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In working with many runners and athletes in Pittsburgh, I am always answering interesting questions that keep me on my toes.  Currently, I have the pleasure of working with Emily Walenchok on her senior project.  Part of the project involved interviewing me, and in doing so, her questions allowed me to take a closer look at the interactions between nutrition and activity.  Meet Emily and checkout the questions from her interview.

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My name is Emily Walenchok and I am a 17 year old senior at Moon Area High School.  As a student at Moon, I am required to complete a senior project.  The purpose of this project is to allow seniors to explore a career, extend their education, reach out to the community, or pursue some sort of goal.  No matter what one decides to do, risks must be taken and some sort of end goal or final product must be achieved.

In eighth grade, my soccer career was ended by a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery.  Ever since then, it has been a goal of mine to find other ways to exercise and stay fit.  Therefore, I found a new hobby in running.  For my project, I wished to extend this experience and challenge myself even further.  For these reasons, I decided to train for and complete a sprint triathlon.  In addition to the training, I added a nutritional aspect to the project.  I have researched and directly experienced the positive effects that good and adequate nutrition can have not only while training but also on overall health.  The processes of adjusting my diet and increasing my fitness level were not easy, but have proved it to be worth the effort.

Although I have come across many obstacles throughout the training process, I remain determined to complete the triathlon in late February.  I have learned that it takes perseverance and determination to push oneself to a new level.  With that said, I have also learned that exercising and focusing on healthy eating can bring about mental and physical health benefits that I would otherwise never think possible.


Nick, in working with you on my project I am realizing the connection between nutrition and activity.  I would like to get your opinion on the subject.


1      What is the importance of nutrition while training for any event?

Proper nutrition when training for an event, or really life in general, is crucial. Think of it like this. An automobile needs maintenance like oil changes, tire rotations and changes, transmission fluids, etc. If the car is maintained poorly it will not operate as well or last as long. And depending on what the automobile is used for will determine the additional types of maintenance needed. Athletes, like a very well used auto will require more advanced nutrition consideration to maintain performance.


Proper nutrition starts with food. Just eat it.

2      Is one truly getting all the benefits of exercise if good and adequate nutrition are not being practiced?

No, not all the benefits.  Some, but not all.  Without proper nutrition the body recovers slower, or inadequately. Exercise breaks the body down, then recovery, sleep, and nutrition build it back up.


Yes you can do it…but only with training, sleep, recovery, and proper nutrition.


3      Are there mental benefits to exercise and nutrition? If so, what do you believe they are?

Absolutely! Exercise is a very effective treatments for many different mental instabilities as well as general stress management. It is sort of like an emotion smoother.  Food is similar and goes hand in hand with exercise. We have all seen the posts on social media about sugar causing dopamine responses in the brain, much like cocaine, and is therefore bad. This idea is wildly oversimplified, vilified, and misused.  However, it is true that the consumption of food does create a chemical response in our brain and body.  The same can be said for hunger.  It is telling us to find food and eat.  These responses are totally normal and necessary for survival.  The real trick is to eat the right foods and do the right activities. Why would you do something that you dread or eat something that makes you feel terrible later? Who has ever eaten a entire super-sized fast food meal and said twenty minutes later, “Wow, I feel like a million bucks, lets go far a jog.”


Food and exercise, or rather, leading a healthy, active lifestyle plays a role in stress management, mental clarity, emotional balance, self-confidence and self worth.

Proper exercise and nutrition affect our immune system, sleep quality, relationships, and our brains ability to grow new cells and nerve endings.  Not to mention the friendships developed and the meals you get share with these friends.

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Good friends make everything more awesome.

4      What are the benefits of cross training? Does focusing on multiple different types of exercise help?

Yes, focusing on multiple different types of exercise helps in many ways and because of this there are many benefits.

  • Who likes doing the same thing day in and day out? Life is more fun when it is interesting, thus if you keep the workout fun and interesting you are more likely to maintain an active lifestyle. This is a very common problem that we see with the junior elite athletes in the cycling world. Some of the kids live, eat, and breathe riding. Before long some burn up, stop riding, and in some cases, stop being active in general.
  • Cross training not only keeps it fun, but it also makes a more physically balanced athlete. If all someone does is run, and never works their upper body and core, well, don’t call them to help you move. Have you ever seen a fatigued runner hunch over while running? This unbalanced runner may have the legs but if their core and back can’t keep up they can start to hunch over.  This keeps the lungs from expanding completely. Obviously this is not good.
  • You get to meet new people and try new activities. I like to run and ride, but I also like to hike, rappel, rock climb and the list goes on.  All of these things are active, use different muscles, and involve different groups of people.  Oh and they are all fun.
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Changing workouts up help keep you mentally fresh.


5      What are the physical benefits of exercise and nutrition?

When I work with clients I make sure to tell them that what we are doing is making them healthy for life, not just faster or “skinnier” for the immediate future. Yes, we all want to look good for summer, but I want people to have a better quality of life for longer. Nutrition and exercise are crucial for this.

Nutrition and rest allow the physiological adaptations of exercise to be realized to their full potential. DNA is a blueprint for our body and cells and food is our body’s raw materials to maintain our body and all the systems working within. If you don’t eat a varied, balanced, and moderate your body will eventually suffer.

And if you don’t stress the body to cause physiological adaptions (which also needs proper diet), your body will eventually suffer. This is where exercise comes in. First, it builds muscle. Then you become more able and more self-sufficient. I am not saying that Tommy Bigchest who can bench press 100,000 pounds will live a longer and better life, but having overall strength and range of motion (insert cross training) means that you can preform more everyday tasks for a longer time in life. Ask any elderly person, loosing the ability to care for one’s self can hurt confidence and self worth.

Also, muscle and overall strength and bone density it will protect you from injury, for example, if you fall. While we are young this not as large of a concern, but for the aging population, this is huge. A broken hip can be life altering or even ending. Muscle may help prevent the fall form happening in the first place because the stronger you are the better you can control, or regain control of your body.

Exercise builds bone density, assuming nutrition is adequate. You see the grandmas walking around with the hunches on their backs. That is caused by the breakdown of bone material in their spin. When the bone structure is changed, the function is changed and the ability to support the upper body is decreased. This again impacts our ability to care for ones self.

Also, the less muscle you have the less glycogen and water you can store, thus increasing dehydration risks and decreasing survival rates in times of illness.

As anyone can see, there is far more to diet and exercise than looking good.  In reality this holds far less gravity than the long-term effects of exercise and nutrition.  So get out there, get moving, eat something healthy, and remember, have fun.


For me, being active is about exploring the world we live in. Get moving!

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