Guess Which Snack Food Is Full Of Antioxidants?

Quick: which food has the most antioxidants:

  • apples
  • whole wheat bread
  • popcorn
  • broccoli

If you said popcorn, you were right! Recent research by Dr. Joe Vinson reveals that popcorn has more “polyphenols” than most fruits or vegetables.

Polyphenols are known for their role in preventing many degenerative diseases, especially cardiovascular disease and some cancers. They may also reduce some of the oxidative damage caused by strenuous exercise, which aids the recovery process.

Dr. Vinson’s research shows that popcorn contains up to 300 mg of polyphenols per serving compared to 160 for one serving of most fruits. Sweet corn has only 114 mg per serving, making popcorn a high antioxidant food.

And there’s more good news: popcorn is the only snack food in the American diet that is 100% unprocessed whole grain.  All the other grains are processed and contain additional ingredients. A single serving of popcorn will provide >70% of the daily requirement for whole grain. Most people get about half a serving of whole grain each day so popcorn could fill that void quite easily.

Of course, if you slather it with butter and salt, you put a major dent in the nutritional value of popcorn. But eating it air-popped or microwaved is a good way to go. Microwave popcorn has more calories than air-popped but the amount of polyphenols is the same.

So next time you need a quick, healthy snack, reach for the popcorn and enjoy!

Strength And Preparing For Our Games

As multi-sport and endurance athletes, most of us understand the important role that strength plays in our performance.  It is intriguing though, how many multi-sport and endurance athletes take a haphazard approach or laissez-faire attitude toward something that can make or break a season; something that can assist in preventing an injury.  The time spent with coaches, or to meticulously read and plan and plot the training,  usurps any consideration for strength.  If we as athletes spent one-third of the time focusing on our strength that we do planning and developing the other aspects of our sport, we might just see different results.  For some reason, strength is considered cross-training, and is left to videos, random fitness classes, or some protocol snatched from the pages of a magazine.  This is such a contradiction to a population that is so meticulous about food, clothing and gear.  Why are we leaving our strength to chance?

For our purposes, I am not referring to the strength and physique that is obtained and meticulously developed by body builders or fitness models.    Women in sport need to recognize that their body will develop in response to the training that is done.  As an endurance athlete, it is unlikely that one would get BIG or develop the muscular size that is observed in other sports.  It is more challenging if the athlete is female.  The athlete will acquire muscular definition; but that is more related to body fat and not size.  AND one can be strong without being big.  The athlete needs to train for the sport she is undertaking.

Strength, like recovery, needs to be written right into the program.  In the off-season, when you are developing and increasing endurance, one can spend a great deal of time developing and improving strength.  Once the season and racing schedule begins, time becomes more valuable, and less available.  Putting the strength or athletic development protocols right in the program ensures the continuation of strength development throughout the season. It leaves nothing to chance.  Recognize that your exercises can be done at home, included in a warm-up, or a warm-down.  Many of these can be body weight movements, and all of them will assist in keeping you healthy throughout the entire season.   If you are not doing any strength once your training or competitive season opens, you are losing strength, and making yourself susceptible to injury.   Strength helps with movement and improves fitness for sport.  Overall, movement and multi-joint activities are key.  Medicine balls, dumbbells, mini-bands (or ankle bands), suspension equipment (TRX or other), or even the jungle gym at the park can assist in your strength protocols.

As an athletic development coach, I look at the needs and demands of the sport as well as the specific needs and demands of the athlete.  There are several things that are consistent for all athletes that participate in all or one of the three components of triathlon.   Because of body postures on the bike, during the swim and throughout the run, athletes who participate in tris have very similar needs.

  •   Leg Strength:  Athletes should be performing squats, single-leg get-ups or squats, dead lifts as well as single leg dead lifts.  Leg strength is best developed with feet on the ground, as running occurs by driving our feet to the ground and reacting to the ground forces.
  • Remedial Leg Strength: The runner and cyclist spend a great deal of time in one plane of movement.  As this happens, there is little demand on the muscles for other planes of movement.  Using a mini-band, for remedial walks, traveling forward, backward, side steps, and monster walks, helps target the muscles that are sometimes neglected, yet critical to overall performance and injury prevention.
  • Rows, and back strength:  More rows and pulls, less pushes.   The work in the triathlon is a result of movement to the front of us.  Arm positions, and pulls in swimming place a demand on the pectoral muscles.  This can cause over development of the pecs, and underdevelopment of the rhomboids, lats, and traps.  Balance it out…. pull, and row.  The pulls should be done single arms.  Change the range of motion– incline pull-up, one-arm row at chest level, one arm-pull down.
  • Core strength:  For our purposes today, core will refer to the strength that is necessary for movement to be generated through the pelvic girdle.  In running, the core assists in the transfer of the ground force from one leg to the other leg, to generate movement.  In cycling a similar action occurs, but there is no ground force, and the pelvis stabilizes while the legs move through the phases of the pedal stroke.  In swimming, the core stabilizes, and the hips actually do lift upward, or towards the head, as the hands catch, as if gently climbing a ladder.  What happens through the pelvic girdle influences overall movement.  To train, reactive rotations, med ball throws and catches, some plank work to accommodate the postures in swimming and cycling, as well as reaches and lunges.  The core is involved in and responsible for all movement, so it is not necessary to train just the core.
  • Shoulder girdle strength:  The infamous rotator cuff, which is comprised of four muscles…. supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis.  Like the plantar fascia of the feet, if these muscles are not happy,  the athlete is not happy.  These muscles are responsible for keeping the humeral head in the glenoid fossa (shoulder joint) while permitting and controlling movement.  To develop strength and prepare the swimmer for the posture and movements start in a push-up plank position, and then move to a forearm plank, without changing posture (flat-back) and without putting your knees on the ground.  These are ups and downs.  One can also put a step or phone book or 25# plate (weight) on the floor and walk hands onto the step and back down.  In the forearm plank position, perform push-ups, or roll through the shoulder girdle.  In push-up positions, walk your hands all the way to the left, and then all the way to the right.  When that is easy, walk to the left with hands and feet.  Repeat to the right.
  • Crawling:  From spider mans, to bear crawls (on hands and feet, changing reaches and postures), crawling is a great strength tool to be included in a warm-up.  It is non-traditional in terms of strength, but it is an amazing warm-up component.  This movement helps the brain prepare for the movement to be encountered in running.

It is imperative that strength is incorporated in year-round training for the triathlete.  This training needs to be written into the program.  It can be incorporated in the warm-up or warm-down.  It does not need to be lengthy in time.  When strength is included, it can be the difference in the overall finish of a season.

Take Action

With today’s overwhelming availability of nutrition and fitness information,  the sharing of data, video, audio, there is no shortage of available knowledge; knowledge equaling potential change, potential weight loss, potential fitness. Still it’s potential. You need to take Action.

ACTION involves consistent follow through of a program,  that ensures your ultimate outcome. Implementing what you have learned. Do you do it? Or do you read, concur that was a great idea and then move on without taking action.

In order to move towards what we do want with our health and fitness and away from what we don’t, it requires knowledge followed by consistent follow through until that goal is achieved. In order to stay consistent, try implementing a few of these tips to help you get on track and stay on target.

Create a mental image of what you want. Then focus on this image with positive intent (not with a fearful tone of “how the heck am I going to get there”) upon waking and going to sleep each night.

Tackle one workout at a time. Often accomplishing smaller goals will simultaneously lead to the accomplishment of your BIGGER goal along with the additional smaller ones. This thought process often keeps overwhelm at bay.

Act upon intuition. Even if you feel like you aren’t ready or aren’t prepared or aren’t good enough…DONT let that stop you. What are your options, to try it and know for sure, or never know cause you did not try.

Even if you feel like you will never make it or you are just too tired, keep going. Little by little, day by day, you will be building momentum that will carry you when necessary as long as you start.

There are no magic diets or fitness plans. When you have the passion to seek out the knowledge and accountability you will each your goal.

So don’t be intimidated by the amount of information available and whether or not you will be able to keep up, just keep it simple…decide, envision, act then act again and again and again and again until you get to where you wish to be.

Email me if you have questions.

Oh Geez, My Knees!

No question – triathlon puts some stress on the knees. Even if you’re a featherweight, it’s only a matter of time before you feel pain or tightness in your knee or hip…unless you’re smart about it!

Chances are, if your knees hurt, the cause isn’t the knee itself. The most common cause of knee stress or injury is weakness in a muscle group above or behind the knee, or in the hip. “Knee bone connected to the…thigh bone…” Yep, it’s true for the whole musculoskeletal system too.

So…You’ve got to have a strong lateral hip (that squishy area to the side of your gluteus maximus, a.k.a. “bootie”). And, you need balanced strength in the quad and hamstring.

Lateral Hip Strength

When I signed up for a cutting-edge core strength mentorship in 2004, my right hip was so tight my run became a hobble – and the knee didn’t feel much better. The master trainers took a look at my baggy tri shorts, which were slipping dangerously close to my crack-side, and declared my hips too skinny. I tried to balance on one leg and do some movements – and then we knew I’d neglected my poor hips.

Within three weeks after this strength workshop (which worked muscles I didn’t know I had), my hip and knee pain were gone. I went from being unable to race, to running a PR at Age-group Nationals, even though I hadn’t been able to do run training. This was purely due to improved mechanics, flexibility, and core + hip strength.

Here’s the number 1 must-do exercise if you run, ride, or play any sport involving running, jumping, hopping…the 4-way hip extension:

Stand with body straight, and abs engaged. Hold a chair or bar for support if you feel wobbly! Keep your feet flexed.

If you have straight hips, this will enhance your waist-to-hip ratio. If you’re feeling a little flabby in that area, this will trim and tone, smoothing out your hip line. (Who doesn’t want a little of that?)

Balanced Quad and Hamstring Strength

To get it, include a squat or lunge (to work the quad) and a hamstring exercise in your routine. If you currently have knee pain, DO NOT DO SQUATS YET. Start with a seated 1-leg extension, 2×20 reps, with no weight to light weight.

Then, add a hamstring curl with a swiss ball. This is a gnarly but so-effective solution for keeping the hamstrings and glutes strong, to protect your knees and make you faster.

If riding or running is still a pain in the knee even though you’re working the strength, check your shoes!

Running shoes — Are you running in a “stability” shoe when you should be in a neutral/cushioned shoe? Do you have enough arch support? Do you run on level surfaces? (A road or trail that’s cambered – slanted downward to one side – tightens the IT band and lateral knee.)

Cycling shoes — Are your cleats centered under the ball of your foot? Have you had a good bike fitting recently? Pain in front of the knee (patellar) can mean your seat is too low, or your feet are too far forward. Pain behind the knee can mean your seat is too high.

Keep your knees happy, and ride/run on!

– Diana

Prepare Your Body To Train

For most of us, triathlon season ended in September, unless you went on to race World Championships in Kona or a late-season Ironman in Arizona or Cozumel. Most of us take time off after our last race of the year to reflect on the season, set goals for 2012 and establish some objectives to help reach those goals.

Now it’s December, and time to start preparing your body physically for the 2012 season. What does this mean? For me, this preparation phase is more about what it does not mean. I won’t jump into cold water, ride my bike with multiple layers or run much more than I have to to keep the dogs from getting cabin fever.

The preparation phase consists of both general and specific training. Generalincludes functional strength training, resulting in increased stability, mobility, balance and muscle/core strength. Specific preparation involves improving your efficiency in the pool and on the road through skills and drills. Keep workouts short and focused on technique.

Before you focus on sports-specific training, consider strength training, which enables you to control force loads without the variables of your sport. This is not only safe and effective, it’s also time efficient. If your gym is in your house, negating all travel issues, the time element is further enhanced. For me and the athletes I coach, general preparation includes training with a TRX or BeachBody home-based fitness DVDs.

  • The TRX system, originally created by a Navy SEAL, consists of adjustable straps with two handles that you connect to an overhead anchor. The portability of the suspension straps allows you to train anywhere – from your home, the gym, a hotel room, or on the beach. This system is unique in that it simultaneously trains and develops strength, balance, flexibility and core stability. Athletes of all sports can benefit and gain improved performance by strengthening and stabilizing muscles in functional movement patterns. Use the TRX and your own body weight to perform many of the classic exercises (lunges, squats, push-ups, abs, etc.), but with the added component of instability, and every exercise incorporates core strength and balance.
  • BeachBody’s newest home-based fitness DVDdesigned for endurance athletes is P90X2. Physiological P90X2 focus areas include improvements in strength, speed, agility and quickness. The phases in P90X2 are much more diverse and specifically targeted than those in the original P90X. Phase I creates the foundation, Phase II improves strength, Phase IIIincreases power.

Once strength training helps your tendons, ligaments and bones become stronger, sport-specific preparation includes skills and drills before you start to build volume and intensity.

When it comes to swimming, patience with technique and endurance will lead to strength and speed. There are 5 phases of the stroke I look at.

  •         Breathing
  •         Body balance, rotation, kick
  •         Recovery phase
  •         Hand entry phase
  •         Pull phase

Schedule a few private lessons. Find a coach that has access to an underwater camera to film you both under and above the water. If you can see what you are doing wrong, that will help you understand what you need to change. Based on your technique limiter, your coach can give you specific drills to help you improve your recovery, hand entry and under water pull, instead of just doing the same drills that your masters swim class does.

When it comes to the bike,pedaling drills will help you to learn to how to efficiently apply forces throughout all four phases or your pedal stroke, as outlined below.When pedaling, fully focus on moving one pedal through each of the following four distinct phases: downstroke, backstroke, upstroke, and over-the-top stroke.

  • Downstroke. This part comes most naturally when riding. Focus on exerting a strong downward push of the pedal, but be smooth – don’t mash them.
  • Backstroke. As you feel your foot approaching the bottom of the downstroke, focus on pulling your foot backward parallel to the ground. This is often equated to the sensation of scraping mud off your shoes.
  • Upstroke. Don’t focus on pulling the pedal up. Rather, as soon as your foot approaches the end of the backstroke, focus on rapidly driving your knee towards your handlebars. Think of it as driving forward rather than pulling up. Driving your leg forward moves it in the optimal biomechanical pattern for this phase of the pedal stroke.
  • Over-the-top stroke. Focus simply on feeling the transition point where the momentum from your drive towards the handlebars just begins to cease. At this point, initiate the strong downward push of the pedal in the downstroke. All you are doing in this phase is creating a quick, seamless transition from upstroke to downstroke.

When it comes to running, the basic technique variables are cadence, foot strike and forward lean. Aim for between 85 to 95 foot strikes a minute, landing on your midfoot (not heel or toe) with a slight lean forward from your ankles. As with swimming, it is helpful to get someone to film you so you can see how you actually run.

  • Your head should be erect, with eyes focused forward to a point on the ground about 20 to 30 meters away
  • The shoulders should be square and level. Do not round your shoulders or swing them forwards or backwards
  • Arms should be swinging freely but in a general forwards/backwards. Elbows should be bent approximately 90 degrees with forearms remaining roughly parallel to the ground
  • Hands are held in a relaxed fist with the thumb resting on the forefinger
  • The torso should be erect, with chest up and plenty of room for the diaphragm to move for proper breathing actions.
  • The hips should be square and level with no sideways movement
  • The leg action should be relaxed, with pendular movements and moderate knee lift
  • The feet should be pointed straight ahead and land directly under the hips

In the preparation phase, frequency of workouts is more important then duration. As you get tired often your form gets sloppy so keep sessions short, 30 minute swims and runs, 30-60 minute rides. Depending on your schedule aim for 2-4 sessions per sport per week. More sessions in your weaker sport. Most people like to swim and run on the same day and bike on alternating days. Keep intensity low and practice with a purpose.

Example of swimming workout: Warm up 10 minute include then do a drill set 8X50 (25 drill one for recovery phase, one for entry phase and one for pull phase) with 25 swim incorporating the focus of the drill into your stroke. Swim a main set upto 1000 yards then cool down.

Example of running workout: Best to run on soft surface. Warm up 10 minutes then high knees, butt skips, skip drills for 20 feet at a time. Then run run for 15 minute alternating 2 minute easy, 20-30 seconds quick feet leg turnover. Cool down 5-10 minutes.

Example of cycling workout: Warm up 10 minutes then 4 x (30 second one leg only / 30 second both legs) then 4X (30″ fast spin/30″ ez). Main Set 4X4′ alternating big gear standing for 1 minute with little gear seated fast spinning 100rpms Cool down

After about 4-8 weeks of strength, skills and drills you will be ready to  build up your yardage/miles with good form.

Controlling Inflammation With Food

Inflammation:  We hear the word among our injured friends.  We know if we sprain our ankle, an inflammatory response takes place and the ankle swells.  Inflammation can be a good thing to help trigger a healing response in our bodies.  However, chronic inflammation in our bodies can be the cause of disease, pain and injury.  There are many different factors that can contribute to long term inflammation in our bodies.  As an athlete, you are constantly putting stresses on your body causing in inflammatory process.  The muscles and tissues get stressed during activity and inflammation will take place to help start the recovery process.  But what happens when the inflammation persists?  Have you ever noticed an ache in your knee after running or in your shoulder after swimming?  You discover that ice and ibuprofen are soon your best friends.  While these are great controllers of inflammation for an acute bout, it is not a long term solution.  What if we could naturally promote inflammation control in our bodies to help keep us healthy?  Guess what, we can.

An anti-inflammatory diet can help keep pain and inflammation at bay and keep you healthier during your training.  The number one key is to eat REAL food!  Processed foods tend to have a lot of added sugars or chemicals and can increase inflammatory levels in the body.  I would like to share with you some tasty (real) foods to incorporate into your diet.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:  Are good fats that help decrease inflammation.  Foods include:

Wild caught salmon


Flax, pumpkin, sunflower seeds

Wheat germ

Shiitake Mushrooms:  Have anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties.

Green Tea:  Flavanoids in green tea have anti-inflammatory compounds and are also seen to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Ginger:  Helps control blood sugar and inflammation.

Garlic:  Can help reduce inflammation, regulate blood glucose and help the body fight infection.

Turmeric:  This Asian spice (found in Curry) contains Curamin, a natural anti-inflammatory compound said to have a similar effect as over the counter pain relievers.

Chili Peppers:  Contains Capsaicin, a potent inhibitor of Substance P, a neuropeptide associated with the inflammatory process.  The hotter the pepper, the more Capsaicin; therefore more anti-inflammatory properties.

Papaya:  Contains “Papain”,  a protein-digesting enzyme.  Together, with nutrients such as Vitamin C and E, Papain helps decrease inflammation and improves digestion.

Blueberries:  Filled with antioxidants and high in phytonutrients that has been shown to be involved in inflammation as well as protect against diseases like cancer and dementia.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil:  Filled with polyphenols to protect the heart and blood vessels from inflammation.  The monounsaturated fats are also anti-inflammatory agents that help lower occurrences of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Broccoli:  Contains anti-inflammatory and anti cancer phytonutrients such as sulforaphane which helps the body rid itself from potentially carcinogenic compounds.

Sweet Potatoes:  Great source of carbohydrate, Beta-Carotene, Manganese, Vitamins B6 and C, and fiber.  These nutrients are powerful antioxidants to help heal inflammation from the body.

Cinnamon:  Has been shown useful in mitigating arthritis, block inflammation and enhance insulin function.

These are just some of the many natural foods that you can incorporate into your diet to control the inflammatory process in your body.  Will eating all these foods everyday guarantee you will not get injured or sick?  Absolutely not.  But the more you can control what goes into your body by ingesting healthy, real foods, the greater the odds of you staying healthy, strong, injury free.  So go get your workout in and reward yourself by making yourself some amazing food to fuel your recovery!

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Fueling Early Morning Workouts

Your alarm goes off at 5:00 AM (or earlier) and you have 30 mins to gulp down coffee, get your gear ready, and get out the door to swim, bike, or run. The 64 million dollar question is: should you eat and if so, what should you eat?

The quick answer is yes, you should eat something but what (and how much) you eat depends on several things.

First, think about what is going on inside that fine-tuned body of yours. If your last meal was several hours before you went to bed, chances are you have used up all the glycogen in your liver throughout the night (this is one of the ways we maintain blood sugar at night: we break down glycogen from the liver).

If this is the case and you don’t eat anything before attempting a high intensity workout (or a long workout), you will be starting this workout at a slight disadvantage because your liver glycogen is gone. This means you will only have muscle glycogen to supply your muscles with glucose (unless you want to break down muscle for amino acids to be converted to glucose or use the few free fatty acids floating around for energy). This is not good.

If you are only planning on a short, easy workout, you can easily get by with the aforementioned nutrients but if you are planning a longer, more intense workout, then keep reading.

If you decide to ingest a high carb food or beverage before your workout, these carbs will be in the bloodstream within 30 minutes and on their happy way to your fast-moving muscles. This is good.

If you decide to eat or drink something high in fat and/or protein and low in carbs, you’ll have a little energy to play with but not much.

It may help to know a few facts about digestion and “substrate utilization”:

  • When food is digested, it is broken down into fat, protein, or carbohydrate. These “macronutrients” are metabolized at different rates with carbs being the fastest (especially simple sugars), and protein and fat being the slowest: they can hang out in your stomach for several hours before moving on to the small intestine. While fat and protein help you to feel fuller longer, they’re not a good choice to consume prior to high-intensity exercise or you may end up with severe GI cramps.
  • Lower intensity exercise uses about 50/50 carbs and fat for energy so if you don’t eat breakfast before doing an easy workout, you probably won’t run out of glycogen because you’re not oxidizing that much carbohydrate for energy. But the total number of calories burned is much less than in high intensity activity so don’t fall for the myth that low intensity exercise is best for “fat-burning” because it is not. The percentage of fat being used for energy is higher in low intensity activity but the total number of calories burned is less than what is burned in high intensity activity.
  • High intensity activity uses 80 – 100% carbohydrate for energy, most of which comes from stored glycogen. You can use up a good portion of your glycogen with 30 – 60 minutes of high intensity training. This is why its important to eat or drink something high in carbs before an intense workout. You’ll have a lot more energy if you do.

The ideal situation is to eat a high carb breakfast 2 hours prior to a hard workout (or extra long workout) but if that is not possible, get something in your tummy before heading out the door.

What should you eat or drink? Here are a few real-food suggestions for quick high-energy snacks to eat within 30 mins of exercise:

  • Yogurt and juice (use 100% fruit juice for more nutrition)
  • Banana and half of a small bagel
  • Small muffin or lowfat cookie (Fig Newtons or homemade cookies) and juice
  • Handful of Cheerios and apple juice (for you parents out there!)
  • Drinkable yogurt and banana
  • Sports bar and juice or grapes

These also work for pre-race “meals” when you don’t have time to eat a full breakfast.  By taking in some carbs before the workout, you will prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low and delay the depletion of your muscle glycogen stores.

Lastly, prepare your food/beverage the night before so that when you wake up, all you have to do is grab and go. Make those early morning workouts worth the effort by giving your body what it needs to do the job right!

Open Water Swimming

For many first-time triathletes, an open water swim can be intimidating. With no pool-bottom stripes to guide you and the frenzy of the other athletes splashing around you, an open water swim is a whole other experience! It is not a swimming pool with a bottom you can touch or even see, many times it is cold. Those qualities are enough to freak out even the toughest athletes. We all have stories about our first open water swim experience. My first triathlon was my first open water swim experience. The water was dirty and warm. I just wanted to swim as fast as I could because I could not see anything and was pretty freaked out. I did not have a wetsuit.

With the right kind of preparation, the swim can be the easiest part of your event! The cardinal rule of triathlon is “Never do anything new on race day.” This includes swimming in open water! Try to find some open water to practice in and take a buddy with you.

Slowly wade out into the water until you’re about waist deep. Go under once to get wet and get used to the temperature, especially if it’s cold. Breathing (exhale immediately under water before you inhale). Exhale completely before coming up. Do this a few times until it’s comfortable

  • Practice sighting the buoy with “alligator eyes.”  Lift your chin so your goggles clear the water looking forward while exhaling then inhale to the side. Try not to lift your head completely out of the water as this will cause your hips and legs to sink. Best to sight frequently until you round the first buoy.
  • Wetsuits will certainly keep you warmer in cold water, but the added buoyancy will also keep you high in the water. There are two common styles of triathlon wetsuits: full sleeve and sleeveless. With the additional coverage, a full sleeve wetsuit will be faster, warmer, and more buoyant in the water than a sleeveless one.
  • Race-day consider lining up on the outside edge of your wave to get a clearer view for the swim. You can also wait a few seconds after the start for an easier swimming position. That way people are less likely to run into you in the water. 

Practice.  Each time will give you a different experience and you will learn something from each one.

What is Core, Anyway?

“Core strength” has become almost a buzz word. What exactly does it mean, and why is it important?

Contrary to popular belief, and to some fitness industry marketing, your “core” is not just your abs. Its definition varies slightly depending on which book you read, but core is your entire body pillar: abs (upper, lower, lateral, and internal), back (upper and lower), hips, and glutes.

The body pillar is your fundamental engine for motion. Your legs could be ripped, but if your hip flexors and muscles that support breathing aren’t equivalently strong, you won’t be able to move them powerfully.

To be strong and efficient in triathlon, we don’t need big “gym” muscles. Instead, we want to strengthen and stabilize the core body, because that’s what supports posture and movement on land or in water. And, we want to strengthen the limbs and the prime mover muscle groups around the shoulders and hips – but the key here is balanced strength. If your quads are huge but your hips aren’t strong enough to push an equivalent weight, then the big quads are wasted mass and energy.

A classic example of over-worked abs – the six-pack. How many guys have you seen at the gym, lifting their shirts to admire their six-packs? But, the rectus abdominis is only one abdominal muscle, and can’t do much all by itself. Equally important are the muscles that wrap around to your sides, and your deep lower abs (obliques, and transversus abdominis, or T.A.).

The T.A.:

Using myself as an example:

Left, in mid-2004, before my introduction to true core strength:  Did that six-pack get me anywhere? Not really. My core muscles weren’t developed in a balanced way that supported movement; and my hips were tighter and more stressed.

Right, in 2005, a more balanced core, even while standing still. My hips were more open, and my times were a little faster, even though I wasn’t able to train as much or as intensely.

For more tips on how to strengthen your core properly, you’re in the right place!

Three Nutrition Resolutions To Nourish Your Body And Soul

Resolution #1 – Dare to ditch dieting

I’m hoping that most of you are not dieting, being the turbo-charged athletes that you are (you are a GOTRIbal member, right?), but some of you might be tempted to jump on the bodyfat-is-a-killer bandwagon. Before you do, consider these facts:

  • Dieting does not produce lasting weight loss. It only produces temporary weight loss. Most people who lose weight by dieting gain it all back (plus some) within 5 years.
  • Weight cycling can harm your health. Losing and gaining and losing and gaining weight is worse for you than if you never lost weight in the first place. Studies show weight cycling can raise your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • It’s very hard to train for an endurance event while dieting. Your body needs calories (especially carbohydrates) and without adequate amounts of either, you’re not likely to do very well. If you’re a junk food junkie, then yes, cutting back on the sweet/fatty stuff is a good idea. Just don’t restrict your calories so much that you have no energy to train properly.
  • Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the strongest women I know are “women of size”. Be proud of your body and what it can do regardless of what the scale says.
  • Lastly, many diets are not nutritionally-balanced. They are usually lacking in vitamins or minerals, such as calcium, iron, and zinc. High protein diets are usually low in B vitamins which play a key role in energy production. Sure, you can take a supplement but did you know that many supplements do not contain the amount of nutrient it claims to have on the label? (More on that one in a future article!)

Resolution #2 – Try a new food each week (or month)

Most people eat the same foods over and over again. Resolve to buy one new food (preferably something from the produce section) each week and experiment with different ways of serving it. How about trying chopped yellow peppers (high in vitamin C) on your homemade pizza?  Or stir-frying some tofu with your favorite veggies for a high protein, low fat meal? Or serving up some couscous or quinoa with your grilled chicken?  Be adventurous and have fun with it!

Resolution #3 – Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating is not about eating less, it’s about self-care. When you eat mindfully, you are more aware of internal cues for hunger and fullness, making it easier to eat when you are physically hungry and stopping when you’re comfortably full. This takes some practice but it’s well worth the effort.

Mindful eating also helps you to truly enjoy the taste of the food you are eating. By slowing down and savoring each bite, it’s easier to stop when you’re full and feel satisfied. Have you ever ate a food so fast that you didn’t even taste what you were eating? That’s mindless eating which almost always leads to excess calories and negative feelings about food (or yourself).

Taking small steps to improve your diet (or your relationship with food) is the best way to make lasting changes to the way you eat. Resolve to make these changes now and make this year a banner year for a healthy mind, body, and soul!