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Fitness Spotlight - Kelly Fillnow

My initial aim was to introduce this in the same theme as other Regular People features, however it seems apparent that the days of calling Kelly Fillnow "regular" are long gone.  

Kelly Fillnow is a fellow Davidson alum with a very interesting path that brought her to present day.  There are quite a few recent pieces both print and online (all very well-written) that outline her unique road from college tennis star to cross-country team walk-on to Ironman triathlete, so I won't attempt to re-tell her story once again.

Anyone who competes at the level Kelly does cannot be called "regular" anymore, however as you will see, Kelly is still a normal person whose drive and dedication made such great achievements possible.

Fresh off of competing in her first Ford Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, Kelly was gracious enough to make time for an interview with me. 


1. First of all, how was your experience in Kona? 

No words can truly capture the experience of competing against the world's best endurance athletes.  It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of
my life. I had such a surplus of emotions circulating in my brain
moments before the cannon went off, as I had no idea how the rest of
the day might unfold.  But I kept telling myself that the work was
done, and my journey was almost complete.  All I needed to do was just
enjoy the day and the results would take care of themselves!

2. As a dual-sport athlete in college, was there ever a point where
you could feel your emotions shifting from Tennis towards Cross
Country, or was it always an equal balance?

Tennis was always my first love, but there was something that intrigued me about running
when the sport came so naturally to me.  I had no background in
running (besides running as a punishment in basketball, soccer,
softball, and tennis growing up.)  I had quick success in cross
country, while daily balancing three hours of tennis practice with my
run training.  My Davidson cross country coach inspired me to try and
get a scholarship to compete post-Davidson.  She encouraged me to see
where I could take the sport, without having to balance two sports

With her encouragement, I competed for Duke during my
5th year of NCAA eligibility.  It was a dream come true, practicing
with some of the best runners in the United States.  I have the same
struggle now, as I am attempting to balance both running and
triathlon.  But to truly be the best you can be, a decision has to be
made and a sport has to be chosen to pursue.  Excellence is hard to
reach while juggling multiple sports demanding such specific & diverse


3. As another former dual-sport Davidson College athlete, my
“nutrition” was 99% junk food. Did you have a more disciplined
approach to your nutrition back in college or did better eating habits
develop during the latter years?

During my high school years, my mom
took care of providing the most wholesome, delicious meals for my twin
brother, and me. 

*(editor's note: Kelly has a twin sister Meghan who was also a college tennis star at Davidson and is still an amazing athlete as well. More on her to come from Kelly below.)

We typically trained about 3-4 hours of tennis a
day, so our bodies needed proper fuel.  She would make well balanced
meals consisting of protein, vegetables, a starch, and then a loaf of
bread per person because we would always fight over the bread!!  When
I went to college, I had to make the decision myself to eat healthy.
I made wise decisions at the dining hall where I ate all my meals, and
began to get interested in nutrition in order to properly fuel my body
for optimal performance.  I wanted to be the best that I could be, and
in order to do that, I needed to be as metabolically healthy as
possible, and nutrition plays a huge part in that state.


4. What does a typical training day look like for you, including
meals, workout, post-workout nutrition, etc?

There really is no such thing as a typical training day, except for Mondays and Fridays when I
swim for an hour and do light lifting/core. The rest of the week is
very diverse.  Some days I will have an intense 90 minute computrainer
ride and an additional 60 minute swim.  A weekend day might be a 4
hour bike ride and a 30 minute run with intervals at race pace.  But
the training load changes throughout the year depending on if it is
triathlon season, and I have to be on my bike, or if it is winter
season and I am focused on just running and swimming.


Normally I eat about 6 times a day, at the very minimum every three hours.  I need
the constant fuel because of my rigourous training schedule.  Quality,
quantity, and timing of nutrients is very key to recover properly
between my workouts, as some days I will be having multiple workouts.
I like to eat about 20 minutes after I finish my workout to optimally
refuel my depleted glycogen stores so I can be ready for the next day
or the next workout.  I try to eliminate processed foods, and focus on
whole grains, lots of vegetables, fruit, and lean protein.


5. For early morning workouts are you a fan of breakfast
pre-run/workout or just coffee/empty stomach?

I actually don't drink coffee!  When I do a light morning workout, I do not have to eat
anything, but if it is anything over an hour, I definitely eat
breakfast pre-workout.  I have an iron stomach, so I can literally eat
and run out the door.  I do not recommend that to most people though!!


6. What’s your eating approach (ex: carb load, etc) in the final 24-48
hours before a big competition or race? What about in the hours
immediately after?

My eating approach is to eliminate fiber the last 48 hours before a big race.  Two days before the race I focus on lots of carbohydrates, lean protein, and lowering my fat intake.  I always have a few tablespoons of honey at breakfast 48 hours prior to the big day. 

The day prior to the race, I have a big breakfast, an energy bar like a Clif bar for a snack, then a big, carbohydrate friendly lunch. I eat dinner between 530-6 and prefer to have a sweet potato, grilled chicken, a low fiber vegetable, and bread. 

My favorite post-race splurge is a calzone from Mellow Mushroom and a large oreo cookie blizzard from Dairy Queen.


7. What’s the one food/desert that you still can’t give up, no matter

 I love my ice cream, low fat of course :). 


8. What’s your advice for someone who might be thinking of attempting
a new challenge like a half-marathon or sprint triathlon (or even a
simple fitness class) but hasn’t found the courage yet?

 I truly believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to
accomplishing.  I have witnessed countless clients who have not even
been able to run two minutes, compete half marathons!

This past weekend, I was truly inspired by my twin sister, who had a goal to PR
in her marathon (3:04).  She ended up getting sick to her stomach and

started vomiting at mile 19, ten times before she finished the race.
She had a goal, however, and her mind overcame her body's inability to
function properly, and she hit a new PR of (3:03), solely because of
her belief and desire to achieve her goal. You will be surprised what
your body can achieve when you stay positive with yourself and stay
patient in the process of development.

I think it is very important to set goals for yourself, and write them down.  Then, tell a friend or your husband or a coach so that they can help keep you accountable along the way.  The hardest part is taking that first step.  But once you take that first step, there is no limit to what you can
accomplish.  The most important thing is to enjoy the journey along
the way!


The Raw Foods Experiment

Former UFC Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar went from unstoppable force after his title unification win over Frank Mir last summer, to laid up in a hospital bed in early 2010.

What finally knocked Brock down to the canvas?  His diet. 

Lesnar developed a bacterial infection that turned into diverticulitis, which eventually ate a hole in his colon, spilling fecal matter into his abdomen (wow.)  The situation compromised his immune system to the degree that he contracted mono, and his loved ones feared the worst.

In the May 2010 issue of Muscle & Body magazine, Brock is fairly open with what led to his illness.

"I have changed the way I eat.  I've really cleaned my diet up.  I've added a lot more fiber to my diet, and also grouping my foods together has really helped.  It's made it easier for my digestive system to do its job and to get the most nutrients out of each and every meal.  This is a sickness that we've done to ourselves.  This is because of our western diets.  Our processed foods, I believe are a huge factor in what's creating a lot of cancer.  This thing has opened my eyes to a whole bunch of things."

Lesnar is fairly open that he probably "ate a whole cow in a year", and nutritionist PR Cole shared the estimation that Brock's meat-heavy diet probably led to his condition.

While I hesitate to use the term "cure", a Raw Food Diet goes a long way in helping the body's fiber requirements, as well as extracting even more of the best enzymes that are lost in fruits and vegetables once they are heavily cooked.

A few key notes from www.thebestofrawfood.com:

  • Cooking food above 115 degrees F kills the enzymes. Enzymes help you digest your food. Your body can create enzymes but that process takes a lot of energy. This makes you tired - remember how you feel after a heavy cooked meal? Further, the enzymes your body makes are not as good as the ones that were destroyed in the food. The food will not be broken down as well and thus harder to digest. 

  • It also changes the pH of the food and makes food acidic. We like to eat alkaline foods. Eating acidifying food makes your body acidic and thus a welcome feeding ground for disease.

    Without trying to download everything here, there is a litany of information on how to implement more raw foods into your everyday habits.  While I hate the term "diet", this eating philosophy has caught on amongst numerous celebrities, not only because of the health benefits, but cosmetic benefits as well.

    I highlighted the "Raw Model" Anthony Anderson previously, but the most notable celebrities who promote this sort of nutrition philosophy seem to be Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore

    There's probably a lot of crossover between raw foods and veganism, here's an article interview with Harrelson's former trainer Jon Hinds conducted an informative interview here.  I also stumbled onto a pretty interesting site - No Meat Athlete.

    Well, if you've read this far I can only assume you hve clicked on a few of the informative links and done your own research by now.  With regards to the question "how do I get started?" it is actually simple (and shouldn't clean eating be simple?)

    Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Eat foods as close to their natural states as you can (wash them when necessary of course).  And obviously by now you should have noticed a theme on this site with regards to utilizing the blender to combine your raw healthy foods into a smoothie.

    As for me, I will likely be combining my two "experiments" into one.  The early parts of the day will be largely raw foods (grapefruit, almonds, sunflower seeds, salad, whey protein) until dinner time.  Dinner will then be vegetarian (beans, brown rice, egg whites, oatmeal) though in the interest of full disclosure, there will probably be a few peices of fish eaten during the week.

    My hope is to stick to this, at least for a month into July and see how it goes.  Hopefully both the health results and performance results will be positive. 



    How do I get lean? Part 3 - Intermittent Fasting

    Today I started a dietary adjustment called Intermittent Fasting (we'll refer to it as IF moving forward).  There is a TON of information available through Google so I'm going to stick to the broad strokes here. 

     In simplest terms, IF (as used and coached by Martin Berkhan) consists of 16 hours of fasting, with an 8 hour "eating window".  Most people completely freak out when the topic of fasting for fat loss (or cleansing for that matter) comes up, so I won't spend time trying to dispel any of your previously-held concerns or fears.  What I'll stick to here is (1) sharing some of the information I've found on the topic (2) the points of interest I've discovered and (3) my plan. 

    Here are a few points to consider when you either think about (or immediately dismiss) IF as a tool in your plan to get lean for the summer.

     1 - There are cleansing benefits to small-to-moderate periods of fasting.

    Since I am not a scientist, I won't attempt to boil down the mountain of evidence and studies to this point.  I'd invite you to perform your own Google search on keywords like "fasting health benefits", "fasting detox", and "fasting+colon+intestines".

    2 - It's not unheard of for active people to remain active during periods of fasting

    I never considered this originally, but many times of active people inadvertently go through periods of Intermittent Fasting while still remaining active.  Surfer Laird Hamilton awoke me to this fact when outlining his training habits and diet on an episode of "Insider Training" on FitTV.  Paraphrasing, he basically said that he only has a shot of espresso before leaving the house in the mornings before his surfing and mountain biking.  He said that digesting food requires energy from the body (true) and whatever foods he attempts to scarf while headed out the door for training won't be absorbed by the muscles fast enough to be of use anyway.

    I also have a marathoner friend who told me she rarely eats anything before hitting the road in the mornings as well.  She places a much greater emphasis on eating a nutritionally substantial dinner the night before. 

    In this same context, think about young teenage athletes who play hours upon hours of basketball during the summers without stopping for a PowerBar or a protein shake.  I also recalled my own experience as a college football player when breakfast would be at 7-8am and I wouldn't have a touch of food (save for a few gulps of Powerade) until close to 5-6pm that evening.

    3 - Psychologically, IF is easier than grazing.

     I have tried nearly every diet and fat loss "philosophy" out there.  Many are more similar than they are different.  But the one consistent between IF-style philosophies like Eat-Stop-Eat and The Warrior Diet when compared against the traditional 5-6 meals per day grazing philosophy is psychological ease.  When I've been focused on "portion control" and monitoring the amount of calories in each individual meal, things are not as difficult as one might think.  However there is a substantial difference in the mental relaxation that comes with knowing I can (within reason) forget about meal size during my 8-hour eating window. Silly example, but I don't have to weigh a "handful" of almonds to make sure it's cut off at 1oz.  I don't need to measure each peice of salmon or chicken or cup of oatmeal.

    4 - Calories in vs Calories out STILL matters

            This is perhaps the MOST important point, and needed to follow the points made in #3.  One of the biggest mistakes people make in any diet philosophy (low carb, low fat, Atkins, Warrior Diet, etc) is that periods of fasting mean they can throw all regard for caloric intake out the window.  I made this same mistake with my first trial of the Warrior Diet.  I forgot what is perhaps the first rule of dieting for fat loss - calories in versus calories out ALWAYS matters.  If you are eating more than your body needs, you won't lose weight.  You will possibly gain weight.

    5 - Food choices still matter

    This shouldn't be a necessary point to make, but I'll make it anyway.  You'll get much further in your quest to have the body you want when eating clean foods (lean proteins, tons of vegetables/fruit, healthy nuts, seeds) versus junk food with lots of white starches, sugars, fried things, and artificial elements.

    There are a number of other sources available online that can help you educate yourself about the benefits of intermittent fasting, both for fat loss and overall health.  Rather than re-word some of the writings myself, I'd rather steer you to sources like Martin Berkhan's Leangains website that have helped me tremendously.  Pay attention to the sections about topics like leptin (basically the hormone that serves as the thermometer for your metabolism) and fat mobilizing hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.

     As for my approach each day, it will look something like this:

    5am-12noon - Fasting

    12pm - some combination of almonds, sunflower seeds, grapefruit, apple, salad, green beans

    2pm & 4:30pm - same as above (goal is less than 1/2 of daily caloric amount)

    6pm - Workout and/or group fitness instruction

    8pm - Largest Meal: salmon or chicken, brown rice, blended protein drink with spinach/berries

    Tomorrow is day 2 in my second trial with IF, I'll be sure to log progress and follow-up with successes, failures, and key learnings.


    Ellen DeGeneres joins the No-Sugar Bandwagon

    Out at a bar the other night, a friend who is well plugged into the social media landscape and pop culture universe made a comment about my recent article highlighting Steve Nash's no-sugar diet.  She asked, "Have you heard about Ellen? She's given up sugar too!"

    Well naturally my initial response was, "Uh...who is Ellen???"  After some clarity, she explained that Ellen DeGeneres had began a sugarless crusade of her own recently.  Ellen apparently took a look at her increased daily schedule and workload thanks to being a new judge on American Idol, and rationalized (perhaps with some consultation, I don't know for sure) that eliminating sugars from her diet would be a great way to prevent the wild insulin surges and subsequent energy crashes that come with regularly ingesting sugars.  Much like Steve Nash, she has focused on getting her sugars the natural way, mainly through fruits.

    I don't know how long Ellen will stick with this (cutting sugar is by no means an easy pursuit, especially the first few days) but I am proud of her for taking on this challenge.  My hope is that for someone with such an enormous platform as "The Ellen Show", she will influence many of her viewers to follow suit.  Let's be honest, quite often people feel more motivated to give something a try if one of their favorite celebrities is already doing it.  This is one instance where I hope the trend continues.

    For continued learning, here's a great blog I found by a woman who decided to give up sugar for a year back in 2008.  I won't spoil her story, but I think you can guess how it turned out.


    Fitness Spotlight - KathEats.com

    Full disclosure - this next Fitness Spotlight is going to highlight a woman from Davidson College, which is my undergrad institution.  I need to say that upfront so that my pro-Davidson biases will be out in the open before I start to gush over this woman's healthy foods blog and positive outlook on nutrition.

    It would be limiting to say that www.KathEats.com is purely a healthy foods blog, but that is one of the main benefits.  It also serves as an inspiration tool for anyone (female or male) who has struggled with seeing their weight or clothing sizes rise and been frustrated over an inability to fix things. 

    Without giving away her entire story (which can be found here: http://www.katheats.com/kath-2/ ) she basically got tired of seeing her weight increase and made a life decision one day to take control of her eating habits and start getting more daily functional exercise.  I might be making it sound overly simplistic, but the good news is that taking charge of your own weight loss really IS simplistic.  It starts one day, with one pro-active healthy choice, which snowballs into another, then another.

    Kath eventually lost 30 pounds, and her weekly exercise routine is a mix of running, elliptical, and spinning classes.  She was also featured on the cover of the January 2007 issue of Women's World Magazine. 

    Her site is not only inspirational for anyone who thinks losing double-digit pounds is a fantasy, but there are also NUMEROUS receipes and posts related to food.  She seems to be fanatic about oatmeal in-particular, which suits me well since that is my preferred complex carb source.  Her blog received an award from FoodBuzz.com for 2009. 

    I'd be promoting this site whether she was a Davidson alum or not (we have never met) but her blog truly is a must-read for anyone (female or male) who needs both information and inspiration on how to take command of your nutritional health one step at a time.