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Episode #42

Demystifying Nutrition

with Maddie Alm

23 Mar, 2021 · Track and Field

Maddie Alm, Professional Runner and Registered Dietitian (RD), joins us to demystify common phrases and challenges surrounding sports nutrition, in effort to help us fuel ourselves properly and reach our greatest potential.

Transcript

Stef

Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. 

 At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all to keep playing and change more than just the game.

Today, our guest is Maddie Alm professional runner and registered dietician with a masters in nutritional sciences from San Diego State University. Maddie is also a VIS Expert on the Voice In Sport platform. Maddie began her journey in sport, playing soccer and transitioned into running in high school.

She walked on to the cross-country and track and field teams at the University of Colorado Boulder, eventually earning all American honors. Her experiences with learning about the power of nutrition and undergrad, led her to pursue becoming a registered dietician. Maddie now trains as a professional athlete, while working with female athletes of all ages on their own nutrition.

Today, we talk about her journey in sport that led her to her career, and Maddie helps us demystify common phrases surrounding sports nutrition. Demystifying these common phrases will certainly help fuel ourselves properly to reach our full potential . Maddie we are so excited to have you as one of our vis experts on the Voice In Sport platform and welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast.

Maddie

 Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here. 

Stef

 You continue to have such an amazing career.

You're a professional runner, but you're also a sports dietician. It's just so incredible to see that you can bring those two passions together and do so much good. So I'm excited to share this conversation with our female athletes. 

Maddie

  Thank you so much. It's definitely a unique perspective, but I think it kind of makes me better as both a dietician and an athlete to have both those sides.

Stef

 Absolutely. I want to  start really where it started. So let's go all the way back to younger Maddie.

And talk about the other sports that you played, did you do more beyond running? 

Maddie

I actually didn't run until my junior year of high school. I mostly played soccer. That was really my true passion. I played soccer, all of my life growing up and that was really it for me. It was mostly just soccer.

  I started my junior year of high school. My parents convinced me to try cross-country because I was probably one of the better runners on my soccer team. And they were like, you would be so good at this sport. You should try it out. And at the time I was like, no, I hate running. And then I finally gave in my junior year and I ended up making the varsity team and the rest is history.

Stef

 Not even doing the sport before high school and then to become an all American and then a pro athlete is pretty inspiring. Sometimes young athletes think they have to make a decision so early, and there's a lot of pressure out there to do that. But you're a great example of somebody who chose a path kind of late or later and is still going strong, which is really cool.

Maddie

 Yeah, exactly. There's definitely no one right way to get there. But I think it's important to just have a wide variety of skill sets and those all will translate into running at some point. 

Stef

 So when you started to transition from soccer to running in high school, did you notice any changes in your body, your body type or how your body adjusted to  the different sports you were now doing?

 Maddie

 I think at the time I was so clueless about running and just,  being an athlete in general, I don't remember noticing any difference for me. I think because, you know, soccer is a running based sport. So I did have that going for me. I would say initially running was really hard.

I'd never run consistently for more than like 15 minutes, you know? So that was certainly an adjustment. But I did find that as I learned to appreciate running , and the social aspect and the racing aspect, I definitely started to enjoy it a lot more.

Stef

With female athletes and running. That's one of the areas that heavier percentage of women have eating disorders. So I wanted to kind of talk a little bit about that, especially given the field that you're in and expertise that you have, but when you were in high school starting to run,  did you realize that there was a problem in general, amongst female athlete runners?

When it came to nutrition, eating disorders or loss of periods?

Maddie

 So I think I had a pretty unique experience in that. I truly didn't. I was very fortunate to have a team of girls who, you know, we never talked about body image or food.  We'd go out to Red Robin together after every race, and eat a lot of bottomless fries and we'd go to ice cream together all the time.

And it was never really something that I knew about really until I got to college. And I started hearing girls talking about, "Oh, I can't eat this. It's bad for me or, Oh, I need to look this way to be fast". And that was really new to me, I had never really experienced that. But again, my experience is so unique in that sense, because most girls are exposed to that so much earlier.

I mean, even middle school, they start hearing that conversation. So I think, yeah, I was very fortunate to have the experience that I did. 

Stef

 I think the most recent stat that I'd seen is 25% of female athletes report having chronically missed their period. And you know, when you go into some of the sports like ballerinas as an example, 

or long distance running and that's where you can see the stats creep up even higher.  I'm so happy that that was not your experience growing up, but it certainly is something that we see a lot of female athletes face now. And then when you transitioned to college like you did I'd love to  hear about what your experience was there because  you actually went on as a walk-on at the University of Colorado to then become an All-American, which is first of all just pretty awesome to do. 

What was your experience like  walking on to such an amazing program at the University of Colorado? 

Maddie

 Yeah, I think in one word I could say scary.  I was so clueless to the sport of running and I didn't understand what a powerhouse see you was when it came to the world of cross country and track.

And so I was like, Oh, you know, I like running, I'm going to keep going. I'm just going to see if I can join this team. And you know, the coaches like, okay, run this time at the time trial and then we'll talk. And so, I trained with my high school coach over the summer and showed up to run the time trial and I ran the time and.

He's like great, come practice on Monday and you know, I walk in and there's 30 plus just all star runners. And I was like, Oh my gosh, what have I done? So it was very intimidating at first, I would say it was a huge adjustment. I knew nobody on the team. And I was definitely the worst one on the team when I walked on.

So, I'm sure a lot of people are like, who is this girl? And what is she doing here? But you know, I just continued to focus on myself and work. As hard as I could every single day. And over time I started to improve. I started to actually have people to run with. I could keep up. And then by my fifth year, I ended up becoming an All-American and was on a full ride scholarship.

So, it was a long road to get there, but I'm very fortunate that I was able to walk on and that I stuck with it all that time. 

Stef

 Yeah, that's incredible. And so inspiring for girls, maybe not sure if they want to go through the whole recruiting process and then maybe you'll find yourself there your first year and decided to walk on.

 It's never too late to start. Even if you're maybe a freshman and sophomore, senior in college, you can still go for it. 

Maddie    

Yeah, exactly. I actually walked on my sophomore year. I didn't run at all my freshman year. I hadn't decided that I wanted to continue. And then I realized I missed running and decided to come back.

So I think that was another unique thing. I was actually not freshmen, I was a sophomore. And so it is possible to come back to it , if it's something you're passionate about. It's always going to be there, which is awesome. It's what I love about running. 

Stef

That's so amazing because I love that idea that you can  come back at any time.

It's also one of the most beautiful things about running is that you can do it anywhere. It's such an amazing sport, but at that same time, it's also the sport that brings on a lot of potentially bad habits when it comes to eating.  Did you notice a switch in conversations from your group of girls that you had in high school running together?

And then  when you got to college athletics? And you're part of a really strong program. Did that change for you? The conversations that the girls were having regarding food and ministration and their bodies. 

Maddie

 Definitely did. I would say the biggest thing that I noticed was just what people were saying about themselves and about food and how negative everything was.

Like I said, in high school, I loved ice cream and didn't think twice about it. And in college, I remember one time,  we were going out to get ice cream and I was the only one who got an adult size scoop. Everyone was getting a kid scoop. I was like, what are you doing? This is the best part.

So it was definitely, like I said, a unique thing to realize that, I guess nobody else had the same experience. It's very common to be afraid of these foods or think these foods are gonna make you worse. And  I started hearing a lot of people talk about wanting to have a six pack or, wanting to have a thigh gap or looking a certain way in their running briefs.

And those things were not  things I had focused on in high school. And so then of course there were times where I was like, should I be thinking about these things? Is this something I need to be doing? Because they were at the time faster than me and better than me. And so that was definitely something that I had thought about at the time, just not being exposed to that in the past.

And I think  in high school, there's always a few girls that are struggling with eating disorders and,  we can kind of tell more or less who they are on the start line. But in college, that look becomes a lot more common and it's harder to figure out if it's a problem or if that's what's makes them good.

And I think that's where a lot of girls start to get confused with. Oh, I actually probably do need to look like that to be fast. When in reality that's  not the case at all. So it can be very challenging to navigate those mindsets and behaviors that you're seeing other women express as athletes and understanding that those are actually very detrimental behaviors in the long run.

Stef

  How do you stay in a healthy mindset when  it's highly likely that you have a few girls on your team that are struggling with that. 

Maddie

 I think the biggest thing is just understanding that if you continue to fuel yourself and focus on what you can do to be better, not trying to do what everybody else is doing, you'll most likely see yourself stay healthy and excel beyond those teammates. Because a lot of times, initially yes, that weight loss does result in an increase in performance, unfortunately, and that's what causes a lot of women to stick with that behavior.

But then what we see is they get injured over and over again, they can't stay healthy, they can't train consistently. And that's just a side effect of under fueling for that period of time. And, you know, when you look at it that way, it's really not worth it because yeah, maybe you have a good season, but then some of those girls never really ended up running again.

And it's really sad to see that. So I think just understanding that, okay, it might be stressful in the moment to see all these girls looking this specific way, but that's probably not the right way for me to do things. I'm going to focus on staying fueled and, you know, taking it one day at a time and ultimately you'll get where you want to go in a much healthier body and mind.

Stef

 What would you tell coaches out there  to help ensure that they're creating that  positive conversation and mindset for female athletes? 

Maddie

 I think coaches are in a unique position in that they see their athletes every day and athletes really trust what it is they tell them and the advice that they give them. So, using that as a positive influence on making sure athletes understand that they should be fueling themselves, they should be getting their periods.  Performance is not based on appearance. I think those are messages that coaches need to be telling their athletes over and over.

And I think also along those lines, be cautious of making comments or joking about body image related things or fueling because you never know how big of an impact that's going to have on an athlete, especially if there's somebody who's struggling.

 So it's really important to be aware of the words and the verbiage that you use when talking about body image or performance related to fueling, because it can be something that sticks with an athlete for a long, long time, whether that's a positive or a negative message. 

Stef

 What are some of those messages or comments that you've heard male coaches say that you think really shouldn't be said and can be pretty damaging?

Maddie

 I think male coaches sometimes are a little bit blunt when it comes to talking about weight. And I think that's something that we need to move away from a little bit. I'll hear coaches say things like, "Oh, if you just, lose a couple of pounds before this race, we're going to be ready to go".

And so the female athlete here is, oh, well, I guess because I weigh this, I'm not as good of an athlete as if I were to weigh this, or I'm not going to be ready to race until my weight hits this number. And that's what creates that poor relationship with their body image and food, because what ends up happening is they usually panic and start eating less to drastically change their weight.

Then they're under fueled. So they can't really perform as well. And over time, that's just a vicious cycle. That's not going to make them a better athlete. So, being aware of comments like that you know, I've also heard coaches just make what they consider to be harmless jokes about, "Oh, wow you're going to eat all that. Or I got to hide the breadbasket", you know, jokes like that, which seemed funny to them can actually be very damaging to athletes. 

So, not making any comments about what's on an athlete's plate or anything that they're going to be eating because that will make them take a second look at everything and probably will lead to poor behaviors down the road too.

So just know that words are powerful and it's important that you use positive rather than negative verbs when it comes to that. 

Stef

 Oh, it's so important. What do you do though? Maybe  a girl just listened to this podcast and thought, Oh my gosh, my coach is doing that to me. All the time or doing it to this girl on my team.  

How do you approach a coach on that conversation?  Maybe they're not aware or maybe they're not, thinking about it as much as they should. 

Maddie

 Yeah, that's a great question. I think there's probably two ways that you could approach that 

One, if you feel comfortable talking to your coach, sit down with them and say, Hey, when you said these things, it made me feel this way. I'm concerned about how other girls on the team are perceiving this, or I'm starting to notice a change in other people's behavior towards food or their body. And I'm getting concerned.  Can you please be more aware of saying these things or try to not say these things. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your coach about those things, or you feel like it's getting  on the verge of being inappropriate,  talk to somebody else that you trust in the athletic department.

Or, if there's a trainer or even the athletic director or somebody else that you trust,  talk to them about it and see if they can approach the coach as well, to come at it from a different point of view. But it's definitely important that you say something and speak up because if it's affecting you, it's probably affecting your other teammates as well.

Stef

 Being specific on a specific moment, how it impacted you personally, and then  what that's going to result in for a greater group of people is a great way to frame those types of conversations. And that's actually applicable in life in general. 

So I think that's really wise. This  leads me into  transitioning from , where you are today as a pro athlete and talking about your experiences, both in high school and college, so is this what inspired you to pursue a career in nutrition? 

Maddie

 Yeah, I think it definitely is.  I was fortunate enough to be in an athletic department that was kind of on the cutting edge and NCAA. We were one of the first PAC 12 schools to hire a sports dietician.

So my junior year is when we hired a dietician and before that I didn't even know that job existed. I did not know what a dietician was. I  didn't know you could even study nutritional science. That was all news to me. When I started working with her and seeing the difference that fueling properly made for me as an athlete, I was like, "Oh my gosh, why don't more people know this exists, this is huge".

 So that was definitely a big part of it. And I think the other part too, is. Now that I've learned more about nutritional sciences. It's amazing to me that it took that long for me to learn those things in my career. I think we do a real disservice to athletes, not to start talking about nutrition as early as middle school or beyond that,  we eat every single day, multiple times a day. 

And that's a lot of opportunities that we have to be a better athlete. So I think it's definitely an underrepresented field, a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to being a good athlete. So I think all those things together just inspired me to help try to spread the word and empower athletes with that knowledge.

Stef

 I want dive into a couple areas that I think would really help young girls, which is demystifying some of these phrases that we often say to ourselves, or we hear other girls say to other girls in the community.

 The first one that I'm going to start with  is I don't want to eat protein because I don't want to get bulky.

Maddie

So to that, I would say protein does a lot more than build muscle. It plays a big role in a lot of things in your body. And so depriving yourself of protein to avoid getting bulky is really depriving yourself of these nutrients that are going to help you be a  healthy athlete and really perform at your best.

Protein plays a big role in muscle building. As we know. But it also plays a role in immune function, your hair, your skin, your nails, digestive enzymes, all these things are made of proteins in our body. So not getting enough protein can really impact you in a negative way, just beyond performance.

 I see a lot of athletes who don't get enough protein really struggle with recovery. They often have soreness that's lingering for multiple days, or every time they go to run their legs, feel just really heavy and tired. And a lot of that is due to. Not getting enough protein and not making it a priority after working out.

 Female athletes especially tend to be really hesitant when it comes to protein because they associate it with men trying to get strong or bodybuilders. But as females,  we actually need to focus on protein because it's a little bit harder for us to build muscle mass.

So getting adequate protein really helps us support that physiological process that is a little bit under functioning in females. 

Stef

 It's great to know that there's so many main benefits of having protein as part of your nutrition plan and it's really important. The next one that we want to demystify is,  it happens a lot. Girls miss their periods.

And they said to themselves, Hey, it's normal to miss my period. 

Maddie

 Yeah, I think that's a huge, huge misconception, not only by female athletes, but also by some older school doctors and medical professionals as well. And to that, I would say reframe that as I'm missing my period. This is my way of telling me that something is off or something is wrong.

It's actually not normal for you to miss your period. Even just one cycle tells you that there's something off. And a lot of doctors will say, Oh, you're just really active. You know, it's normal not to have your period, but luckily I would say younger doctors are kind of learning that that's not necessarily the case.

But I always encourage and empower athletes to challenge that. With medical professionals, honestly, it's just say, you know, look, I know it's not normal. I want to understand why this is happening because it does impact your long term health. I know Voice In Sport has done a lot of work on. Exploring red S and talking more about what that means, but red S is relative energy deficiency in sports.

So that's basically when you're either experiencing a combination of under fueling or over-training or both. And one of the side effects is losing your period. So that's really your body's way of saying I'm in a state of stress and it's not going to help you be a better athlete.  It also means that you're probably not fueling enough to support that hard work. And you might even be overreaching, which down the road can lead to things like bone loss, in- fertility, mood, disturbances, sleep, disturbances, all these things that can affect not only your health now, but even down the road later in your life.

So,  definitely re emphasizing that not normal to miss your period. If you do miss your period, don't panic, but do try to explore a reason as to why this could have happened, and try to find people who can help you get that back and restore your health.

Stef

 We talked a bit about male coaches and how their words and interactions with their athletes can have a big impact specifically regarding the importance of having our period. What can male coaches do and learn to help girls? What has your experience been in that area? 

Maddie

 I think male coaches just generally feel uncomfortable talking about it because one, they're not a female. They don't really know what it is or what it feels like, or, you know, they don't know anything about what it is to have your period. So I think part of it is they feel that it's not really their place to speak on it.

I think another part is they just don't have the knowledge that they need to educate female athletes.  They don't understand it themselves, so how are they going to explain it to a younger woman? So I think first of all, coaches need to educate themselves and really take that initiative to find out what it is to have a menstrual cycle.

And how can this impact performance, and what are some implications that I need to be aware of when it comes to my female athletes that I work with. I think also just setting the tone for your team, just saying," Hey, if you're a female athlete, you should be getting your period, right. If you're not, here are some resources, here are some steps we need to take".

But just  putting it out there that it's not normal to miss your period. It's important that you're getting it and it's really a measure of health for female athletes. So I think the conversation definitely needs to start with coaches or it needs to include coaches for sure. And you know, because male coaches are more dominant in the field of coaching, it's important that they take that initiative.

 Stef

 Absolutely education is so important. So this brings us to our third demystifying phrase that often as female athletes, we might say, I'm definitely guilty of this one. 

I shouldn't eat carbs.

Maddie

 Yeah, that's becoming a lot more common, especially with things like the ketogenic diet that are out there. Carbs have become a real enemy in the last couple of years. But in reality, you know, we want to flip that phrase to say carbs are the main source of fuel for my body and my brain. And I need them to perform you know, carbs are what all athletes use primarily is fuel. 

It's your body's most efficient source of fuel. So depriving your body of carbs is really depriving your body of the fuel it needs to do the tasks that you're asking it to do. Another thing that people overlook is the fact that the brain uses carbs for fuel. So if you're sitting in class all day, if you're a student athlete, you're using carbs, just sitting in class and then,  you go to the field and you haven't had any carbs that day.

You're not going to feel very good during practice. So it actually plays a huge role in performance and then contrary to what most people think, which is that, you know, eating carbs is gonna ruin my body composition. It actually helps improve your body composition because if you're not eating enough carbs, sometimes your body has to break down muscle mass to support all of your activity.

And that's not going to help you become a better athlete. That's actually gonna increase your risk for injury and make it harder to build and maintain muscle. So carbs are definitely key when it comes to performance. And I think female athletes need to take advantage of that and really eat those carbs whenever they can.

 Stef

 That is so important to understand just how carbs impact your athletics and your role as a student as well. Another phrase we want to demystify is I want to be lighter and have a six pack.  

Maddie

Yeah, I think that is another thing that female athletes tend to relate to performance more than they should. And I would flip that to say something instead, like, the way that I look has nothing to do with performance and doesn't make me a good athlete.

Often really the ability to have a six pack I would say is,  almost a hundred percent related to genetics. Some people will never be able to have a six pack just physically. I'm definitely one of those people and I've come to terms with it, but there was definitely times where I wished I could have a six pack.

I've instead learned to acknowledge the fact that, okay, I'm as strong as I've ever been. And I still don't have a six pack and that's okay. That's not going to make me a better athlete. What's going to make me a better athlete is fueling myself properly, doing what I need to do to recover, you know, training cards on the days that I need to and taking it easy on the days that I need to take it easy.

Those things are gonna make you a better athlete and also keep you healthy so that you can train consistently, which in turn will also make you a better athlete. Not having a six pack. So having a six pack will not do any of those things for you.  It's certainly not something that you need to have to be a good athlete. And a lot of times striving to have that body type is maybe impossible for you genetically, but also leads to detrimental habits that cause you to see negative impacts on performance. 

Stef

 Well, I think it's incredible to hear you say that.

 Putting that out yeah. Expectation out there for girls. It can be really detrimental to how they feel their body and how they eat. So thank you for sharing that.

Okay. Number five, I want dessert, but I can't.

Maddie

 I'm really working on changing that conversation for female athletes and taking out that word. I can't eat this. I would really flip that to say, there is no one food that you can or can't eat. No one food is going to make you a good or a bad athlete.

The most important thing is what you're doing on a daily basis to fuel yourself properly. So really all foods can fit into a performance friendly diet. It's all about balance, and making sure that the majority of your foods are providing you with those nutrients that you need. You can actually look at really any dessert and find things in there that are going to help you with performance. 

Ice cream, one of my favorite foods, as I've mentioned many times, for example, not only does it have carbs, but it also has calcium for bone support. Does have some protein because it's made from dairy. So there are still things in those foods that people consider to be bad foods. But if I tried to eat ice cream for every single meal, you know, I would be missing a lot of other nutrients that I need.

So balancing those foods with other foods that are more nutrient dense, will make sure you're getting what you need, while still allowing yourself to enjoy food. I would also say that if you find yourself craving dessert a lot, that can be a sign that you're not getting enough carbs. 

And so take a look at that, look back on your day and say, why am I craving cakes so badly right now. And Oh, maybe I skipped a snack or I didn't have a carb with my dinner. And that can be another feedback source that you can get from your body,  listening to your body, honoring its cravings and understanding where they're coming from is another component of properly fueling yourself.

 Stef

 Thinking about your period as  something might not be going right. If you don't get your period, similarly, those cravings can help you identify things that might be missing in how you're fueling your body.   Our last one,  number six, I see a pro athlete do this, so I should do this. 

Maddie

Yeah, I think there's a lot of that going on now, especially with social media. And to that, I would reframe that to say, I understand that I'm different from this athlete and I don't have to do the same things that they're doing to be successful.

When it comes down to it, there are a hundred different ways to get to the start line. Everybody's training differently and feeling differently, but we all still get there. And I think it's important to acknowledge that  everybody's very unique in their needs. And instead of comparing ourselves to others,  focus on what you can do on a daily basis to make yourself a better athlete. One of my favorite quotes is someone else's success is not your failure.

So, just because what somebody else is doing is working for them. Doesn't mean that what you're doing is not working for you. It's important to make that distinction and really just focus on doing what's best for you and being happy for your teammates when they find what works best for them.

Stef

 Those are six phrases, as female athletes, we often find ourselves seen or hear others saying, and it's so important to break those down. So thank you for doing that, but then reframe them so that you're in a healthier position as an athlete and you can perform.

So anyone listening to the podcast, please send in any other ideas that you have for us on common phrases that you want Maddie to demystify. And I will be happy to share them with her. Let's  talk about how you've used all this knowledge to help so many female athletes today, like Emma Coburn is an example.

So, you know, sort of switched from not just running as a professional athlete, but being a registered dietician and helping all these women really perform at their best, including yourself. So what really is different about helping pro female athletes with their nutrition versus men? 

Maddie

 Female athletes throughout any point in their career. It's kind of a similar challenge of just getting them to understand how much fuel they really need to be having. I think something that we, as a society struggle with is just that diet culture mentality of you can only eat X amount of calories in a day. What you need to eat in a day is always going to be the same.

 And that's just simply not true. I think most people are really surprised when they see how much they should be eating in a day, not just calorie wise, but carbs, protein, fat, all those other things, too. So I think the first step is,  getting them to understand what their needs are.

And I think pro athletes are typically a little bit more in tune with that than some of the younger athletes that I work with, which for me is fun because then we can  take the next step and do more advanced nutrition and, you know, talk about how do we need to change your nutrition based on where you are in your training.

So,  most runners cycle through the season, there's the base training phase kind of pre-competition competition phase. So we can actually adjust our approach to diet that way as well. Well, I think where it becomes unique with female athletes is that there's things that you can do with fueling based on your menstrual cycle, where you are in the cycle.

So something that I've been working with a lot of  professional athletes on is learning to track their period and track symptoms and know what to look for in terms of how they feel both inside and outside of running. And that's been really unique for them and it's really empowered them to learn, Oh, my needs are different at this point.

And I understand why maybe I didn't feel great on this day. And you know, it's another tool that we can use to make them the best version of themselves.

Stef

 What are some of those high-level tips you can pass on to a girl who might not have the chance to work with you, but you would whisper to them right away in high school and college. Okay, had I known this in high school and college about nutrition, I would have been so much better for it.

What would you say to those girls? 

Maddie

 Yeah, I would say my number one thing is make sure you're eating enough. That's the number one mistake that I see younger girls make is just not eating enough. The second thing I would say is always eat before practice, before your runs. This is gonna make a huge difference in how you actually perform and train.

You can train better with more fuel, which means you can gain more from your training and get faster and all that stuff. So that's really how you're going to see gains in performance. And then I think the last thing I would say is just understanding that how you're feeling now has an impact on what your body is going to be in the future.

So if you're under fueling now, you're probably going to be experiencing things like loss of bone density, which down the road can increase your risk for things like osteoporosis.  You're only given one body. So it's important that you understand that the feeling choices you're making now are affecting that body and could potentially have negative consequences down the road. 

So you're not just feeling for your time as an athlete. You're feeling for this body that you have.  It's really important that you make that a priority.

Stef

When you are  looking consistently at female athletes and their cycle, and you're thinking about their nutrition and their cycle, what are some of the  go-to things  you take to some of your pro athlete clients when you're sitting down and looking at their periods and when they're having them in the cycles, how do you adjust some of those nutritional needs in general?

Maddie

 Yeah, so usually the second half of your cycle, that's when there's the most that we can do from a nutritional standpoint. So the first half of your cycle, based on where your hormones are, you're more similar to a male in that sense where, what you're eating, and  when you're eating it, and all those things are less having less of an impact on your physiology versus the second half of your cycle.

This is the half where. It's actually harder for you to access carbohydrate stores. So you might feel more sluggish or more tired. You actually start increasing the amount of sodium in your sweat. So you have a higher risk for dehydration or overheating. And then of course leading up to your period, a lot of those PMs symptoms like bloating, cramping,  mood swings, all that can also be impacted by your diet.

 So there's a lot we can do there, not just to offset those things, but just make sure that you consistently feel good throughout your cycle. So, you know, eating more carbohydrates, especially before a workout or having a carbohydrate rich drink with you during that second half of your cycle for workouts are long runs. 

And then, just making sure you're getting more electrolytes that second half really focusing on fluids. If you're struggling with PMs,  adjusting hydration, can help with bloating. Including more magnesium rich foods can help reduce cramping.

More Omega threes can help with inflammatory responses that increase right before your period. So there's a lot of stuff that we can do. And it's pretty fun for me as a dietician, it feels just kind of like a puzzle, everyone's so different and you know, everyone's cycle is different. So just helping them understand what works best for them and how to adjust their fueling.

Stef

In working with pro athletes on their nutrition while paying attention to their period, whether it's during their cycle after or pre, have you seen the impact on their performance at all?  

Maddie

 Yeah, I would say it's helped them be more consistent and have less of those days where they just can't explain why they don't feel good.  Again, understanding that your needs are going to vary throughout your cycle.

 It can just help to know why you feel that way and that alone can help you feel better.    

Stef

 As you were heading into training. I just want to know what foods are in your bag right before you train and right after. 

Maddie

Pre workout. I would say my go-to is sourdough toast with peanut butter and honey, I usually have two pieces. Sometimes I also have a banana depending.

I always have electrolytes before my run and my go-to is noon. That's my favorite. And that can actually help with  maintaining your heart rate for a given effort, GI issues, all that stuff. So, yeah. Something I definitely recommend. Then during my workouts, I usually use some type of electrolyte drink that also has some carbs.

My go-to is scratch, that's my personal favorite. And I try to sip on that throughout my workouts. And then post-workout, I always bring some type of protein rich recovery drink. So I like to mix protein powder with milk, because I think it tastes better than with water. But you know, I also use a protein powder that contains carbohydrates because that's something that you also need to focus on post-workout.

 So sometimes I'll do like chocolate milk blended with a banana and some protein powder or I'll use again, scratch makes a really great recovery mix that I mix with milk. Momentous has a great recovery mix. So those are a few of the things that I'll use. Post-workout.

Stef

 As you think about your younger self, Maddie, you have all this great experience now from all the way through a division one school to an all American and then to two USA championships.

And now working with pro athletes, including yourself on nutrition,  what is one piece of advice that you would give to younger female athletes out there today? 

Maddie

  If there's one thing I could tell younger athletes, it's just focus on yourself, focus on what you can do to be better every day.

Like I said, there's a hundred ways to get to the start line. There's no one right way or wrong way. So I think it's important that you just trust the process, trust your coaches, trust yourself, to get to that start line. And like I said before, just never underestimating the power of adequately fueling yourself and not just for this time in sport, but for your body beyond those years, as an athlete it's going to affect your long term health.

 And it's really important that you make that a priority now, rather than down the road, when you're having to fix things that may have happened from under fueling earlier in your life.

Stef

 If you could come up with one thing, what would be your one thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports? 

Maddie

I would like to see women be exposed to nutrition and their menstrual cycle much earlier in their career as athletes.

I think a lot of women tend to suffer in silence, quote unquote, they don't understand that this is a normal part of being a female athlete. understanding that your body's going to change and that's normal and it's. Good that your body's changing. You shouldn't look the same when you're 25, as you did when you were 14, that would probably mean  something isn't right there you know?

 So it's definitely important to embrace those changes and not fight them.  I see a lot of  women as their body changes into high school. Struggle with that change and try to compensate for that by under fueling. Which, like I said will lead to some of those negative health consequences down the road, and then it's normal for your body to change again, and even from high school to college. 

And that's where I see a lot of young college women struggling with nutrition there as well. So instead of fighting those changes, embrace them and understand that it's normal.  Just continue doing what you're doing and trust that  you'll learn your new body and you'll still find your way back to performing how you have been and even improving upon that.

And not only that, but you're going to stay healthy, and are doing it that way. So you know, not being afraid of those changes. Understanding that they're normal, they need to happen. And just feeling empowered that you have a menstrual cycle, which is this unique feedback tool that male athletes don't have.

And it's cool that we can use it to understand more about ourselves.  It's not an awkward topic. Half the population experiences it. So, let's work on normalizing that conversation and making it okay for Coaches and trainers and other people working with female athletes to discuss it.

Stef

Absolutely. And that's why we created our community at Voice In Sport so that you have a safe space to speak up, share those stories and make sure that we're talking about it a lot more than we're doing today. So thank you, Maddie. It was such a pleasure to have you on the podcast and I'm so excited to continue to watch you.

Not only dominate the world of nutrition, but also in running. So thank you. 

Maddie

Thank you so much for having me.

Stef

Thank you Maddie, for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us today, we appreciate your tips and advice surrounding sports, nutrition, and your demystifying. Some misconceptions in the nutrition world that keep us from performing at our best. We should all keep in mind Maddie's words on the importance of fueling our body correctly.

And with compassion, not only compassion for athletic performance, but also for overall health for the years to come. You can follow Maddie on the Voice In Sport platform and book a session with her. And of course, find her on Instagram at @madsalm12, or check out her company, Fueling Forward. Please subscribe to the Voice In Sport podcast and give us a rating.

You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok at @voiceinsport. And if you're interested in joining our community as a member, you will have access to our exclusive content mentorship from female athletes, expert sessions from VIS Experts like Maddie, and advocacy tools. 

Check out voiceinsport.com. And if you're passionate about accelerating sports, science and research on the female athletic body, check out voiceinsportfoundation.org to get involved. See you next week on the Voice In Sport podcast.

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creators™  Libby Davidson and Anya Miller

Maddie Alm, Professional Runner and Registered Dietitian (RD), joins us to demystify common phrases and challenges surrounding sports nutrition, in effort to help us fuel ourselves properly and reach our greatest potential.