The Smart Athlete: Recovery and Nutrition

The Smart Athlete: Recovery and Nutrition
March 28, 2016 Jess

Deep thanks to Yoga Soul in Princeton Junction, NJ for opening their community to the The Smart Athlete: Recovery and Nutrition workshop. We kicked things off with a restorative practice focused on opening joint space and lengthening soft tissue in common areas of tension and imbalance in the athlete body. Then BJ perked us right up with his delicious plant-based recovery smoothie bowls while discussions on nutrition, injury rehabilitation and balancing the nervous system carried on well past the end of the workshop.  There were so many valuable perspectives being shared in a genuine effort to assist the group as a whole. Those are the moments of connection that BJ and I soak up so gratefully and the ones that inspire us to continue moving forward as wellness advocates to connect and serve others.

Since these workshops are just two hours and there is always so much discussed, I recapped some of the major topics and questions to give those who haven’t experienced a YFA workshop a taste of what one offers and for those who attended, a reminder of things covered. Post questions and comments below and we’ll respond.

The Smart Athlete: Recovery and Nutrition

1) Recipe for the workshop Recovery Smoothie Bowlsmoothie-bowl
Four ingredients plus toppings, this recipe makes 2 smoothie bowls.

2c non-dairy milk (we primarily use almond milk)
1c frozen pineapple
2c frozen spinach
2 scoops plant-based vanilla protein powder (we use Garden of Life)

Blend until smooth but still thick.

Add 1T of each topping:
goji berries, unsweetened shredded coconut, chia seed, cacao nibs.

We chose pineapple in this recovery smoothie because it contains the enzyme Bromelain which appears to aid in soft tissue repair. Spinach is a nutrient powerhouse which has anti-inflammatory properties, key for recovering the body after a race or hard training session. The almond milk lacks dairy which is acidic to the body and pro-inflammatory while the protein helps with muscle synthesis and repair.  Food can be medicine and a discipline to be strongly considered by any athlete looking for longevity in their sport.

What is a processed food?
A food is considered to be processed when it is altered from its natural state and a deliberate change is made. Processed food dates back a few million years when our ancestors discovered cooking.  From there it moved to drying, fermenting and preserving. These days it equals a multi-billion dollar industry inclusive of artificial dyes, fiber stripping mechanisms and carefully calculated addictive properties. The spectrum is wide but it’s not all unhealthy.

There’s the back alley, crack dealer type of processed food which is essentially created in a laboratory and heavily funded by deep pockets with bottom line interest. Specifically designed to addict us just enough, these highly processed and packaged foods create vicious cycles of unhealthy eating habits. Then there are food options that, besides being processed, are otherwise healthy options and foods that we incorporate into our regular diet. For example, organic tofu, tempeh, hummus, nut butter, whole grain and/or gluten free pastas and tortillas etc.

So much of what is available in grocery stores is processed and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Take the confusion out by eating food closest to its natural state. When it comes to understanding which processed food is a better choice, we use this guideline from Dr. Michael Greger, “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away”.

Reading labels is essential, not the front of the package but the nutritional content part of the package. If ingredients are impossible to pronounce or start with a color (i.e. red #5) then it’s best to simply stay away. When we tamper with nature’s package we modify the innate nutritional equation as it was intended. The best course of action is to keep healthy processed foods as a small portion of an overall diet.

Why are goji berries good?
Goji berries are a high in antioxidants, and up until recently they were the highest on the scale of dried fruits antioxidant levels. Trumped by dried pomegranates and a few other rare and very pricey berries, goji berries seem to be an accessible choice. We purchase ours through Amazon’s Subscribe n’ Save program. This no tax, no shipping, discounted method of auto-ordering allows us to go for the mother load, 32 oz HealthWorks Organic goji berries for anywhere between $25 and $28 dollars. Another option is to grow these berries. It seems they do well in warmer climates but will also thrive in containers for areas where the temperatures are low.

Phytonutrients which are plentiful in goji berries are only found in plant foods and carry health promoting agents in their chemistry. A study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed the nutritional benefits of goji berries to include, increased athlete performance, ability to sleep, mental acuity and significant reduction in fatigue and stress. It is rumored that thousands of years ago, goji berries were eaten by monks in the Himalayan Mountains to enhance meditation and overall health. Om.

These berries have been studied extensively for their ability to improve the musculoskeletal system, ease digestion and increase cardiovascular health. The power is found in the phytonutrients which appear to be anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, anti-heart disease and often used in the treatment diabetes. Most people believe their health is determined by their genetics and that simply is not true. A person’s genetic code may include certain inheritances, however dis-ease in the body is determined by when and if those genes are expressed. Nutrition plays a significant role in how genes are expressed in the body. Eating a whole foods plant-based diet while sprinkling in super foods like goji berries provide great defense against dis-ease in the body and mind.

What’s is Amaranth?
Amaranth is a naturally gluten-free, whole grain, protein powerhouse.  It exceeds the protein content of most other grains coming in at about 14% protein and it is considered to be a complete protein. Plant foods tend to be incomplete proteins but this does not mean that they are inferior to complete proteins. When we eat a whole foods plant-based diet across the spectrum, complete proteins will be present in the body despite eating incomplete proteins from meal to meal. The body has an inherent ability to group amino acids together from the different foods we eat so that incomplete proteins become complete. Our experience is that there is no need for concern when it comes to getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, even for body buildersAmaranth is also high in iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium all of which help keep muscles and bones strong. Also, it carries more than three times that amount of calcium than other grains. We love Amaranth as the base of a hot morning porridge, check out this recipe for Apple Cinnamon Amaranth breakfast cereal. 

Where should someone start when making change in their diet?
Adding more plant-based whole foods to our diet everyday without fail is the place to start. The more we add in the good, the healthier the biology in our gut will be and this determines so much of what we crave on our plate.

Microbiome in a few sentences… We literally are what we eat. The live bacteria and fungi that live in the human body outnumber human cells by 10. If these micro-organisms are alive then that means they need to eat. By eating more plant-based whole foods we will grow bacteria in our digestive tracts that need more plant-based whole foods to survive. Meaning the more we eat kale, the more we crave kale because the kale microorganisms are calling for more. With 70% of the immune system existing in our gastrointestinal tract, it seems that a healthy gut is the gateway to wellness.

The second piece is mindfulness which brings in responsibility for our own individual health. Noticing how we feel after meals is a great gauge in understanding how foods are working for us. Take a close look at food choices and habits, this will provide great clarity into their alignment or misalignment with values regarding health and goals in life. Our plant-based, yogi friend Ayami, who is a teacher at Yoga Soul, published a book last year that ties in perfectly to this message – check it out here.

Which of the Amrita bar flavors are best for pre, during and post workout? amrita-bars
Before and during workouts, we’d recommend any of the flavors with the exception of the Chocolate Maca which contains 15 grams of protein. This is more ideal for eating after a workout.

In deciding what to eat before a workout, depending on the length and activity of the workout, there is no one size fits all. It’s helpful to read up on what others recommend and talk to other athletes about what they use and why. In the end it boils down to finding out what works best for the individual. Going back to the mindfulness piece, noticing how we feel during the workout and the hours following, track that back to how we prepared and recovered our body.  Is bounce back quick or are we wrecked for the rest of the day?  Nutrition plays a key role in our ability to recover from workouts and hit it hard again. Without proper nutrition and hydration, the body will keep taking the hit time and time again eventually leading to over-training symptoms, injury and loss of zeal for the sport.  This is where a coach or trainer can play an instrumental role in providing objective feedback and guidance.

We prefer to do most of our first workouts in a fasted state. These workouts tend to be in the hour range, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.  This has been over years of training that we’ve found that this works well for us.  However, on those days when a hungry belly calls loudly before a workout, we’ll keep it light by taking maybe a 1/4-1/2 bar bar then see how that sits.  If anything is needed during the workout, if we feel ourselves losing our power and oomph, then we’ll continue to snack on that bar.

For longer workouts, especially on the bike, we use the Pineapple Chia.  This has fueled our last few Ironmans. We find this flavor to be most palatable to eat over and over again, throughout the long bike portion of the race.  Since these bars are made from whole foods, the sugar comes mostly from date, our bodies are able to digest them without causing GI distress. The thing we love the most is that we have been able to eat these before and even during runs.  Normally we’d stay away from bars while running but the ingredients seem to melt easily in the mouth leaving very little to chew. Try it out and see how it works.

Is raw better than cooked?
There are many schools of thought on cooking food. Ours is pretty basic, we tend to cook more foods in the winter because we live in New England and we get very cold in the winter months. The heat offers an energy of movement during a time of year when things get stagnate. In the summer, we eat much more raw food. I would say our diet is 80% raw in the summer and 60-70% raw in the winter. We don’t have a heavy belief in either raw or cooked food although we always keep mindful of not overcooking food. The goal is to preserve the highest amount of nutrients in all our meals.

What kind of strength exercises are appropriate for rehabbing a torn gluteus muscle?
This case was that of multiple tears in the gluteus muscle happening just about a year ago. This attendee is working with a trainer and from our conversation, sounds like he’s doing all the right things, including practicing patience.

The hip region is a common place where athletes can have weakness and imbalance. Our bodies do an amazing job at recruiting other muscles and joints to compensate for imbalances and most often our first sign of this compensation is pain and injury. Best to keep strong and solid through this region proactively. This approach takes a lot less time and acceptance than does the healing from an injury and time taken out of sport. Here are three exercises that we love for strengthening glutes, hamstrings and hips as a whole. Start conservatively using just body weight, then add in additional weight once the body is acclimated. Click on individual pics for larger images.

One Legged Squats
Start with 1 set, 5-10 on each side. Engage the core for additional stability and do not extend knee over front toes. For additional weight, use dumbbell at chest.


Bulgarian Squats
Start with 1 set, 5-10 on each side. Engage the core for additional stability and do not extend knee over front toes. For additional weight, use dumbbell at chest.


Bridge with Extended Knee
Set up for bridge with knees bent, make sure the heels can be brushed with finger tips. Press feet down and forward to lift hips and add in pressing arms and upper body down into the ground while neck and head remain relaxed.  Hold for a count of 5 then extend one leg while keeping thighs parallel. Hold for a count of 10-15, for more drop the hips and extended leg then push into the floor to raise hips and leg back to neutral.  Repeat 5-10 times then draw knees into the chest then repeat on the other side.


How is the best way to fuel workouts and recovery while working a 9-5 job and training at night?
It’s a balancing act to get training and fueling in, pre and post workout, later in the day. A recovery meal is key but eating too close to the time we go to bed will result in a rise in cortisol levels in the body and the activation of our digestive system during the hours it should be resting. This can absolutely affect quality of sleep which is so important to proper recovery. That said, if there are multiple workouts in a day, it is ideal to get at least one of those done before work, even if that means splitting a run/bike into two sessions. There are many benefits to working out in the morning, including boosted metabolism and better sleep quality but we understand that not everyone is a morning person. The other thing to consider in this equation is getting a workout in during the day (i.e. lunchtime).

All that said, here’s what we recommend based on working 9-5 and training after the workday has ended.  This is based on BJ’s schedule when he was working a 9-5 job and incorporating strength training and multiple swim, bike run workouts into any given day:

If the plan is to work out around 5-6pm, then at least 30 to 90 min before we recommend this salad:

Pre-Workout Salad
– handful of spinach
– 1/2 cup chickpeas
– 2 0z tempeh
– 1/2 cup of brussel sprouts
– topped with salsa

Or a snack if hunger is not present:
– apple option to add 1T nut butter or tahini
– banana option to add 1T nut butter
– carrots or celery and hummus
– cucumber soaked in apple cider vinegar and a touch of olive oil
– rice cake with 2 tbsp almond butter

Depending on how long the training session is bring an Amrita bar, banana or coconut water for extra calories as needed. The idea is not to overeat but fueled just enough to put out the best training session while not fighting between output and digestion. Being mindful of how the body feels before, during and after is going to be the best at informing when and what is best to eat.  In regards to recovery, we recommend something lighter that will be easily digested like the smoothie bowl we served at the workshop, a salad inclusive of higher protein options like beans and hemp seeds or sprouted grain toast with tempeh, avocado, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and spinach.

What are some examples of plant based meals to eat before a gym/strength workout and after?
We like to plan the meal 30-60 minutes prior to the workout.  Some options include rice cake with nut or seed butter, an apple, a banana or an Amrita bar (not the Chocolate Maca).  Post workout it’s time to refuel, and maximize the 30 minute window where the body can best absorb carbohydrates and protein. This is where we’d have a recovery smoothie or something lighter like 8oz of water or non-dairy milk with 1 scoop of plant-based protein powder.  There is also a second window 90 min-3 hours after the workout where we can still help muscle recovery. Aim for 70–100 grams of carbs, and 20–25 grams of protein, or a 4:1 ratio.  Post workout options include a big salad with leafy greens, beans/lentils, fresh vegetables, amaranth, hemp/chia seeds, apple cider vinegar, a little olive oil and nutritional yeast or brown rice, sweet potato and bean burrito with avocado, salsa and nutritional yeast. Check out this a great article on plant-based recovery foods.

What is a good self care tool for plantar fascitis?triggerpoint-tools
We brought in a selection of our favorite self care tools, mostly from the Trigger Point line but also the P-Knot which is perfectly shaped to role the spine.

Our favorite tool to help prevent and treat plantar fascitis is the Nano foot roller in the forefront of the picture. It acts as both a foot roller and pinpoint release in precise areas of tension in the foot.  Used consistently and coupled with a relaxing breath, the Nano will serve up the benefits. Also to consider is the Nano X, which comes with the claim of increased firmness for intense release.

What’s the best way to get sodium and magnesium when racing?
We get potassium, magnesium, potassium and sodium primarily from our sports drink – currently we’re still using what’s on the course and because we mostly race Ironman, the option is almost always Gatorade Endurance Formula. Even when we race other races, we tend to just use what is on the course regardless of what that is because over all else, we like to travel light. We’ve also found success with using S-Caps. We keep our intake of sugar spiking drinks and gels low during our training and practice race day nutrition only closer to the event and during long workouts. Otherwise, we use other options like Nuun, coconut water, bananas, pretzels, dates and sweet potatoes in training.  We’re always looking for better options and plan to check out Skratch Labs as we’ve heard good things.


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