Tomatoes: Terrible or Terrific Food Choice for Performance and Health?


Hello Runners,

I recently saw part of an ad in which Dr. Steven Gundry holds up a tomato and proclaims that tomatoes are one of the worst foods that you could possibly eat. I don’t know if my grandparents and parents would agree seeing that they raised hundreds of tomatoes every year and canned or made salsa with them. In fact, I grew up eating lots of tomatoes in the winter in sauces, chilis, etc. Were my parents and grandparents wrong? Were they actually harming all of us and not even knowing it? And why is this important for you, as far as health and running performance?

What could be the issue? After all, tomatoes are an excellent source of biotin, potassium, iron, and zinc. For running performance these nutrients are important for skeletal muscle and nerve function, energy production from carbohydrates and fats, muscle repair and growth, and prevention of muscle cramping. Tomatoes are also one of the best sources of lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation, as well as conditions related to oxidative stress. Meta-analyses have suggested that tomatoes may be protective against cancer, especially that of the prostate. This likely has something to do with their lycopene content, which has been shown to slow the progression of cancer and tumor cells. Tomatoes also appear to benefit heart health, by lowering both your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure among other cardioprotective effects (Xu et al 2016, Rowles et al 2018).

However, tomatoes also contain another substance that begins with “L” that can be harmful, which is lectins. This is why Dr. Gundry was proclaiming that we should not eat tomatoes. Is he right?

Lectins are a class of antinutrients. In my last post, I briefly discussed antinutrients and went more in depth on one class of antinutrients, oxalates. In this post, I will discuss lectins, including: the foods in which lectins are highly concentrated, the impact of lectins on health and running performance, how we can reduce lectin content in foods, and whether or not we should be eating foods like tomatoes.

What Are Lectins?

Lectins are proteins present in many plants and concentrated in legumes, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. The lectins in food bind to carbohydrates, forming glycoproteins. These glycoproteins perform many functions within the body, from regulating the immune system to keeping protein levels in the blood under control. Since lectins are antinutrients, they can’t be digested in the body and pass through the digestive system intact. Lectins help a plant defend itself against microorganisms, pests, and insects, and help the plant be able to propagate itself, even if eaten.

Lectins have multiple health benefits, as mentioned, however, they can also have adverse health effects. So, it is helpful to be aware of foods high in lectins.

What Foods Are High in Lectins?

The ten foods with the highest concentration of lectins are:

  • Potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes)
  • Eggplant
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Peppers
  • Wheat germ
  • Red kidney beans
  • Peas
  • Tomatoes
  • Peanuts

What Are The Adverse Effects Associated with Consumption of Lectins?

Lectins can have several adverse effects on the body. The severity of these effects will vary depending on the level of consumption of lectins and an individual’s sensitivity to lectins. The most significant impact lectins can have are that they can damage the intestinal lining of the gut, which can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (abdominal pain/distention, diarrhea/constipation, flatulence, nausea, weight loss) and increase the permeability of the intestine, which can allow undigested food particles into the blood to circulate the body. This is referred to as “leaky gut” and can lead to significant health issues, especially autoimmunity. This is significant because autoimmunity involves the body’s immune system mounting a response against not only foreign invaders, such as undigested food particles, but the body’s own tissue. Lectins themselves are undigested and can enter the bloodstream triggering an immune response. For lectins this immune response has been shown to affect the joints potentially leading to rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In addition, lectins can facilitate the preferential growth of specific bacteria which can make an individual more susceptible to RA (Wang et al. 1998, Cordain et al. 2000).

Lectins can also facilitate bacterial overgrowth and contribute to leptin resistance, a condition that causes the brain of an overweight person not to receive the signal that the stomach is full (Jönsson et al. 2005). Lectins can disrupt small-intestine metabolism (the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) and damage the gut villi (finger-like projections on the small intestine’s lining that absorb nutrients). Lectins also act as an antinutrient, meaning that they can interfere with digestion and absorption of foods, upping the risk of nutritional deficiencies. This is especially significant for runners, who need to constantly replenish nutrients throughout their training.

Certain people are more sensitive to specific types of lectins than others.  If you eat something that contains the types of lectins you’re sensitive to (or a lot of lectins that you’re less sensitive to), the result is inflammation that you may experience as brain fog, sore joints, bad skin, or even migraines.  For example, the type of lectins found in the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, is one that many people are sensitive to.  It is a common autoimmune trigger that has been linked to a significant percentage of RA cases and is a trigger for skin problems.

What Can You Do To Minimize Lectins?

Some research seems to indicate that taking in large quantities of raw lectins could have negative health effects. Although this may be true, especially when consumed in excess or for those individuals with lectin sensitivities, cooking, sprouting, soaking and fermenting your foods can cut down on lectin concentration to help promote better health. Soaking grains and legumes prior to consumption can reduce lectin content and enhance their nutritional value and reduce other antinutrient content. Cooking legumes, in particular, can nearly eliminate all lectins, with one study out of the Roweti Research Institute’s Division of Nutritional Sciences in Scotland even showing that boiling soybeans for as little as five minutes virtually eliminated lectin activity (Pusztai et al 1998). Because legumes are generally eaten cooked and not raw, this means that most legumes in your diet are likely very low in lectins.

Soaking and sprouting grains and seeds can also be an effective method to reduce lectin content (Koval’chuk 2006). Sprouting, also known as germination, is a process that involves soaking seeds for up to 24 hours and then repeatedly rinsing and draining them every few hours for several days at a time. Not only can sprouting decrease the lectin content of your grains and legumes, but it can also enhance the nutritional profile of your foods while reducing the amount of other antinutrients that interfere with digestion (Chingakham et al 2015, Luo et al 2012).

Fermenting your foods can also help reduce the amount of lectin content. Fermentation allows the beneficial bacteria to digest the lectins and other antinutrients in foods to enhance the overall nutritional profile (Oluwole et al 2013). Plus, fermentation supplies valuable probiotics to your diet to improve gut health.

Back to our friend the tomato, cooking vegetables, especially pressure cooking, can reduce the lectin content. Also, cooking or stewing tomatoes and eating them with healthy fat can enhance the absorption of lycopene. This is seen in traditional cultures with Italian dishes pairing olives with stewed tomatoes, or Mexican cuisine that combines avocados and various tomato-based sauces and spreads.

In addition, if you are eating raw tomatoes you may want to opt for varieties like Roma, which have a lower lectin content.

How Are Lectins Beneficial?

To complicate matters…

Lectins also play many vital roles within the body. Lectins are involved in immune system regulation, and some research indicates that they may have antimicrobial properties. In fact, they have been shown to be effective against several types of bacteria, including the strain that causes staph infections and E. coli. Lectins may also help fight off fungi and viral infections (Lagarda-Diaz et al 2017). In addition, a review study found that certain lectins may possess anticancer properties. Specifically, these plant lectins can modify the expression of specific immune cells and alter signaling pathways to help kill off cancer cells and block tumor growth (Jiang et al 2015).

Therefore, the results of these studies suggest that having some lectins in the diet can be of benefit. However…

Who Should Avoid Nightshades and/or Other High-Lectin Containing Foods

Those individuals with a food allergy or sensitivity to specific nightshades should limit or avoid consuming them. There are anecdotal reports from people claiming that when they no longer eat nightshades, they stop experiencing painful inflammatory symptoms. It is possible that some of these people have an allergy of some kind. Therefore, it can be beneficial to keep a food log or journal and record how certain foods may affect you, such as causing sore joints, skin problems, or migraines.

There have been rare cases in which people have an acute allergic reaction to a nightshade, like an allergy to tomatoes. If that’s the case for you, then, by all means, don’t consume tomatoes!

People with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may also find that they do better when they avoid nightshades. Some of these conditions can cause intestinal permeability, and a number of test tube and animal studies have suggested that intestinal permeability can be negatively impacted by excessive intake of the alkaloids (concentrated in areas that are green) in potatoes (Patel et al 2002), fiber in tomatoes (Carreno-Gómez et al 1999), and capsaicin in peppers (Jensen-Jarolim et al 1998).

Bottom Line

Lectins are present in many of the plant foods that we eat, however they are highly concentrated in certain foods such as grains, legumes, and nightshades. Lectins can have beneficial, as well as adverse, effects on health and performance. Lectins have been shown to have some beneficial effects as far as immune system regulation and they can have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anticancer properties. Also, the foods that are highly concentrated in lectins contain many beneficial nutrients for health and performance. For example, tomatoes contain zinc, potassium, iron, and biotin which are important for skeletal muscle and nerve function, energy production from carbohydrates and fats, muscle repair and growth, and prevention of muscle cramping, fatigue, and inflammation.

On the other hand, lectins are antinutrients that can have certain adverse health effects including damaging the intestinal lining of the gut, stimulating the development of rheumatoid arthritis, and affecting nutrient absorption. The severity of these effects will vary depending on the level of consumption of lectins and an individual’s sensitivity to lectins. Therefore, it is important to note or keep a food log or journal and record how certain foods, such as nightshades, are affecting you. Cooking, sprouting, soaking and fermenting your foods can reduce lectin concentration to help promote better health.

Individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, as well as those with lectin sensitivities may find that they do better when they avoid foods with high lectin concentration, especially nightshades.

However, unless you have inflammatory bowel disease or sensitivities to lectins, rather than focusing on eliminating lectin-rich foods from the diet altogether, such as tomatoes, it’s better to work on reducing lectin content through cooking, soaking, sprouting or fermenting foods instead, so you can still take advantage of the health-promoting properties of these nutritious foods.


Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way. I would love to hear from you.

Your friend and coach,




Xin Xu, Jiangfeng Li, Xiao Wang, Song Wang, Shuai Meng, Yi Zhu, Zhen Liang, Xiangyi Zheng, and Liping Xieb. Tomato consumption and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2016; 6: 37091. doi: 10.1038/srep37091

Rowles JL 3rd, Ranard KM, Applegate CC, Jeon S, An R, Erdman JW Jr. Processed and raw tomato consumption and risk of prostate cancer: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2018 Sep;21(3):319-336. doi: 10.1038/s41391-017-0005-x

Irlanda Lagarda-Diaz, Ana Maria Guzman-Partida, and Luz Vazquez-Moreno. Legume Lectins: Proteins with Diverse Applications. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jun; 18(6): 1242.

Jiang QL, Zhang S, Tian M, Zhang SY, Xie T, Chen DY, Chen YJ, He J, Liu J, Ouyang L, Jiang X. Plant lectins, from ancient sugar-binding proteins to emerging anti-cancer drugs in apoptosis and autophagy. Cell Prolif. 2015 Feb;48(1):17-28.

Wang Q, Yu LG, Campbell BJ, Milton JD, Rhodes JM. Identification of intact peanut lectin in peripheral venous blood. Lancet. 1998 Dec 5;352(9143):1831-2.

Cordain L, Toohey L, Smith MJ, Hickey MS. Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis. Br J Nutr. 2000 Mar;83(3):207-17.

Noah ND, Bender AE, Reaidi GB, Gilbert RJ. Food poisoning from raw red kidney beans. Br Med J. 1980 Jul 19;281(6234):236-7.

Pusztai A, Grant G. Assessment of lectin inactivation by heat and digestion. Methods Mol Med. 1998;9:505-14. doi: 10.1385/0-89603-396-1:505.

Koval’chuk NV. [Dynamic of lectin activity during germination of bean seeds (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)]. Ukr Biokhim Zh (1999). 2006 Jan-Feb;78(1):130-4.

Chingakham Basanti Devi, Archana Kushwaha,corresponding author and Anil Kumar. Sprouting characteristics and associated changes in nutritional composition of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Oct; 52(10): 6821–6827.

Luo Y, Xie W, Luo F. Effect of several germination treatments on phosphatases activities and degradation of phytate in faba bean (Vicia faba L.) and azuki bean (Vigna angularis L.). J Food Sci. 2012 Oct;77(10):C1023-9.

Oluwole S Ijarotimi, Oluwole A Adeoti, and Oluwaseun Ariyo. Comparative study on nutrient composition, phytochemical, and functional characteristics of raw, germinated, and fermented Moringa oleifera seed flour. Food Sci Nutr. 2013 Nov; 1(6): 452–463.

B Carreno-Gómez, J F Woodley, A T Florence. Studies on the Uptake of Tomato Lectin Nanoparticles in Everted Gut Sacs. Int J Pharm. 1999 Jun 10;183(1):7-11. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5173(99)00050-2.

Bijal Patel, Robert Schutte, Peter Sporns, Jason Doyle, Lawrence Jewel, Richard N Fedorak Potato Glycoalkaloids Adversely Affect Intestinal Permeability and Aggravate Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2002 Sep;8(5):340-6. doi: 10.1097/00054725-200209000-00005.

E Jensen-Jarolim, L Gajdzik, I Haberl, D Kraft, O Scheiner, J Graf. Hot Spices Influence Permeability of Human Intestinal Epithelial Monolayers. J Nutr. 1998 Mar;128(3):577-81. doi: 10.1093/jn/128.3.577.

Irlanda Lagarda-Diaz, Ana Maria Guzman-Partida, and Luz Vazquez-Moreno. Legume Lectins: Proteins with Diverse Applications. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jun; 18(6): 1242.

Q-L Jiang, S Zhang, M Tian, S-Y Zhang, T Xie, D-Y Chen, Y-J Chen, J He, J Liu, L Ouyang, X Jiang. Plant Lectins, From Ancient Sugar-Binding Proteins to Emerging Anti-Cancer Drugs in Apoptosis and Autophagy. Cell Prolif. 2015 Feb;48(1):17-28. doi: 10.1111/cpr.12155. Epub 2014 Dec 9.

Dr. Steven Gundry. The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain.

Dave Asprey. The Bulletproof Diet.

Yuri Elkaim. Super Nutrition Academy, Module 6 Lesson 4.


Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

Spinach: Nutritional Superstar or Potentially Harmful?


Hello Runners,

I’ll admit I struggled during a recent run. However, it wasn’t with the run itself, but instead with coming up for a topic for this blog post. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways, and for runners that has included cancelled and postponed events, which has affected training. This has also affected the schedule of blog posts I was going to write and share. So, now I’m trying to be creative and write about other topics that may be beneficial.

One topic that I have heard about in the past and have heard some physicians and nutritionists talk about more recently are antinutrients. So, in this post I thought I would talk about one of these antinutrients and how it might affect you.

What Are Antinutrients and What Do They Do?

Antinutrients are toxins commonly formed in plants to keep animals, bugs, and fungi from eating them. Antinutrients reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The main categories of antinutrients include lectins, phytates, and oxalates.

In this post, I will specifically discuss oxalates, which are common in some of the vegetables that are considered to have the highest nutritional value. In future posts, I will discuss the other classes of antinutrients.

What Are Oxalates?

Oxalates, also referred to as oxalic acids, are natural compounds found in a variety of food sources. Some of the most common oxalates in food can be found in plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Oxalates can also be produced naturally by our body. In fact, most of the oxalates we have in our body are from those our body has produced.

In the body, oxalates can combine with calcium and iron to form either calcium oxalate or iron oxalate crystals, which are then excreted in urine, and thus are not be an issue. However, high amounts of oxalates can build up in the kidneys, leading to the formation of kidney stones. An estimated 80% of kidney stones are formed from calcium oxalate.

Also for people sensitive to oxalates, consuming even a small amount can cause burning in the mouth, eyes, ears, and throat. Large doses can lead to muscle weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with a high amount of oxalates already in the body.

Besides forming kidney stones, oxalates affect the absorption and bioavailability (ability to be used in the body) of calcium. This is significant because calcium serves several important functions for health and running performance (see below).

Foods High in Oxalates

Although oxalates are found in virtually all foods, there are several foods that are high in oxalate content. Green vegetables, especially spinach, beet greens, okra, leaks, and collards have some of the highest concentrations.

Here is a list of other foods high in oxalates:

Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwis, tangerines, figs

Vegetables: broccoli, rhubarb, okra, leeks, beets, potatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, celery, olives, rutabaga, chicory parsley, peppers

Leafy Greens: spinach, escarole, beet greens, kale, collards, Swiss chard

Nuts and Seeds: almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds

Legumes and Soy Products: miso, tofu, soy milk, green beans and kidney beans

Grains: bulgur, corn grits, wheat germ, whole wheat bread, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa

Beverages: cocoa/chocolate, chocolate milk, black tea, instant coffee, dark beers

I decided to pick on spinach in this post for two reasons. One, spinach has one of the highest oxalate contents of any food. Second, spinach was discussed in a recent interview I heard with Dr. Jayson Calton. In the interview, Dr. Calton spoke on deficiencies that can occur due to lack of micronutrients in our diet and bioavailability of these micronutrients from the foods we consume. Specifically, Dr. Calton discussed a patient of his, who happens to now be his wife, who had advanced stage osteoporosis in her early 30s. Dr. Calton’s wife was consuming a lot of raw vegetables, including a raw spinach salad every day. He shared that by having her minimize the intake of raw spinach, as well as other raw vegetables, and supplementing with specific nutrients, including calcium, she was able to significantly improve her bone health.

So, should we stop eating spinach? Isn’t spinach a nutrient powerhouse?

Benefits of Spinach

Spinach is considered to be one of the world’s healthiest foods, with researchers identifying more than a dozen different types of flavonoid antioxidants alone that are present in spinach, not to mention all of its other vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. Also, spinach has significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and if you combine that with its very low amount of calories, it is easily one of the most nutrient-rich foods in existence.

Spinach contains many important nutrients, which serve many important functions including the following:

  • Protects Against Cancer
  • Defends Against Heart Disease
  • Boosts Immunity
  • Stabilizes Blood Sugar
  • Maintains Healthy Vision
  • Supports Bone Health
  • Keeps Skin Glowing
  • Aids in Detoxification
  • Preserves Brain Health
  • High in Magnesium

For more of details on the benefits of spinach click here

In addition, spinach does contain a significant amount of calcium, which has several important functions for health and running performance.

Important Functions of Calcium 

In addition to its importance for health of the bones and teeth, calcium serves the following important functions:

  • Optimal nerve transmission
  • Blood clotting
  • Hormone secretion
  • Muscle contraction
  • Appetite control
  • Weight loss
  • Controls levels of magnesium, phosphorus and potassium in the blood
  • May help prevent certain cancers

Click here to learn more about the specific benefits of calcium.

Spinach: Nutritional Superstar or Potentially Harmful?

So, now getting back to the question of this post. Should we stop consuming spinach, although it has many nutritional benefits? I have heard some physicians and nutritionists recommend this because of the high concentration of oxalates in spinach and the effect these have on calcium absorption and bioavailability, as well as the possible formation of kidney stones.

However, there are ways to potentially reduce the number of oxalates in certain vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli and sweet potatoes that relate to how these vegetables are prepared. Boiling and steaming are techniques that can reduce oxalate content. Personally, I prefer steaming because this can minimize the loss of other nutrients compared with boiling. Also, soaking some of the high oxalate foods in water and a small amount of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice can potentially reduce the oxalate content. Also, avoid or minimize using raw kale, spinach, or Swiss chard in salads or smoothies. Instead, use greens with lower oxalate content such as green or red leaf or Romaine lettuce in salads and smoothies.

So, you certainly don’t need to give up spinach, especially since it has so many benefits. However, you may want to consider how you prepare it and consider using other greens, in addition to spinach.

However, there are exceptions for those with certain health conditions including: absorptive hypercalciuria and enteric hyperoxaluria. Individuals with these conditions should significantly restrict their consumption of high oxalate foods, such as spinach.

Other Important Factors

Research has shown that the intake of protein, calcium, and water influence the formation of calcium oxalate to a greater degree than the intake of oxalates from specific foods. High-protein intake can lead to kidney stone formation, while too much calcium in the body leads to calcification, crystallization, which can impact the risk for heart disease and kidney issues.

In addition, being properly hydrated is important for flushing the kidneys. This can also aid in removing other toxins from the body. In fact, I recently increased my water intake to about one gallon per day.


As far as the potential negative impact on health and running performance, oxalates are the least harmful of the antinutrients, with other antinutrients including lectins and phytic acid having a potentially greater negative effect. However, you should consider limiting the amount of raw vegetables, like spinach, kale and broccoli that you consume. Steaming can be a good option for these foods in order to lower oxalate content. Also, you may want to use other greens for your salads and smoothies, such as green/red leaf and romaine lettuce that have a significant lower oxalate content. Those individuals with certain conditions, including hyperoxolauria should restrict consumption of foods high in oxalates, especially in raw form. However, for most people there are significant benefits in consuming vegetables such as spinach. Just keep in mind which preparation is best and to include variety. Finally, avoid high-protein intake and consume a sufficient amount of water on a daily basis.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,



Kim Wagner Jones, Lindsay K. Eller, Jill A. Parnell, Patricia K. Doyle-Baker, Alun L. Edwards, and Raylene A. Reimer. Effect of a dairy and calcium rich diet on weight loss and appetite during energy restriction in overweight and obese adults: a randomized trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr; 67(4): 371–376.

Vadim A. Finkielstein and David S. Goldfarb. Strategies for preventing calcium oxalate stones. CMAJ. 2006 May 9; 174(10): 1407–1409.

Noonan SC, Savage GP. Oxalate content of foods and its effect on humans. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 1999 Mar;8(1):64-74.

Mathew D. Sorensen. Calcium intake and urinary stone disease. Transl Androl Urol. 2014 Sep; 3(3): 235–240.

Bendsen NT, Hother AL, Jensen SK, Lorenzen JK, Astrup A. Effect of dairy calcium on fecal fat excretion: a randomized crossover trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Dec;32(12):1816-24.

Dave Asprey. The Bulletproof Diet.

Yuri Elkaim Super Nutrition Academy. Module 6 Lesson 4 Antinutrients.

Joseph Pizzorno. The Toxin Solution.

Jayson Calton. Supplements Revealed.

Critical Tips for Runners to Avoid Viruses and to Build and Boost the Immune System


Energetic runner





Hello Runners,

As we deal with the many challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on health and our lives in general, I wanted to briefly discuss how this might affect your training and achieving your running goals. Many spring events have been cancelled or postponed. In my next post, I will discuss adjusting your training if you have had an event cancelled or postponed. However, in this post I will discuss overtraining and how it can play increase your risk for contracting viruses, such as COVID-19, and how you can build and boost your immune system to prevent viruses from taking hold in your body and derail you from achieving your goals.

Exercise, including running, can be beneficial for the immune system, however too much of a good thing can be detrimental. I know for myself, I can tell if I’ve overdone it with my training, and overtrained, because I will come down with a cold. Basically, when we overtrain we overstress our bodies and our immune system is not as effective, thus we are more susceptible to viruses. Therefore, it is important to plan your training and properly recover from your workouts to avoid overtraining. In addition, there may be other stressors in your life, besides your training, that can make your more susceptible to viruses. Thus, it is important to properly balance lifestyle (including sleep, nutrition, daily schedule), training, and environment (including family, job). For training, it is important to follow a plan that progressively and appropriately prepares you for your next event and incorporates proper recovery, so you can avoid the effects of overtraining.

Signs of Overtraining

Below are signs and symptoms of overtraining. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that are most detectable:

  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Poor sleep
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Increase in muscle and joint injury
  • Rapid drop in body weight
  • Reduction in maximal exercise capacity
  • Increase in the number of colds
  • Swelling of lymph glands
  • Menstrual dysfunction
  • Decreased bone mineral density
  • Lower self-esteem and confidence
  • Mood changes
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fear of competing
  • Giving up when things gets tough

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I would recommend taking at least 1-2 days off from running and then reevaluate to see if symptoms have improved. Moving forward with your training, you may need to cut back on your mileage and/or intensity. Also, you may need to reevaluate your training plan and consider if it is appropriately preparing you for your next event, or if you need a new training plan.

Tips to Build and Boost Your Immune System

In addition to avoiding overtraining, there are other important steps you can take to build and even boost your immune system to help you avoid viruses, like COVID-19, taking hold in your body.

Immune Building – Provide the Building Blocks for a Strong Immune System

  • Protein
    • The recommended protein intake for runners is 0.55 grams per pound of body weight. For example, I weigh approximately 155 pounds, so I should consume about 85 grams of protein to support my training and immune system.
    • Protein provides the building blocks necessary for antibody production, as well as the following benefits: decreasing occurrence of bacterial/parasitic infections and increasing immune response
  • Vitamins
    • Vitamins play an important role as antioxidants and some are involved in production of various components of the immune system. Therefore, it is important to get an adequate daily intake. The most important vitamins for the immune system include: B vitamins and vitamins A, C, and E.
    • I strongly recommend a multivitamin/multimineral complex from whole organic foods and not synthetics. Some examples would be Garden of Life and Intramax.
  • Minerals
    • Speaking of minerals, it is important to consume and absorb sufficient levels of zinc, iron, copper, iodine, and selenium which either serve as antioxidants or are involved in activity of various immune system components.
  • Fatty Acids (omega-3s)
    • Finally, omega-3 fatty acids provide beneficial anti-inflammatory properties and are involved in the production of antibodies.
    • Good plant sources include: flax seeds, flaxseed oil, hemp seed, chia seeds, walnuts, and microalgae oil.
    • Other good sources include wild-caught salmon and sardines.
    • Supplements: Plant-based omega-3 supplements offer the same beneficial DHA and EPA fatty acids as marine sources do for optimal health. If you insist on fish oil, choose organic, sustainably-harvested sources.

Immune System Boosters

  • In addition to immune system builders, you might consider adding one or two immune system boosters. My wife, Karen, has been making us daily cocktails with some of these immune boosters, particularly oil of oregano and astragalus.
  • However, you should use caution and possibly avoid these if you have an auto-immune condition, such as Hashimoto’s, etc.
  • Some foods that can boost the immune system include garlic, Reishi and chaga mushrooms, and probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha
  • Supplements that can boost the immune system include: oil of oregano, astragalus, and Echinacea. However, you will want to make sure these come from a good and reliable source.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Avoid overtraining and stay healthy.

Your friend and coach,



Yuri Elkaim. Super Nutrition Academy. Everything You Need to Know About the Immune System.

Bob Seebohar. Exercise Physiology. USA Triathlon Level I Certification Clinic. June 7, 2013.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. Las Vegas, NV, 2014.

Dr. Edward Group. Supplements Revealed.

Dr. Edward Group

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

Goals Set the Direction, But Habits Are Best For Becoming The Runner You Want to Become

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year Runners!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit, and will probably make the same resolution next January. Why weren’t they successful? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop, that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few insights that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to become a better runner and achieve your running goals.

Goals are helpful in that they provide us direction. Such as if we were flying from Los Angeles to Maui, it is helpful to know which direction we need to go. However, if we set a course starting from Los Angeles to land in Maui we would not arrive, if we did not make adjustments along the way. Similar with our running goals. We may have a goal of completing our first marathon, or breaking four hours, or qualifying for Boston, however if we don’t develop the proper plan, get in the runs and support work (dynamic warmup, cool down, strengthening exercises, and cross-training) and develop other important habits, we’ll not optimize our training. Instead, we may develop an injury and we won’t develop the endurance and/or speed necessary to achieve our goal.

Take Small Steps with a System-Focused Approach, Instead of Goal-Focused

One important principle from Atomic Habits is developing systems that set you up to become the person necessary to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Thus, to become a better runner such things as: proper training and nutrition plans, running form, support work, sleep, and hydration are important. If these are implemented on a consistent basis, incremental progress will be made leading to improved running performance, which then lead to better race results.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is the late Coach John Wooden, who had his players focus on making some small improvement each day that would help improve their game. These small improvements compound over time, like when you invest in mutual funds. Wooden put the emphasis on improvement and not on winning basketball games and national championships. As a result, some of Wooden’s players became some of the best basketball players in history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton), and his teams won ten national championships, including seven in a row.

It is interesting to note that Wooden did not win his first national championship until he had been coaching at UCLA for 16 years! So, it took him a while to develop and successfully implement a system that would maximize his players’ performance, as well as his own coaching abilities. Similarly, if you are growing bamboo. It takes a significant amount of time for a bamboo plant to lay down an extensive root system. Then, all of sudden, a whole bunch of bamboo appears!

A systems-first mentality also allows you to fall in love with the process rather than the product/goal and you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. This is important because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. The goal-first mentality forces us to delay gratification until the next milestone is reached. The goal-first mentality also creates an “either-or” conflict in which you are either successful or a failure. Also, a goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo” effect, which once the goal is achieved, you revert back to old habits. This is common with those trying to achieve weight loss.

So, it can be more beneficial to focus on what you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, and develop the habits or systems to do so. If instead of waiting until we achieve our goal, we can achieve satisfaction in performing the steps along the way, we will be much happier and are more likely to make good habits automatic. Early on we may want to set up a rewards system for when we are completing the habits that we need to become the runner we need to become. Therefore, if we complete our run and the important support work, then we reward ourselves appropriately. For example, I reward myself with ten minutes of additional guitar-playing time. Over time you may not need the reward system because you automatically include support work on your run days.

So, again even though your goals will direct you, what’s most importance is the system you implement to become the runner necessary to achieve those goals. If you develop the habits and put in the work, the results will follow, just as they did for Coach Wooden.

 Identity Focus

Another important aspect of Atomic Habits is to become identity-focused, instead of goal-focused. Your habits are consistent with the identity you have for yourself. So, in order to change your habits, you have to change your identity. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, they could change their identity to that of a healthy person, instead of focusing on losing a certain number of pounds. They can then focus on making decisions consistent with what a healthy person does, and could ask themselves, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”

Similarly, if you have a time goal and/or want to be a Boston qualifier, your identity could be I’m a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or a “Boston qualifier” and put your focus on the habits necessary or consistent with being a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or “Boston qualifier”. You can then ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that would get these results?” Therefore, you would begin developing the sleep habits (such as 7-9 hours of sleep per night, because while you are sleeping the important adaptations to your training are occurring), nutrition habits (proper nutrients to fuel you and support adaptations), and support work habits necessary. You may also determine that it is necessary to work with a coach, so that you optimize your running form for performance and have an optimal training plan.  You may also need to develop the mind-set of focusing on improving as a runner from year-to-year, and appreciate that it may take a couple of years to break 3:45 in a marathon, or qualify for Boston.

Habit Stacking and Designing Your Environment

Techniques such as habit stacking and designing your environment (make it obvious) may help you facilitate the habits consistent with your identity of being a “sub-3:45 marathoner”, for example. After my runs I grab a glass of water to begin hydrating and focus on “relaxing my legs” by doing gentle leg swings, gradually increasing the range of motion. I perform these close to our designated workout room, which has my yoga mat, resistance band, dumbbells, foam roller, and lacrosse ball all laid out in full view (designing my environment). This cues me to perform the rest of my support work, including my strengthening exercises and cool down (habit stacking). Also, I usually play music I enjoy while performing these, which makes it easier to perform. I’ve performed this routine so many times that it has become automatic, and I recommend setting up a similar situation for yourself.

I will touch upon other important principles from Atomic Habits and other behavior change strategies in future blogs, to help you become the runner you want to become and help you achieve your goals along the way.

Summary of Key Points

  • Success is the product of daily habits
  • Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results
  • Identity the person you want to become and develop the habits consistent with that identity
  • Consistency of habits is important. Start small and implement a proper reward system for immediate gratification once you’ve completed these habits. These habits should soon become automatic.
  • Focus on improvement over time, such as year-to-year, as a runner, not just a one-time goal

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that goals aren’t important. They have their place, as far as providing direction. Also, there are other steps you should take before beginning your training. Click here for a post from last year on goal setting and here to learn of other steps you should take before you begin training.

Also, it’s not too late to get started on training, if you are planning to run a spring half- or full-marathon. I began my formal training for the Colfax marathon last week.

Finally, I plan to lead a half- and full-marathon training group this year for fall half- and full-marathons. The group will meet once per week in Louisville (CO) for a run, and participants will be provided with a 16-week training plan. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, please contact me at

Your friend and coach,



James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  Avery: New York, 2018.

What’s Your Hydration and Nutrition Plan for Your Big Race?


“Plans Are Nothing: Planning is Everything” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Hello Runners,

So, you’ve put in some great training, and you have a goal, and maybe even a purpose higher than yourself, which can get your through some of the toughest portions of your marathon. The weather on your race day is ideal. You’re able to run without any injuries. But, you could still fail to achieve your goal on race day due to dehydration or fatigue caused by burning up all your available carbohydrates.

Therefore, you need a plan before and during your event to make sure you stay as hydrated as possible, and don’t run out of available carbohydrates. Basically, we don’t have enough available carbohydrates in our body to complete a marathon. We need to take on additional carbohydrates during our event.

Where so many runners fail on race day is not having a game plan for how they are going to hydrate and fuel themselves during their event, or they have a game plan ahead of time, but don’t follow through. Also, many runners rely on what’s handed out at the event without practicing with it ahead of time (sports drinks, gels, etc.), and sometimes found out the hard way that what’s handed out is not best for them.

So, what’s your hydration and nutrition strategy for your event? How often will you drink? Will you use a sports drink? If not, what will you eat, so that you have enough energy to finish your marathon? Hopefully, you have been practicing your strategy during your training and have a plan you will use during your big race.

Practice Hydration and Nutrition (Fuel) Strategy During Your Long Runs

Your long training runs are a great time to practice hydration (how often and how much you will drink) and figure out what you will use for fuel during your event, as well as when you will consume this. There are lots of options available as far as fuel, including sports drinks, gels, beans, chews, real food, etc. You may want to practice what will be handed out at your event, that way if it works for you, then you don’t have to carry your own fuel.

Most likely your event won’t have these, but here are some fuel options you might try: SuperStarch by UCAN, Infinit-E by Millenium, and Vitargo. Some other options which are lower in calories, but provide electrolytes include Osmo Nutrition and Skratch Labs. Ideally, practice under similar conditions that you will experience during your event.

The Week Before Your Event

Before I talk more about your hydration and fueling strategy during your event, I will mention what you should do both the week of and the day before your event. After all, you want to start out with a full tank, otherwise, you will be trying to play catch up during your event, and that won’t work and will negatively impact your performance.

So, be sure to hydrate well throughout the week before, and especially the day before your event. Limit alcohol consumption during that week, as well, especially the day before your event. At a minimum you should be consuming half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume at least 75 ounces of water per day.

During the week of the event, this is the time to load up on carbohydrates, including grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits (such as blueberries). You should also be consuming proteins including nuts, seeds, beans, tempeh, fish, other meats, if you normally eat them. Fats are the nutrient you need least during the week of your event.

It is popular for events to have pasta dinners the night before an event. This is more traditional than beneficial. This pasta will really not help you during your event. In fact, you may want to have a salad with some nuts or a small bowl of pasta or white rice for dinner, and eat a larger meal for lunch or in the early afternoon. This larger meal should consist primarily of easily-digestible carbohydrates (such as white rice and white pasta), with some protein, and little fat. Avoid spicy foods and any new foods. Beware of eating a lot of fiber the day before an event and FODMAP foods (beans, onions, garlic, dried fruit, apples, pears, etc.), which can cause gas and bloating.

During Your Event

Don’t consume anything on race day that you haven’t practiced with during your training. Several years ago, when I was living in Maryland, I made an annual habit of running the Baltimore half-marathon. I really enjoyed that event and the crowd support throughout much of the event was great! Within the last few miles of the event there were people who traditionally would hand out gummy bears. Boy, was it tempting! Many people indulged. I passed and recommend you do the same. If you want gummy bears, have them after the race.

General guidelines for hydration

Water loss through sweat of as little as 2% can negatively affect performance, if fluids aren’t replaced because of:

  • Decreased blood volume resulting in the heart having to work harder
  • Increased usage of carbohydrates which can lead to fatigue happening sooner
  • Ability to dissipate heat is reduced
  • Imbalance of electrolytes which can cause cramping and weakness
  • Possible cognitive impairment

Keep in mind this will depend on your sweat rate and the conditions of your event. If you sweat profusely you will likely need to include electrolytes as well. In general you should consume 250 to 500 mg of electrolytes per hour. See previous post. During your event drink 3-8 ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes (a gulp is ~ one ounce), basically drink to thirst.

General guidelines for nutrition

The main cause of fatigue in those participating in endurance events is running out of available carbohydrates in the body. You will need to determine if you will use fluids or solids for your carbohydrate fuel, and which you will use. If using solids, you may want to wash these down with water, don’t use a sports drink to wash them down. During your event, make sure you using something that doesn’t bother your stomach, contains little or no fiber and that you consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (~120-160 calories) every hour. For events lasting 4 hours or longer you may want to consume ~60 grams/hour.

Other Considerations

Keep in mind that you may need to carry your own fuel, whether it’s a sports drink or solid, during your event. This has been pretty much the case for me in every marathon I’ve run. I don’t do well with the sports drinks typically handed out at events.

Even if you have a strategy, you may need to develop a plan B and possibly plan C. What if you encounter heat and humidity during your event? What if they run out of sports drink or water at an aid station? (This happened at the Chicago marathon several years ago).

You should be well-hydrated before the start of your event. You should have eaten a well-balanced diet on the day before your event to ensure that carbohydrate stores in the body are maximized. Also, you should start calorie and fluid replacement early in your event.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,


P.S. If you know anyone who might benefit from this email, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.


Bob Seebohar “Triathlon Nutritional Strategies” USA Triathlon Level I Coaching Certification Clinic June 7, 2013, Englewood, CO.

Luke Humphrey with Ketih & Kevin Hanson. Hansons Marathon Method. Velopress, Boulder, CO, 2012.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Las Vegas, NV, 2014.

Matt Fitzgerald . Marathon Roadmap The Plant-Based Guide To Conquering Your First 26.2.

Recover Better With Better Sleep: Sleep Aids That Can Help You Improve the Quantity and Quality of Your Sleep Part 2

In the last post, I discussed different sleep aids that you can use to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. This is important for facilitating recovery from challenging runs that you have and will allow your body to undergo certain adaptations, which will allow you to become a better runner.

As I promised, I will discuss other sleep aids in this post, focusing on what you eat and the timing of what you eat, as well as supplements.

What and When You Eat Matters

The food you eat before bed can affect your sleep. Research has shown that a high-carbohydrate meal may be detrimental to sleep. Even though a high-carbohydrate meal can get you to fall asleep faster, it will not be a restful sleep. Instead, high-fat meals can promote a deeper and more restful sleep. If you still want to eat a high-carbohydrate meal for dinner, you should eat it at least four hours before bed, so you have enough time to digest it.

Avoiding caffeine before bed is also important and for some people caffeine should not be taken less than eight hours before bed to optimize quality and quantity of sleep.

Certain Foods with Sleep Promoting Properties

Taking the following foods before bed (such as dinner or dessert) can be helpful in promoting both sleep quality and quantity.

Almonds: Almonds are a source of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Almonds are also an excellent source of magnesium which also may help improve sleep quality. In fact, my wife and I have had success as far as sleep quality when taking almond milk before bed.

Chamomile Tea: Chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in the brain to promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.

Kiwi: Kiwi contains serotonin which regulates your sleep cycle. The antioxidants (vitamin C and carotenoids) in kiwis may also help promote sleep due to their anti-inflammatory effects. This is another food that my wife and I have been eating before bed, which also seems to be beneficial.

Tart Cherry Juice: May be an effective sleep promoter due to its high melatonin content.

Fatty Fish: Including salmon, trout, and mackeral contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D and this combination has the potential to enhance sleep quality because both increase production of serotonin.

Walnuts: Walnuts are one of the best food sources for melatonin. Walnuts also contain fatty acids that help increase the production of serotonin.

Passionflower Tea: Contains apigenin, an antioxidant that produces a calming effect and increases GABA, a brain chemical that inhibits other brain chemicals that induce stress. 


There are too many to talk about one blog post, however I will mention a few. Be aware that there is always the potential issue of the quality of supplements and possible side effects. So you should check with your physician before taking any supplements.

Melatonin: I recommend using this sparingly, such as when you experience jet lag from travel, because taking this often can affect our body’s natural production of melatonin. This supplement may also be beneficial for daytime sleep quality for those whose schedules require them to sleep during the daytime.

MCT or coconut oil: take 30-60 minutes before bed. Dave Asprey discusses the use of MCT oil in his book The Bulletproof Diet as a helpful sleep aid. MCT or coconut oil can be effective for minimizing any food cravings that might keep you awake, because it provides a slow-burning source of fat fuel and won’t cause insulin levels to spike, which occurs when you have carbohydrates or protein. Dave provides a recipe for a beverage called the Non-Coffee Vanilla Latte, which specifically incorporates MCT or coconut oil. I have used this beverage to help improve my own sleep. Here’s the recipe:

  • Ingredients:
    • 2 cups of hot filtered water
    • 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter or ghee
    • 2 tablespoons MCT or organic coconut oil
    • 1 teaspoon unsweetened vanilla powder
    • ½ teaspoon organic cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon of cardamom or ½ teaspoon of raw organic honey
  •   Add all ingredients to a blender and process until all are incorporated. It is important that they are blended with blender, Vitamix, etc. and not just stirred by hand

Magnesium: Magnesium promotes sleep by reducing inflammation and it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to interrupt sleep. Magnesium also appears to increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain messenger with calming effects. The best forms of magnesium are magnesium citrate, glycinate taurate, aspartate and chelate because they are the most absorbable forms. Avoid magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide.

Valerian Root: Valerian root is one of the most commonly used sleep-promoting herbal supplements in the US and Europe. However, safety remains uncertain for long-term use, and in special populations such as pregnant and lactating women.  

Glycine: Glycine is an amino acid thought to act in part by lowering body temperature at bedtime, signaling that it’s time to sleep.According to the research, taking fewer than 31 grams per day appears to be safe, however more studies are needed.

L-Theanine: Consuming a daily supplement containing 200-400 mg of this amino acid may help improve sleep and relaxation.

CBD oil: now legal in at least 30 states, this supplement has gained popularity as a sleep aid the past few years, although research is limited as far as its effectiveness. There are people that I know, including my wife, who swear by CBD oil as an effective sleep aid.

If you have, or suspect you have sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder, you should meet with a specialist, if you haven’t already doe so, to be assessed and have a treatment plan developed for you.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you feel might benefit.

Sleep well.

Your friend and coach,




The Bulletproof Die. Dave Asprey, Rodale Inc: 2014.

“Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality.” St-Onge MP, Mikic A, Pietrolungo CE. Adv Nutr 2016 Sep 15; 7(5): 938-49.

“High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset.” Afaghi A, O’Connor H, Chow CM. Am J Clin Nutr 2007 Feb; 85(2): 426-30.

“Strategies of Functional Foods Promote Sleep in Human Being.” Zeng Y, Yang J, Du J, Pu X, Yang X, Yang S, Yang T. Curr Signal Transduct Ther 2014 Dec; 9(3): 148-155.

“Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin.” Meng X,  Li Y, Li S, Zhou Y, Gan R, Xu D, Li H. Nutrients. 2017 Apr; 9(4): 367.

“The magic of magnesium.” Boomsma D. Int J Pharm Compd. 2008 Jul-Aug; 12(4): 306-9.

“The effect of magnesium supplementation on the primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. J Res Med Sci 2012 Dec; 17(12): 1161-9.

“Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future.” Srivastava J, Shankar E, Gupta S. Mol Med Report 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895-901.

“Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Leach MJ, Page AT. Sleep Med Rev 2015 Dec; 24:1-12.

“Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality on adults with sleep problems.” Lin HH, Tasi PS, Fang SC, Liu JF. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011; 20(2): 169-74.

“Phytoserotonin: A Review.” Ramakrishna A, Giridhar P, Ravishanskar GA. Plant Singal Behav. 2011 Jun; 6(6): 800-809.

“Diet promotes sleep duration and quality.” Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Nutr Res 2012 May; 32(5): 309-19.

“How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.” Young S. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394-399.

“Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, and Anitioxidants Contribute to Selected Sleep Quality ad Cardiometabolic Health Relationships: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Kanagasabai T, Ardern C. Mediators Inflamm. 2015; Oct 19.

“Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep.” Halson S. Sports Med. 2014; 44(Supple 1): 13-23.

“Fish Consumption, Sleep, Daily Functioning, and Heart Rate Variability.” Hansen AL, Dahl L, Olson G, Thornton D, Graff IE, Froyland L, Thayer JF, Pallesen S. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014 May 15; 10(5): 567-575.

“Health Benefits of Nut Consumption.” Ros E. Nutrients. 2010 Jul; 2(7): 652-682.

“Melatonins in walnuts: influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood.” Reiter RJ, Manchester LC, Tan DX. Nutrition. 2005 Sep; 21(9) 920-4.

“Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin.” Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Food Nutr Res. 2012 Jul 20.

“Serotonin and sleep.” Ursin R. Sleep Med Rev. 2002 Feb; 6(1): 55-69.

“Risks and Benefits of Commonly Used Herbal Medicines in Mexico.” Rodrigues-Fragoso L, Reyes-Esparza J, Burchiel S, Herrera-Ruiz D. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2008 Feb 15; 227(1): 125-135.

“The role of GABA in anxiety disorders.” Lydiard RB. J Clin Psychiatry. 2003; 64 Suppl 3: 21-7.

“Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag.” Herxheimer A, Petri KJ. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002; (2): CD001520.

“Shift work: coping with the biological clock.” Arendt J. Occup Med (Lond). 2010 Jan; 60(1): 10-20.

“Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, Patterson M, Mehling W. Am J Med 2006 Dec; 119 (12): 1005-1012.

“Effectiveness of Valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.” Fernandez-San Martin MI, Masa-Font R, Palacios-Soler L, Sancho-Gomex P, Calbo-Caldentey C, Flores-Mateo G. Sleep Med. 2010 Jun; 11(6): 505-11.

“Biorhythms and possible central regulation of magnesium status, phototherapy, darkness therapy, and chronopathological forms of magnesium depletion.” Durlach J, Pages N, Bac P, Bara M, Guiet-Bara A. Magnes Res. 2002 Mar: 15(1-2): 49-66.

“Benzodiazepene/GABA(A) receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice.” Poleszak E. Pharmacol Rep. 2008 Jul-Aug; 60(4): 483-9.

“The Sleep-Promoting and Hypothermic Effects of Glycine are Mediated by NMDA Receptors in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus.”  Kawai N, Sakai N, Okuro M, Karakawa S, Tsuneyoshi Y, Kawasaki N, Takeda T, Bannai M, Nishino S. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 May; 40(6): 1405-1416.

“New therapeutic strategy for amino acid medicine: glycine improves the quality of sleep.” Bannai M, Kawai N. J Pharmacol Sci. 2012; 118(2): 145-8.

“The nature of human hazards associated with excessive intake of amino acids.” Garlick PJ. J Nutr. 2004 Jun; 134(6 Suppl): 1633S-1639S.

“The acute effects of L-theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans.” Lu K, Gray MA, Oliver C, Liley DT, Harrison BJ, Bartholomeusz CF, Phan KL, Nathan PJ. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004 Oct: 19(7): 457-65.

“The effects of L-theanine (Suntheanine®) on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Lyon MR, Kapoor MP, Juneja LR. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Dec;16(4):348-54.

What Are Your Vitamin D Levels and Other Important Testing for Runners and Triathletes

I hope that you are all psyched for achieving your goals for 2015! I know that I am! I came within 27 seconds of attaining my marathon goal for 2014 (3:05) and this year I want to achieve that goal and get closer to my ultimate marathon goal (breaking 3 hours)! Not bad for a guy who was repeatedly told by his cross-country coach that he had no talent.

Last month I talked about goal setting. In this article I want to talk about the importance of having a checkup and blood work done before you get too far into your training for 2015. This is important because you want to insure that you don’t have conditions that could lead to serious injuries or health issues that could put you out of training for several months or longer. So, if you haven’t done this recently, I recommend meeting with your physician for a checkup and to have blood work done. You should be assessed for the presence of heart disease and/or risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Back in the 1980s there was a runner named Jim Fixx who died while out on a run. Jim helped me get into running with his book The Complete Book of Running. Jim had been a smoker throughout his life and his family had a history of heart disease. Jim took up running to improve his health and he helped get many others into running, including myself with his books. Unfortunately, he had heart disease and died one day on a run. He was 40 when he died.

In addition to being checked for heart disease or heart disease risk factors, women who are postmenopausal, or who are pre-menopausal and have irregular or no menstrual cycles, as well as anyone who is especially thin, should be assessed for bone mineral density. Low bone mineral density, referred to as osteopenia or osteoporosis, can increase the risk of fractures.

Finally, you should also have blood work done to check for the following:

– Lipid (cholesterol) profile

– Fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels

– Complete blood count (CBC), which includes testing for red blood cell (RBC) count, hemoglobin, and hematocrit (the percentage of blood composed of red blood cells)

– Levels or concentration of ferritin, which is a measure of your body’s iron reserves

– Vitamin D levels

– Cortisol levels

Lipid profile and fasting blood glucose levels are important, however the focus of the rest of this article will be on red blood cell count, iron, vitamin D, and cortisol. I will talk more about cholesterol and blood glucose sugar in future articles relating to nutrition.

Red blood cell count and iron

Why are red blood cell and iron levels important?

– Red blood cells and iron play vital roles in carrying oxygen to your exercising muscle, as well as other tissues

– Lower than normal levels of these can result in iron deficiency anemia, which can result in fatigue, heart rates higher than normal at lower exercise intensities, shortness of breath, sluggishness, light-headedness, paleness, loss of appetite, poor recovery, and subpar performance

What causes iron deficiency?

– Diminished dietary iron intake

– Excessive iron losses

– Often occurs in women up to the age of 50 because of iron losses every month during menstruation

– Those who are on a vegetarian diet may be at higher risk

– Running can contribute to iron deficiency because of loss of iron in sweat and through breakdown of red blood cells (hemolysis) that occurs through repeated landing of the feet on hard surfaces, an increased speed of red blood cell movement through the bloodstream, and acidosis from high-intensity training

– Iron-deficiency anemia affects 3-5% of all women in the U.S.

– 26-60% of female athletes are affected by iron deficiency

What if you are iron deficient?

– Talk to your healthcare provider about taking an iron supplement

– Adequate diet including daily intake of iron-rich heme and non-heme foods

– Heme (more readily absorbable form of iron) foods include: red meat and dark poultry

– Non-heme foods include: dried fruit, dark greens, beans, whole grains, and soy foods

– Increase absorption of iron by including foods containing vitamin C

– Consider using a cast-iron skillet for cooking acidic foods such as spaghetti sauce

– Cook foods for a short amount of time in a minimal amount of water

– Consume iron-fortified foods

– For vegetarians consume plenty of legumes, nuts, and seeds and foods rich in vitamin C

Vitamin D – Vitamin D is vital for numerous functions in the body. Sunlight initiates vitamin D synthesis in the body. However, because it is February, vitamin D will not be produced in high enough levels due to sun exposure only. Last February when I had my vitamin D levels checked I was surprised to find how low my levels were. So I have had to use a vitamin D supplement to help raise my levels.

Why is vitamin D important?

– For absorption of calcium for bone health

– Vitamin D contributes to a variety of other important functions in the body too extensive for this article!

– Some research has suggested relationships between vitamin D intake and cancer prevention, increased immunity, and blood glucose regulation

How Do We Get Adequate Vitamin D?

– Sunlight

– Fatty fish, such as salmon (I highly recommend wild caught) and tuna, and foods fortified with vitamin D

– Supplements


What is cortisol?

– A major stress hormone

– Regulator of the immune system

– Can negatively impact sleep, mood, bone health, ligament health, cardiovascular health, and running performance

– Primary function is to increase the breakdown of muscles in the body, inhibits the uptake of glucose into the body’s cells, and increases the breakdown of fats

What are the effects of higher than normal cortisol levels?

– Causes the body to be constantly breaking down muscle

– Causes suppression of the immune system

– Lowers levels of other important hormones including testosterone and DHEA (dehydroepiaandrosterone)

– Can increase risk of development of upper respiratory tract infections

What can cause increased levels of cortisol?

– Overtraining

– Training in a carbohydrate-depleted state (following a low-carbohydrate diet)

– High-intensity and long-duration training

Signs that your cortisol levels may be high, besides having these levels measured, include: mood swings, lack of motivation to run, and loss of muscle and appetite

How do you control cortisol levels?

– Daily nutrition is important which includes consuming enough carbohydrates to support your energy needs

– Research has also shown that including glutamine and branched chain amino acids (BCAA), which you can typically get by eating whole foods, during your post exercise nutrition plan can help

Please contact me at if you have questions or comments.  I would love to hear from you!

See you on the road or trail,



Tips For Marathon Day Nutrition

Tips for Marathon Day Nutrition

Recently, an article in Men’s Health Online summarized the results of a research study that suggested proper marathon day nutrition could improve your marathon time by as much as eleven minutes. In this same article, I offered some tips on marathon day nutrition.

Here is the link to the article:

In this article, I basically outline a strategy to stay properly fueled during a marathon in order to minimize fatigue and injury-risk, as well as help with finish time, and have a successful marathon experience. In this blog I expand upon this strategy and offer additional tips.

Find the Fuel That Works For You

There are lots of options to fuel you during a marathon. Sports drinks, gels, sports beans, foods such as bananas, pretzels, oranges, dried figs, etc. I encourage you to try out different fuel options during your training long runs to determine the one that works best for you. Trying a fuel out for the first time on marathon day is a potential recipe for disaster! Also during training, I recommend you try whatever fuel will be provided at the marathon. If this fuel works best for you, then you won’t have to carry other fuels during the marathon, and just take it at the aid stations. Notes on aid stations: If fuel is provided at aid stations on the right and left, choose the left side. This side is usually less crowded. Also, I recommend you walk when you are consuming the fuel. Don’t try to take it while running, unless you are already skilled at this, because you will probably end up dumping a significant portion. Beware that aid stations may run out of the fuel that you are counting on using. So, it is always good to carry some backup fuel, especially if you run at the back of the pack. You can also have friends and family strategically placed on the course with your fuel of choice (see below).

Fuel Up During the Week of the Marathon

Would you start a long trip with your gas tank only half full, or on empty? I hope not, and you shouldn’t on marathon day. Be sure that you are fueling your body with vegetables (especially leafy greens and sweet potatoes), vegetable (such as tempeh, beans, and legumes) and lean proteins, unsaturated fats (such as olive oil and avocados), fruits (especially blueberries and raspberries), and grains (such as brown and wild rice, steel-cut oats, and quinoa), throughout the week preceding your marathon. Approximately 55-65% of your calorie intake should come from carbohydrates. Although simple sugars are a source of carbohydrates, their consumption should be minimized during meals, dessert, and snacks. Don’t rely on the pasta dinner the night before the marathon to bring your carbohydrate levels up to full. Although the pasta dinner the night before a marathon has become a fun tradition, your body may not have enough time to fully digest and use it and it may cause GI issues. Finally, make sure you stay well-hydrated and get plenty of sleep throughout the week of the marathon.

Fuel Up on Marathon Day

The most important meal of the day is breakfast, and it’s no different on marathon day. I recommend that you have a meal of approximately 200-500 calories two to four hours before your event. This meal should be low in fat, and composed primarily of carbohydrate foods that can be easily digested. As I mentioned in the Men’s Health article, some good options would be oatmeal and almond or peanut butter on a banana. Orange juice and toast with almond or peanut butter is another good option. The composition and timing of the meal should be practiced during training. Again, you want to determine, before marathon day, what is going to work best for you. Additionally, consumption of carbohydrates within 5 minutes of the start of a marathon can be beneficial. This could be in the form of a sports drink, gel, banana, etc. Again, this is something that you should practice in training. Caution should be used in consuming carbohydrates 15 to 45 minutes before the marathon because of the possibility of developing hypoglycemia shortly after you begin running. Also, consume about 500 ml or 16 ounces of water two hours before the marathon.

Follow Your Fueling/Hydration Plan

Based on what you found out during your training, you should have a plan as far as fueling during the marathon. Research has shown that runners need approximately 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour during the marathon. The wide range is due to factors such as body size, level of training, and even diet. You should start taking your fuel no later than 40 minutes into the marathon. After this, I would recommend fueling every 20-30 minutes to get the proper amount of carbohydrates that you need each hour. Also, you should be drinking 3-7 ounces of fluid approximately every 15-20 minutes. This could be water or sports drink or you could alternate. If you feel thirsty you should drink additional fluids. Being dehydrated can trigger diarrhea. To make sure you follow your fueling/hydration plan, set a watch alarm and/or use strategically placed friends and family (see below). Also, depending on your pace, you can determine which miles you should be taking water and/or fuel. Make sure you stick with you fueling/hydration plan!

Get A Little Help From Your Friends and Family

If possible, have friends or family strategically placed, with your fuel of choice, at various points in the marathon. Also, if they can, have them run a mile our two with you to provide a welcome lift.

Don’t Forget the Electrolytes

During the marathon you will lose electrolytes, primarily through sweat and urine. You will need to replace these electrolytes, which are vital for muscle contraction and fluid balance within the body. Sodium is the primary electrolyte that will need to be replaced (approximately 300-500 milligrams/hour). So your fuel of choice should contain sodium, or you will need to include something that will provide sodium, such as adding sea salt to water (0.5 to 0.7 grams of sodium/Liter of water).

Refuel Soon After the Marathon

Ideally, within the first thirty minutes of completion of your marathon, and especially within the first two hours, you should begin refueling with carbohydrates and protein. The mixture should be approximately 4:1 carbohydrates to protein. There are specific recovery drinks formulated in this ratio. If you are like me and would rather consume foods instead, then consume bananas with peanut or almond butter. Energy bars can work as well. Delaying refueling after your marathon will significantly hinder replenishment of stores of carbohydrates within your body and slow recovery. Every 1-2 hours for 5-6 hours, you should continue consuming carbohydrates and protein. Consume water to replace sweat losses during the marathon (24 ounces per pound lost). Also, consume foods or recovery drinks with sodium to replace that lost during the marathon.

See you on the road or trail.