipation would be a 1 or 2 on the scale below.  What we are actually aiming for is something more like Type 4 “like a sausage or snake…smooth and soft”.


Constipation is diagnosed as an infrequent bowel movement and so I think it would be helpful to quantify the term “infrequent”.  Conventionally, anything less than three bowel movements a week is considered constipated.  From in the holistic nutrition/naturopathic viewpoint a food should pass through your system between 18-24 hours after ingestion – so the long of the short is that you should be moving your bowels daily.  The time taken, by the way, from when you eat a food to when you excrete it is called Oral-Fecal Transit Time (OFTT) and you can test this at home with one simple ingredient – sesame seeds.  Swallow a tablespoon of sesame seeds in a 1/4 cup of water without chewing the seeds.  Then wait and prepared to  be amazed when you see those seeds again in your toilet – hopefully within 24 hours.

Oral-Fecal Transit Time

What if your OFTT is  more than 24 hours?  What is causing this?  It’s likely due to lack of hydration or not eating enough fiber.  Both of these elements are required to lubricate the intestine and bulk up stool so that it easily passes through your colon.  Other factors include lack of movement because not getting enough exercise keeps you both physically and mentally stagnant and perhaps even a change in your routine could throw off your bowel balance.  Another common culprit is stress and not taking the time to go to the washroom when nature calls.  Some medications and illnesses are known to factor into a slow transit time but really, if you want to avoid constipation here are four simple steps.

STEP 1:  drink lots of water.  Start you day off with two large glasses of water with fresh lemon (1/4th of a lemon should do).  Make sure that by bedtime you have had 10-12 glasses of water.

STEP 2:  you need fiber to have healthy bowels.  Aim for 50 grams a day.  Good sources of fiber include beans, raspberries, leafy greens, whole grains (barley, brown rice, oats), flax seeds (milled), beets, carrots, Brussels Sprouts, apples, oranges, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, bell peppers, cabbage, celery, avocado, buckwheat, sweet potato, prunes, onions, bananas.

STEP 3:  make time for going to the washroom.  Enough said.

STEP 4:  move your body and that will move your bowels.  You need to get daily physical activity.

Some supplements that may help support your colon and healthy gut flora include omega-3 fish oil and probiotics which can lubricate the stool/reduce inflammation and help provide “good” bacteria respectively.  If you have tried the above steps and are still experiencing less than ideal oral-fecal transit time, it could be related to a food allergy or sensitivity or a hormonal issue related to thyroid function – these are options which you can explore further with a Nutritionist (see the services page of this website) or a Naturopathic Doctor (click here for how to find an ND in Canada).

Stay tuned for more posts this month related to colorectal health and learn how you can keep your colon supported throughout the years to come.

* I would like to note that I no longer suffer from constipation…horray for water, fiber, and lots of veggies!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Sex is interesting, but it’s not totally important. I mean it’s not even
as important (physically) as excretion. A man can go seventy years without a
piece of ass, but he can die in a week without a bowel movement.”

–  Charles Bukowski

Aging Joyfully: A Lesson from the Oldsters

I recently completed a course on geriatric nutrition and before my first class I have to admit, I was not excited.  Studying nutrition specifically geared at the elderly population is so far off the nutritional topics I am typically drawn to and so, I went to my first class with very low expectations.

What I anticipated to be my least favourite course in the program ended up being truly life changing and my perspective on aging, the elderly population, and the general concept of happiness were challenged and reformed.  The instructor, Japanese Naturopathic Doctor Mami Ishii, brought a unique perspective into a population that is generally considered unglamorous and a life stage that most of us are not looking forward to all that much.

Aging Population

Dr. Ishii had the class read Healthy at 100 by John Robbins which has literally, even after studying nutrition for over 2 years, revolutionized the way I view what constitutes vitality and healthy living.  In his book, Robbins starts by outlining the dietary and lifestyle habits of four of the world’s longest-living societies; Abkhasians (South Russia), Vilcabambans (Equador), Hunzans (Central Asia), and the Okinawans (Japan).  Each of these four places has an extraordinarily high number of people who live until and beyond 100 years and they share the same approach to diet and lifestyle.  In fact, the commonalities are staggering.


Okinawa, Japan

 What Robbins outlined in Healthy at 100 is that each of these groups eats a plant-based, whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  They eat very little processed foods and sugar and opt for whole grain carbohydrates.  The concept of retirement is null and void and “oldsters” in these areas are active and live purposefully throughout their lives.  Culturally, the older you are, the more esteem you’re given.  They are very active, yet their caloric intake is less than 2000/day.  They limit animal based products to 1% (Hunzans, Vilcabambans), 3% (Okinawa), and 10% (Abkasian).

Healthy at 100

Robbins goes into describing the changes China has undergone in the past few decades and nicely summarizes findings from one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted all of which you can read in a book called The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell.  The China Study had researchers collected blood, urine, and diet journals from 50 people in each 65 counties and 130 villages selected throughout China.  Researchers analyzed the data with respect to over 50 diseases and though the results are plentiful, findings can be summarized as follows.


In areas of China that are still developing, people are dying from diseases related to nutritional deficiencies and hygiene inadequacies which includes ailments like tuberculosis, respiratory illnesses, measles, and diarrhea.  Conversely, in areas of China that have been developed the diseases have shifted dramatically to deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity related illnesses such as complications from Type II Diabetes.  Dr. Campbell coins this shift as death from “nutritional extravagance” because it has been directly linked to an increase in refined foods and a much higher intake of saturated fats stemming from animal foods (meat and dairy) and hydrogenated foods.  In short, the one of the largest indicators of wealth in China is the level of ones cholesterol levels.  You can bet that high levels of HDL cholesterol are not found in the developing areas of China, but instead larger more prosperous cities.


What does all this have to do with geriatric nutrition?  We should expect to live into old age and this part of the life-cycle is natural, beautiful, and meant to be experienced.  The idea that we are all going to die from a chronic illness is rubbish and believing in dying from disease is something worth reconsidering.  Reading Healthy at 100 made me reconsider my dietary choices and the overwhelming evidence that supports the longevity associated with a whole foods, plant-based diet that is low in animal based foods is undeniable.  It’s a hard revelation to come to for those us use to eating meat each day…or even several times a week.  The idea of aging joyfully and experiencing life to its fullest is definitely something I am striving for and the advice in Healthy to 100 makes it seem possible, if not expected.


Healthy at 100 is a positive and encouraging read that will inspire you to look at your diet, connect with your community, and move intentionally each and every day.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr


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Getting Jiggy With Kale

Kale is delightful.  Its deep, dark, and earthy green colour is complemented by varying textures.  The stems are strong and as the leaves move outwards they turn from supportive and firm to curly and playful.  Just as versatile as its colour and texture is the taste of kale which ranges from bitter and tart when prepared raw to subtle and gentle when steamed.

Before I started studying nutrition I always though kale was an exotic intangible vegetable that only hippies ate.  I’ve come to realise it’s really a vegetable for the masses because there isn’t one of us out there that wouldn’t benefit from a serving or two of kale each day.


I’m not kidding around about kale.  These days, I eat two cups of this beautiful leafy green most days of the week.  What’s the big deal?  The nutritional profile of kale is quite remarkable:


NOTE: try steaming your kale instead of boiling it to retain more nutrients

  • 1 cup of kale will give you over 1300% percent of your daily Vitamin K requirements.  Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting and helps protect against post-menopausal bone deterioration.
  • 1 cup of kale has over 350% of your daily Vitamin A requirements.  Vitamin A is needed for healthy eyes, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, and is necessary for your cells to grow in a healthy and productive manner.
  • Kale has a compound called glucosinolates which forms isothiocyanates (ICTs).  The presence of ICTs has been linked to a reduction in risk for 5 types of cancers; ovarian, prostate, colon, breast, and bladder.
  • Kale has 45 different kinds of flavanoids.  Check out this past post for the benefits of flavanoids.
  • 1 cup of kale also provides 88% of your daily Vitamin C requirements.  So, in one cup of kale you have basically done all the work you need to get your Vitamin C, K, and A.

You’re impressed, admit it.

How can you invite kale into your home?  If you’re a morning smoothie person, why not throw in a cup of kale?  For lunch, a  side salad with a couple of cups of lightly steamed kale mixed with other veggies and tasty dressing might be nice.  It’s possible to steam kale, puree it, and then add it into pasta sauces, chili’s or other casserole type dishes (even Mac and Cheese for the mums out there reading).

Here are a couple of delicious recipes to get your started from a book called “The Book of Kale” by Sharon Hana which was kindly lent to me by my classmate Lisa V.  Enjoy!

Savoury Kale & Pumpkin Scones

Kale Scones

Ingredients:  2 cups kale leaves, loosely packed 2 cups unbleached flour 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp baking powder 1 tbsp sugar 1/3 cup cold butter 1 egg 3/4 cup buttermilk 1/4 cup cooked squash or pumpkin in small dice 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Instructions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Set oven rack in the middle.  Steam kale for a minute and then chop finely – try to squeeze out as much water as possible.  Blend flour, salt, soda, baking powder and sugar together. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers.  In a small bowl, beat the egg, then add the buttermilk, continuing to beat until well combined. Add egg/buttermilk mixture, along with squash, kale and cheese to dry ingredients, mixing with a fork just enough to combine.  Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet. Bake about 20 minutes until lightly browned.
Kale Cottage Cheese Muffins
Kale Cottage Cheese Muffins

Ingredients:  2 eggs, 1 cup low fat cottage cheese, 2 tsp dried dillweed, 3 Tbsp minced onion or chives, 3 cups kale leaves, loosely packed, 1 ½ cups flour (I used quinoa flour), 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp sea salt.

Instructions:  In a medium bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add cottage cheese, dillweed, and onion, mixing only to combine.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place kale in a food processor. Pulse a few times until finely chopped. Squeeze excess moisture from the kale and add to cheese mixture.  In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir only enough to blend – a few lumps are acceptable.  Spoon mixture into greased non-stick muffin pan.  Bake about 20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.  Makes 12 muffins.


Breakfast Kale Okonomiyaki


Ingredients:  1 large egg, 1/3 cups water, pinch of salt, dash of tamari, 2 tbsp flour (I used brown rice flour), 1/4 tsp baking powder, black pepper, heaping cup of kale, 1/2 cup bell peppers, 2 tsp olive oil.

Instructions:  Beat eggs and water and then add salt, tamari, flour, baking powder and black pepper.  Toss in kale and bell peppers and coat.  Heat skillet at medium heat and add the olive oil.  Pour in mixture make a flat circle.  Cook for 4 minutes on each side.  You may want to cover the skillet for the last few minutes if you like your peppers soft.  Serves 1.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

 “He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician.”

– Chinese proverb


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Monday Morning Roundup: Testicular Cancer Detection Through a Pregnancy TEST?! And more.

Wowza, there are some real gems from the world of health and nutrition news this week.  Enjoy!

What a smart move!  A man who suspected he might have testicular cancer took a home pregnancy test to see if his level of the hormone beta human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) could be detected.  hCG is the hormone that flags pregnancy but is also present in higher levels for men with developing testicular cancer.  His test came up positive prompting him to visit a doctor.  Smart or weird?  I like it…thinking outside the (pregnancy) box may have saved this man’s life!

“It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.”  A pretty bold statement from Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy on the effectiveness of flu vaccines – especially for children and the elderly.  Check out this story from the New York Times which offers a refreshing alternative perspective to need for flu vaccines.

Someone help this kid balance his blood sugar!  A 9-year-old in Ukraine stole almost $4000 from his parents for the purchase of candy.  Yikes.

A funny little study presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting suggested that there are four tell-tale signs that indicate a predictability for future heart issues; a receding hairline, baldness on the top of your head, creases in the earlobe, and fatty deposits around your eye.

As if you need more reasons to include coconut oil in your diet – here are 13 Evidence-Based Medicinal Properties of Coconut Oil

Infographics had a poignant image depicting the number of choices really available to consumers.  Made me think!


THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.”

– Dalai Lama XIV


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