How well do you think you manage your nutrition? Do you TRULY know which foods you should and shouldn’t eat? Is there a certain time that you stop eating because you think it will affect your digestion or weight? Are there certain foods that you should be eating if you’re injured? Whether you’re recovering from an injury or just want to know more about the do's and don'ts when it comes to nutrition, this post is for you. During an interview with Dietician, Matt Dengler, we go over some of the most common questions that athletes have and some of the answers might surprise you!
Should I eat a snack before I workout? If so, what should I eat?
WHAT you eat, depends on WHEN you eat.
If you’re working out early in the morning, you don’t HAVE to take anything in. Actually, eating something right before a workout could upset your stomach more often than not. If you’re one of those people that just HAS to get something on their stomach right when they wake up, reach for something high in carbs that the body can utilize and digest fast (like applesauce, raisins, or half of a banana).
If you’re working out in the evening, it is recommended that you eat a snack before. If you’re snacking at least 2 hrs before you workout, you can eat just about anything because you’ll have enough time to metabolize and digest it all.
If you’re eating 30 min to an hour before a workout, you should watch and limit your calories (100-200 cals) and fats (peanut butter, avocado, coconut oils, and butter spreads) because they slow down your metabolism and can cause GI (gastrointestinal) issues during workouts.
It’s important to realize that everyone is different. These are general concepts and the best thing you can do is listen to your body!
How does your diet affect recovery?
If you’re dealing with an injury, your diet can significantly affect how well you heal.
Depending on what the injury is, vitamin C and high protein can help rebuild tissue, especially in lacerations (cuts) and burns. Protein can help rebuild muscle and at least help not break it down any further than it already is. Fluids, water, vitamin D, and dark leafy greens help provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Ginger and turmeric have also been found to reduce inflammation and boost recovery.
Whether you have an injury or not, recovery is key! A lot of us work 8+ hours a day, workout, have kids/spouses/pets to take care of etc. Stress is at an all time high with our lifestyles. Adding these food groups to your diet will work wonders in your overall health and recovery from daily life.
How can nutrition & recovery influence the risk of injury?
Did you know that your recovery and nutrition can indirectly influence your risk of injury? Reducing the amount of inflammation in your body can improve your mobility to allow you to function and perform at a higher level.
Additionally, sleep is a HUGE part of rebuilding and resetting the body and this cannot be overstated. It’s important that you get at least 6-8 hrs of sleep a night! This is something I’m sure we’ve all heard and talked about, but don’t always do. A sleep deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore has an increased risk for error, mistakes, and injuries.
Are these common snacks/drinks good for you?
It depends! Some are better than others as far as ingredients.
The bigger question is WHY do you feel the need to drink an energy drink? Are you needing caffeine because you’re low in energy? Why is that? Either you’re not eating enough throughout the day or you’re not getting a good night's rest which makes you tired. Drinking an energy drink is just like covering those things up with a bandaid to get through the day or workout.
If you’re looking to boost performance, then yes, caffeine is one of the few ergogenic aids that will improve performance pre workout.
But how much is too much? The upper limit is about 400mg or 4 cups of coffee (this does change depending on gender and weight).
It’s also important that you’re aware of other ingredients in the drinks that provide energy or are stimulants, but aren’t necessarily caffeine. Also, be careful when making your heart race right before a workout. There’s been plenty of cases of highschool athletes drinking energy drinks before competitions and having heart attacks/dying on the playing field.
Bottom line: Find out WHY you feel the need to drink energy drinks. After all, if you STILL feel the need to drink caffeine, try drinking a cup of coffee instead! ~100 mg of caffeine and much cheaper!
They’re good in a pinch! Whether you’re in the airport, working, or on the go. They’re great to have in hand to get calories in and they’re better than nothing. But there’s more bad ones than good ones. Make sure you’re aware of how much sugar (<10-12g), protein (>15-20g), and carbs are in the bar. Choose low fat (<8g) if you’re about to workout and anywhere from 8-15g of fat if not.
RXBARs, ONE Protein Bars, Quest Protein Bars, Kirkland Signature Protein Bars, Vega & Plant Based Protein Bars are great choices.
Which is best? Keto, Paleo, Gluten Free, Intermittent Fasting?
Diets are very individualized! There’s no one size fits all. If it works for you and you feel good and you think it’s working, then it’s working! The best diet is the one you’ll actually follow.
Now that’s NOT to say you HAVE to diet to reach your goals and get results. I would rather you not follow the latest trends because they’re often really restrictive and hard to follow. Ultimately, restricting the amount of calories is what will help you lose weight and hit your goals.
Here’s where things can go wrong…
Anytime a diet tries to restrict a macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) - that’s a red flag! Macronutrients are the only things that give us energy, so why would you cut them out? If you completely eliminate carbs, then most of your diet is filled with protein and fats. These diets seem to work because you’re cutting out one big food group and it’s hard to overeat fat. But over time, your cardiovascular health becomes suppressed by eating mainly saturated fats. Even though carbs are easier to overconsume, it’s not the carb itself that’s the issue - it’s the overindulgence. Just as carbs don’t make you fat, fat doesn’t make you fat! It’s overall caloric intake overtime. Simple as that.
Similarly, intermittent fasting seems to work because you’re cutting out a huge part of the day where you would usually be eating. People usually try to limit their meal times to 12pm-8pm because if you’re fasting for 16 hours of the day, then there’s a lot less time for you to consume calories. However, this diet often backfires because a lot of people are usually starving by lunch and end up overeating, which defeats the purpose of the fast.
Bottom line: There’s a way to hit your goals WITHOUT having to do fad diets.
Simply put - Weight loss = Calories in < Calories expended.
Is it bad to eat right before bed?
No! It’s not bad to eat right before you go to bed. It’s an old wives tale that says you should stop consuming food by 7 or 8pm. The amount of calories don’t go up after 8pm and the body has no idea what time it is. Your body will still take in food and still break it down, no matter what time of day it is.
Now, there are certain foods that could potentially affect how well you sleep, such as eating a lot of fats right before bed. Fats may keep you up at night, so it’s best to avoid fatty foods right before bed.
Also, it’s best to not eat a lot of sugar or foods high in carbs right before bed. Carbs will be broken down into sugar and if not used, will be stored as fat. However, it is ok to eat high carb foods late at night if you just finished working out and need to replace the carbs you just used OR if you’re planning on working out first thing in the morning, then your body will use the sugar and you won’t have an issue.
Your nutrition plays a vital role in the overall health, state, and recovery of your body. Making simple little changes to your daily routine could have a profound effect on your ability to heal and/or maintain a healthy weight. After all, we only get one body so we better make sure that what we’re putting into it and what we put it through are worth it.
The modifications started sooner than expected! Once I hit 13 weeks, a lot of things started to change! That week, I started noticing lower abdominal discomfort with running (sometimes even walking) and coning/bulging of my abdominals with certain movements that involved my core like toes to bar and even the end of the rowing position. Here’s a little glimpse into some of my modifications and my experience with this trimester...
Rowing, Toes to Bar, Planks
The next couple of days I started to have some “pregnancy symptoms” with rowing, toes to bar, and planks. While rowing, I started to notice that as I leaned back at the end of the row, there was a glimpse of “coning” that started to occur.
What exactly is “coning”?
When you’re pregnant, it’s normal for your abs to separate in order to accommodate your growing belly and baby. Coning is what occurs when you see a ridge or bulge popping out down the midline of your belly. This typically occurs when doing an exercise incorrectly or an exercise that puts too much stress on the abdominals and should be avoided.
I finished the row using mainly legs and eliminating the backward lean at the end. Next, I tried out some toes to bar to warm up for another workout and after attempting one rep and seeing the glimpse of coning again, I decided not to do them. I did 30# slam balls instead. I’ve also noticed that if I’m not holding perfect plank form, the “coning” would occur with planks too, especially as I get more fatigued! I started this trimester out with planking on my elbows, but now have transitioned to planking on my hands because I feel like it’s easier to control for the coning when on my hands.
Handstand push ups
A controversial topic that I want to mention is going upside down when pregnant. I’ve heard people say you can flip the baby and it’s dangerous and you shouldn’t do it. I asked my doctor her opinion and I brought up the “flipping of the baby” and she said it was very unlikely. She said that the baby will probably change positions multiple times before delivery so not to worry about it. The only thing she did have to say was to be mindful of things that could make me lose balance or fall. I know a lot of pregnant women that still handstand walked and did handstand push ups when pregnant and everything was fine with their pregnancy and delivery. I’ve been continuing to do handstand push ups, but I will say they’ve gotten significantly harder. I’m usually pretty efficient with them, but now they take a lot more effort. Same thing with ring dips. I’ve never been good at ring dips, but they’re now SIGNIFICANTLY harder for me. I’m hoping that if I keep doing them as I get heavier and heavier, no matter how difficult, that it’ll pay off in the long run and I’ll be better at them after pregnancy. It’s almost like training in a weight vest!
At 18 weeks, I competed on a 4 person team in a competition at my home gym. The competition was supposed to take place earlier this year, but due to COVID, it was postponed by a couple months. The competition announced the first 3 workouts ahead of time and if you placed top 8 after those workouts, then they announced another hidden workout. Knowing that I could do everything in the first 3 workouts, even with following my new modifications, I decided to still compete. My team ended up doing really well after the first 3 workouts and actually finished top 5! But when they announced the hidden workout, it ended up being synchronized chest to bar pull ups and synchronized bar muscle ups….movements that I had already stopped doing.
This was really hard mentally. It was hard because I knew that if the competition was when it was supposed to be, it would have been before my modifications began and I could have done all of those movements. Also, those are some of my favorite Crossfit movements and I really wanted to do them! Lastly, knowing my team was counting on me, I didn’t want to let them down!
Thankfully, I had the best team ever and they were ok with forfeiting since I chose not to risk putting my body through those riskier movements just for a quick little workout, even if it meant getting eliminated. They were the best!
My mentality has definitely gotten stronger over the course of this pregnancy. I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed throughout the first week of this trimester because of all of the modifications that I felt obligated to make so early on (in my opinion it was early). I’ve talked to a couple of other women (that I’m so thankful to have in my corner) and of course everyone’s experience is different and they all make modifications at different points in time. I know that it’s not the end of the world to see coning and I know women that have done sit ups and have rowed well into the 3rd trimester. I personally don’t feel comfortable doing some of those movements and want to do everything I can to ensure a fast recovery, so I choose not to do them.
Body image has been another challenge. Throughout the first trimester and first half of this second trimester, I’ve just felt bloated, not pregnant. In my opinion, I haven’t really looked or felt like I’m pregnant other than the fact that I’ve gained some weight. I don’t have a belly and actually didn’t start to develop a little baby bump until 22 weeks. So up until the point when I started showing, the body image I had of myself wasn’t great. Some days were better than others, but when you’re used to looking a certain way and doing certain things in the gym and then all of a sudden can’t...it’s mentally tough!
It’s hard knowing that you can physically do an exercise/activity, like in my competition, but knowing that you shouldn’t. I’m competitive and love to hit that “RX” button and love to win, but 90% of the time, I have to scale or modify at least one thing in each workout. My mentality has definitely improved as the pregnancy has progressed and I’ve now gotten used to scaling/making modifications. What’s made it even better/more real is finding out the gender! We had our gender reveal at about 19-20 weeks and found out we are having a little girl! I really wanted a little girl so we’re super stoked and I’ve already started planning her cute little nursery (:
Everyone’s pregnancy is so different. Your belly size, the amount of weight you gain, when you feel your baby kick, the modifications you have to make...they’re all different! Don’t get hung up on comparing your experience with anyone else’s, you’ll drive yourself crazy!
To make pregnancy experiences easier and less challenging on any other pregnant women that are looking for scaling options/modifications, I’ve created a little cheat sheet that I have been using throughout this trimester that has allowed me to still get the desired stimulus of the workout while working similar muscles as the prescribed movement! Hope it helps!
Thanks for reading!
Let’s set the stage…
First and foremost, I am a firm believer that the squat should be a part of everyone’s training program. Yes, there are always exceptions, however those are few and far between. The squat is one of the most foundational and functional movements we as humans can do. Think about it. From going up and down to a chair, to getting in/out of cars, to even getting on/off the toilet! We are already performing them on a day-to-day basis, so it makes sense to train it! Not only is it functional but the overall strength and power benefits are immense. It’s a skill that everyone should master in order to live a healthier, more resilient life.
Here’s the issue. Depending on what you read, you may hear one thing from one source and something completely different from another. There is incredible controversy on what correct squat form should look like. My goal with this post is to dive into some of the biggest squat technique topics and clear some of these muddy waters. Let’s spend the next few minutes together diving deep, so you can confidently master the squat!
Myth 1: Don’t let your knees travel in front of your toes
This became popular among trainers and health enthusiasts in the 80's with poor research to back it up. It’s less about if and more about when. If the knees translate at or below 90 degrees from the bottom – that’s pretty normal – I’m not freaking out. If they translate early or above 90 degrees, then I’m a bit concerned.
The goal with the squat is to be efficient, straight down and straight back up. If you prevent/ control your knees from advancing forward, you’ll end up with a wavering bar path – not good. If an athlete sits on their heels, and tries to prevent forward translation of their knees over their toes, our squat efficiency plummets. Our knees insufficiently bend and our torso comes forward, which completely throws a clean vertical bar path. From a side view, an inefficient bar is one that shifts forward excessively rather than straight up and down. When we deliberately try to alter the position of our knees instead of going straight down with the lift, as you can imagine, the path gets a little wonky (not straight).
However, don’t initiate the squat with your knees either, just think about:
1. Keeping the heels firmly planted
2. Making sure your weight is distributed in the center of your foot (tripod stance)
3. Keeping the bar path vertical over the center of your foot
Similarly, recent research compared the differences in stress placed upon the knees and hips/low back when performing two types of squats: (1) a regular back squat where knees are allowed to travel forward freely, and (2) a squat that restricted forward knee travel. They concluded that when athletes limit the forward knee travel, it simply shifted the stress from the knees to the hips/low back. The restricted knee travel decreased stress on the knee by 22%...But increased the stress on the hip/low back by 1070%! Which do you prefer?
While decreasing stress on the knees is great, there’s a significant trade-off with the amount of stress placed on the back, greatly increasing the risk of associated low back injuries. So yes, it is true that there is increased stress on your knees during squats if you let them move naturally, however, it’s important to know that this is WELL within the limits of what the knees can handle. Think about this: Did you go up or down stairs today? Well your knees most likely went over your toes… and this (for the majority of the population) doesn’t cause pain.
Lastly, the distance your knees travel over your toes also relates to our morphology, aka the way our bodies were made. The longer our femurs (the big thigh bone), the more likely our knees are to go over our toes. This is fine! Research has proven this to be safe and normal.
Myth 2: Squatting below parallel is dangerous!
This is a big one! We have a couple of options here:
1. Should I bottom out and go a$$ to grass?
2. Should I transition right at parallel?
3. Should I transition below parallel?
Option #1: Bottoming out and going a$$ to grass.
Deep squats are natural, age-old positions that people from the non-air-conditioned world still use to this day and are taught to use from birth. They do the vast majority of their everyday activities in a deep squat position. They are working on their natural hip and ankle mobility from a young age, which are major components of the squat. If you measured the ankle dorsiflexion (toes to nose movement) of a baby, you’d see ~70 degrees. Normal dorsiflexion around our parts of the world is ~20 degrees.
Needless to say, humans are born with the ability to squat; some of us just lose the ability when we stop trying. Our strength and mobility are limited because we aren’t taught or forced to use this deep squat. We don’t need it for day-to-day activities like other countries do.
Going a$$ to grass has the potential to make you expend more energy because of the greater range of motion you’re performing. If you’re looking to increase your strength in a fuller range of motion, then a$$ to grass is may be the way to go. Usually, athletes can squat more weight when they transition right below parallel because of the lesser range of motion and decreased time under tension as compared to going a$$ to grass.
Highly trained athletes can take advantage of this deep squat position by using the “bounce” out of the bottom to help propel up. However, diving into the bottom of a squat to use that “bounce” is never a good idea unless you’ve trained the back squat using strict full range of motion without the bounce first. Once you’ve built the strength and coordination and have practiced the bounce with integrity, it may be ok to use sparingly. However, one should understand that you’re placing a great amount of stress upon the connective tissues in your joints. The repetitive bouncing out of the bottom, due to the increase in compressive forces in the deep squat, could potentially damage the meniscus and articular cartilage in your knee. Nevertheless, there are currently no guidelines that dictate the magnitude of force that would cause this to happen. Like every other lift or exercise, there are proper mobility drills and progressions that teach body control, stability, and strength. It’s recommended that you practice and train these areas to improve your mechanics and ensure safety before using it.
Option #2: Transitioning right at parallel
Parallel squats are more quad dominant, meaning there’s a lot more activation from the muscles on the front of your thighs as compared to your glutes. This is because activation of your glutes is greatly influenced by the depth of your squat. Researchers have found that the average muscle activity of the glutes were similar in both a partial and parallel squat, but increased significantly during performance of the full squat. The glute has a direct attachment onto the IT (iliotibial) band, which then attaches to the knee. So your IT band provides more stability to the knee with deeper depths because of the increased contractility from your glutes. When you squat deeper and your weight is centered in your foot, you get activation of not only your quads on the front side of your body but also the glutes/hamstrings on the backside of your body. So the knee is typically more stable because of the coactivation of muscles on the front and back, preventing excessive movement of the structures in the knee.
Similarly, researchers have found that the greatest torque on the knee occurs when you transition above and right at parallel. Those forces decrease right below parallel. However, even though the torque right at parallel is increased, this is still <50% of the estimated strength capacity of young healthy persons ligaments. So no, transitioning right at parallel will not blow up your knees. But transitioning below parallel has been proven to be healthier and safer and is the option I would personally choose to improve the longevity of my joints.
Option #3: Transitioning below parallel.
This is the goal! This is the healthiest, most functional position to achieve. As mentioned above, the forces placed upon the knee are less when you go below parallel. During the deep squat, when performed correctly, your joints are more stable because of the muscular contractions surrounding your knee. This results in less torque, which protects your ligaments and sensitive structures within the knee.
But what if I can’t get down there? If you never go below parallel, then you’ll soon lose your ability to. The old saying holds true… “If you don’t use it, you lose it”.
Taking up squatting all of a sudden can, over time, damage the muscles and cartilage around the patella (the knee cap) in your knee. If you are fit, these muscles remain taut and healthy. But if it unexpectedly has to handle too much pressure, the cartilage can start eroding. Initially, you won't feel any pain. But eventually it can lead to osteoarthritis, a disorder that is usually irreversible. So it’s important to train and ease your way into the squat. This is done by working on your mobility, working on your strength in those newer ranges, and most importantly, using the appropriate drills and techniques like some of the ones listed below to get you there…video #1 is for the hips, #2 is for the ankles, #3 is for strength.
Myth 3: Having a butt wink is bad!
Let’s start with what exactly this “butt wink” thing is. The squat requires motion from multiple joints in the body (hips, knees, ankles, etc). When we squat and use or take up all the available motion from our hips, motion has to come from somewhere else to continue to get deeper. This is where the butt wink occurs. When there’s no more motion left in the hips, your pelvis posteriorly tilts and rotates backwards. This can then disrupt the neutral position of the lower back.
Now let’s talk about a hotter topic...IS THIS BAD? First off... it’s normal! But more importantly (similar to knee translation over the toes), it’s less about if and more about when.
If it happens above or right at parallel, we need to work on it. Yes, butt winks can be improved! It not only is dangerous to frequently squat with very early butt winks, but many athletes deal with chronically tight lower backs. To fix it we most commonly need to address the hips and ankles. Try out these awesome mobility drills before the next time you squat!
Moral of the story... Just SQUAT! Don’t worry so much whether you look exactly like someone else while squatting, just simply practice getting your hips lower and keeping your weight over the midline of your foot. If you’re not able to get down there, be patient, don’t push it. Over time, by working on your mobility and strength, you’ll likely get there. Don’t know where to start or feeling stuck in your training? We, at The Charlotte Athlete, help athletes and active individuals dealing with these same issues. Email us for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you on the right track!
Thanks for reading!
- Dr. Aerial
This is where we share our expert opinion on hot topics in physical therapy, injury prevention, sports performance, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and sometimes other random thoughts. Enjoy.