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Episode #37

On Nutrition & Experience

with Elyse Kopecky

09 Feb, 2021 · Running

Elyse Kopecky, Author, Runner, and mom, shares her experience of not getting a natural period until age 30, facing many injuries in her running career and eventually learning how to fuel and changing her whole food philosophy. 

Transcript

ELYSE KOPECKY

Stef 

Welcome to the Voice  In Sport podcast today. Our guest is Elise Capecchi and avid runner and former division one athlete from UNC chapel Hill, where she met Olympic Marathoner  Shalane Flanagan. And their friendship kicked off an unanticipated journey toward co-authoring cookbooks. So far they've published "Run Fast, Eat  Slow", and "Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow.

In this episode, we talked to Elyse about her experience with athletic amenorrhea, not getting a natural period until she was 30, getting many stress fractures and going on birth control to force a period. We cover the journey of transitioning from high school to college, from college to a career at Nike, and then ultimately her realization of the connection between fueling our bodies and maintaining health.

We discuss Elyse's move to Switzerland, how it completely changed her eating for the better and how it led to her enrolling in the natural gourmet Institute and eventually helping Shalane Flanagan to optimize her food and performance. Now, Elise is a two-time New York times bestselling author working on her third book was Shalane.

And at age 39, she is optimizing her performance with all the learnings about proper fueling. As she trains for her next ultra marathon, she emphasizes the importance of optimizing food for what our individual bodies need and not comparing ourselves other. She emphasizes the importance of optimizing food for what our individual bodies need and not comparing ourselves to others.

I am so excited to talk to Elyse about her journey and share it all with you. Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast, Elyse. 

Elyse

 Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Stef

 We actually started our journey meeting each other in a book club at Nike. And then here we are several years later talking about your amazing books and coming back together again. So that's pretty cool.

Elyse

 Yeah, though my Nike days feel like a lifetime ago. A whole different career.

Stef

 Yeah, and you spent 10 years there, right?

Elyse

 Just about 10 years working in digital marketing.

Stef

Amazing. I'm so excited to talk about your journey not just your relationship with food, but from amenorrhea to injuries and the impact that that has had on you. Switching your careers from Nike to Culinary School and then writing some amazing cookbooks. So let's go right into it. So I'd like to start with you not getting your period when you were younger. Walk us through the ages of 12 through 16 and what that experience was like for you. 

Elyse

 So I started running competitively around 12 years old. And I'd loved running from the first time I tried it out, my very first meet and I ran competitively all the way through high school and college. I wasn't running really high mileage, especially in high school. I didn't really know how to train. But I never got my period, not once. And it wasn't until I went to college when I was 18 years old, that the team doctor flagged it as an issue. And they put me on birth control, which is estrogen, so that I would force getting my period. But before that, my parents just thought maybe I was late. They didn't really attribute to my diet. They took me to a couple of different doctors. They had me checked to make sure I actually had a uterus and nothing looked really wrong. The doctors never once told me to change my diet and it took me many, many years later. In college also the team doctors never told me to change my diet or to add more fat and fuel into my eating. So it took many years for me to figure out that I could overcome this. And the hardest part was I stopped running after college to try to get my period naturally and even cutting out my mileage completely didn't help. It wasn't until I completely overhauled my diet that I overcame about 15 years of suffering from athletic amenorrhea.

Stef

 That's incredible. I think your story is just such a powerful story to tell because it wasn't until much, much later in your life that you got your period and it really was a change in what you ate and how you fueled your body. But let's kind of start with the basics. Let's talk about what amenorrhea is. So can you explain it to those who might not be familiar with it?

Elyse

 Yeah. So there's different types of amenorrhea, but athletic amenorrhea is attributed to sports. So young women, or actually any age woman, it doesn't matter your age. It could happen in your forties. It could happen in your twenties. It could happen in your teens. It's when you lose your period. So it's usually, most women have started getting their periods in their teens and then they start getting into competitive running, and then they have a loss of period and it's due to not having enough fuel.

So our bodies are super smart. It goes back to evolution. Back in the olden days, when there wasn't enough fuel to keep us healthy, our bodies would shut down systems that were not needed for survival. So our reproductive system was the first to be shut down in our bodies, basically preserving energy to fuel the rest of our systems. And also it was a really smart survival thing back in years of wars and stuff where you wouldn't get pregnant, if you didn't have enough nutrition. And if it was a period of not access to good food, women would not get pregnant back then. So it's kind of a survival thing, but now it's become a lot of women are running really high mileage and you don't have to give up your sport that you love. You don't have to give up your training or your miles. You just have to really, really consciously be eating an incredible amount of nutrition for a young athlete and especially healthy fats. That was the key for me. And everyone's body is different but for me, getting a really high fat diet was essential for me to balance my hormones.

Stef

 Why do you think it's more common in certain sports like running?

Elyse

 Running's just a high energy sport. You're burning an incredible amount of calories and energy. So any sport, it's common in any sport that is very active where women are burning a lot of calories - so like running swimming, gymnastics. But also sports where women are trying to stay as fit as possible. So they often fear fat. As a teenager, I had a really healthy relationship with food. I didn't really know any differently. But I was eating all the wrong foods. So I was eating plenty of actual food, but not the right stuff. Because I grew up in the eighties and my mom in our household, it was like low fat everything. Like she wanted to feed us the healthiest foods for what she thought we needed as athletes. And she was buying low fat yogurt. She was buying fake butter and I remember these low fat cookies and low-fat milk. Everything was lean. We had lean white meat chicken, and plain broccoli and plain rice, and nothing with sauces or good healthy fats.

Stef

 Yeah. I remember the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter."

 It is a big misconception that, you know, amenorrhea is just the result of being really fit as an athlete. 

Elyse

 I'm more fit and running higher mileage now. I just turned 39, so I'm approaching 40 and I'm running more than I've ever run before. And my period is precise to the day. I attribute it to honestly butter, avocados, olive oil, full fat grass fed ground beef, dark meat chicken, all those good fats that are in my diet every day.

Stef

 Yeah and your story is just so important to tell again because it's not usually necessarily how much you're training, but it could be really focused on exactly how you're fueling your body. With not fueling your body appropriately can come and increase risk of injury. So when you were young, you know, when you hadn't got your period - I guess at that moment when you're like 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 in those years before college. Did you think at that time that it was over-training or underfueling, and did you think it was normal? Can you kind of bring us back to where your head was in that time?

My doctors thought that I was just a late bloomer and that it was normal. They never attributed it to the running or to food or diet. That never came up in any of my doctor's appointments. And I had multiple injuries in high school. I fractured both my growth plates, and then in college I had multiple stress fractures. I had low bone density from not having the right estrogen and not having my regular periods. So I wish the doctors back then had told me. They did tell me that I would have trouble getting pregnant someday, and thankfully that was false because I was able to change my diet.

When you did go see doctors at that time, like what was their comments to you? Do you remember?

Elyse

 I just remember one doctor's appointment where they decided they would do an ultrasound to make sure I actually had a uterus. And that was really embarrassing for me as a 16 year old, getting an ultrasound. But otherwise yeah, I was healthy in other ways and looked healthy. So yeah, it's easy to look healthy on the outside, but have issues going on that are deeper. And a lot of medicine will treat the symptoms, but not treat the actual root cause of the issue.

Stef

 You mentioned that you didn't have restricted eating during this time of your life, and you had a pretty good relationship with food. You were just eating the wrong foods for the type of training that you were doing. But what was your relationship with your body?

Elyse

 I was honestly trying to always gain weight. I have a thin build. And I think that a lot of women don't realize I got just as much made fun of in high school for being skinny and scrawny. And so I was always trying to gain weight, but I didn't have a good way to know how to do that. I had very low body fat and low muscle. So, I mean I looked like your typical like pre puberty runner. (laughs) 

Stef

 How do you overcome that? Cause that's one of the biggest  challenges for young girls is to not compare yourself and your body type to other people's. So what advice would you give to girls today that might be struggling with their body type or their body image?

Elyse

Yeah, I mean, runners come in all different body shapes and it's really about how you feel health-wise and your energy. I wish looking back now that I didn't stress about so many things in high school. But I would get comments from competitors on other teams because I was so small, and that was just my natural body type. And so I think it's important for young girls to just celebrate their health and their youth and enjoy running and not get so caught up in the stress of the competition.

Stef

 Yeah. It's hard though, you know, so I think having positive influences around you, role models, is super important.

Elyse

Right. Your coach plays a huge role in this, so it's really important to educate coaches about women's bodies and what they're going through. And also a lot of young athletes today follow elite athletes on social media, and it's important for them not to compare their bodies to an elite athlete 'cause these elite athletes have been training, you know for 20 years. And that's how their bodies look completely different than a young girl who's 16 or 17.

Stef

 So you mentioned earlier - so I'll repeat it - so you're 39 and you are in amazing shape. You're actually training for another marathon I believe, is that right?

Elyse

I'm training for a ultra marathon, a trail run.

Stef

 Okay, so you're 39 and you're training for an ultra trail marathon, which is pretty amazing. So when you think about your body now, and you reflect back to how you thought about your body when you were younger, what kind of realizations do you have now as a older female athlete, that you wish you would have sort of had that mentality when you were younger?

Elyse

 I don't know, I've never really gotten too caught up in body image. I think, cause I've stayed healthy and run like my whole life. Even through college, like women can feel like out of shape, maybe they played a sport in high school and then they stopped in college and they don't feel as fit or they aren't as happy with their fitness levels. But I've never really super dwelled on it to be honest. I've never really been into girly stuff. So I've never been really into fashion or magazines or consuming a lot of media. I always took my own path in life and never really got into that kind of stuff.

Stef

Yeah I mean, that's a blessing in a lot of ways to not be super into social media and super into some of the magazines that are just consistently showcasing one specific body type, because that can be pretty damaging if you're spending a lot of time in that area.

Elyse

 Definitely.

Stef

 So let's move into your next phase of your life. So you go through middle school and high school. No period. And you'd been to the doctors. You do have a uterus  (laugh) and you head to college. So you're heading to Division 1 athletics at UNC on the running team with still no period. And that's kind of when your college doctor asked to put you on birth control to force a period. And this actually happens a lot across the running community. So you also had some bone density issues after having multiple stress fractures. So can you kind of bring us to that moment in your life and tell us about how you felt going into your college experience and what that was like to have those discussions around birth control with your college doctor.

Elyse

 Yeah. So it was kind of everyone was going on birth control in college for the same reason. Like so many girls on the team were not getting their periods. So it was just the norm. And the crazy thing is, like, they did it so that we wouldn't get injured. 'Cause it was known that if you weren't getting your period, you had a higher risk of stress fractures. But they put me on it my freshman year, and by my sophomore year I had already had two stress fractures. So it clearly didn't work for me. I could see in some extreme cases that it could help jumpstart a period. But every time I would go off of it, I still wasn't getting my period. So it wasn't helping to solve the problem. And it was never discussed on our team around diet. There wasn't a lot of knowledge about healthy fats and eating more of that. So we just ate typical college diets. You know, cereal for breakfast with low fat milk, and low fat yogurt and burritos and sandwiches. But all these foods end up being pretty lean and don't have enough of the fat for the type of mileage I was running.

Stef

And so when you were in that moment with like them asking you to go on birth control, it was not that big of deal. You were like, "Well, everyone's doing it. I guess I should do it."

Elyse

Yeah. Yeah.

Stef

 And were you worried that at that point in your career and in your life that you still weren't getting your period naturally?

Elyse

No I mean, they reiterated that starting birth control so young and being on it for like the next 10 years that I would have trouble getting pregnant someday. But when you're 20, that's the last thing you're thinking about. And so I was like, I don't know. I want to be a career woman anyway. So I'm not going to worry about that. But I definitely later on, as I got closer to 30, started to think  that I did want to start a family someday. And so it did become a major stress in our family.

Stef

 Yeah, I can imagine. But yes, certainly when you're in college, you're not really thinking about starting a family and having babies right away. So what advice would you give to the girls, to the female athletes, who are considering going on birth control and maybe their coaches or their doctors are encouraging them to do that, and they haven't yet had a period themselves, similar to your situation?

Elyse

 So I'm not a doctor, so I always recommend people consult with the doctor, cause it can be different health reasons, every situation is completely different. But I would definitely first try adding a lot more fat into your diet and it could take several months to get to the point of building up enough energy stores. But you know, having an avocado every day and having scrambled eggs for breakfast with cheese every morning, and before bed having a bowl of whole milk yogurt topped with like homemade granola. Those are like good additional snacks that you can sneak into your diet easily if you're a college student.

Stef

 Definitely. Would you have gone on birth control yourself, like reflecting back on your experience in college? Would you have decided not to go on it now that you know your body and what you needed now?

Elyse

 Yeah. Yes. I have never gone back on it  since I moved abroad to Switzerland and discovered a better way to eat. So I definitely would think differently about it now, if I was in college right now.

Stef

 Yeah, it's gotta be hard, cause you're in college, you want to perform your best. And if you're getting that advice, you know, it's hard to in that moment to figure out what to do. Going to specialist, going to a doctor, is a really good idea. And another thing is working with a sports nutritionist.

Elyse

 Definitely.

Stef

 Did you have access to that at UNC when you were in college? And if so, did you go to that?

Elyse

 I don't think there was a sports nutritionist. If there was, I did not know their name or how to access that kind of help.

Stef

And if you had had access to a sports nutritionist, do you think it would've made a difference in your college career or just your relationship with food and your body?

Elyse

 Yeah, definitely. You have to find the right sports nutritionist. It can be tricky. Like a registered dietician might ask an athlete to start counting, measuring all their macronutrients and counting calories cause they're trying to hit a precise number. I would hope to find a sports nutritionist who helps athletes get more in tune with eating intuitively and listening to their body's hunger signals and having more freedom to just really celebrate food and enjoy food and not get caught up in the numbers of counting carbs or fat, and really just eating more whole foods and cooking food from scratch.

Stef

Yeah, I think that's such an important point because you don't want to be in a space where, especially if you may have disordered eating, to then be going to a nutritionist and then looking at everything you're eating and counting things like crazy. Because that also can be triggers then for you, which is not a good space to be in.

Elyse

 Definitely.

Stef

 I love the idea and I love what you celebrate about just like bringing joy with food and cooking. And so that kind of transitions a little bit us to like the next phase of your life. So you make it through college athletics, and -

Elyse

Well, I didn't quite make it through.

Stef

 Okay.  (laugh) Let's talk about that.  (laugh) 

Elyse

 I got injured so many times that I ended up deciding not to run my senior year and I decided to focus on business school instead, and started working as an intern for sports marketing for our University. And went the business route with sports, which was fine in the end. I ended up getting an internship at Nike and that jump-started my whole career. But at the time it was really stressful for me to walk away from the team, and I felt like a huge failure, but the team was super supportive of me making that decision and deciding to go a completely different route.

Stef

 It's a great lesson, I think, for girls who are listening to this to really monitor their bodies and where they're at in their life, because it can have longterm effects. And so what are some of the longer term effects that having amenorrhea for too long can potentially cause for female athletes?

Elyse

 So after a certain age, it's really hard to build back up your bone density, so if you lose too much bone density it's hard to build that back up. It can have long-term effects on your fertility, although I did not find that. As soon as I started eating right and got back on track with a regular period, I actually ended up getting pregnant my first go at it, which was a big surprise to us. So even though I was on birth control for 10 years, and even though I didn't get a period naturally until I was in my thirties,  when we decided to start a family, we had the expectation that it was going to take a couple of years for me to get pregnant. And we were surprised that I got pregnant the first go with our first kid and then same thing with the second kid. So it did not impact my fertility, but it could in more extreme cases for sure.

Stef

 How many girls on your team throughout your career were facing a similar problem as you had? How common do you feel like it is?

Elyse

 I think it's in college athletics, probably upwards of 40 to 50% of girls. It's really hard to measure, know are probably at some point losing their period, maybe not for years, like I did. But on and off they may lose it during peak season some might say like, "Oh, I'm just really fit and really lean and that's okay." But at any point, it's the very first warning sign that your body's out of whack. Our bodies are super smart. Male athletes also struggle with disordered eating and losing too much weight during peak season. But unfortunately for men, they don't have this quick warning sign. Their bodies don't tell them, but we're lucky as women, that theres a sign of other things to come that you're gonna be concerned about, like stress fractures and other issues.

Stef

 That's such a good way to think about it. We are lucky  (laugh) that we can have periods. It's kind of hard to feel that way as a woman sometimes, especially when the cramps come, and, you know, other things you have.

Elyse

 I know every 29 days, I don't feel so lucky, but.

 (laugh) 

Stef

 But it is, it is a good mindset to have because it can be indicative of other things in your life that might be going on.

Elyse:

Right.

Stef: If you're really, really stressed, your flow can actually decrease. There's all these things that you can look at from your period and your menstrual cycle t o gage what else is going on in your life.

Elyse

Yes.

Stef

In that sense, we are lucky. It's a good reminder. 

Elyse

 Yeah, definitely taking a holistic approach is the way to go.

Stef

 You didn't quite make it through university as a competitive runner, but you made your way to Nike, and you transitioned into a 10 year career in digital marketing. And at a certain point, you met your husband and you guys took off to Switzerland.  When you were in Switzerland with your husband, is when you were introduced to a new way of eating. And this is the first time you naturally got your period. So tell us how that happened, and how did you react after years of not having a natural period?

Elyse

 So yeah, when we moved to Switzerland, I was in my thirties and I had tried going off birth control many times before. I had actually stopped running many times for like a full year at a time to see if I could get my period naturally, and it never worked. I was still eating healthy, but a lot more like low-fat stuff. And I was in my twenties and like in my first career. So I did a lot of like quick things for dinner, like just spaghetti with marinara or like frozen veggie burgers - things like that. And then my husband and I had opportunity to move abroad for work and my diet completely changed. It went from the low fat processed stuff to whole foods and full fat. So I went from eating low fat yogurt to full fat yogurt. We would shop at the market right down the street from our apartment, and we were buying fresh butter and fresh cheeses. And you'd go buy meat like ground beef or chicken, and you'd be buying the whole chicken with the skin on. Not skinless boneless chicken breasts. And when you'd go to the butcher to buy ground beef, there weren't like four different choices with different fat contents. It was just one full fat grass fed ground beef. So we went from eating this lean American diet to really rich and indulgent, but delicious and nourishing, whole foods diet. And after just a couple of months in Switzerland, I got my period naturally for the first time and I was in my thirties. And I just was so surprised, and I remember being with my husband and I was in tears over it. We actually popped some champagne,  (laugh) 'cause it was just life changing. We at that point were wanting to start a family and starting to talk about that. And it was just a really incredible moment when that happened, and I completely attribute to eating these rich foods that in our country we thought of as unhealthy, like butter and fondue. Like the Swiss love their fondue with fresh bread. Things like that, that I always thought were like so bad for you, actually made me a lot healthier.

Stef

 It's so incredible, after 30 years, it only took a couple months.

Elyse

 Yes, yeah. 

Stef

 Changing your eating, and then you got your period naturally. I mean, I just think there's so much power in that story for young girls and actually any of us to hear.

Elyse

 Yeah.

Stef

 What you put in your body really does matter. So how did that fundamentally change your perspective on just eating and what you were doing with your life?

Elyse:

Yeah, so it just completely inspired me. It was such a big moment for me. And then being able to later on go have a healthy kid, it inspired me to want to do a complete career change and go back to school and study more about nutrition and learn culinary arts so I could share my knowledge with others. I knew there were a lot of athletes out there that could benefit from learning more about nutrition. And I wanted to verify, I had a theory in my head that it was the diet change. It was the fats. But I didn't have any background in nutrition. So I wanted to go to culinary school to learn more about that and see if it was true. Now, versus when I was in my teens, there's a lot more nutrition science out there that talks about the healthy fats and we're starting to not fear it so much. People are afraid of high cholesterol and heart problems and other issues coming when you're eating the fats. But now they're realizing like the low fat diet, which is often higher in sugar and higher in refined carbs is actually, it does more harm than good. So the other interesting thing was when I moved to Switzerland you would think like my body type would change 'cause I'm eating all this rich food. But my body type has pretty much stayed the same in my twenties and thirties and going into 40. Once you start eating this way, you're eating these rich foods, you find yourself a lot more satiated. So I wasn't snacking as much. I used to be eating constant pretzels and big bowls of sugary cereal to fill those gaps. And I was hungry all the time. I always had a high metabolism and I was hungry all the time, but when I started eating these richer foods, I was not snacking as much. So it didn't impact my body type.

Stef

 And there's so many positive things about eating healthy fats. And I think that's important to talk about because it can really help your body absorb vitamins. It also can help your body provide more energy for it to use properly. I mean, there's so many benefits to healthy fats, but we're often scared of that in the U.S., and I do think that shift is happening. But for female athletes specifically, we need to make sure we know what those healthy fats are, and what to do with them, and how to incorporate them into our diets. So what are your favorite healthy fats and how do you incorporate that into your eating?

Elyse

 So I have a lot of healthy fats that I love. And it's just easy to work into every single one of my meals and snacks. Incorporates some type of fat. So in the morning I love whole milk yogurt. I love eggs, definitely eating the yolk. I remember in college, we wouldn't eat the yolk cause we thought that part wasn't healthy, but that's the healthiest part of the egg. So I do a lot of egg scrambles in the morning with good, high quality cheeses like aged cheddar or Parmesan. And then a good like freshly baked loaf of bread with butter. I love the Kerrygold butter. It's grass fed, really, really good. And then for snacks, you know, snacking on nuts and seeds and homemade muffins. I do superhero muffins a lot for snacks and those have butter or coconut oil. I do a lot of homemade like breakfast cookies, or trail mix cookies, and I use real butter or coconut oil anytime I bake a treat. I make a lot of homemade granolas, my granola is loaded with nuts and seeds and either olive oil or coconut oil. And then for lunches, I like to use up leftovers for lunches. So I'm making, you know, quesadillas or power bowls, which is just like a rice bowl with some leftover chicken or leftover steak or whatever we have on hand. And then incorporating some sliced avocado on top or doing salads that are loaded up with good full fat protein and good salad dressings that are made with olive oil. We do like a lot of sauces that have the good, healthy oils in them. And then when I buy meat for dinner, I try to use the whole part, like a whole chicken versus just buying chicken breasts. So I do whole roasted chicken, and I buy it organic so that it's good to eat the skin when it's organic. You don't have to worry about the toxins that you would get in more processed meat. So I always buy really high quality meat that's organic 'cause I'm going to eat the good fats. And same thing with like buying steak or ground beef. I look for the full fat stuff. So the fuller fat grass fed ground beef, those kinds of things. And then for quick foods for college students , it's not everyone's favorite food but sardines. And you can get sardines that come in like olive oil. Those are really good. If you incorporate it into like an egg salad, you don't really taste it, or like a pesto pasta with sardines. I make a lot of pasta dishes that have good healthy fats in there from olive oil and things like that.

Stef

 Those are so many amazing tip. I love that. And all of this sort of passion for finding that better way of eating for fueling your body led you to writing two books with Shalane Flanagan, which is pretty amazing. So you not only went to the Natural Gourmet Institute and completely changed your career, but you ended up bringing out two best-selling books, "Run Fast. Eat Slow" and "Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow." So I want to talk about that moment that brought you to not just shifting careers, like leaving Nike , going the culinary route, but then becoming an entrepreneur, a female entrepreneur. Which I love to support. And that's not an easy path. So talk to us about how you came to write these two books with Shalane.

Elyse

So after going to culinary school in New York City , I moved back to Portland and Shalane was living in Portland as well. And we were college roommates  so we'd been friends for a long time. We've now been friends for, gosh, I've lost track 20 something years. But we've known each other for a really long time, and we hadn't seen each other for a few years, and we reunited over a home cooked meal at Charlene's house. And I started telling her what I had learned about fats, and that she should be eating more butter. And the second I said, "Eat more butter," she was like, "Sign me up." So Shalane was actually the first athlete that I worked with, which was pretty incredible. Funny to have Shalane as your Guinea pig when you're testing out all these things. Within like a couple of weeks of me having her on a high-fat diet, she felt more energy and less need to snack on junk food , less cravings and everything. And she was immediately transported, like just saw immediate change in her energy levels and her training and being able to go longer distances because she was moving up in distance to the marathon. So she definitely attributes the longevity of her career to changing her diet, back when we were in our young thirties, when we reunited over this home cooked meal. And I just on a whim said to her, like, without much thought into it, "Maybe we should write a cookbook some day," never thinking it would actually happen. And then when my daughter was born and I had such a good health through my pregnancy, I decided I really needed to get more of this information out there to other women. So that's right after my daughter was born, was when I started working on writing our first book full time. And then right after my son was born was when I started  finishing the second book. And now we have our third cookbook coming out this year in the fall, October 2021. So we're really excited to keep working together.

Stef

 Oh, I can't wait to read it. I know everybody at Voice In Sport loves your books. We have of course your book, your first two books, and love them. So I'm just so curious to know how that first one happened for you. 'Cause it can often be the hardest thing to get that first idea out and first product to market. So were you actually cooking these meals for Shalane? Were you guys in the kitchen together? Talk to us a little bit about how it actually came to life.

Elyse

So I had Shalane. She was training for the Olympics. I had her keep a food journal and write down things that she was cooking. And then I took the food that she was already eating that was helping her, and foods that I had recommended to her, and created the initial recipes based off of that. But just making  everything tastes even a lot better than what she was making, adding a lot more nutrient dense ingredients to what she was doing already. But the first book was definitely a learning curve and a journey. Luckily we had an amazing agent who was super supportive and helped us navigate the world of publishing, which can be intimidating. And a really great team at our publisher Rodale. And it was a pretty smooth process for being a first time author.

Stef

What is the most challenging part about bringing a book to life and bringing a book to market? Like, what would you say is the biggest challenge? Because I know there's a lot of women out there that would love to write books.

Elyse

 Right.

Stef

 So what would you say is that fog and how do you get past it?

Elyse

 The biggest challenge is people don't realize how long it takes to bring a book to market. So it's at least a two year process from the time that you start writing it. That doesn't include like, before I started writing the book, I spent six months writing the book proposal and we pitched our book to like 10 different publishers. And that process is a very long and slow process. So it  takes a lot of patience. Then once you start writing the book you take about nine months to a year to actually write the book and test all the recipes. And then you start going through copy editing, photography, design, and printing. And so it ends up being at least a two year process. So when Shalane and I announced that we're working on a new book, people get excited and they're like, "When can I order it?" And I'm like, "Oh, in two years."

 (laugh) 

Stef

 Yeah, it does take a huge undertaking to get that to market, which is so impressive that you guys not only did that, but it became a New York Times bestseller. So a huge accomplishment and so amazing to see. So what did you learn the most? You know, what'd you learn the most about food for female athletes, when you wrote the first two books?

Elyse

 The one thing I've learned over the years of working with different athletes and receiving different emails and letters from fans and from women is that everyone's body is completely different. People get caught up in following a diet trend, and what works for one person isn't going to work for somebody else. Dieting in general does not work. I could go into like a whole entire discussion on that. But there's a lot of reasons why counting calories and dieting is really detrimental to your health in the long run and can actually backfire and cause health issues and things like weight gain, which is usually the thing that women are trying to avoid. So just having a healthy relationship with food is super important. But then, what could be a really healthy food for one person could be hard for someone else to digest. So for example, like everyone thinks of like kale and broccoli as really healthy. But for some people eating too much kale and broccoli can really upset your digestion. And it's really important to have a healthy digestion cause that's going to allow your body to absorb the most nutrients from your food. So sitting down to a big bowl of broccoli is not usually the answer. People get caught up in eating a lot of vegetables as athletes. They think, "The more vegetables I eat the better," but there's a lot of nutrients in other foods. So good quality meats and nuts and seeds and lots of other foods have vitamins and minerals in it. It's not just vegetables. You don't have to be chewing on green food all day to eat healthy.

 (laugh) 

Stef

 Yes, that is so true. What have you learned about the differences between the male athlete and the female athlete body when it comes to fueling? During all this work with Shalane, who's one of the best runners in the world and yourself as an amazing runner, what have you noticed, I guess just about the types of fuel that female athlete bodies need versus male athlete bodies?

Elyse

  Well, we definitely need a lot of the same things. Men who are running a high mileage need all the good, healthy fats in their diet as well. The amounts that you need vary between men and women. And also between different types of athletes, the amounts that you need. So that's why it's important to just get in tune with listening to your hunger signals versus following what someone else is doing.

Stef

 Do you change what you eat and the type of food you make for yourself depending on your menstrual cycle?

Elyse

 Not too much . Also I'm eating the same foods, whether I'm training or not training, I just might be like, when I'm training high mileage, I'm eating a few more snacks or eating a larger portion. But I'm eating really the same foods. I'm still eating the healthy high fats and good proteins and complex carbs even when I'm not training. And then with my menstrual cycle , I do try to eat a little bit gentler on my system during my cycle 'cause your digestion is definitely more sensitive. So I try to limit. I'm pretty sensitive to dairy, so things like that I'll try to really cut back on during that week.

Stef

Yeah, I think we have to be more gentle with ourselves in general.

Elyse

Yes.

Stef: Not just around food. Which I think is important, that self-care piece and just being gentle with yourself in general is a great lesson to learn. Especially when you have two kids to take care of and you're an active entrepreneur, it can be really hard. So how do you balance it all? Because you're writing your third book right now, and I want to talk a little bit about what's in that book, but how do you balance all that? You're still an active competitive runner, a mom of two kids and an entrepreneur.

Elyse Well, I don't run or workout every single day. So on days when I'm not running, you know, outside going for a walk while my kids are on their scooters. And I don't stress about missing  a day of running here or there, I pretty much just run every other day because of my time constraints. And then luckily I have a very supportive husband, so that helps a ton. And right now things are completely different than normal. So it's really hard to find the time. I get up pretty early in the morning to get like an hour of quiet work time in before the kids wake up. And I try not to work at night 'cause I don't think it's good, it can really mess up your sleep. I don't like to be on social media or my laptop or anything at night. But then I've just learned to really focus on these short bursts. So a lot of people, you know, sit down at their computer and it takes them like 15 to 20 minutes to get into a focus groove. I can focus within 30 seconds and knock out all my work in 20 minutes. So it just takes a lot of practice of being able to focus quickly and make the most of my time. Mainly I don't spend a lot of time on social media or email or news because that can suck up a lot of time.

Stef 

Definitely can.

Elyse

Yes.

Stef

 You gotta work that.  (laugh) 

Elyse

 Yeah.

Stef

  Tell us about this third book. I'm really excited for it to come out. What's different about this next book and what's it called?

Elyse

 So our next cookbook is called Rise And Run. It's by far our most gorgeous book to date and the most inspirational book. It's 25% training manual and 75% cookbook. It's our thickest book yet because it's full of additional training content. I worked with Shalane to develop strength training programs and marathon training programs that are all included in this cookbook. But the part of the book I'm most excited about is teaching busy professionals how to revamp their morning routine so that mornings are not as hectic and stressful. And we teach people how to plan breakfast in advance so you're not scrambling to cook something as you're racing out the door. We have a lot of really quick fix nourishing breakfast recipes . It's a breakfast cookbook, but a lot of the recipes can be eaten for snacks anytime of day or for lunch or even dinner. We have a lot of savory bowls and things that are delicious for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.

Stef

 I love that. It's so important to start your day right. So I know you're still working on it and it's in process right now, but what would be kind of one of your tips you would say to young female athletes out there that are in high school and college, how did they have a better morning?

Elyse

So I think it's really important to be mindful in the mornings and really enjoy having time to sit down and enjoy your coffee or tea and your morning meal. Versus getting on your phone first thing in the morning. I'm guessing, I don't have college age friends or college aged kids, but I'm guessing that probably 90% of kids are on their phones while they're still in bed. And I would say, just getting away from being on your phone first thing in the morning is the best way to start your day. Better start with some morning stretching or yoga or mindfulness or meditation and taking the time to really eat, especially for athletes that are training later in the day. If you're running in the morning, you need to eat a lighter breakfast, but if you're not practicing until the afternoon after class, it's really important to have a hardy delicious breakfast.

Stef

 I love that. And what about for you,  your goal in 2021 is not just publish this book but also to run a trail ultra marathon. So that's pretty intense.  (laugh) So what are you specifically doing to change your routine in the morning to get ready for that amazing goal you're trying to accomplish?

Elyse

 Yeah, ask me that once my kids are back in like normal schedules. 

I'm just trying to stay sane right now through COVID.  (laugh) Our routine is constantly changing, so I can't really give good solid advice right now. But I tried to start my day just the same thing of not being on my phone, and I like to do like 15 minutes of yoga in the morning. I have a little routine that helps keep my body from getting injured. But just trying to not get too caught up in taking on too much right now with work, because I have very limited hours for childcare.

Stef

 Yeah, it's a tough time right now, I think for all of us and it's okay to recognize that and own that and say, " I may not be doing my best right now" .But even just taking the attempt to try to adjust one thing in that morning routine, one small thing, I think can make a really big difference. So that's going to be a goal of mine after listening to you talk today.  (laugh)  This whole conversation about your journey with amenorrhea, all the way through to age 30, and then completely changing how you fuel your body, and then shifting careers, it's just super inspiring. And so when you're thinking back to like your younger self, when you were like 15 what would you wish you could whisper to her now that you have all of this knowledge, you know ? What do you wish you could tell her?

Elyse

  I wish that I had more confidence when I was 15 and that I didn't care what other people thought, which is really hard for any teenager to do. But I'm a much more confident person now in my thirties than I was as a teen. And so any teen out there that's struggling to fit in. I just want them to know it's okay to take your own path and to be different because the teens that are different and standing out, maybe at the time, from a crowd are probably the ones that are going to end up the creative entrepreneurs that do something really exciting.

Stef

 Oh,  a hundred percent agree. And sometimes it's hard to do that, to not just follow the crowd or follow the path that everyone else is doing when you're younger. But the more you can break through and really follow your own passion, you'll reap the benefits and more people around you will reap the benefits of that too.

Elyse

 Definitely.

Stef

 So how do you think we can change the conversation about food and diet culture and body image for female athletes in the U.S.? What do you think we need to do to change the conversation in the right direction?

Elyse

 Just channel the French people and Swiss people. People in other European cultures really celebrate food and enjoy food and share food with friends and family. And in our culture, it's like kind of looked down on if you really celebrate food and enjoy it and love it. But just having a passion for cooking and having fun in the kitchen can go a long way.

Stef

 I love that. So we have two sign-off questions that we always have at Voice In Sport, because ultimately, you know, we're here to help support girls in high school and college during their journeys. So if you think about kind of your whole experience, what is one single piece of advice you would tell female athletes in sport today?

Elyse

 Don't stress about the small moments, 'cause they'll all add up to big moments.

Stef

 I love that piece of advice.  We're also equally passionate at Voice In Sport about changing the sports industry for women in sports specifically. So what is one thing you'd like to see changed for the future of women's sports?

Elyse

 I mean, I guess I was pretty lucky. I always had a supportive career at Nike, and I didn't feel like I had anything less being a female athlete in college then the men on our team. So just once athletes become professional, it would be nice to see more equal pay among sports. I think, a lot like football and basketball players that gets a lot more hype than some of the other more female sports. So seeing more equal pay would be amazing. 

Stef

 Yes, that's an area that I'm super passionate about as well. I think there's a lot that we need to get focused on and change when it comes to sponsorships, leagues for women in sports. So I would like where women, like Shalane Flanagan get paid a lot more,  (laugh) one of your partners in crime. But also all of the athletes out there that are heading to the Olympics here in a few months.

Elyse

 Right.

Stef

 So it's an excellent goal and we're here to help with that. So I'm so excited to see your new book and see your training program. It's going to be an exciting day when that launches. So Thank you for joining me on the Voice In Sport podcast.

Elyse

 All right, we'll see you again soon. Thank you.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Elyse .Like amenorrhea is not discussed enough among female athletes and stories like this will help us to understand just how serious it can be, but also that you can change your course and recover. The fact that Elise was able to have two healthy kids after years of not having a natural period is truly inspiring and motivating for female athletes who may be struggling or think they can't get back to health.

Elyse's Philosophy on food reiterating that not all fat is bad is an important point. In today's episode, everybody's body is different. We all need different things, but it's important to figure out what will work for your body and your overall health. Her advice to stop comparing ourselves to others is also really important, especially with how easy it is to hop on social media and think we are not good enough. 

Thank you Elyse for sharing all this invaluable advice with the voice and sport community, you can find a lease on Instagram at Elyse Kopecky and mark your calendar for her new book with Shalane Flanagan that launches in October of 2021 called Rise And Run. At VIS it's our mission to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate voices like Elyse, and we'd love your support.

So we invite you to join us, leave us a review, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. . And if you are a female athlete, 13 to 22, we'd love to have you join our community @voiceinsport.com. When you sign up, you will have access to our exclusive content mentorship from amazing female athletes and advocacy tools to help drive change. You can always find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and tick talk at voice and sport. And we hope to see you next week at the Voice In Sport podcast.

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™ Madison and Anya Miller

Elyse Kopecky, Author, Runner, and mom, shares her experience of not getting a natural period until age 30, facing many injuries in her running career and eventually learning how to fuel and changing her whole food philosophy.