Sports Nutritionist Anne Guzman on health, performance and finding what works for you

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Anne Guzman is a sports nutritionist, former pro cyclist and lifelong learner obsessed with sports science and helping people reach their physical and mental potential. We caught up with Anne for this podcast to go over how athletes can maintain health during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well thoughts on performance nutrition, food journaling, weight and body image, and practical tips on pre, during, and post-race nutrition.

While Anne can go deep on the research and science, she knows how important it is to be able to translate that science into practical and actionable insights for all of us. For her personal story, and other tips, check out our interview with Anne.

Listen to the podcast on The Common ThreadsApple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify. We’ve included a few highlights from our podcast with Anne below.

David Swain: What type of athletes do you work with?

Anne Guzman: Everyone from 16 and 17-year-old athletes to masters athletes and pros. 

For people who have never worked with a sports nutritionist, what do the first couple weeks look like?

It’s so individual. For me, food journaling is important. I want to see where somebody is coming from, so I can help them make directional changes. There’s a bit of a misconception that elite athletes are immune to inadequate eating. A food journal makes the athlete part of the process. I know that it’s time consuming. It takes some commitment. On the other hand, if someone is willing to put that commitment in, then it’s something they want to do. I don’t really work in calories, but I start with the big picture: carbohydrates, proteins, macronutrients.

When I first meet someone, I try to get to know them. I want to help them improve their health and their performance. It’s not about, “don’t have this or don’t have that.” A big part of my approach is to focus on what they want to add versus on what to take out. I generally want to see where they’re coming from. Are you a parent masters athlete with three kids and a full time job? That’s really important for me to know. I might get your food journal and see some interesting patterns. If you are an athlete who has a lot of time to prepare your food, that’s a completely different scenario that we can take advantage of. Everyone’s so different. It’s difficult to have a cookie cutter approach, but there are some foundational things everyone can work on. 

Maintaining Health through a Pandemic 

We’re living through COVID-19; What are things you’d recommend to build or maintain healthy habits? 

I think this has really thrown a lot of people’s eating patterns off. Take a moment to focus on your habits. Are you someone who is stress eating all of a sudden because you’re home? Or are you not eating? 

Let’s assume you’re suddenly home and you don’t want to go to the grocery store often. You probably bought some frozen food. I think it’s important to say that we can stay healthy with frozen produce. It really bothers me when I see influencers suggest that everything has to be fresh organic. Not everyone is going to be able to have the luxury to buy fresh and organic. You can still get nourishment from frozen produce, and it’s going to be a really important thing right now.

There are a couple staples that I think are good to have in the house right now: quinoa, oatmeal, pasta, rice. You can get frozen Thai vegetables, frozen avocado for guacamole, frozen chicken, refried beans. You can create a lot of simple Mexican-type meals. You can do slow cooker or rice cooker oatmeal with cinnamon and chopped apples or dried apples. Those things can go the distance budget-wise, but they still taste good. Smoothies are excellent, too. I think we need to just be a little more forgiving. 

This is also a really critical time for making sure you don’t lose your muscle. We lose muscle really quickly compared to how long it takes to put it on. If you aren’t doing your normal exercise routine, try to meet your daily protein needs. Maybe that means that you supplement with protein powder twice a day right now, on top of your meals. Use chickpeas. They’re so easy to work with. You can make your own hummus. Just throw chickpeas in a food processor with a bit of lemon juice or garlic, which you can buy in a jar and frozen. Obviously, you need exercise to maintain that muscle as well.

On the mind-body side, with yoga, meditation, sleep: What things would you be paying attention to right now?

Sleep, yoga and nutrition all maximize our health. Paying attention to all of those is going to help your immune system.

A lot of people are probably going to bed with their phone and reading the news a lot more than they might normally. I think it’s important right now to make a commitment to leave your phone outside of your room. Stress really impacts sleep. I think the idea of meditating is intimidating to people. It’s not like you suddenly have to sit for 20 minutes. Even taking three minutes to focus your thoughts can really help with sleeping as well. 

This crisis has brought me back to yoga. I’m doing a lot of free yoga online. I’m loving Yoga with Adriene and Eckardt Yoga. I’m all for supporting paid programs as well if you can afford it. You can just do 10 minutes or you could do an hour. It’s just an opportunity to be present. Let yourself just be in the movement at the moment. I think that’s a gift because it’s really easy to get caught up in the uncertainty. 

Sleeping, yoga and exercising are definitely important. It may be hard to exercise right now, or maybe some people are actually exercising more. 

What about tips on how to exercise now that our schedules are thrown off and we’re stuck at home?

I’m really attracted to this whole idea of bite-size exercise right now. I’ve read a lot of research on continuous sitting. After 30-60 minutes, sitting has negative metabolic impacts. It is impactful to stand up and move for three minutes. I’m not talking about three minutes of burpees, but just marching on the spot and doing some sideways lunges. Set your alarm for every 45 minutes. Maybe you do five minutes of movement with some intensity, but you do it 10 times a day versus doing one hour of exercise and sitting for 16 hours. Those bite-sized movements add up.

There’s no magic bullet that’s going to keep us healthy, so we’re going to focus on the basics. Keep eating produce, whether it’s fresh or frozen. Think about getting all the colors of the rainbow because every different color provides different types of nourishment. Create an environment where your bedroom is only for sleep. Maybe try some meditation or yoga before going to sleep or in the morning.

Recommendations for helping people stick to something? 

For some people, calendars on the fridge really work. Look at it every day, and give yourself a green checkmark. Work towards doing something, like 15 minutes of exercise five times a week. You’ll see all those checkmarks. There can be something positive about that. Create an environment for it. Even if you live in a small space, physically choose your exercise area and that can help.

Sports Nutrition and Performance: What works, myths and why it’s individual 

Let’s get into the sports nutrition and the performance side of things. 

The context for nutrition is so important. It really is dependent on the duration and intensity of the race. For example, if you’re heading into a race of 40 minutes to an hour, you don’t have to carb load the day before but it’s still important that you’re meeting your calorie and carbohydrate needs the day before and having a proper pre-race breakfast. You want to have optimal carbohydrate intake during the race. You would practice that to know. If you have an event coming up, mimic it in training. If you can create a day that you repeat before a lot of races, then your life becomes a lot easier. You then have a pre-race day routine to go to every single time. 

For the morning of a race, I like to say go backwards from race time. If you’re racing at noon, go back three to four hours, and that’s when your last full meal is going to be. This is a normal meal. It has 20 to 30 grams of protein. It’s probably lower in fiber and not as high in fat as normal. That’s to ease the digestion a little bit. But three to four hours is a normal amount of time to digest a meal. 

When you only have an hour to go before the race and you’re warming up, then you want to focus mostly on easy-to-digest carbohydrates, like a sports drink, banana, or some chews. Again, that’s something you should experiment with in training. Never try a new food on race day. Anything you eat the hour before the race really becomes performance nutrition. It can positively or negatively affect your performance. 

That kind of nutrition timing system works just as well for a road race or a longer endurance race. It’s about the last main meal, working backwards from race time. Think easy-to-digest carbohydrates, low fat, low fiber. If it’s a longer duration race, I would recommend increasing the carbohydrate intake. 

Do you wake up at five to have a meal three hours before an 8am race, or is it better to sleep?

It depends on the race. If you’re doing a one hour race, I would say sleep. You can replenish some carbohydrates in the morning and really just go for it because you’ve had a good pre race day. You’re not waking up glycogen-depleted. You rested the day before the race, so you didn’t deplete as much glycogen as you would have with training. 

If it’s a longer race, like an IronMan, for example, I would probably sacrifice a little bit of sleep to make sure I got a pretty big carbohydrate breakfast. Depending on the person, it could be 150 grams of carbohydrates. That also depends on how fast you’re doing the IronMan.

Gravel, ultra gravel and ultra running races can be multi-days with long days. What do you recommend for a longer race like that? How do you avoid an upset stomach, which is common?

There’s a difference between a four hour race and a long ultra. If we’re talking about a four hour race, the gut rot could be a lot of things. It could be the heat. It could be the fact that athletes might be on a low carbohydrate diet day-to-day and then they carb load for the race. You can actually train your gut to absorb more carbohydrates. On the other hand, if you are always on this semi-low carbohydrate diet, and all of a sudden, you consume eight or nine grams per kilogram of carbohydrates a day before a race, you’re probably going to pay for that. Also, maybe someone is not hydrating or heat is building up in the intestines over the duration of the race, which can also cause gut issues. I think this biggest problem is that the guts are not trained as well. 

Around 30% of athletes don’t tolerate fructose as well. Another thing is eating too much too close to your training or race. Many people have a big breakfast and go out on a group ride on Saturday mornings. They’ll tell me they didn’t feel good until two hours in. Your stomach is so full and you’re now compromising your digestion. It really matters what you eat, if you’re going to eat close to the ride. 

In 90 minutes of intense work, you can deplete all of your glycogen stores (glycogen is stored carbohydrate). I like to say eat early and often. If you’re going into a four hour event, you should be eating and drinking carbohydrates at 30 minutes already. 

What are the pros using? What are the secrets? What are a couple things, whether in foods or pills, that the science backs up and that actually work and are safe?

I would say food first, for sure. I think a lot of people haven’t even mastered the foundation of a healthy diet. That would be the priority before supplements. If we’re talking about performance, a good amount of evidence exists for creatine, caffeine, beet juice, beta alanine and sodium bicarbonate. The IOC has a consensus statement on supplements that have adequate or good databases behind them and creatine and caffeine are definitely top of the list. I would assume a lot of pros are using creatine, especially on the track, with explosive-type exercise. Caffeine is now the most widely used drug in the world, and everybody loves it. I’d be shocked if a lot of elite cyclists aren’t using caffeine. I have to say that I wouldn’t apply everything a professional athlete is doing to the average athlete, because pros do extreme training. 

There should be a checklist when you think that you want to take a supplement. The first thing you would ask is: are you doing everything to maximize your nutrition? If the answer is yes, then ask if this supplement can help in the specific type of event you want to do? Is it safe? Are there side effects? Is the risk of contamination that will always exist worth it? Supplements can provide a marginal gain. When you’re racing against the best of the best, a marginal gain can make a difference. But if you’re not even maximizing your nutrition, is that marginal gain really worth it? That’s the question I would always ask.  

There are the supplements that actually have good data behind them. Probiotics can help with reducing GI infections or immune support. There’s no magic pill for immunity. Unfortunately, the internet would have us think otherwise these days. Maybe zinc could actually support an elite athlete during big racing blocks for immune support. But for the average person, if you have a good well rounded diet, you should be able to get a lot of everything that you need from food.

For the everyday athlete where there is no history of disordered eating or issues with not fueling enough for their sport, how do you think about weight management? 

There are a lot of ways to get from A to B. A lot of times it’s about how much energy you’re taking in and how much you’re expending. 

For the everyday athlete, I would never ignore resistance training. Make sure you’re putting on and maintaining muscle mass. Especially in endurance sports, athletes get obsessed with putting in the miles, and they neglect resistance training, which can really improve your body composition. Resistance training can decrease body fat, increase lean body mass, and often keep body weight the same. 

As far as nutrition, I think you really need to pay attention. If you’re taking two days easy, you shouldn’t just be eating the same as you did on the day you rode for five hours. Make adjustments based on the work you’re doing. 

People forget about the whole notion of high volume foods on easier days. It’s something that I use with a lot of athletes who are on an easy week. Say, your volume of training drops because of this pandemic that we’re in. This is a good time to learn about high volume foods. A cantaloupe is approximately 200 calories, and so is a tablespoon and a half of olive oil. Foods that are high volume, but also high nutrient density like the cantaloupe, come in handy if you’re trying to manage your weight on the days you’re not doing as much work. Another example of a high volume food would be spaghetti squash versus pasta. One cup of pasta has the same amount of calories as four cups of spaghetti squash. For someone who is trying to manage the ebbs and flows of training, I think those types of foods make a big difference. That’s why fruits and vegetables are so important in managing weight. Nobody’s over eating broccoli. 

I remember doing a 1800 calories side-by-side visual for someone and when they tried it, they couldn’t even finish the 1800 calorie plan that I made. On the flip side, most athletes should be eating more calorically dense foods because they need more calories. 

Let’s talk about the other side where an athlete isn’t fueling properly. Are there serious long term consequences to performance, mood and other things? 

There are different levels of relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). It’s really common at masters or elite levels that people under eat. The negative impact is that you’re not left with enough calories to run your body and meet all your other physiological needs. The consequences are worse when it’s chronic. Performance-wise, bone-wise, mood-wise, muscle-wise, it’s far reaching. I’ve seen triathletes burning 5000 calories a day and eating only 2000. You don’t even need a calculator to know there’s not enough left to keep your body functioning optimally.

See Anne’s Prokit Collection on RED-S.

What are some of those consequences to watch for if you’re underfueling and not eating enough? 

Hitting a plateau in training is a sign, as are more injuries, or nagging injuries that you just can’t seem to get rid of. You can’t see your bones, but your bone mineral density is slowly decreasing. You might notice patterns of having an amazing day on Tuesday and then you can barely train on Thursday. If you’re up and down and all over the place, that’s often reflective of an especially low carbohydrate intake. For women, it’s a little easier to figure out because menstruation can stop. That’s a signal that men don’t have. It’s important to note that this is not just about women. A lot of guys out there are also not meeting their energy needs. 

I think it takes some investigation. A really good way to track is with a food journal. Look at what you are taking in and what you are expending. How much is left? Do you have enough calories left to run your body?

It’s one of those things that some of the outcomes are going to take time to show up. It’s not that you won’t live, but you’re not going to be performing as healthfully, mentally or physically, as an athlete. Your body composition will be better if you meet your energy needs. People are often surprised by that. But if you’re not meeting energy needs, you can’t optimize your lean body mass. You’re actually putting your body composition at a disadvantage. You need enough energy to make muscle and keep muscle. You’re better off meeting your energy needs, and you’ll actually maintain your muscle that way.

Other than Prokit where you have some awesome collections and content, where can people find you?

Thank you. We’ll have to do a whole separate one on the female athlete next time.

Oh, for sure. Good luck with everything right now. Thanks for starting @prokit. I think it’s amazing. What I love is that you have such a huge female contingent of athletes on there, which is really amazing. 

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