So my decision has been made, I'm almost 100% back from my injury, and am now 3.5 weeks into training with my new coach. Now that the dust has settled, I am waiting out the end of the summer before heading back to a final quarter of school and am finally back in shape, preparing for my fall racing season, I thought I would share with you one of the big changes I've started making to my life now that I've joined Team USA Minnesota:
There are a zillion reasons why Team USA Minnesota was right for me, but one important one was the support of a nutritionist who specializes in endurance sports. I transitioned from 400m sprinting to endurance triathlon training rapidly, and along with that came a huge drop in weight over a short amount of time. In total it was 40 lbs from January 2011 to March 2013, but the rapid weight loss was about 25 lbs in a matter of 2 months, November 2012 to January 2013. As an athlete with already low body fat (6.3% at 143lbs), that’s quite a bit of weight to lose, regardless of the time period.
Here I am in my peak weight 165, freshman year of college:
and here I am about a month ago, at my lowest, of 122.5:
A number of factors came into play which caused me to lose the weight, but largely it was starting to run longer distances and cycling often while still consuming the same amount of food as I was when I was a sprinter. It doesn't take a genius to know that those two sports DEFINITELY require different fuel. My hunger never really caught up to me too because it was so rapid. To top it all off, I, as a biochemistry major, know the ins and outs of the Central Metabolic Pathway, all of the different mechanisms for energy production and sources, fat storage, vitamin requirements, etc. I am a nutrition and food science geek. Seriously, I read nutritional biochemistry journals for fun. It’s hard to maintain proper food intake when my favorite foods are steamed broccoli, 0% fat greek yogurt, and turkey deli meat.
So what happens when I’m in a constant state of improper energy balance?
High kidney and liver enzyme function: both organs are working extra hard to detox my blood from all of the tissue break down. When I don't feed myself enough, my body breaks down its other tissues (muscle first). Extended high levels can sometimes lead to permanent liver damage.
Low Estrogen: that’s right, low body fat means I can't store my fatsoluble steroids. My levels are PREPUBESCENT. So I'm functioning at levels lover than a 10 or 11 year old girl.
Low Vitamin D: another steroid-derivative that is linked to bone health. It also leaves me at high risk for early onset osteoporosis. So I'm not only an 11 year old girl but also a 75 year old woman too. Sweet.
Sleep issues: without enough fuel through the night, when the liver is functioning at its highest, my body is alerting me to get up and get some fuel because it doesn't want to break down my organ tissues. I would often wake up 4 to 5 times a night and have weak sleep periods between those times.
Body Temp Regulation Issues: with low body fat, I get cold very easily. I have had to wear my wet suit in the heated outdoor pool in Los Angeles, I get goose bumps after I eat because all of my blood flow goes to my stomach, and I suffered pretty severe hypothermia at a triathlon in March 2014.
THANKFULLY, with a trip to the doctor, I found all of this out and that I needed to reverse it immediately. That was about 9 months ago. I gained 2 lbs for my marathon in February but then dropped back down 5 - 6 lbs when I was cross training from my stress fracture injury.
So I needed a nutritionist, but not any old one would do. Enter Rasa Troup. In addition to supporting Team USA Minnesota athletes, she also works with athletes at the University of Minnesota. She has a fantastic steeplechase career under her belt and now is doing a phenomenal job as a nutritionist.
After going over my health issues, my training load, and my eating habits, she set out to change my ways. We Skype once a week, and in each session she teaches me a bit about the balance that I need. Step by step, we've been adding meals, foods, and volume into my diet. She says we have to "train my GI tract" to be able to hold more food and teach my body the new state in which I will be functioning and training. She is helping me avoid calorie counting, and instead gave me a general guideline so I can guestimate and substitute different foods in my meals. The first goal: 3 snacks roughly 400-500 calories, 3 meals roughly 700 calories.
We started with snacks, making sure I eat 6 times a day. Then we started increasing my meals. Instead of a 1/2 cup of oats and 1 tablespoon of nut butter (cashew butter rocks, you should really try it) with two scrambled eggs, I am now eating 1 full cup of oats with the nut butter, added dried fruits, and the eggs have soy cheese added too! Just a ton of food to then have to eat again two hours later. But, like she was telling me, it’s about training my body to know the volume of food to start getting used to. Next up is lunch! I’m making sure my meals are balanced and I’m getting enough carbohydrate sources. I sternly believe in keeping veggies as a staple in my diet, but for now, to gain body fat and weight to make my organs happy and healthy again, I need to increase the grains in my diet. She has me keep a food journal, where I take pictures and write down what is in every meals. I send them to her and they help us figure out what I am lacking, needs improvement, etc.
I have been working with Rasa now for about three weeks, so what have I noticed:
I am rarely ever "stomach-grouping" hungry: Before beginning with Rasa, I (and my mother who dealed with my grumpy, hungry mood swings) found myself feeling absolutely famished when I approached my next meal. I would often try and hold out for a meal rather than snacking which left me feeling crummy. Now I hardly ever find myself hungry and instead have to keep track of the time to make sure im spacing out all of my feedings so that I have a constant flow of nutrients.
I am sleeping well: only waking up once a night!
I am recovering better: able to do multiple workout days in a row and feeling much peppier.
My workouts are going awesomely: I ran some great mile repeats earlier this week, faster than I have ever run them before. I am able to see my fitness improving and feeling like I don't have to put in quite as much effort.
Eating a lot is hard: everyone I talk to finds it silly that I have the issue of not being able to eat enough. At my lunch breaks at work, I have fifteen minutes to SHOVEL food into my mouth, and I'm still not getting enough. The societal issue of eating too much and wanting to eat less is the complete opposite for my situation. I am in a constant state of chewing and explaining to people that yes I do need to eat that giant plate of food, and no I will not end up looking like the chubby security guard. Instead I will be a better runner and healthier human being.
The difference Rasa's approach has made: I worked with a dietitian last year who was focused on calories and specific calculations to figure out my needs. This dietitian made me calculate out 8 nuts, 4 oz of meat, 1/2 cut rice, etc. Rasa on the other hand does that work on her own and then used the approach of helping me build meals and snacks that meet the deficits that I have. I got a general outline of what each meal and snack should have (food groups, amounts) and then she gives me a bunch of ideas of how to satisfy those.
Since that doctor visit 9 months ago, I have been telling myself that I need to gain this weight for my health. If I want to live a happy, healthy, long life, I need to do what is necessary. But why did it take so long to finally click?
Have you looked around at the fitness magazines, the fashion magazines, the news, food boxes, heck have you looked EVERYWHERE? What is our culture focused on? WEIGHT LOSS. What do girls say their ideal bodies are? Thin, lean, and defined. Without initially trying, I achieved a thin, lean, and defined figure, but at the cost of my internal health. The world around me is focused on losing 5, 10, 20 pounds and find beauty in being skinny and fat-free. When I am told that my goals are to gain those pounds, the surrounding environment sure doesn't know how to respond. There is plenty of judgment passed on what girls and people in general should be putting into their bodies. Popular articles all talk about eating less, eating foods to stay full, and so on. And I know as an elite athlete, my needs are very different from the average. But how come we don't see articles catered to serious athletes? They could talk about nutrients and habits that focused on eating enough, getting adequate energy sources and ratios, etc. Up until now, I have let the cultural stigma of WEIGHT GAIN get to me. I would try for a bit and then fall back into my veggie and protein diet, partially because of the environment around me and partially because I have trained myself to crave that stuff.
I got to sit down with Stephanie Rothstein Bruce—a sub 2:30 marathoner and an advocate for good body image—and talk heart to heart about the absolute importance of eating enough for your health as being the number one priority. She helped me figure this out: you only have one body and it is 100% more important that a running career. You have to do what is good and right for it and you have to be stronger than the judgment of the weight-loss crazed society.
This time around, I have finally grasped the urgency of the regeneration of my health and the importance it has on my training. I can't run fast if I’m lacking the essential fuel to run, recover, and improve. Being fit and healthy is a universal goal, and for right now, healthy means eating bucketloads of food and gaining some much needed meat on my bones. So I plan to keep putting good food into my body, the right amount of it in, and bask in the good feeling and increased training performance I am having. I am so thankful for Team USA Minnesota, rasa Troup, and my family for the support system that is allowing me to make the change in my life. I have no doubt that this will help with my racing and livelihood in the weeks, months, and years to come!
So next time you see me, ask me why I don't have food in my mouth :p