Even once you know what to eat, consuming the right calories at the right time isn't always feasible day-to-day. On today's episode, expert nutritionist Dr. Krista Austin goes "beyond the book" and offers insight for those tricky situations when quality nutrition isn't available. How do you navigate your best friend's birthday party, your company happy hour, or the next roadtrip? What can you do when staying with family or traveling internationally? Dr. Austin covers these scenarios and more! Listen in for practical advice for staying performance focused, with a little grace, no matter what calories are currently available!
TriDot Podcast .090
Navigating Day-to-Day Nutritional Choices
In this episode…
Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together.
Andrew Harley: Hey folks! New show today, thanks for joining us for it. Listen, even the most well-intentioned among us can't be perfect in our day-to-day eating every single day. There are a multitude of reasons or scenarios to knock us off our nutritional A game, and today we'll be talking about how to navigate the moments you just can't eat exactly what you want or need. Our key guide for this talk is our resident nutritional expert, Dr. Krista Austin. Krista is an exercise physiologist and nutritionist who consulted with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the English Institute of Sport. She has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and sports nutrition, a master's degree in exercise physiology, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. Krista, how’s it going today?
Dr. Krista Austin: It's good! Just soaking up the San Diego weather as per usual, and excited to do another episode with you guys here at TriDot.
Andrew: Also joining us for this conversation is pro triathlete and coach Elizabeth James. Elizabeth is a USAT Level II and Ironman U certified coach who quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot. From a beginner, to top age grouper, to a professional triathlete, she’s a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, how's it going today?
Elizabeth James: It is going really well. I am just excited to be recording another episode with Dr. Austin. She has just been an incredible resource for all of our athletes listening, and I know this episode is going to be another great one.
Andrew: Well, I'm Andrew the Average Triathlete, Voice of the People and Captain of the Middle of the Pack. As always we'll roll through our warmup question, settle in for our nutritional main set conversation, and then wrap things up with the cooldown. Lots of good stuff, let's get to it!
Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving.
Andrew: At the time of this recording and the release of this episode, the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games are just around the corner. As fans of sport, I think it's safe to say we all have some form of interest in watching the Olympics. So Krista, Elizabeth, if you could score front-row seats to watch any of the summer Olympic sports, what would you choose to go watch? Elizabeth James, I'll start with you.
Elizabeth: Now are we talking outside of triathlon, because I feel like that's the easy answer here, or can we include that?
Andrew: I mean, you can include it. I actually, personally, would veer away from triathlon just because it isn't the easiest sport to get to see all the action from one spot. Even at local races you can kind of see what's happening in transition, but once the athletes are out on the bike or run, you largely can't see them as much. So I wouldn't choose it, but if you would, I'm open to that idea!
Elizabeth: I would, but I also have my other answer. I also really like diving. That is something that I've just always been intrigued by, so I would love to watch that.
Andrew: I think diving looks terrifying. Everything they're doing off of the high dive, it's so high up off the water.
Elizabeth: Oh me too, I could never do it, but that's part of the intrigue for me. I'm like, that's incredible.
Andrew: Have you ever swam at a pool when either a dive practice or a dive competition has been going on?
Elizabeth: I have not, no.
Andrew: I have, and it certainly helped the time pass by. All those 20- and 30-second breaks on the wall, I actually had something to watch and look at.
Elizabeth: Well you see, I'm terrified of heights, so just even thinking back to the local pool growing up as a kid and going off the high dive, and squealing all the way until you hit the water. I hated it. But I'm so intrigued by people that do that, and include a whole bunch of flips and turns on their way, too.
Andrew: Yeah, very interesting that you get such a kick out of watching that. Dr. Austin, what would you most want to watch at the Olympics in person?
Krista: Well Andrew, the whole time you and Elizabeth have been talking, I have just been sitting here trying to decide which one I'm going to choose. This is really tough. So I was a gymnast growing up, and Nadia Comaneci was just really someone that I followed a good bit, as well as Mary Lou Retton. So I think I'm going to have to say gymnastics, even though I love tennis as well and would love to go see that. I think it's going to be gymnastics for me. If I could have front-row seats, that's where I would want to be, is watching women's gymnastics.
Andrew: The one I'm picking, Dr. Austin, that is kind of like tennis: I love watching Olympic beach volleyball. Whether it's the men or the women, it's just such a cool sport to watch. In tennis, in doubles in particular, doubles in tennis plays out so fast. Every single point, it's just rapid-fire back and forth with volleys and serves and cross-court forehands, and points are usually over relatively quickly. But in beach volleyball, with them running in the sand and going back and forth, it's almost like you get to see the positional chess match playing out in front of you in real time. That would be my pick, would be beach volleyball at the Olympics. But hey guys, we're going to throw this out to our listeners, so go find us on the I AM TriDot Facebook group. If you're not a member of that group, be sure to join it. We have thousands of triathletes just talking swim, bike, and run every single day. So go there, and on the Monday this episode releases we will be posing this question to you. If you could score front-row seats to a summer Olympic sport, what would be your top choice of a sport to go see in person?
Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1…
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It's one thing to talk in theory about what we should be eating day-to-day as athletes, but once we are out in the wild, going meal-to-meal, snack-to-snack, trying to make good real-world decisions, it can become real challenging real fast to give our body good stuff in every scenario a day can throw our way. So today Dr. Austin is here to help us nutritionally navigate some common real-life scenarios. Dr. Austin, over the last year we've had some great education, and we've talked about nutrition with you in a manner we all hope to have it play in our lives. But in reality, is it realistic for us to nail our nutrition every day? Even for someone like yourself, who has this wealth of knowledge in your own head, do you find yourself able to nail your nutrition every single day?
Krista: You know, I'll be honest. No. It's very difficult sometimes when life incorporates travel, staying in other people's homes, maybe being in different cultures and having life's chronic slip-ups that just seem to happen just about every other day. But I have to be transparent with your listeners and say no, it doesn't go perfectly. I remember one year working with USA Wrestling, and Zeke Jones was the coach. I walked into his office, and we were talking about that whole concept of nutrient timing and putting things in your body, eating every two to three hours, and he's like, "It's a nice idea." Then he said, "In all reality, here's how it plays out, Krista. But it's a nice idea." So it was a good perspective from someone who was just a phenomenal athlete and national team coach for us, in a sport where you really do have to pay attention to your nutrition, just giving the perspective that we love to put that ideal scenario out there, but at the same time it doesn't always happen. And we've got to go through today and hopefully share real-life scenarios and just talk our way through them. What insights can I give your listeners, and I'm hoping we can teach your listeners how, when I work with athletes how we go about addressing this area. Because I know for a fact no one is perfect. Unless we've just got the most open schedule to build everything around our nutrition and training and triathlon, which is not realistic for probably most people, we're not going to be able to hit the nail on the head every single day. So I hope today we can teach your listeners, and anyone else who picks up the podcast, how to accept themselves and what they're capable of really achieving on the nutrition front.
Elizabeth: I feel like there's a big sigh of relief from everybody going, "Ah, okay, even Dr. Austin doesn't have it perfect all the time."
Krista: No, I actually surprise people. I kind of like to throw people who are maybe a little too nutrition obsessed, or they expect something out of me, and I'm like, "You know what, I better have some ice cream and brownies right now. Let me eat this in front of people and see what they think." They think I'm supposed to eat healthy all the time, and in all reality, it's like no, I might actually have some ice cream and brownies, and here's why. I think it's really important for everyone to know that even when you're supposed to be this really top sport nutritionist, sport physiologist, that it's not always perfect, and that sometimes we ebb and flow. We try our best. We love being at home. I know I love being at home and having my own kitchen, something I rarely get to do. But I will just tell you we love perfection, we love the ideal, but today I hope we can teach everyone how to give themselves grace and permission to go throughout each day, do their best, and stay focused on performance.
Andrew: Yeah, I know for me, typically you would think that when you're at home you have your own pantry, you have your own refrigerator, you're fairly in control of your own schedule just on a normal day. Days like that it's obviously easier to nail it, and it's easier to balance your macros and get the micros and have everything you're eating be healthy and really fueling your body. But even for me, on days when I'm home, we grocery shop on Sunday, which is the default Harley House grocery shopping day. It's a lot easier Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday to eat a really balanced diet, but later in the week, once a lot of those fresh fruits and veggies and the meals that we've preplanned have already been consumed, as you start depleting the pantry a little bit, it can even at home get a little bit more challenging to nail exactly what you should be eating. So yeah, tons of scenarios where it's hard to nail it. It's not realistic to be able to do it every single day. That's why we're having today's podcast is to talk about that. So Dr. Austin, as you consult and work with athletes on their performance nutrition, what are the talking points that you cover with them in regards to approaching their daily nutrition with a realistic view?
Krista: Well, what I'll tell you, Andrew, is when someone sits down with me, oftentimes they come in thinking there's going to be certain expectations. And what I want to do is actually relieve them of those expectations. They think because sometimes you've worked with really great athletes that there's this extremely strict program that you're going to ask them to follow and do all these things, and that's how you're going to sit there and improve their performance nutrition. And really what they'll find is when they sit down, I start to teach them a few things that I want everyone to know, and I want to go over that today with your listeners. First and foremost, I do talk to an athlete about staying performance-focused, and the question is how do we do that. How do we maximize performance, because that is what we're usually there for. Secondly, I talk to them about establishing minimums for themselves. That could be minimums with regards to behavioral aspects of nutrition, it could be minimums for caloric intake or their macros, or even just minimums with regards to how frequently they're eating throughout the day. If they go for ten hours and they haven't eaten, obviously they might not be meeting that minimum goal as an athlete that we set. So maybe we say, "Well, at a minimum, how do I make sure I don't go more than four hours without fuel?" So we typically focus on establishing minimums. We also talk about supplementation and why it matters. What I've noticed about the fast lifestyles that so many lead, is that oftentimes we do have to take a look at supplementation at key points in time and fit it in, because it's going to actually help us make a difference. The fourth thing I teach people is molding to your environment and your offerings. All too frequently people will get stuck in their ways, and they don't know how to go in to new environments and actually just adjust. I have to do it all the time. I don't get a lot of say sometimes because of having to stay at people's homes and what have you, and so I like to teach them how to be flexible with our fuel intake and what we utilize to fuel our bodies. The next thing is giving yourself grace and permission. A lot of times I find that endurance athletes are very Type A, and they don't know how to do that. Once they learn to give themselves grace and to give themselves permission to do certain things, whether it's nutritionally or in training, everything seems to flow that much better for them. They don't get as concerned about it, they don't get as hyper-focused on it, and I think they actually do better long-term if they learn those two key principles. The last thing I teach them is what I call "real life dealings". They think with a lot of my athletes that everything's perfect, and in all reality that's not the truth. Most elite athletes that they look at and try to pursue modeling themselves after, what you have to realize is that they are not doing things perfectly, and that life continues to deal them a card that they have to chronically adjust to. So we go through what real life is like. How do we deal with these factors and begin to accept them, because they're going to be part of what we go through. So hopefully today we can shed some insights into these areas for your listeners, and help them really feel better about their day-to-day engagement with nutrition and making it work for them.
Elizabeth: Yeah, love that. Let's go through some of those things that you just mentioned in terms of those points, and making sure that athletes are focused on those things. The first thing that you mentioned was staying performance-focused. When you say "staying performance-focused", what do you mean by that? I know we had a podcast where we talked about defining nutrition from a performance perspective, but maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit and talk about what that has meant for you and the athletes that you have worked with over the years.
Krista: I'll use myself as a little bit of an example here, I think it will be more applicable probably for all of your listeners. We can obviously talk about elite athletes, but I don't know that they're your everyday triathletes, so I'm going to try to make this more applicable to everyone. Really when we say "staying focused on performance", when I was in college and I was still an athlete, it was very physically orientated. You're thinking about your actual skill sets as a tennis player, and how you're going to stay competitive. You have the refueling strategies, things of that nature. But over time, really for me it's become more about work performance, embracing other cultures, and accepting some of the cards that life dealt me, and saying, "How do I keep going? How do I make sure that I hit the goals that I'm putting out in front of myself?" So I have definitely broadened it over time, and let the definition come into each area of my life, and make sure that I stay focused on performance by manipulating nutrition to support me through whatever it is I'm going through. A key example of that, for me, is when I go to another country or I'm serving in a role where I'm taking responsibility to support others. Oftentimes performance means actually doing my job and doing it well. So like when I go to another country, I've got different foods, I've got a different environment to adapt to, and my whole thing is, how am I going to do my job and do it well, and how do I use the foods that are being provided to me to not only keep myself healthy, but to also usually keep going through a 14-hour-plus day. So I take the factors that are going to matter the most when I'm traveling and in another country and say, "How do I use their foods to do this? What do I need to bring with me to make sure I can do this?" Because I know if I'm going to a country where there's no way they're going to have my favorite electrolyte beverage, I begin to take things like that with me and actually prep for it, because I know hydration is a huge part of cognitive performance. Same thing with caffeine: if they're not going to have that easily available to me, I pack my favorite caffeine source with me and take it into the workplace. I do that no matter where I go here, even in the U.S., just because I know those things are so important to my own performance and making sure I can do my job. Then there's the concept in my field of taking care of other people, and really just making sure you fuel your body so you have the stamina to not only do your job, but maybe not also get a little agitated with the fact that you are having a lot of people ask you to take care of them. I will never forget being at the 2012 Olympic Games, and I ran in one day and I went to get breakfast, and what I would usually have for breakfast was not there. I will just tell you guys, all I could see were these easy-to-grab cookies. I grabbed the cookies and ran out the door, because I was in a rush to keep going for the day. There was a personal trainer – because 24-Hour Fitness actually sponsored all the gyms that our athletes trained in, and they maintained staff in there – who saw what I did, and then he watched me throughout the rest of the day. He approached me at the end of the day and said, "Can I ask you a question? How are you supposed to stay taking care of everybody if you don't fuel your own body?" And he said, "Is there anything I can do to help you make sure you do that?" So it's a great example of where I didn't do some great planning on that day, didn't execute greatly, but I had someone watching me inadvertently. I didn't know that they were. And they said, "How do I help you fuel your body," and I said, "You know, if the eggs aren't there in the morning, can you grab some to go and bring them over here? That would be huge." I said, "Because they weren't there this morning, and neither was the toast or something like that, and it was what I really needed." So it's always interesting that when we talk about performance, we really have to define that. If I had some eggs and toast, I'm probably going to be that much more stable to support athletes throughout the day and really perform at my job. Hopefully that's insightful to some of you. Yes, I ate cookies for breakfast one time out at the Olympic Games, but it was really just due to "I've got to grab something and go," and I knew I had to fuel my body. I needed to have some calories, and I went to the lowest of the low in terms of meeting my needs. I said, "What is going to give me calories to keep going throughout the day?" The other, with regards to performance, is sometimes just respecting circumstance, and how that might limit your ability to control your nutritional intake like I just described. As long as you perform, maybe even survive the circumstance, you've achieved. I went throughout those games not having the best nutrition that you would think Dr. Austin should have, but I achieved what I came to do, which was to support athletes in a manner that helped them achieve. It's just something that you really have to define for yourself. Lastly, never judging yourself by body image, but rather looking at performance. All too frequently people in our field will say, "Do you look the part?" And that is where it's a challenge to any of us to not look at body image, and not let that dictate our performance. I remember one time I came off about 18 months of injury. It was an Achilles injury, and then it was a hamstring injury, and you can only imagine how fit I was NOT. But I was getting back into shape, and I was actually getting pretty strong, getting ready for something, but I wasn't in my usually shape. I went to go meet my soon-to-be boss. They had never met me before, they didn't know what I was going to look like. But they associated me with endurance sports, so they expected me to look a certain way, and they were in for a little bit of a surprise. Dr. Austin was not yet in shape. She had had 18 months of injury, and that changes what your body is going to look like. So I kind of got the eye up and down, because I didn't look the way someone expected me to. However, about a year and a half later, I'd see that person again. I had actually broken my shoulder, but I had taken the time in between there to get back in shape and what-have-you. But when I broke my shoulder I couldn't train, so I lost all this strength, and I just did a lot of walking. I was like, "Look, I'm not going to get that out of shape over a broken shoulder. I'm going to at least go out and walk." When I walk, my body shifts in terms of how it looks because I'm not in the weight room all the time. And I showed back up, and that same boss is like, "Oh wow, you look good," and in the back of my head I thought, "Great, but at the end of the day I'm not ready to do the job." And I was like, "How many months do we have here before I need to be ready?" So just a good lesson to teach people that, even with my background and everything, you're always ebbing and flowing towards what you need to do to perform in life. And how you look, your body image, is probably never going to be indicative of that. So something I definitely try to teach my athletes, and I think they've learned it over time, some of them have taught that to ME over the years, that even at the most elite level, they've performed when their bodies don't quite look the way people anticipate them to at the start of the year. They go out, they keep crushing it, and by the end of the year, they're actually the fittest, most ready-to-go athlete, because they were the smartest about it, and they didn't look at the mirror. They didn't look in the mirror to decide things, they just stayed focused on performance and achieving, and it got them to that angle.
Andrew: Yeah, they weren't chasing a particular look, they were chasing performance and their ability to be at their best on race day, as opposed to meeting the quintessential endurance athlete look that you see on Instagram.
Krista: That's right, and I learned that so many times from some of the most elite female athletes out there, even from the sport of triathlon. One of them just said, "Yeah, this is how I start my year." Sometimes people were kind of surprised by that, but I noticed what she had done over the years was just learn to really control how she got into shape and got ready to perform. A huge lesson, and I hope everyone can sit back and take that in, because the athlete stayed focused on performance and what was in her best interest.
Elizabeth: That's awesome, and I just love how we're looking at this from a performance perspective. Regardless of how you are defining what performance is for you in that time of your life, how would you encourage athletes to go about making sure that they stay performing, whatever that definition is for them?
Krista: I think for everyone it's going to be different, but regardless of what stage you're in, establish things like a minimum caloric intake, making sure you keep your metabolism up and you don't go shutting it down. Usually that's the first one I always teach people, is that you've got to fuel your body. You can't NOT eat. I also focus on things like hydration patterns, and choosing foods based on need, to meet adequate amounts of each. We can't always measure out our food, we can't always have an app like Cronometer that we're keeping track and trying to make everything perfect. But at the end of the day, we do minimums and say "Look, I had at least three to four ounces of fish three times this week. I had some type of lean protein at every meal." Make it very simplistic. It's a minimum that they need to hit, and say, "Hey, it's my minimum for performance." For example, when you go to some countries, that could be hard to do. You might not have salad readily available. A lot of us like to do salad at lunch and dinners, and I had to learn in some countries that I wouldn't have that. I wouldn't even have vegetables that weren't cooked in oil, and I really didn't care for all the oils that were there. There were minimal fruits, so I just maybe had to stick to these same fruits all the time. They might have had some juice, but otherwise it wasn't available. At the end of the day, you don't have what we usually have here to choose from. So knowing that, I said, "Okay, how am I going to do this? I'm going to monitor my caloric intake as best I can, and I'm also going to monitor my body's response to the change in the fuel, and the way the macros are changing for me." For instance, if I had to have white rice at every meal – at some countries you may actually do that – and there's oil on all the other foods, it actually makes for a really high glycemic response. You can get that crash-and-burn feeling, and then you feel like you're going to sleep in the middle of the day. You usually don't want to have that happening. So you look at your environment and say, "How can I prevent that?" The other thing that you want to do, and this is something that I guess I do a lot because of what people bring me in for, is bringing things with me so that I can create my nutritional environment. Doing my homework in advance, a priori, and saying, "What are the minimums that I should maybe pack and bring with me, whether it's food or supplements, to try and help me stay performing." We mentioned that a little bit ago, but it really is critical. Establish those minimums and say, "I'm going to hit these."
Andrew: We did two VERY informative podcasts with you about supplements, Episode .36 and .38, where we learned how and when to use supplements in our diet. But just talking through real-world, everyday scenarios that may throw us off our normal eating routine, how can supplements be used strategically to help us stay performance focused?
Krista: A lot of times I take a look at the supplements and say, "How are they going to help me adhere to the goals that I have for myself?" That means not only your minimum goals, but maybe even some of the bigger overarching ones. That's where packing items like protein powder – I talked to you in another episode previously about having athletes who had to travel abroad, and they weren't going to have resources in terms of protein. They didn't know what they would be, and so they said, "I'm going to pack my protein powder so that I ensure I am getting certain minimums of protein intake, and being able to stay performance-focused." It might also mean putting in a vitamin and mineral supplement, because you know you're not going to meet those in your daily diet. It might even mean bringing a fiber-based product. I've had how many athletes, and I'll just put this out there, that they talk about when they travel they actually become constipated, and they said, "How am I going to just stay feeling normal," because this is part of feeling normal and feeling good to perform. Then always with the hydration and caffeine products, they're usually really key for people because they're such a big part of cognitive focus and allowing people to stay alert, and I think also just stay balanced so they can stay doing their job. Whether your job is to be an elite athlete, or just sit behind a desk and sometimes crunching out numbers or writing a paper for work, how are you going to do that in the environment that you're in? The other thing is bringing food with you. I don't care if it's your work environment or it's going overseas, bring the food with you believe that you will need. In some instances I will just say when you travel, sometimes supplements predominate. I know that I've been in a variety of scenarios when I'm traveling, or living out of a hotel, or living at someone else's home and I'm trying to stay as performance-focused as possible, I actually end up maybe with a few supplements dominating, especially with the protein powders, or I've taken the UCAN products with me. I know they have a nutrition facts label, but they've definitely helped me to stay on my A game, even though it's not real food. People sit there and go, "Well, Krista, that's a carbohydrate supplement, aren't we supposed to use that for sport?" My answer is, "Yes, however I've also got to perform at my job here," and so I'm going to use it to help me stay going, stay performing.
Elizabeth: One of the things that you mentioned was molding your environment, and I think that's such an interesting concept. Could you explain that just a little bit further?
Krista: Yeah, so the simplest example that I can probably give everyone that they're going to experience is staying at someone else's house and eating what is put in front of you. I don't know about you guys, but I was taught when I was younger, if you're at someone else's house, you're a guest, eat what is put in front of you.
Elizabeth: Yes, eat what is served.
Krista: That's right. And oftentimes it takes you out of your routine and your individual preferences, and really there's nothing you can do about it. Every once in a while you'll get asked; when you're staying with people they'll say, "What can we buy in advance of you getting here?" or they'll take you to the grocery store. But usually you've got to eat what's put in front of you. So for example, for someone like myself, I love to grill. I prefer marinating my meats for a long period of time, I like going to Whole Foods and getting things like lemon-pepper rub on salmon and making these key components of my meals. You have to realize that when you're in somebody else's home, it might not be what you're going to get with someone else hosting you. I remember being at an athletes house, and they weren't really big on cooking. Finally it got so late that it was like, "Oh, is the chicken thawed?" and I just said, "Do you mind if I order a pizza?" I said, "It's so late, I'm so hungry, it's going to be a lot easier than trying to thaw this chicken." And it's because you're starving, and in other people's homes you can't really sit there and say, "Hey, can I set your chicken out for you and start marinating it? And by the way can I use your grill while I'm here?" So it's about having to adapt to things like that. Another great example that I think a lot of people experience, especially when they travel to races, is living in a hotel and just having to eat off the restaurant menu that they have. Again, it goes back to just your calories and your macros, because you can't control how it's cooked, right? At the end of the day, you go back to those minimums again. Every once in a while you're lucky, at a hotel, to actually get the information broken down to you on the menu. So you have those moments where you've got to mold to it. I've been stuck at hotels while traveling for companies and I have to eat at the restaurant, and I look at the menu and go, "Okay, how am I going to do this?" I have to accept what's actually put there in front of me, and how I'm going to perform. A key example I can think of: when I first started working in elite sport, I worked for a high-performance director. He came to me and said, "Look, one of the things I expect for the athletes is that they are never too comfortable." He said if they get too comfortable, they're not going to perform well. He said, "One of the factors that we'll embrace as we go to compete on the international stage are changes in food, and what I've noticed about this team is that if we go to another country where they don't like the food, they stop eating. Their body weight drops and performance declines." He said, "My goal for you is to keep the athletes eating no matter what country we're in, no matter what food we have, and to keep their weight stable." So he stayed focus on performance in that sense, rather than saying, "Oh you don't care for the spice in the food? You don't care for this or that?" He said, "Look, mold to your environment, this is what you are being given by the organizing committee or wherever it is. Do your jobs, kids. Krista, make sure they can do their jobs, because we've got to stay focused on performance." So we did a lot of that, because it wasn't going to always be our foods. A huge lesson I learned very early on in my career. The other thing about living and traveling in foreign countries, I will just tell you, that you always learn to deal with some of the biggest challenges when you do that. Even as part of your work as a performance nutritionist, you'll do things like send a menu ahead of time to see if you can't get the food that they're going to be eating, what we would hope. Then you arrive and come to find out that the menu you sent didn't necessarily give you what you want, and so once you're there you go, "How am I going to make this happen for these athletes?" I remember being in one foreign country, and I ended up walking the streets because I said, "There's no way the hotel can give us what these athletes need to fuel their body with." We were actually looking at it as a holding camp for the athletes, and the question is could we even consider it. And I went along, walking through the streets, and all of a sudden I found a Sizzler. Are you guys familiar with a Sizzler?
Andrew: Heard of it, yeah, familiar with the concept.
Krista: So Sizzler is a restaurant that – I don't know if they're still out there, I haven't eaten in one in years, but to be in a foreign country and find an American restaurant – it's part of a chain restaurant, but they had key items like a salad bar, fruit bar, soups. They were willing to make sure chicken was grilled, or shrimp was grilled, and really worked with us. We got down on the ground, and lo and behold we're in this foreign country and we find a Sizzler.
Andrew: It was like a gold mine.
Krista: It was little mind blowing, but it was what we had to do to ensure that athletes were able to eat right, and I can't tell you how many times we've been in that situation. Sometimes it means bringing even a portable kitchen. We've brought portable kitchens to international competitions before. But what it means is that you can actually pack so much, and it means leaving the comforts of home, including your usual spices and flavors, and say, "Look, I might have to use whatever is in that country, or go without it at all." I remember that was a huge thing for some of our athletes at one point was you ended up with just baked chicken. There was no flavoring to it, and they said, "Krista, it's just baked," and I said, "Yeah, let's try to find something to flavor it with." So we adapted to our environment. We worked around it and tried to do the best, stay performance-focused and get the job accomplished. Now conversely, I've been on other great, phenomenal trips, going to places like Copenhagen, Denmark, where the restaurants there were phenomenally helpful at fueling us, and it made for probably the best trip ever with regards to performance nutrition because of how well they helped us get the job done. In that instance, it was actually about holding the athletes back so that they didn't eat too much. So always working within your environment and trying to make sure you adapt to it, and also just stay on top of your performance goals. Oftentimes lessons learned by entering these different environments.
Andrew: So from everything that we've learned from you over our many episodes, with you teaching us about approaching nutrition the right way, and approaching nutrition with a performance mindset, we have been talking today about how that just goes out the door in so many instances. What would you recommend to our listeners, when it comes to having a mindset of being able to take on whatever environment we're in and just molding to it, with our ability to do nutrition "by the book" per se?
Krista: Well I'm going to just say, Andrew, of all the sports that I've worked with, with the everyday athlete, the ones that travel the most to foreign countries are triathletes and distance runners. You guys love to travel.
Andrew: Yeah we do!
Krista: So I'm always like, "Where are you going? Oh, Bermuda? Oh, over here to this country?" So I feel like those things apply. You take the same concepts and principles and put them in. Usually it's a little more resort-oriented with the Ironman athletes, I will say that. But at the end of the day, whenever we're working on all these aspects, when I started the episode with you I mentioned something about giving yourself grace, and giving yourself permission, and this is that part. I've been involved to some extent for over 20 years now in the sport of triathlon, and it was one of the sports I was introduced to as an intern when I was at the United States Olympic Committee. And the further I stepped outside of the elite realm, the harder I felt like the athletes were on themselves about nutrition. It was not actually something that I saw the elites doing. The everyday triathlete just wasn't giving themselves the grace that the elites do. If there's anything that I can teach your listeners, it's that elite athletes give themselves grace and permission, especially the very top ones, to not be so strict and hard on themselves. I remember if you ever go to George Dallam's book – he was the coach for a long time for Hunter Kemper, and you guys probably remember who he is – and if you take a look in that book, he talks about Hunter's eventual commitment, and how he got to be more number one by giving up Krispy Kreme donuts. I will tell you that it's a phenomenal example of improving performance, but it's also one of where you see a very world-class athlete give themselves grace with regards to nutrition. I will tell you, if the everyday person can teach themselves that, that they're not always going to be perfect, I think they're just going to be that much more successful. The successful elite athletes out there, they're not really hard on themselves. They have learned grace and permission, whether it's nutrition or even training. I remember working with one of my elite athletes and being out at a session, and they're supposed to be doing a pretty key one. They started off on it, then after about a lap out on the track they came back and said, "This isn't happening today," picked up their stuff and went and got in the car. It was the athlete giving themselves permission and grace to come back the next day, and realizing that their body was not ready. So I always think of that example. What I see a lot of everyday athletes do is that they expect so much out of themselves, even with some of the athletes I've worked with that they've received a pro card and they're trying to move down those pro ranks, or they're trying to be a really competitive age grouper, is that they're supposed to do everything right all the time. That's how it goes, and it's just not reality TV. The better you get, the more you stay in the sport, you have to give yourself that grace and permission to just not be perfect all the time, and I think that's important.
Elizabeth: I feel like that relates a lot to what coach John Mayfield often says. He will say over and over, he said it on the podcast a number of times, that when it comes to triathlon training, consistency is key over perfection. Being consistent in training over time, in the end, is easily going to negate a few training session that you missed, or the ones that you shortened along the way. It sounds like it's very much the same with our day-to-day eating, that consistency over time is really enough to help us get by on those times where we just can't nail a healthy meal or want to have a little bit of a splurge. With that in mind, if we start missing the mark for multiple meals in a row, at what point does that get to the line of that consistency, and where it would begin to affect our performance?
Krista: I've seen athletes of all different levels have a lot going on in life, and go through various periods of time where they have to give themselves a lot of grace, and they have to let consistency come just in the form of calories and trying to meet the macros and not being as healthy. But typically for most, I say you can have a week where you maybe go off the rails. But if all of a sudden you've gone off the rails for two weeks and you're not anywhere near coming back to it, then maybe you need to stop yourself for a second and find out why. That's not uncommon for many people to have that happen. They commit to something, they commit to doing what Dr. Austin asked them, and the next thing you know, they're off the rails for a prolonged period of time. I would say the sooner you catch it the better, but usually it's about the second week into it that I think people need to say, "Why is this happening?" If there's not a good reason for it, then you need to figure out a way to turn the ship around. Especially if your training's becoming compromised.
Andrew: Elizabeth, I know that you're just the most impressively organized and disciplined of all of us on the TriDot staff. And better than most, you're able to stick to your preferred diet a majority of the time. As Dr. Austin has talked about giving yourself grace, and rolling with the circumstances when they're out of your control, how do you typically respond for those occasions where you just can't get in a meal with Elizabeth's favorite foods?
Elizabeth: You know Andrew, even as we were in the introduction of this episode, I was like, "Man, this is a good one for me to be on. I feel like we're speaking to some of the things that I can work on here, too." Because being very honest, this is something that I have struggled with, and still do struggle with. I love having everything planned out ahead of time. I do very well with a detailed plan for my nutrition. I do really well when I'm at home and can make those meals. But I do struggle to adapt with what I need to be doing when what's laid out in the plan is not reality. I love what Dr. Austin was saying too, that we've got reality here, and so there are going to be times, and you are going to have to make these modifications. This is something that I'm personally getting better and better at as I begin to have a better understanding of what my body needs and what modifications I can make, and having those experiences where I give myself that grace and give myself permission to maybe not be as much by the book and realize it's okay. So I think that the practical suggestions and the realistic approach here that's mentioned today is so important. And for those other Type A personalities that love to have it all by the book and are struggling a little bit with that grace and permission, we can support each other and let each other know that it's gonna be okay. It's not going to be perfect, but we're going to do the best we can.
Andrew: There are many different types of scenarios that can throw off an athlete's ability to eat some of their preferred foods for a particular meal. Dr. Austin, what are some of the common real-life situations that you find your athletes navigating?
Krista: The biggest one that I find usually is budget, to eat healthy in that ideal manner that we would love to. Most people have a budget they've got to stick to and to live on with the cost of food, and they come and they say, "How am I going to make this happen?" I think that's something you always do have to navigate is the budget side of it. A good example of having to navigate this in life was when I was in my doctoral program. Ironically, if anyone knows about what I studied, I studied iron metabolism quite a bit. But as a doctoral student, I was trying to keep my weekly grocery budget to about $25.00 a week.
Andrew: Oh wow.
Krista: This was a long time ago though, so obviously probably a little easier to do back then. And I actually became anemic, because I had not put enough iron into my diet, and at that point I needed to get my iron stores back up. And here I had my $25.00 a week, and if you look at the cost of an iron supplement, you can chip into that pretty significantly buying one of those. So instead, with my background, I turned around and I had red meat every single day to bring my iron stores back up, because it was that much more affordable and fit into my budget. Most people would say, "Are you crazy?" but because I was on that budget, I said, "I've got to do this in a manner that fits what I can afford." That's probably in the best interest of keeping the balance and the checking account in check, quite frankly. Another scenario is living with others. The fact that you may not have your own kitchen, or even if it is your own kitchen you might not be able to fit your own food in. I've had that happen I don't know how frequently. I remember coming home one time – I would rent out one of my rooms and I was living elsewhere – and the cupboards would be packed with another person's food, and I was trying to find a way to sneak my food in there and actually have what I needed. It was one of those things where I finally kind of worked my way to have my own little cupboard space. Sometimes you face challenges like that, where you're sharing with others and you're not going to have the opportunity to have everything that you want even in your cupboards, or even in your fridge. It might also mean if you're staying at someone else's house. I've had to do that for prolonged periods of time, and now you're putting your food into their cupboards and fridge, you're trying to give them their space and not take it over. Now one strategy I've learned over the years to help you get through that is to actually offer to do the cooking.
Andrew: Very smart!
Krista: It was something that someone was like, "You know what, this was awesome! She came to stay for how many months, and she did the cooking!" I would go out and buy the food, treat them to salmon, the whole bit, grill up every night, and they thought it was great. Sometimes factors like work just keeps you from eating how you should. Working late at night, or just maintain a schedule where you don't get to eat really frequently, those are things that can throw you off. Another factor might be family, and finding the right time to eat, especially if you have kids. Sometimes you don't eat until late at night, or even then you end up eating our kids' food. I hear that definitely over and over again is that, "Was it a bad thing that I had my kids' chicken fingers for dinner, does that count?" Those things can throw us because we have other factors in life we have to account for. Then lastly, just finding time to prepare and implement all of the nutrition recommendations you might get from someone like myself. I will tell you, it doesn't always work out, you guys. It's called life. So you switch plans, you sub things in, and that comes back to how many meals do you miss before you know that you've gone off the rails. There are a lot of scenarios that you can think of where you you're going to have to be flexible, adapt, and try to make things work. Always finding solutions, that's a huge part of nutrition.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I mean obviously we're not always in control of our food options, but we've listed a number of scenarios here when we won't be, but for those days where we are, and we do have our own kitchen, our space, our choice, what wisdom do you have to help athletes succeed in the scenarios where they do have control?
Krista: The first thing you want to figure out for yourself is what does it mean to be stable? What is stability? Because stability is the biggest key, in my opinion, to successfully achieving good nutrition practices, and what we feel like we need to be doing over and over and over again. I will say that usually this comes with age, because you develop more stability and deserve to do everything "by the book". Also making a list of what stability looks like for you can be really key to help athletes begin looking at when they can implement nutrition the way that we do talk about it, and then just obviously staying focused on your training outcomes, which is what matters most, and working with a coach to make them realistic. It might not always be about watts per kilogram; sometimes it's just learning to go long on the bike or the run that can make the greater difference. So I think finding ways to create stability and to keep defining different aspects of success in how you're going to work through all of that is really the key in my opinion. Sometimes we don't like to hear, "Hey, I went five minutes longer on my run." We want to say, "Hey, I went five minutes longer on my run, and I ran 30 seconds faster per mile." Not always going to be the case, but going out there and defining things with your coach, and finding a way to create stability and still get gains, that’s always the end goal.
Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down.
Andrew: To cool down our episode today with Dr. Austin and Elizabeth on learning how to nutritionally navigate some real-life scenarios, I thought we would end with some real-life scenarios that all of us have either found ourselves in, or might find ourselves in, and could be searching for the best food option in some tough situations to navigate, and so I'm just going to throw out a few scenarios, a few options, a few places that we all in our lives might find ourselves trying to get a good snack or good meal in. I want to hear, Dr. Austin and Elizabeth, from you both. Dr. Austin obviously as our resident nutrition expert, and Elizabeth as our pro triathlete and staff coach who is typically very disciplined in what you eat. I'm curious to hear from you guys, in all of these scenarios, what it is that you would be eyeballing and trying to buy for yourself. So Scenario #1: I think a lot of folks might end up on a road trip or in the car for a long duration, and sometimes in that scenario you have to rely on gas station snacks to hold you over until you arrive at your destination. So if you're in that scenario – you're at a gas station, you're hungry, you need something to get you through to your next shot at a meal – what are you guys targeting when you're at a gas station relying on food? Krista, I'll start with you.
Krista: For me, when you're traveling, hydration's important, so I will tell you that I pick up a couple of hydration products. Usually they're non-calorie-based, I make sure they don't have sugar in them or probably not even caffeine. I'll also look for items like bars that maybe have some nutritional components. I know the Kind bars, or things like bananas or apples that can be at gas stations. The other thing that if people are feeling like they maybe need a little salt on the road – I know sometimes we don't eat a whole lot in the car and we don't get the sodium we typically get in food – I'll say grab a bag of low-fat potato chips if you want to. There's little things that we can do, but overall obviously we don't want to be relying too much on the gas station. But those are little things that we can choose when we're looking out there. Skim the store really well, and see if you can find the best choices for you, but don't forget to eat.
Andrew: I know, Elizabeth, you and I have road-tripped several times together when our TriDot responsibilities take us down to Houston for Ironman Texas, or for 70.3 Galveston, or a lot of the races that are down south, anytime our staff is doing work in Houston. So Elizabeth and I in those scenarios, we always stop at Bucky's. All of my Texans will know exactly what Bucky's is; it has a little more food options than most gas stations. But Elizabeth, for your typical gas station someone might find themselves at, what is it you're relying on if you have to default to a gas station snack?
Elizabeth: Okay, so not our Bucky's, where we can actually get a salad or something of more substance. Honestly, I was feeling really good about my answer and I kinda wish you had called on me first, because it would have made me sound good, because the things that Dr. Austin was saying I was like, "Oh yeah, that's what I was gonna say." I was going to say, "Oh cool, I'm right on track." A lot aligns with the hydration, making sure that I have something that keeps me hydrated. I love Vitamin Water with zero sugar, Gatorade Zero, Powerade Zero, something like that, or just water, making sure that I have something there. And then I was going to say my usual go-to's are going to be like a banana or an orange, and then maybe a small thing of almonds or cashews.
Andrew: Great suggestions. So Scenario #2 I'll throw out, I think this happens to people frequently as well: maybe you've traveled back home and you've flown a little late, or you've driven and you're getting a little bit late back into your hometown, or even you've been local, just hanging out with some friends or family, and it's a little bit late in the evening when you're traveling home. A lot of your restaurant options have closed down. You're looking for a meal, you don't have anything really at home to make. When you're in a pinch like that, even in your hometown, what is a good option to get a later-than-expected dinner when the options are in short supply? Elizabeth, I'll let you go first on this one.
Elizabeth: All right, so this is actually something that I did with my dad as we were traveling a lot for different soccer trips growing up. If things were starting to shut down, we would go to the grocery stores. Most of those have later hours than restaurants, and you could easily put together a good healthy meal. You don't have to go through and buy a whole week's worth of groceries, but just get enough to make that meal on the road.
Andrew: That's a great suggestion. Dr. Austin, what would you add there?
Krista: I'm the type where I see what's open in that situation, and remind myself that it's important just to fuel. So I will go with just about anything. Obviously I don't pull in and just get a greasy hamburger and French fries, but I try to remember that I do need to fuel my body, see what's open, and again adapt to my environment at that point. But I do always like, if you've got something like a Chipotle that's open, or maybe just like a local shop where you can pull in and you maybe can order something a little bit healthier, I'll try to gravitate to something like that.
Andrew: Okay, last one I'll throw out and then we'll call this show done and dusted. I'll say this, maybe it's first thing in the morning. You're preparing for the day, you know it's going to be a busy day, and you just likely won't have an opportunity to get in an actual meal. What are those go-to snacks that you have? What are some items that you might throw in the car, throw in your purse, throw in a gym bag to snack on later and get you through a scenario where you know the day's going to be too busy to really stop and have a meal? Dr. Austin, what would you say there?
Krista: I'm a big fan of packing nuts. I like pistachios, almonds, things of that nature. I definitely would always trend towards that. I'll usually also find something that's a bar that I know will keep my sweet tooth in check. I like the Kind bars a good bit, like the chocolate peanut versions. I also try to find at least some kind of fruit that I can pack with me and put in, even if it's just an apple or a clementine that isn't going to go bad in the heat even, and try to make sure I have items of that nature with me.
Andrew: Elizabeth, what about you? What are your go-to, toss-in-the-bag, try-to-get-through-a-busy-day kind of snacks?
Elizabeth: So maybe it's just because I am on the go so much, I was actually smiling as you were asking this question, because I'm like, "Hm, okay." All of these areas that you are mentioning – in the car, in the purse, the gym bag, I'll add to that my work bag – I already have a bunch of snacks stashed. I have different single-serve protein powders, I have UCAN bars in there, I have the little packages of nuts. So honestly, if I'm running late I'll probably grab something a little fresh like a piece of fruit, but my car is fully stocked with a bunch of electrolyte beverages and water, so I can mix up a protein drink at any point, in the car and the purse and the gym bag and work bag. I already have a bunch of snacks, so I snack frequently. I don't want to end up in that hangry point at any point in the day, so I feel like I'm pretty covered there.
Andrew: Well that's it for today folks! I want to thank Dr. Krista Austin and TriDot coach Elizabeth James for helping us nutritionally navigate our days. Shout out to UCAN for partnering with us on today's episode. Head to UCAN.com to see what SuperStarch-powered products could be best for you. Have any triathlon questions or topics you want to hear us talk about? Head to TriDot.com/podcast and let us know what you're thinking. We'll have a new show coming your way soon. Until then, happy training!
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