A tag dedicated to articles that focus on helping individuals improve their health and wellness through a variety of means. These write-ups cover everything from diet planning and how different nutrients affect the body to setting realistic fitness goals and striving to meet them.
It is likely that many of us have heard someone say that…or even said it ourselves. The New Year is upon us and there are many who will be trying some version of a “diet” in an attempt to make progress towards their New Year’s resolutions. (In November, I wrote about “The Best Diet” and in December, I provided a guide to help you establish those New Year’s resolutions and you can now read those articles in the Blog portion of my website!).
Unfortunately, some won’t make an attempt to change their health for the better, referencing their failed attempts in the past. I am here to tell you that the only true failure is giving up altogether.
I have seen it pointed out that FAIL can also stand for “First Attempt in Learning.” Social media often paints the picture that everything goes perfect the first time. With any significant change, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In my personal journey, I have lost as much as 60 pounds and have kept it off for years. All too frequently it pops up in my “Facebook memories” how I posted about “rededicating myself for the 1387th time” because I had made an attempt to address my health/fitness/nutrition and it didn’t work out.
In a book that I have written that will come out in the New Year about failure, I wrote “failure doesn’t have to be final…even the best fail…it’s what you do in response to that failure that matters.” One of the most important actions we can take when something doesn’t work out as we had planned is to reflect on what happened. Questions to consider: what went well? What didn’t go well? What could I have done differently? What would I keep the same?
Even now, I still have periods where old habits resurface and I may fluctuate up in weight a bit. When I go through those periods, I then reflect on what I could do or could have done differently. I will help you out with this…you will not reach a point where you have learned it all…it is a continuous learning process.
Some common reasons people experience failure in their attempts to improve their nutrition is that they choose an approach that is too restrictive (reference my “Best Diet” article). Last time, the “diet that didn’t work”, did it eliminate all of the things that you love/enjoy? If so, how about this time, you choose an approach that still enables you to enjoy your favorite things, but in moderation?
Last time, the “diet that didn’t work”, did you really give it enough time? In a time where people expect “6 Week Abs”, many expect their bodies/health to improve in that same time frame. Tough love here…you didn’t gain the weight in 6 weeks and it is going to take you longer than 6 weeks to lose it. I often go back to the question, “would you rather lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks or lose 10 pounds that you keep off forever?” Building the habits that will help you keep the 10 pounds off forever will be far more beneficial than the actions you take to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks. I encourage you to be patient with the process because just when we think nothing is happening, we could be just on the other side of a major breakthrough.
With the “diet that didn’t work” the last time, how consistent were you? Did you have a great breakfast and a decent lunch, and then “blow” it in the evening? Or, were you good all week just to have a landslide on the weekend? These can be signs that: too restrictive of an approach has been taken during the week, meals weren’t balanced well enough, or that you are not eating enough (yes, even when people are trying to lose weight, it is possible for them to not eat enough). This is why I preach sustainability and choosing an approach that works best for YOU…not what worked for a friend of yours, someone at work, or some celebrity.
What did your overall lifestyle look like with the “diet that didn’t work” the last time? Were you trying to feel your best, but only sleeping 4-6 hours a day? What did your stress management look like? Were you drinking 4 cups of coffee a day and only 2 cups of water? What did your fruit & vegetable consumption look like? Were you exercising to burn as many calories as possible? NO nutritional approach is going to overcome or balance out an unhealthy lifestyle.
Lastly, did you try to do it alone the last time the “diet didn’t work.” I coach others and even I have a Coach to help me navigate the trouble areas. Apps are a wonderful tool. I use MyFitnessPal often. However, they do not replace human connection and having someone to reach out to when you are facing a challenge.
In closing, I encourage you to do some deep reflection regarding the ways you feel an attempt to improve your health/fitness/nutrition didn’t work out in the past. I can pose questions to you to initiate that reflection, but it is up to you to answer them honestly to yourself. One of my mantras is “let it be possible.” The moment we say “I’ve tried every diet and nothing worked,” we are closing ourselves off to the opportunity of ever being successful. This time, you are attempting with experience in knowing what may not have worked the last time and can perhaps be just a bit more successful this time. You are worth every attempt to improve your health and live this life to its fullest because we only get this one life to live…so why not get the most out of it? You can do it. I believe in you!
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their January issue.
2023 is almost upon us which means many people will be creating some New Year’s Resolutions. There are some who don’t quite “believe” in setting some resolutions for themselves. I don’t blame them. Estimates vary, with some statistics reporting that about only 75-80% of those who create resolutions for themselves are still committed to them two weeks into the New Year. As the year goes by, the rate continues to decrease with approximately less than half still striving for them six months later.
On the other hand, I am personally in favor of New Year’s Resolutions as I am a product of them myself. In 2016, I committed to myself and identified three New Year’s Resolutions: lose 25 pounds, complete the Spartan Beast (an obstacle course race) in Killington, Vermont, and get my first strict pull-up. It took me till July of that year to lose my 25th pound, I completed my race in August that year, and it took till the week between Christmas and New Year’s of 2017 to get that first strict pull-up. I also view 2016 as the year where my life/health made its biggest turnaround and therefore, I encourage others to establish goals for themselves too. However, HOW we set those goals is just as important WHAT goals we set.
A great framework to use is that of the SMART Goal. A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Let’s go through each step!
Specific. Be specific about your goal. For example, “I will be healthier in 2023.” Being “healthier” can really mean a lot of different things. Instead, consider, “I will lose on average 1-2 pounds per month” or, “I will start walking 10,000 steps per day”, or “I will eat a fruit or a vegetable each day.”
Measurable. Using the initial example of wanting to be healthier, it helps if there is some way to measure whether we have achieved our goal or not. You can measure that through weight loss, if that is your goal. You can measure that with accomplishing a step-count goal. You can also measure that by checking off “yes” each day when you confirm that you have eaten a fruit or a vegetable.
Attainable. In setting a goal, you want to create one that is attainable, yet still does require some additional effort on your part to achieve. However, not one soooo big that the chances are greater that you won’t. Depending where you are on your weight loss journey, losing 1-2 pounds per month is an attainable goal. Saying you will lose 10 pounds in the month of January, while perhaps attainable for some, likely involves a great deal of restriction and is probably not sustainable, meaning those 10 pounds will likely come back.
Relevant. Make sure the goal is relevant to you and what is important to YOU, not important to your family or someone else.
Time-based. Having a date in mind gives you something to focus on. Maybe you are striving to achieve a certain weight by a special event. Maybe you have a goal of increasing your number of steps each day till you are achieving your goal on the regular by July. Maybe you eat a fruit or vegetable 3 days/week in January, and increase it by one day each week until you accomplish your goal, let’s say 80-90% of the time in June.
Regardless of what goal you set for yourself, I also want you to keep some things in mind. The first is, you will not always see signs of progress and that doesn’t mean that you aren’t making any. With my weight loss goal, there was at least one month in there (and at that time I usually weighed about once a month), where the number on the scale didn’t move. If you experience the same with your goal, be patient and continue to put in the work and trust the process. Sometimes our breakthrough is just on the other side of such “plateaus”. Unfortunately, too many people give up or throw in the towel here…don’t be one of those people.
Next, you won’t always feel motivated to work towards your goal. Even I, one who enjoys exercising, do not ALWAYS feel like exercising. However, I have those goals off in the distance to help provide some motivation. For example when I had the goal of that obstacle course race, it motivated me to make sure I got to the gym to work on my fitness so I could have a successful race.
Lastly, be OK with it taking longer than you think. Too many times today people are expecting things to happen so fast and in many cases, that is unrealistic. For example, with my goal of a pull-up…for many, especially women, they can take a while to be able to develop the ability to do. To expect that I would accomplish that in 8 weeks or less would likely be very unrealistic. We don’t always have control over when the results will come, but we have control over the process that helps you achieve those results.
If you are feeling stuck on what would be an appropriate goal for yourself, or maybe you have a goal and don’t quite know how to break it down into small steps, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I am happy to help and provide some guidance.
We all want the best for ourselves, right?! We take the time to research the best car or the best school to send our kids to. We look at reviews on websites before committing to purchasing a particular product. Similarly, there is no shortage of information suggesting “the best diet” for people. Oftentimes, this is followed by the tag line “lose 10 pounds in 10 days.”
Perhaps you saw the headline for this article and thought I would be writing to encourage you to do Keto, or to go plant-based, or to consider the cabbage soup diet (yes…that’s a thing). I am here to tell you that the answer is none of those things necessarily. My answer for what is the best diet: the one that is most sustainable for you. Unfortunately, that won’t make the front cover of a magazine…because it isn’t attached to a product that someone can make money off of…and it doesn’t have fancy rules and/or restrictions.
Personally, I am not even a fan of the word “diet”, as it has come to have a somewhat negative connotation. For example, when you Google “diet defined”, the second part of the definition reads: “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” On the other hand, the first part of the definition reads, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” which is generally what I am referring to when I use the word “diet”. However, since people often hear “diet” and think of the definition which suggests restriction, I instead prefer to use the term/phrase “nutritional approach”. In this article, I will discuss some key principles you should have in mind when choosing a nutritional approach for yourself.
One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability. Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime? If you are a carb lover, don’t choose an eating pattern that is more Ketogenic. If you love a good steak, don’t choose something that is primarily plant based. By all means, if you love cabbage soup…have some…just don’t make that the only thing you eat all week. If you can’t picture yourself eating that way forever, then don’t choose that nutritional approach. You will likely find yourself to be more miserable.
Another key principle to have in mind is don’t jump into something that requires you to change everything all at once. This will likely lower your likelihood of success and possibly increase your chances of giving up. On the other hand, embrace a more gradual approach where you can build on some early successes. For some guidance, check out the Infographic I referred to in recent weeks in my articles on protein, carbohydrates, and fats (all now located in the blog section of my website). Ideally, you would be selecting most of your foods from the “eat more” column, with less of what you eat coming from the “eat some”, and only on occasion eating the “eat less” foods. Again, this is not something you even need to jump into full force with right away. Start with even just three of your breakfasts during the week containing foods predominantly from the “eat more” column. Maybe you even start with just trading out your usual carbohydrate at supper with one from the “eat more” column. Don’t underestimate the value of making even small changes and the positive impact they can have on your overall health.
Something that should cause you to question the healthiness of a particular nutritional approach is if it is overly restrictive, or cuts out food groups entirely. For example, the Keto diet is commonly associated with cutting out carbs, including fruit and certain vegetables. In doing so, you are also cutting out valuable sources of vitamins and minerals that are important to our body functioning at its best. A challenge commonly associated with those who choose a more plant-based approach is ensuring enough protein variety is consumed so as not to miss out on important amino acids. I understand people may take this approach for reasons that are very personal to them and I am OK with that. It is just important that if one is going to choose this nutritional approach for their life that they do the appropriate research to make sure they are consuming enough of what their body needs, namely protein. Lastly, the cabbage diet…yes, cabbage and other fermented foods are good for our health, especially our gut health, however in large quantities, they can make you quite uncomfortable. In addition, when you focus on consuming strictly one food, you are missing out on nutrients that are available in other foods.
“One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability. Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime?”
A key component to choosing the best nutritional approach for you is not necessarily looking at what you need to take out, but perhaps what you can add in. Maybe you don’t make any modifications to what you are eating just yet, and instead you add in some activity such as walking. Maybe you don’t swap out your fried chicken for supper, but you add in a serving of veggies or two. Maybe you aren’t ready to modify your activity level or your nutrition, but strive to improve your hydration and drink more water. Or, maybe you focus on going from 5-6 hours of sleep per night to getting 7-9 hours.
One last suggestion I will make is to focus on the long game. Stop looking for the next “4 week” or “8 week” fix. Generally speaking, the faster you lose the weight, the more likely it is to come back. On the other hand, those that play the long game, often experience long-term, lasting results. Put simply…would you rather lose 10 pounds quickly? Or, would you rather lose 10 pounds that stays off forever? Case in point…look at those on the Biggest Loser who were placed on restrictive, aggressive plans and yes, they lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very short time. However, only very few were able to keep it off and many rebounded and gained some (if not all) of the weight back.
In closing, there is no one best nutritional approach out there except the one that works for you. One key element it does require is the willingness to change. If you want something different for yourself, you have to do something different. Notice I didn’t say “completely alter who you are.” I love pizza…it’s one of my favorite food groups. I still enjoy it pretty much weekly, just in a smaller portion. I also love ice cream…another one of my favorite food groups! I still enjoy it often but in smaller portions. However, because I want my body and mind to function at its best, I have added in more nutrient dense foods that support those goals. Eating well a great majority of the time means that the small portions of pizza and/or ice cream that I eat during the week don’t take away from me accomplishing my goals and actually help me get closer to them because I never feel like I am missing out.
If you would like some personalized guidance or direction, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
There are three major macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In July, I wrote about protein and in August, I wrote about carbohydrates. (If you missed those articles, you can find them in the Blog section of my website). This month, I conclude that series with information on the importance of fats!
Maybe not to the degree in which carbs have come to develop a negative connotation, but fats unfortunately have earned themselves a negative reputation as well. This is evident in the numerous products that have been developed and marketed for being “fat free” and/or “low fat”. A point for thought and consideration…how many people do you see eating “fat free” or “low fat” options actually have a healthy body composition? The engineering that contributed to them that reduced their fat content likely contributes to you eating more of them.
Fats are essential for many functions within our bodies. They can be utilized as a source of energy, they are essential for appropriate hormone function, they are important for the structure of our cells, and they support our brain and nervous system function. In addition, certain vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K) are fat-soluble meaning that they can’t dissolve in water. Consuming fats also provides us with fats that our body cannot produce on its own such as Omega-6 and Omega-3.
Similar to carbs and proteins, not all fats are created equal. Please refer to a Precision Nutrition infographic that I have shared on my website (under Blogs & Resources) that provides guidance on fats we would benefit from “eating more” of, “eating some” of, or “eating less” of. We can consume fats from a variety of sources including plants, dairy, meat, fish, and oils. I always encourage people to strive to get a majority of their nutrition via real food. However, for those who are challenged with consuming enough to support their health, there are some fat supplements available such as fish oil, krill oil, or algae oil.
People may often fear consuming fat with the concern it will raise their cholesterol. It is not the presence of a fat source that causes the negative health consequences, but more its presence in highly processed and refined foods that are overconsumed and therefore lead to obesity and increased inflammation in the body that cause the negative health outcomes. Please note, cholesterol is vital for many functions within our body. It is likely I could write a whole other lengthy article on the myths commonly associated with cholesterol. The point I will reinforce is not to be hesitant about consuming healthy sources of fats.
Just as we benefit from varying our sources of proteins and carbs to help ensure we are providing our body with adequate nutrition, it is just as important to consume fat from a variety of sources as well. Fats come in various forms such as saturated, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and trans fats.
It is important to balance out our sources of fats, similar to how we should balance out our carb and protein sources. For example, we should strive to balance out our saturated fat intake with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties. We should strive for more Omega-3s than Omega-6’s. The ways we accomplish that are eating a varied diet with limited processed and refined foods.
Generally speaking, the fats we want to consume the least of are trans fats. These are your full or partially hydrogenated fats. These are the ones that have negative impacts on our cholesterol and overall health. These are commonly found in fried foods like doughnuts and other baked goods (cakes, pies, cookies), crackers and some margarines and other spreads. Does this mean you should never enjoy a piece of cake? No. However, it should make up a very small part of your nutritional intake (i.e. “eat less”).
OK…so we know fats are good for us, but how much to eat? There is no one answer that applies to everyone. Some people do well with diets higher in fat, whereas others may do better with less. As I mentioned in the previous article, there is no one right diet or nutritional approach that works best. The best nutritional approach for you is the one you can be most consistent with and supports your overall health and personal goals.
A way to informally measure your fat intake at a meal is to base it off the size of your thumb. Many people benefit from a 1-2 thumb-size portions of fats in their meals. There can be too much of a good thing and it is important to remember that fats are more calorie dense. Fats have about 9 calories per gram, whereas carbs and protein each have 4 calories per gram. Therefore, measuring can be helpful to ensure you are not overeating in excess of your body’s requirements.
Some key takeaways from this series: strive to eat foods from the “eat more” categories, strive to eat a variety, and balance your intake with your activity level.
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their September issue.
You would think as a Nurse, I always took good care of myself. You might also think that as a Nurse and living a healthy lifestyle where I was working out and eating well a majority of the time, that I had no need to go to the Doctor. It wasn’t till I was having some periodic episodes of chest pain and had to receive care urgently in a hospital observation unit, that I realized I really need to start following with a primary care provider (PCP). (Please note: a PCP can be a Physician, Physician Assistant, and/or a Nurse Practitioner).
After the above instance occurred, I acknowledged to myself that I had no idea who my PCP was (my previous one had retired and I never made an appointment with the new one designated to me) and here I was, receiving care via emergency medicine. It was then that I realized I should really connect with a PCP.
After a stress test and some other lab work, it appeared that my chest pain was likely from a dietary source (let’s just say…I had a double serving of nachos with cheese at my daughter’s softball game the night before and it might have angered my gall bladder just a little bit!). However, as a Nurse, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing many others not be so lucky. Many come in with chest pain and find out that they have experienced a heart attack or have some other serious cardiovascular issues brewing.
Many of the urgent issues people seek emergency care for are often chronic issues that have come to a boiling point. Unfortunately, you find that some of these individuals haven’t been to a PCP in years. This could be for a variety of reasons, some of which include financial, logistical, or sociocultural to name just a few.
Want to connect with a PCP and don’t know where to start? Ask your friends who they go to! You likely know your friends’ general likes/dislikes when it comes to others and perhaps if they have connected with and like a particular PCP, you might also experience the same. Likewise, they might also tell you who they dislike. Always remember though…relationships are a two-way street. Just because they didn’t like a particular PCP doesn’t mean you won’t like them. You might also have to ask what kind of Patient they were. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to marry your PCP…but you do need someone who makes you feel heard when you express your concerns, who takes the time to explain things in a way you understand, and that has your best interests in mind.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
There aren’t too many chronic conditions that you don’t generally have some early indicator of early on. Having a relationship with your PCP, it is likely that you will be prompted for some annual blood work and/or other testing (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.). These tests may catch something early on enough to help prevent or minimize something later on. For example, a hemoglobin A1C lab test may detect the risk for diabetes early on. Or, a lipid profile may detect some early risks for cardiovascular issues. While not absolutely true in every case, there are many instances where there is the opportunity for lifestyle modifications that may help delay the onset of chronic disease or minimize the negative impact of such conditions on your life.
If you don’t make time for your health and wellness…you will be forced to make time for your illness.
A wait in the ER can be hours…worse yet…a stay in the hospital can last days to weeks. If we could plan for it, we never would. As a Nurse, I don’t know that I have ever heard someone say this was a good time for them to be in the hospital and how well it worked for their schedule! I have definitely heard about the inconveniences though…missing time from work, missing a due date for the rent, missing an important family event, etc.
Developing a relationship with your PCP allows for the treatment of many conditions outside of the hospital. One of the worst places for you to be for a variety of reasons (many of which are outside the scope of this blog post) is the hospital. Does it serve a purpose in some instances? Absolutely. However, when you have the opportunity to receive your care elsewhere, I believe you will have a much better experience.
It is generally more conducive to schedule your testing and appointments at a time that works best with your schedule instead of vice versa. Personally speaking, when I had COVID, I was able to do some lab work and an x-ray outpatient and receive direction on my care without having to wait hours in an ER waiting room and be exposed to even more sick people.
In summary, I encourage you to take a more proactive rather than a reactive approach to your health…and having a relationship with a Primary Care Provider is a great place to start.
In follow-up to the article I wrote last month on protein, this month, let’s talk carbs! (If you missed last month’s article, you can find it here).
Unfortunately, carbs have acquired a negative connotation due to those that feel strongly towards a no-carb and/or low-carbohydrate nutritional approach. Truth being, there is no one best nutritional approach and I am not suggesting one approach over the other. Truly, the best nutritional approach is the one that is most sustainable to help one achieve their goals.
Carbohydrates (carbs) benefit us in that they are a great source of energy. However, it is important to balance our carbohydrate intake with our activity levels. If one is not very active, their carbohydrate requirements are likely lower compared to someone who is more active and exercises regularly. Whereas last month I mentioned how many people are challenged with eating enough protein, that is generally not the same problem with carbs. While I have met people who are not eating enough carbs to support their goals, I have observed many others that are eating more carbs than their current activity level requires.
It should be noted that not all carbs are created equal. I encouraged readers to refer to a Precision Nutrition Infographic on my website (under Blogs & Resources) last month regarding protein…and I encourage readers this month to review recommended carb sources on that same infographic. As with anything, there are foods we would benefit from “eating more” of, “eating some” of, and “eating less” of. Whereas the quantity of carbs is a strong influence on your overall weight…the quality of carbs is a strong influence on your overall health. In other words, consuming pop tarts regularly is going to yield a different body than one nourished by fruits and vegetables. Please note, this is not to say you never eat a pop tart…but they should make up a very small part of what you regularly eat (i.e. “eat less”).
Choosing carbs that are rich in fiber will help support feelings of satiety, or fullness. (Last month, we also discussed how adequate protein helps us feel the same). Someone who chooses carbs from the “eat more” such as beans, fresh or frozen fruit, or potatoes (white or sweet), are going to feel fuller longer versus those who eat from the “eat less” category. These slower-digesting carbs also help promote more stable blood sugar management. On the other hand, faster-digesting carbs (juices, soft drinks, cookies, cakes, muffins, i.e. “eat less” foods) will not help promote feelings of fullness and get a person started on an eating roller coaster throughout the day as they chase highs and lows with their blood sugar.
In addition, carbs (primarily those from the “eat more” category) are also a source of vitamins and minerals to support our body’s internal processes and overall health. A general good rule of thumb is to choose your carbs from the outskirts of the supermarket. Generally speaking, the least nourishing foods are those found in the interior aisles. For example, an apple you buy from the produce section has 5 grams of fiber and is a natural source of calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. On the other hand, a serving of applesauce contains 1 gram of fiber, does have some potassium and calcium (often added in during processing), but does not contain iron or vitamin A. Not to mention, because the applesauce requires far less chewing than an actual apple, you are also likely not going to feel the same satisfaction from eating it that you would from eating a nice, crunchy apple.
It is possible to eat too much of a good thing. Even if you ate carbs only from the “eat more” list, you could still be eating beyond what your body requires. That is why it is essential to eat according to your body’s activity demands. Someone who sits at a desk 8 hours a day then goes home to sit on the couch and watch TV needs far less carbs than one who gets 10,000 steps a day and exercises 3-5 days per week.
Just as we discussed preparing protein in bulk to help us accomplish our goals, we can certainly prepare carbs that are healthier for us in bulk as well. For example, you can wash your apples as soon as you bring them home from the store…this way, all you have to do is grab the apple from the fridge when you are ready and just enjoy! Or, one of my favorites is to cut up some baby potatoes or some sweet potatoes and roast them up and then portion them out to enjoy with various meals throughout the week. One of my go-to snacks are baby carrots and I like to even put them in some to-go containers or baggies ahead of time so that I always have a healthy snack ready and available. Ultimately, anything you can do to help make healthier choices easier will help you in the long run!
In closing, the way we nourish our body says a lot about how much we love our body. I encourage you to do more for yourself (and for others) coming from a place of love. Making the effort to move our bodies purposefully is an act of love towards our body. Making the conscious choice to nourish our bodies well is also an act of love towards our body. Furthermore, these acts of love towards our bodies also demonstrate our love to the important people in our lives as we will be able to enjoy a more fulfilling and vibrant life with them when we strive to be the healthiest version of ourselves.
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their August issue.
This month, I appreciate the opportunity to write on the topic of protein! I received some feedback from people that this was a topic they wanted to learn more about. And, truth be told, it is an area where many people experience some challenges. Let’s learn about the importance of protein and strategies to help you consume more of it!
Protein is essential for many biological functions within our body. There is not enough room within one article to discuss all the roles protein plays in our body; however, I will discuss just a few here.
One major function is muscle building and repair, as well as supporting our bones, tissues, ligaments, and immune system. As I mentioned in last month’s article, strength/resistance training across our lifetime is essential for enhanced health outcomes. (If you missed it, you can read it here). Our goal across our lifetime is to preserve our muscle mass to help support greater function. Therefore, it is essential we provide our body with the nutrition to do so. The more muscle mass we have, the higher our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is, especially at rest. Why does this matter? The more muscle mass we have, especially for those trying to lose weight, particularly through fat loss, is that it means we burn more calories just by merely existing. In other words, when we have more muscle, we are burning more energy at rest compared to those who have less muscle mass. Again, this is why I emphasized strength/resistance training over additional cardio in last month’s article for those who are striving for fat loss.
Protein intake also supports a greater sense of satiety. In other words, it helps us feel fuller longer. For example, those who have a breakfast composed mainly of carbs, particularly fast-digesting carbs, are likely to be hungry not too long after they just ate. People often then choose another relatively unbalanced meal that is heavier on carbs…and this perpetuates the eating roller coaster throughout the day. On the other hand, those who begin their day with a meal higher in protein, or who make the effort to add more protein to their meals, find their hunger much more manageable.
Another benefit of protein intake is its thermogenic effects within the body. It takes more energy on behalf of our body to digest and process protein which means our body “burns more calories” by simply going through the natural processes of digestion.
What you might be thinking now is “great…we know protein is good for us…but how do we fit more of it into our nutrition?”
Let’s review some strategies for incorporating more into your daily nutrition.
First, let’s look at what foods are generally considered higher in protein. For the most part, there are no inherently “bad” foods. On the other hand, there are foods we would benefit from eating “more” of, eating “some” of, and perhaps eating “less” of. For the sake of space, I am not able to provide that list here; however, if you go to the Blog section of my website, I have posted the infographics from Precision Nutrition for you to review. Use that list as a guide when planning out your meals each day or for the week. Take it with you when you go to the store for some inspiration on what to choose!
Next, you may be wondering, “how much protein should I be eating?”. It depends a lot on the individual and their current body composition, their age, and their activity level. Protein needs will also be dependent potentially on certain medical conditions. A broad guideline is anywhere from 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, with an average weight of 165 pounds, I eat anywhere from 160-170 grams of protein daily. I recently posted on my social media pages (and you can find that in the gallery on my website as well) how I generally accomplish that on a given day. One tip might be to plan out your protein first and once you have laid out the plan for that, everything else falls into place much easier.
One strategy I use to consume enough protein is to prepare it in bulk. Each week, I pick two protein sources, such as chicken and beef, and I cook a big batch of it up and have one for lunch and the other for dinner. Each protein source (beef, chicken, pork, fish, etc.) has a different amino acid makeup. Therefore, to help ensure I do not become deficient in any one amino acid, I rotate through my proteins generally every other week. If I do chicken and beef one week, I might switch to pork, turkey, or fish the following week. Generally, I try to have fish 1-2 times per week each week.
There is no reason for eating well to be boring and tasteless! Just because you are having one key ingredient (for example, chicken) doesn’t mean you can’t still have variety! On my social media pages, I recently provided information on how to prepare some protein in bulk and the variety of ways in which I enjoyed them throughout the week.
Lastly, it helps to know our “why” behind why we do things. I encourage you to shift from an outcome-based thinking (such as “I want to weigh x number of pounds”) and instead focus on the process (for example, “I am eating to nourish my body and support my goals”). Personally, I tend to view my nutrition as “fueling my muscles” or “fueling my performance”. When I fuel my muscles and/or fuel my performance, accomplishing my goals (body recomposition, getting stronger/fitter, etc) becomes the side effect of my efforts.
It has been a little while since I have focused on the scale. At different parts of my weight loss journey, I prioritized the scale differently. I had moments where I allowed it to influence how I felt about myself. Over time, I have moved further away from that and have placed the priority on how I feel in my day-to-day and how my training is going. For example, how have my workouts been feeling? Am I earning some PRs (personal records) in the gym? I have devoted greater priority to those metrics versus the number on the scale. As a result of focusing on fueling my performance, a difference in the scale has become a side effect of my efforts.
During the month of June, I had to focus a bit more on the number on the scale because I had to be under a certain weight for when I was due to compete at United States Strongman Nationals at the end of the month. Weigh-in day was Friday, June 24th, and competition day was Saturday, June 25th. I had known since late Summer 2021 that I had qualified for competition in June 2022. I had used the approximately 9 months prior to gradually start working on my weight and was more diligent about my nutrition.
From January 2022 to the end of May 2022, I had trickled down in weight from about 175 pounds to 165 pounds. The goal for competition day was to be 165 or under. My focus in June was to inch my way down another 2-3 pounds or so to give myself a buffer for weigh-in day. As a woman, I have to consider the challenge of my monthly cycle impacting my weight and low-and-behold…my next cycle was going to fall in-and-around that time. Therefore, I wanted to have a little wiggle room.
Throughout the months of January through May, I weighed myself periodically. Sometimes Tuesday and Friday, and as the months got closer, usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I did this to keep tabs on where my weight was so that I could allow myself enough time to make an adjustment if need be. I didn’t want to find myself in a situation like if I were to wait until say May or early June to check-in on that and have to severely “diet down” to achieve my goal. Although I was weighing myself and collecting that data, I still ultimately prioritized my performance in the gym. In the past few months, I have had a good string of PRs…some things I haven’t PR’d in a long time. My workouts were feeling better and better.
As of about June 2nd, I started weighing myself every morning. I viewed the process as time limited as I only need to be this extremely focused for about three (3) weeks. Initially, I stuck to my current macro goals. If I didn’t see the number on the scale go down over the course of the next 2-3 days, I adjusted my macros slightly.
Fortunately, for the most part, I wasn’t really hungry. In the morning, I would carefully plan out my day to ensure my workout was still supported, but not leave me so short the rest of the day that would lead to me potentially wanting to snack. For the most part, I did well with that. However, I found myself thinking about food way more often than I usually would. During months where the scale was not my main focus, if I thought about food, it was about new recipes or meals I wanted to try. It is usually a positive experience where I feel like I was enjoying the opportunity to be creative and try new things. During this time however, I felt like I was always just thinking about food, period. I might not have been hungry for it, but I was thinking about it.
Typically, I enjoy the flexibility of my nutritional approach and I ensure that I make sure to enjoy some things I don’t always have the opportunity to eat. For example, at my daughter’s softball games, I enjoy some nachos with cheese. Or, at another field we play at, I enjoy their funnel cake sticks. With a stronger focus on the scale, I found myself not taking the time to enjoy some special treats…even if they were something I would really only have once a week. During the month of June, I said “no” to those things and reminded myself of my goal.
Speaking of treats, I had a big internal debate on whether to forgo my weekly Friday pizza or not. I questioned whether I should give up something I enjoy in pursuit of my goal. I ended up developing a strategy to still incorporate it into my nutrition…but, there was a part of me that wondered whether my failure to make this sacrifice would compromise me achieving my goal for weigh-in day.
I found myself more aware of the calendar than usual…I was counting down the days. Whenever I found myself struggling, I just reminded myself of how many more days I had to go.
Especially in the last week or so prior to weigh-in day, I found my sleep becoming more and more disturbed. More often than not, I get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night, usually uninterrupted. During that last week or so, sleeping through the night became a rarity and I started waking up in the middle of the night more frequently. I would notice my thoughts drifting to wondering what the scale would say in the morning.
In trying to search for the positives for this experience with focusing on the scale, I found maybe two. One was I am proud of myself for being able to dial things in more tightly in order to achieve a goal. Back in 2019 when I competed at the same competition, I struggled to dial in my nutrition and I did not meet my weigh-in goal and had to compete in a higher weight class. Although I kept trying to “re-dedicate” myself over and over leading up to that competition, I couldn’t manage to stay focused. As I pursue other meaningful performance goals for myself, I have this experience to fall back on, that when it truly mattered, I was able to focus and make some compromises to achieve that goal.
The second possible benefit was that I learned a bit about my body’s response to food and other activities that will help me coach others through the process. For me, the negatives of dwelling on the number on the scale outweigh (no pun intended!) the positives.
I am proud of myself for accomplishing my weigh-in goal; however, I have no desire to weigh myself for at least a month. I feel like I need time away. I am fortunate that I don’t have any upcoming competitions where that will be a factor and I can return to letting my training performance be the main indicator of progress and utilizing my fueling to support improvements in that area. I live for the moments in the gym where I do something I never thought possible and/or I grow stronger in a particular lift or movement. Those are way more meaningful to me than a number on the scale. When I focus on those things, I have greater enjoyment in eating to fuel my body and I am happier in my day-to-day.
My advice to my clients, as well as anyone who is on a weight loss (or gain!) journey, is DON’T dwell on the scale. Find those other “metrics” in your daily life that you can observe improvement in. For example, how is your energy day-to-day? Are you growing stronger in the gym? How do your workouts feel? Have you been able to learn more skills? Has your sleep improved? How does your body feel each and every day? Are you starting to achieve a more-defined body composition? These are just some examples and you are really only limited by your imagination and your priorities. Focus on the process supporting these goals…such as through proper fueling, rest, and recovery…and you will likely see progress with the scale. There are very few instances where you benefit from solely focusing on the scale…so carefully consider whether that should be one of your goals anyways.
It’s almost summer, so “sun’s out, guns out” right?! Truth being…we shouldn’t view strength training or weightlifting as something we do to prepare our “summer bodies”…or something only those who are young should do. Strength training is something many, if not all of us would benefit from incorporating regularly into our weekly routines. Furthermore, it is almost never too late to start as there are benefits to incorporating some form of strength training to our weekly wellness routines that have tremendous benefits across our lifetime.
Strength training, also known as resistance training, is an activity that helps to promote development of strength. Many times, resistance training is associated with lifting actual barbells and dumbbells, but could also involve other forms of resistance such as bands, cables, and kettlebells.
One does not need to be able to lift hundreds of pounds to experience the benefits of resistance training. The challenge should be relative to the person. However, it is important that you continuously challenge yourself. As a particular exercise becomes easier, it would be of great benefit to challenge yourself with something slightly heavier.
Research abounds with evidence supporting the benefits of strength training for women and men across the lifespan. Aside from the improvements that can be made in bone mineral density (BMD), resistance training also helps to improve function and stability, other key factors that help reduce fall risk. Reducing fall risk through improving strength also helps to promote a fuller life as we enter our later years and may lead to a greater sense of independence.
Given the statistics available regarding those at risk or who are living with osteoporosis, it becomes all the more important for women to pursue some form of resistance training. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) (2022), approximately 21.2% of women over 50 globally are estimated to have osteoporosis compared to approximately 6.3% of men. Of even greater concern, the IOF (2022) statistics reveal that 61% of the fractures that do occur related to osteoporosis, the patients are women. Research has demonstrated that women who started resistance training in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s have experienced an improved BMD following initiation of a resistance training program at least 2-3 days per week.
I cannot say it enough…it is never too late to start! I started lifting weights at the age of 34 and now at the age of 41, it is one of my favorite activities in the gym!
And, you don’t need to live at the gym 5+ days a week to see improvements. As mentioned above, it has been shown that one can experience the benefits of resistance training in even at least 2 days a week. I have clients that lift on average 3 days per week and have experienced great results.
I often see people overlook strength training when they begin their weight loss journey with the misconception that they should lose their desired weight first before considering a lifting or resistance training program. Instead, they focus on doing more cardio. Yes, it is beneficial to have some form of cardiovascular activity in your daily routine. For example, last month I wrote about the benefits of walking as an excellent way to improve your overall health and well-being. (Didn’t get a chance to read it? You can find that article in the blog section of my website!). However, to amplify your results, if you are already doing some form of cardiovascular activity, your time is better spent doing some resistance/weight training instead of another cardiovascular activity.
All this information, but where to start?! If you are fortunate enough to have a gym membership, there are likely a number of resistance training options available. If just starting out and prefer to workout at home, dumbbells are a great way to get started…especially for those on a limited budget. I posted a video on YouTube where I talk about my recommended strategies for starting your home gym with dumbbells (go to YouTube and type in the search words “Coach Candice Home Gym”).
One key item to keep yourself safe would be to always lift within your capabilities and challenge yourself within reason. Proper form and proper progression are some key practices to help minimize risk of injury. In addition, it will always be important to gauge your performance and improvement against your own personal best, and not to the personal best of others. We are all on our own journey and we should not compare our Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 10 or Chapter 20. We all start where we start and getting started is the most important part!
Lastly, when in doubt, seek the guidance of a professional. A professional will properly assess you, discuss with you your goals, and develop a program customized to you. Some people are able to implement resistance training programs with the direction of an app, online programs, and/or online videos. As always, I am happy to answer any questions you might have! Please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to hear about how weightlifting has enhanced your life!
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their June issue
People will easily share with great excitement their successes. It is fun to share the fond memories of great adventures. What many do not share enough of are the failures that occur en route to those successes. I have been blessed to experience some amazing fitness adventures and successes … and they typically came on the other side of some difficult times, or what I perceived at the time as failures. I share with you my story in the hopes that it encourages the reader to explore viewing failures as a learning opportunity instead of a place to stop and let dreams go by the wayside.
In November 2020, I raced in Ironman Florida. It was what I believed would be my last attempt at completing a full Ironman (2.4 miles, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run) and be able to knock that item off my bucket list as being complete.
I went into that race very confident. At the time, the only unknown part to me was the 2.4-mile swim. I had raced in Ironman Louisville in September 2019 where I completed the bike (more on this later) and the run, so I believed I could definitely do 140.2 miles. I recall standing in line waiting to start and making the statement, “once I complete the swim, I know I have this in the bag.” This is where the narrator adds the commentary … “little did she know, she did not have it in the bag.”
I completed 78.11 miles of the 112-mile bike course (after completing the swim) to discover that I did not meet a cutoff on the bike and was pulled from the course and not allowed to continue. I was devastated. All I could do at first was just cry. I begged to be able to continue. Due to safety reasons associated with road closures, they (the Ironman staff and volunteers) do not allow you to progress on your own. Your timing chip is removed from your ankle and your bike is loaded up and you are provided with a van ride back to the transition area.
I didn’t have to experience the ride back to transition alone. I shared the van with another woman who had missed it by just six minutes. We didn’t talk much … we mostly just cried. I believe I cried almost as hard as I did when my father passed away. In all of my visions for how my race would unfold, this experience was the furthest from my mind. In that moment, and for quite a few days afterward, I felt like an absolute failure. As I write this, I can’t help but cry again recalling those thoughts.
The realization behind my thoughts of feeling like a failure come completely from within me. My family didn’t view me as a failure. Whether I completed the Ironman or not, my husband still loved me as his wife and my daughter still loved me as her mother. I felt like I had let down my coaches, Mike and Bruce … but I also know their relationship with me is not contingent upon my accomplishments. I believe they were all sad for me and each supported me in their own way as I worked to process what had occurred.
Processing my feelings after that race was much like going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the moment when you are realizing that your race has come to an end, there is definitely denial. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I went into the race without any doubt that I would finish. As I alluded to previously, there was definitely bargaining in that I was pleading for them to please allow me to continue.
Depression definitely lasted for a period of time. I remember telling my husband and daughter to go enjoy some time around the town where we were staying and that I just wanted to be alone. Most of my time alone was just spent crying. One of the things I look forward to most after a race is a big, hearty breakfast with a nice helping of pancakes and other things that I may not partake in as I dial my nutrition in the time leading up to race day. We went to breakfast the next day and I found little enjoyment in it. I felt like I didn’t “deserve” to enjoy that breakfast. Another small token associated with Ironman events is being able to wear your armband for a few days to weeks after your event because you are so proud of your accomplishment (some people wear them for months!) … and I couldn’t cut mine off fast enough. Whereas I usually take a period of time to wind down and recover from an event before I jump back into training … I barely felt like I had put in a workout and expressed to Coach Mike how I don’t think I really need to put off resuming training at an intensity relatively close to where I left off. I can recall Coach Mike referring to the next training cycle being a “cycle of enjoyment” which was full of a lot of my favorite movements. Mentally … I needed to find my fun again.
I did experience anger periodically. I can remember doing some squats in my garage and having thoughts from the race and the outcome flowing through my mind. I can remember thinking that there is no way that race is going to get the best of me … thinking “does that race know who I am?!” I let it fuel my training and suddenly those heavier squats became lighter at that moment. In later months as I continued to train, I would think back to how it felt to not finish, and I would pedal or push that much harder.
I remember talking with Coach Bruce about how I was feeling. I recall telling him how I felt like I was moving through the stages of grief. We talked about a few things and then he said, “can we move on now?” I said “yes” … and decided to move through to acceptance. It was of no benefit to me to continue to ruminate about what had happened. It is not to say that I never revisited my feelings surrounding what happened … but I did let go of them consuming my thoughts.
Not the First Time…
In May 2019, I decided to run (OK, let’s be honest … mostly walk) in my first ultramarathon. Go big or go home and I like nice round numbers, I signed up for 100 miles. I had only ever done one marathon prior and figured that 100 miles seemed like a “fun” time. I had broken down the goal and the cutoff times and thought for sure I would be able to endure and complete the event within the allotted time frame.
The race proved to be more challenging than I thought. I was fortunate enough to make it 80 miles before I decided to drop from the race. I had attempted to head out for another lap (it was a 5-mile loop that you completed 20 times) and made it to the aid station and decided that I just had nothing left … physically and mentally. I think about what I have since learned and consider one of Chad Wright’s practices to “not die in the chair” … at least I didn’t decide to quit from my chair. The moment I decided to stop, I just cried. I had never quit anything like that before. I had always pushed through to the end. My soul was crushed.
Similar to my Ironman Florida experience, I continued to dwell on it for a little bit and always thought about what I could have done differently? For example, what if I had slept for an hour and then went back out … or, what if I had just rested till daylight and perhaps I would have been able to move faster and more confidently?
I remember being on my drive home and talking to my husband about the disappointment in myself for quitting the race. I resolved at that time that when registration opens up, I have to come back and finish this race. Registration opened up later that week for 2020, and I signed up.
Another experience I had with failure was in September 2019 where I had raced in Ironman Louisville. I thought it would be my opportunity to complete a full Ironman and knock the item off my bucket list. To my disappointment, the swim was canceled. I went on to complete the bike and the run. Coming across the finish line, the person calling the race pronounces you as an “Ironman.” However, I didn’t quite feel like a true “Ironman” because I hadn’t done the full distance. When I would share that with others, they said it was appropriate to consider myself as such because I raced the race I was dealt that day. For me, it just didn’t feel quite right.
It wasn’t till a couple weeks later when I was reviewing my times in the Ironman Tracker
App on my phone that I realized I was a DNF (did not finish). I didn’t quite understand how that could be since I had gone the distance. I went back and reviewed the athlete guide and then reviewed my times. Per the athlete guide, you are allotted 8 hours and 30 minutes to complete the bike portion. My time was 8:31:30. Certainly, 1 minute and 30 seconds that I won’t forget.
In Florida, I had made the opposite mistake. While I had in mind that I had a deadline of 8 hours and 30 minutes for duration, I failed to take note of the location cutoff times (whereas in Louisville I was aware of the cutoff times) and that is how I came to be a DNF for Ironman Florida.
It is easy to become overwhelmed when faced with challenges whether they be in your personal life, your professional life, or even in fitness or whatever passion you are pursuing. I remember coming across the transcript of a speech given by Jocko Willink, a retired Navy Seal, at a gym where I was previously a member. I highly recommend you go to YouTube and put in the keywords “Jocko Good” and it will be one of the top videos that come up. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/IdTMDpizis8
I have likely listened to it more times than I can count. The transcript is as follows:
Jocko Willink’s Speech: ‘Good’
“One of my direct subordinates, one of my guys who worked for me, he would call me up or he would pull me aside with some major problem, some issue that was going on, and he’d say, “Boss, we’ve got this and that and the other thing,” I would look at him and say, “Good.”
And finally, one day, he was telling me about some issue that he was having, some problem, and he said, “I already know what you’re going to say.” And I said, “What am I going to say?” And he said, “You’re going to say: “Good.”
He said, “That’s what you always say. When something is wrong and going bad, you always just look at me and say, “Good.”
And I said, “Well, yeah. When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that’s gonna come from it.
Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good.
Didn’t get promoted? Good … More time to get better.
Oh, mission got canceled? Good … We can focus on another one.
Didn’t get funded? Didn’t get the job you wanted? Got injured … sprained my ankle? Got tapped out? Good. Got beat? Good … you learned.
Unexpected problems? Good … We have the opportunity to figure out a solution.
That’s it. When things are going bad: Don’t get all bummed out, don’t get startled, don’t get frustrated.
If you can say the word “good,” guess what?
It means you’re still alive.
It means you’re still breathing.
And if you’re still breathing, well then hell, you’ve still got some fight left in you.
So get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, re-engage – and go out on the attack.”
Learn From Your Challenges
Over time, I have strived to make this my first response to the challenges I am faced with. Instead of being distraught over what isn’t going right, I try to ponder what I can learn from the challenge or perceived failure. Didn’t finish that 100-miler? Good. Through that experience I learned I need to manage my nutrition and feet better and I need to train differently. Didn’t finish that Ironman? Good. I have now learned to consider all logistical requirements when setting out for your race. I have also learned that I need to train differently and put forth a different effort in training.
The Comeback Is Better Than the Setback
A few weeks after Ironman Florida, I signed up for Ironman Maryland (IMMD). I enjoyed some fitness non-triathlon related for a few weeks and gradually worked in some triathlon work. I think it was around January that I started setting up my bike on the trainer in the basement and putting some time in on my nemesis. To achieve different results, I needed to train a bit differently and through Coach Mike’s guidance, I trained differently on the bike. While I was always focusing on achieving certain metrics within the workout(s), mentally I thought about that bike ride in Florida and how it felt to not complete in it and I wasn’t going to allow that to happen again.
One of my main check-ins with how I was doing with my training was racing in Ironman Ohio 70.3 (1.2 mile-swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run). Ohio was somewhat of a flat course (similar to what Florida was and what Maryland would be) and would be a decent early indicator that I was on track as well as test out other things I needed to refine to be ready for my big race. In the Ohio race, my average bike speed was 15.5 mph, whereas in Florida, my average speed was 12.2 mph. That data was promising and definitely helped give me a touch of confidence that I was setting myself up for a good race.
My next opportunity to get a glimpse into how I had improved with my training was attending a triathlon training camp being hosted by Sonic Endurance which involved training on the IMMD course. The weekend training camp included a ride on the actual IMMD bike course. I completed that bike ride in 7 hours and 22 minutes with an average speed of 15.2. Once again, faster than Florida and definitely within the time limits. Additionally, the Sunday of that training camp was utilized for a long run. I hadn’t spent much time running compared to the time I had spent working on my cycling; however, Coach Mike said there would be a carryover from cycling to running. That Sunday, what I thought would be a casual 2½ hour run, turned into an accidental personal best on my half marathon time! That definitely made me happy as months prior, I had some moments of worry that I wasn’t spending enough time on my running. These two key experiences were just what I needed to be confident going into IMMD.
In the week leading up to Ironman Ohio, I got the idea to do a “back to back” experience in Maryland where I did the full Ironman on Saturday, and did a Half Ironman on my own the following day. To help you understand how this idea came to be, I will share with you the story behind that.
In 2020, I was originally registered for Ironman Mont-Tremblant, a location I was told was fairly reliable to have a swim that wouldn’t be canceled. However, COVID came along and the race was canceled. Talking it over with Coach Mike, he acknowledged that I like crazy things and he asked me if I had heard about the crazy thing Texas was doing. I said I had not. Due to having to cancel their spring full Ironman, they postponed it to October to the same weekend they were hosting their Half Ironman. They were referring to it as the “Texas Two-Step Challenge.” At first, I said I don’t think I am ready for that. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the more I researched it, I realized it almost never happens. I kinda pestered Coach Mike about it and we moved forward with training for that. However, once again, COVID changed those plans and those races were canceled. Texas registrants were offered transfer at no cost into Florida and that is how I ended up racing there.
Knowing this would be the last time (that I am aware of) that I would be training for and
doing a full distance triathlon, I figured this was my last chance to make the back to back experience happen. In a training run about two weeks after Ironman Ohio, I had a moment where I had come to the belief that without question, I knew I could do not only the full Ironman, but I could do the Half Ironman the day after. It was an incredible moment and an awesome internal experience to have that sense of confidence wash over me. I remember shedding a few (happy) tears and trying to hold back on just bawling with happiness because I needed to finish my run.
It is important to acknowledge that while I definitely was experiencing a confidence in myself that I don’t know I have ever experienced, I also knew I couldn’t allow myself to become content and “slack off” in my training. I continued to push just as hard in my training sessions and focus on the goal ahead of me. I still continued to surprise myself in those training sessions and continued to experience gradual improvements in my fitness.
Leading up to race day, I think I was the calmest I have ever been before an event as big as this. Once again, it was a crazy and amazing feeling. I was proud of my preparation and I believed in the work I had done to train for this. I had no doubt that by focusing on the things I could control, I was going to finish this race. For the things I couldn’t control, I had contingency plans and ways to work through them.
The race day began with the 2.4-mile swim. Although the temperature of the water wouldn’t have typically allowed it to be wetsuit legal, the Race Director made it wetsuit legal due to the prevalence of jellyfish in the water. Whether it was wetsuit legal or not, I was prepared to race either way. However, I will definitely say I appreciated the opportunity to be stung just a little bit less by jellyfish. Thankfully, as I learned that day, I am not allergic to jellyfish stings. Definitely a great experience in pushing through despite adversity because every exposed skin area was caressed by a jellyfish multiple times. I always say … nothing so bad that you can’t laugh about it later! My swim at IMMD was a little bit faster than my one in Florida. I attribute that to wanting to get the heck out of that water!
I moved with intention through transition and headed out onto my bike ride. I was focused on pushing myself, but not burying or redlining myself. I knew what my main checkpoint was … it was about mile 63 and I had to be there by about 2 or 2:30 p.m. … and I went in with an aid station strategy and where I would stop and I stuck relatively close to that. It was a sense of relief to hit that checkpoint with a little over an hour to spare. Once again, it didn’t mean I could coast it in from there, but the effort would be slightly different as I couldn’t expel all of my energy as I still had a marathon to do.
I once again moved with intention through the transition area as I took the necessary time to set myself up for a good run experience by changing out of my biking outfit and getting some early fuel in. I then headed out onto my run. I had a small goal going into my full Ironman and that was to get a new personal best on my marathon time within the Ironman. I had some really good early miles that set myself up for that; however, I did gradually drop off just a little bit and was doing a bit more walking than I had planned. I tapped into strategies I had found successful in other racing and training experiences and was able to once again settle into a rhythm and felt a new sense of energy. I felt so strong and determined in those last approximately 8 miles. I knew that a new personal record (PR) was within reach.
Looking at my watch though, were I to strictly run the course as is, I would have come up short with the distance. Personally, I would have had trouble referring to it as a PR if I didn’t do the full 26.2 miles. So, I turned around just before the finish line chute and ran back up the street to get in the last little bit so I could stop my watch at the 26.2-mile mark and get my official marathon PR. There was no way I was going to come up short and redo this distance just to get the official PR … I would be cool if this was my last marathon! In addition, it is also a way to not have your finish line video/picture not be one of you looking down at your watch as you come across the finish line ; )
I ended up PR’ing my marathon, within my Ironman, by 15 minutes and 29 seconds. It definitely ranks up there as a top 10 life experience and something I am incredibly proud of. It enhanced the belief in myself that I am capable of anything I set my mind to. To me, it was the best redemption for an unfortunate race outcome the year prior.
Thankfully, I made the decision to do the back-to-back experience before race day because if I based the idea of whether or not I would on how I felt Sunday morning, I wouldn’t have gone back out there. The Half Ironman distance required some modifications. Due to safety purposes and having no one to swim with and the plethora of jellyfish, I made the decision to swim at the local pool at the YMCA instead. I got there when they opened for around 10:00 a.m. and was dressed to swim, only to find out that the pool doesn’t open till 12:00 pm. Thinking about the rest of the “race” and being safely out on the road, I decided I couldn’t wait that long and would just add the swim distance (1.2 miles) to my bike ride total.
One of my mantras going into this weekend was “my body will adapt,” a little nugget I got from Coach Bruce. As I started out on my 57-mile bike ride, my hips were a bit tight from the day before and my upper body was a bit fatigued as well. Reminding myself that my body will adapt as I continued to pedal along, the tightness loosened up and although I believe in the saying “let it be possible,” I was amazed that I was out doing what I was doing.
When it came to the run portion, the 13.1 miles, I was still fairly fatigued but continued to push on. My daughter rode along with me on her bike to keep me company. I once again had to adapt my running strategy a few times within that run. It was a crazy experience to be actually out there running and getting it done. My body adapted and I was amazed to still be running at the end of a weekend that included a total distance covered of 210.9 miles.
To me, my triathlon weekend was the result of physical preparation meeting mental preparation. I had put in the work physically and mentally. I embraced the idea of “letting it be possible” and I was able to make it happen.
100 Miles Revisited
I was registered to reattempt the 100-mile distance at the same race location I had entered the year prior. The race was scheduled for April 2020 and much like some of the other Ironman races, this too had been canceled. As the weeks approached and it looked likely this would happen, I mentioned to Coach Mike, “whether this race is officially held or not, I am doing 100 miles because I don’t want to train for this ever again.” In preparation, I scoped out some area trails that I would be able to potentially do my 100 miles on and have appropriate facilities (i.e., somewhere to go to the bathroom). Once it became official that the race was canceled, I put my contingency plan into play and rented a port-a-potty for my chosen location (I received permission from a business on the road at the end of the trail to put it in his parking lot. Let’s just say, it was the first time anyone ever put in such a request!). The Race Director then also allowed for a virtual option.
On my chosen weekend, I worked that Friday then stopped at the store on my way home to buy my snacks/fuel for the following day. Saturday morning at 4:00 a.m., I set about completing 100 miles. I had some friends drop in and join me throughout much of it. Some did just a little bit whereas some others did 25-50 miles over the course of two days with me. There is a saying that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The people that joined me lifted me up in various ways and kept my spirits up.
During ultramarathons, it is fairly well known that you will experience a low (or even many lows) at some point. I had definitely hit that around mile 75. In my previous experience, I hit it around mile 60. This time, at about 75 miles, I was wanting to sleep at the end of every 6-mile lap. However, doing that, I would not likely finish by the cutoff time. Just when I was thinking about sleeping again, a friend from the gym, Stacey, showed up and her presence reinvigorated me. We talked about so much and she kept me moving along. Without a doubt, everyone that joined me was crucial to my success … but I credit her with helping me finish. I am forever grateful for Stacey.
I would say the last 10 miles were the hardest. My feet felt like they were walking on hot coals. I was beyond tired and felt as though I could easily fall asleep on the side of the trail if I sat there long enough. With about an hour left till the cutoff time based on my start time (you had 36 hours to complete the distance), I realized that I would have to hustle to make that time. I had the realization that I had not come this far to only come this far and I didn’t want to be this close to the goal and not complete it.
In one of the most amazing experiences, I found the will to do some running/jogging and was somehow clocking miles faster than I had in the past few hours. For those last approximately three miles that I had to complete where I was “running,” the pain I was experiencing just seemed to melt away. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Once I knew I had run enough and banked enough time to meet my goal, I decided to walk the last little bit at which time my husband and my daughter had joined me. At that time, the pain washed back over me.
After 35 hours and 44 minutes, one half-hour nap plus two other 15-minute naps, I had finished 100 miles. With this experience as well as my Ironmans … it doesn’t quite hit you at the time the gravity of what you have accomplished. It is in the days, to weeks, to months after when you think about it, that you realize how amazing it is what you just did. 100 miles is an incredible mental and physical experience and I encourage as many people as possible to give it a try. To be able to keep going when you think there is no way you should be able to, is an incredible experience that can potentially translate to many other areas of your life.
Takeaways From Failure:
It’s Only a Failure If You Don’t Learn From It
It has taken some time and practice to reframe my perceived “failures” as learning opportunities. Like many other new habits that you form, it is something that becomes easier the more that you do it.
Thinking back to my first 100-mile attempt in May of 2019, I learned that I need to manage my feet a little better throughout the race. As a result, I now trade out my shoes and socks just a little bit more often. Learning this has helped me in my Ironmans as well as I now trade out socks between the bike and the run (you wouldn’t believe how much a new pair of socks makes you feel a little bit more brand new when you are tired!).
Mentally, I also learned that you are capable of going further when you think you have nothing left. I remember wanting to drop at mile 60 in that first attempt at 100 miles and still kept on going. It was a crazy experience to realize that I could still go 20 more miles past the point where I felt like I couldn’t do anymore.
In that first ultramarathon experience, I also learned the importance of letting people help you. I had gone to the event on my own and although I connected and made some new friends at the event, I still was reluctant to accept help or share the struggles I was going through. I was striving to do it on my own. Fast-forward to my second 100-mile attempt where I had support through a great majority of the race, I was able to go farther in less time by allowing people to support me.
At Ironman Louisville, I learned the importance of being familiar with the duration you are allotted for different portions of the race. Whereas at Ironman Florida, I learned the importance of being familiar with cutoff times. At Ironman Louisville, I also learned that I was capable of a 112-mile bike ride. In training, I had never gone farther than 60 miles so anything beyond 60 was unknown to me. Although I know very well you don’t have to cover the distance in training that you are going to race, I have come to learn that once you accomplish that distance, it almost becomes “easy” to do that again. For example, to me, 13.1 miles (a half marathon) is “easy” because I have done it so many times.
Something I had learned from my Ironman Florida experience is that it wasn’t enough to spend time on the bike and that I had to learn to be able to push myself better. With my biking, I learned how to put forth a different effort in training and it helped me push better during my race. I credit the feedback I got from the workouts Coach Mike had me do via the Trainer Road app which measured my power output, which gave me an insight into how different things feel.
Although I focus a lot on the biking portion of the Florida race, I learned a lot about moving efficiently through transition and I took that knowledge with me into Ironman Ohio and Ironman Maryland. I also learned to take each portion of the race one element at a time. Instead of thinking ahead to the run, I focus on what I am doing presently and putting in my best effort on that.
At Ironman Ohio, I learned a lot about fueling and hydration in a hotter race setting. Even though I had a successful race outcome there in my preparation for Ironman Maryland, I was slightly disappointed in how my run turned out. I took the information I learned from the Ohio experience and approached my fueling and hydration differently in Maryland, where it was fairly warm and as I described previously, it worked out better than I could have imagined!
In closing, the only real failure is giving up or quitting. I have come to learn that it is not so much about the outcome, but the process is what’s most important. None of us have control over any outcome. The only thing we have control over is the effort we put into the process to achieve that goal. It is taking each day, both the good and the bad, and identifying what we have learned in the process and utilizing that information to make us more successful in the future.
Dawn Fletcher of Driven Mind has a wonderful quote: “Respond in a way you’d be proud of.” Particularly with my Ironman Florida experience, were I not to go for it again, I would have set the example that just because you have failed once, you should just stop there. On the other hand, giving it another worthy attempt demonstrates that just because you failed once, doesn’t mean you will always fail. You take a moment for yourself, think about what you learned, revise your plan, move forward, put in the work, and tackle your goal. Leading by example for my daughter is also important to me and I didn’t want quitting to be the example I set for her.