Image: Jacqueline Mariash
Ed Andrieski  /  AP
Jacqueline Mariash, 25, takes a bite out of an apple. The Olympic hopeful turned to nutritional couseling to help increase her energy levels and improve her performance.
updated 11/29/2005 5:38:08 PM ET 2005-11-29T22:38:08

After collapsing at the end of two marathons and struggling to swim just a single length of the pool, Olympic hopeful Jacqueline Mariash knew she needed some help. She got it from an unexpected source: a registered dietitian.

The 25-year-old Mariash has been a runner for nearly as long as she can remember, and began competing in triathlons in 1998. Like many female athletes, she strictly limited her food — dipping as low as 800 calories a day — to improve her performance by losing weight.

But her results were just the opposite.

“I used to wake up really tired,” she said. “I used to take a lot of time off training because I was so exhausted.”

Last summer, Mariash tried nutritional counseling. After about a month of sessions with dietitian Nancy Pudwill, the athlete said her energy levels soared and her performance improved. Weight loss was no longer her primary goal.

“In high school track, we all starved. That’s not how you get to the Olympics,” she said. “Now I can train harder, farther. Things I was afraid of, like a four-hour bike ride, are easy now.”

If discipline is required for training, she says, why not for nutrition too?

For Mariash, the solution was to eat a lot more calories in three balanced meals plus several healthy snacks.

Before she began working with Pudwill, Mariash usually had cereal for breakfast and would then “basically nibble” all day — crackers here, juice there — with one balanced meal at night.

Now she has a full breakfast with eggs or other protein, a decent lunch, healthy snacks and an energy drink, plus a complete, balanced dinner.

Thinner doesn't mean faster
Mariash is one of many athletes who have learned that thinner doesn’t always mean faster or stronger, and that fitness and conditioning don’t work well without proper nutrition. Athletes and coaches have increasingly turned to dietitians and nutrition counselors for such help, said Philip Haberstro of the National Association for Health and Fitness in Buffalo, N.Y.

Image: Nancy Pudwill
Ed Andrieski  /  AP
Nancy Pudwill and several physicians and therapists in the University of Colorado sports medicine program opened the Active Women's Health program.
About a year ago, Pudwill and several sports medicine doctors and therapists at the University of Colorado opened the Active Women’s Health program after realizing many female athletes didn’t understand how to meet their body’s nutritional needs. Adding to the challenge is society’s pressure to lose weight, Pudwill says.

“What happens with females is they don’t realize how much it takes to fuel their body to do the kind of activity they’re doing,” she said. “Sometimes, typical of females, they’re not eating enough.”

Some problems don’t always clearly point to nutrition — stress fractures, low energy, anemia. But all can be signs of too few calories and a shortage of minerals like calcium and iron, said Suzanne Farrell, a Denver-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Unlike men, women athletes often resist advice to eat more, Farrell said.

“I had to stop reading magazines like Shape and InStyle,” said Mariash, who agreed it was hard to gain weight. “All the magazines talk about is losing 10 pounds or shaving inches from your waist. For me, it’s how do I get fast.”

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Mariash said many athletes and coaches don’t pay enough attention to nutrition as part of their training regimen.

Simple changes in diet, including a different ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat, can bring rapid results, Pudwill said. She said she usually steers clients clear of supplements.

Mariash keeps a diary of the foods she eats and her energy levels through the day. During her weekly visits with Pudwill, they review the diary, check her weight and discuss any needed changes.

“I’m really concentrating on getting lean, but doing it the correct way,” she said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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