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Nutrition strategy for Performance

Performance is not just about sport, but rather how you feel throughout your day! We create individualized nutrition plans tailors for specific lifestyles, movements, and goals. 

I'm a performance dietitian, coach, runner, powerlifter, wife, and PhD candidate. I have a passion for helping people find a balance with nutrition for their sport and life.  For the last 8 years, I have dedicated my education and career working through the confusing mess that is nutrition today. 

I aim to put my clients first by applying a scientific, yet realist approach to nutrition. 

I'm stephanie small, a dietitian and research just trying to make a small difference!


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Stephanie is intellectually curious, current on any/all literature, and always seems to have evidence-based empirical research at her fingertips to cite alongside her practical recommendations for day-to-day living. She is great at reinterpreting your personal life and lifestyle goals so that you can think about behavioral changes that make sense for you and that are sustainable. I enjoy having the energy to say "yes" to my kids when they want me to lean into any given activity.


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She tailored her training based on my needs, specifically focusing on educating me on my food habits rather than saying “no”. I appreciate that Stephanie never tried to set unrealistic goals and never told me “no” to any food category. Her philosophy was everything in moderation with portion control. Stephanie has been wonderful not only as my dietician but also as a very kind and understanding human being.


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Tips & Research

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Who doesn’t love caffeine, right? ☕

Caffeine is the most widely studied and used drug on the planet. It is naturally occurring in a variety of plants such as coffee, tea, and cocoa. Over 90% of U.S. adults consume caffeine on an average of 200mg/day (Fulgoni, Keast et al. 2015) .

In recent years, it has been quite the trend for physically active individuals to consume high-caffeine-containing products to get the most out of their workout.

However, chugging that pre-workout during your workout or right before may not be the best strategy.

How Does Caffeine Work

Caffeine primarily impacts the central nervous systems but also influences hormonal, metabolic, muscular, cardiovascular, and pulmonary function (Sökmen, Armstrong et al. 2008).

Caffeine is both water and lipid-soluble, which allows it to be rapidly absorbed by the gut and into the circulation. About 90% of caffeine is absorbed within 30-60 min of consumption (Maughan, Burke et al. 2018, Guest, VanDusseldorp et al. 2021).

Depending on where the caffeine goes, it will have a different effect:

Brain: caffeine will block adenosine receptors in the brain preventing the feeling of fatigue in the brain (Nehlig, Daval et al. 1992). Additionally, caffeine activated noradrenaline receptors which appear to increase the release of dopamine.

Muscle: caffeine potentially benefits the muscle by aiding muscle contraction by increasing the ability for calcium ions to move across the membrane, which is required for muscle contraction and force production (Graham 2001).

Central Nervous System: caffeine ingestion appears to reduce the perception of fatigue, effort, and muscle pain during physical activity (Nehlig, Daval et al. 1992).

Once the caffeine has been ingested, the effects can start to be felt around 20-30min after consumption. The heart rate increases, increase alertness, and potentially the jitters.

Depending on the individual, the half-life of caffeine lasts anywhere from 1.5-9hrs, but the average is ~5hrs. At that point, the effects start to wear off. Therefore, it is important to reduce caffeine intake around 2 pm to avoid negative implications on sleep (Maughan, Burke et al. 2018, Guest, VanDusseldorp et al. 2021).

Caffeine Recommendations

Caffeine dosage should stay within 3-6g/kg of bodyweight to positively impact performance(Graham 2001, Maughan, Burke et al. 2018, Guest, VanDusseldorp et al. 2021). Dosages higher than 6g/kg of body weight don’t see further performance improvements and can start to increase the chance of negative side effects such as anxiety, elevated heart rate, or even heart palpitations in some.

Minimally effect does of caffeine is currently unestablished, but positive benefits have been established at as low as 2mg/kg body mass.

Dosages higher than 6 mg/kg of body mass don’t appear to add additional benefits to performance. Intake of 9 mg/kg body mass is associated with a higher incidence of negative side effects such as anxiety and heart palpitations.

An additional consideration is the habitual effect of caffeine intake. Habitual caffeine user tends to have a damped effect in their response to caffeine. This can lead to increased consumption that may not provide additional benefits and no impact on exercise performance.

If your goal is to use caffeine for its ergogenic effects, then it is important to take breaks in caffeine usage.

Figure 1: Part 1 to the caffeine time recommendation for training
Figure 2: Part 1 to the caffeine time recommendation for training

Caffeine and Sports Performance

The benefits of caffeine to act as an ergogenic aid in sports performance take on a variety of different mechanisms to contribute to the impact of performance (see figure 3).

The effects of caffeine on body systems and sports performance; ref: (Sökmen, Armstrong et al. 2008)

The effects of caffeine on body systems and sports performance; ref: (Sökmen, Armstrong et al. 2008)

In endurance sport, caffeine appears to improve performance by:

  1. Increases fat metabolism to have a glycogen sparing effect
  2. Increase the release of stress hormones such as cortisol which reduces the perception of pain and fatigue
  3. Improved cognitive mood.

In power and speed sports, caffeine appears to improve performance by:

  1. Improve muscle contraction through calcium ion mobilization
  2. Reduce reaction time and increase alertness
  3. Increase muscle fibre recruitment which increases total force production
  4. Improve cognitive mood.

Potential mechanisms of caffeine in endurance and power events; ref: (Sökmen, Armstrong et al. 2008)

Potential mechanisms of caffeine in endurance and power events; ref: (Sökmen, Armstrong et al. 2008)

Below are both the @internationalolympiccommitteef and @the_issn position stands on caffeine and athletic performance.

PMID:29540367, 33388079

Everyone responds to caffeine a little differently, so you must find what works for you!

Keep in mind that caffeine has a reduced affect if used chronically.

👇 Comment below your favourite pre-workout!


Fulgoni, V. L., 3rd, Keast, D. R., & Lieberman, H. R. (2015). Trends in intake and sources of caffeine in the diets of US adults: 2001-2010. Am J Clin Nutr, 101(5), 1081-1087. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.080077

Graham, T. E. (2001). Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports Med, 31(11), 785-807. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200131110-00002

Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D. M., Arent, S. M., Antonio, J., Stout, J. R., Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Goldstein, E. R., Kalman, D. S., & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 18(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4

Maughan, R. J., Burke, L. M., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D. E., Peeling, P., Phillips, S. M., Rawson, E. S., Walsh, N. P., Garthe, I., Geyer, H., Meeusen, R., van Loon, L. J. C., Shirreffs, S. M., Spriet, L. L., Stuart, M., Vernec, A., Currell, K., Ali, V. M., Budgett, R. G., . . . Engebretsen, L. (2018). IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med, 52(7), 439-455. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099027

Nehlig, A., Daval, J. L., & Debry, G. (1992). Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. Brain Res Brain Res Rev, 17(2), 139-170. https://doi.org/10.1016/0165-0173(92)90012-b

Sökmen, B., Armstrong, L. E., Kraemer, W. J., Casa, D. J., Dias, J. C., Judelson, D. A., & Maresh, C. M. (2008). Caffeine use in sports: considerations for the athlete. J Strength Cond Res, 22(3), 978-986. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181660cec

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Dieting is essentially the process of purposefully reducing caloric intake in hopes to reduce body weight.

The constant pattern of dieting and regaining the weight is known as “yo-yo dieting” or “weight cycling”. For the purpose of this article, I will use the term weight cycling.

Approximately 10% of men and 30% of women will weight cycle (1). Keep in mind this stat was discovered in 1998, in which fad diets and weight stigma have further run rampid within society. Those numbers are probably exceptionally higher in present-day 2021.

Even though dieting is not inherently bad, there are quite the negative consequences of weight cycling that will actually cause it harder to maintain a healthy weight and even result in more weight gain.

This article will discuss some problems that come with the weight cycle and how it can actually be more detrimental to your health.

  1. Increase hunger

Leptin is a hormone responsible for regulating energy balance and appetite. Leptin is stored and secreted by fat cells. When you eat a meal, leptin is released from the fat cells to signal to the brain that you are full. It decreases hunger.

However, when you diet and lose body fat, then leptin actually reduces (2) . So less leptin = increase hunger!

Essentially, the longer you are on a diet the hungerier you will get! This can result in non-compliance to a diet or even over-eating.

Since leptin is released from fat cells, you might think that if you have more fat then you should be less hungry and then lose weight. I wish it were that simple. Those with more fat tend to have elevated leptin levels, however, there is a thing called leptin resistance.

Leptin resistance is when your body does not respond to leptin as it should. So in turn, fat cells make more leptin. But the body continues not to respond, but in fact think you are starving so you eat more, gain more fat, and the vicious cycle continues.

The takeaway here is that excessive dieting can result in reduced leptin levels making it easier to overeat, and excess fat can result in a similar scenario called leptin resistance.

  1. Less muscle but more body fat percentage

Rapid weight loss results in losing muscle mass. It is inevitable. There are strategies such as slow weight loss and increase protein intake to prevent muscle loss, but at the end of the day, it will happen.

However, when it comes to rapid weight loss, the weight gain that follows (from noncompliance to diet or extreme hunger) will not be muscle. The weight gain will be mostly fat. Especially if an individual is not eating adequately protein or strength training. Because the weight gain will be mostly fat, then the body will have a reduced metabolism.

The more muscle you have the more calories your burn. This is why bodybuilders have a tendency to be able to eat a lot while staying lean.

So the event of dieting quickly results in an increase in body fat, less muscle mass, and ultimately a reduced metabolic rate (3).

Fifty-eight percent of publications reported in a review reported that a history of weight cycling was correlated with increased body fat and central adiposity (3). Another fifty percent of studies reported that the presence of weight cycling increased the likelihood of future weight gain, suggesting that weight cycling is potentially problematic for individuals attempting to lose weight (3).

  1. Increased health risk (diabeties, high blood pressure, high cholesterol)

Even though diabetes has not been directly studied in the weight cycle (3), a study in rats demonstrated increased insulin resistance to rats that experience weight cycling over 12 months rather than those that gained weight steadily (4).

This demonstrates an increased risk of diabetes with weight cycling. Further works need to be done in this area.

Among 9509 participants, those with larger weight fluctuations over a period of time were more at risk for coronary artery disease than weight alone (5). in the same study:

“Among patients in the quintile with the highest variation in body weight, the risk of a coronary event was 64% higher, the risk of a cardiovascular event 85% higher, death 124% higher, myocardial infarction 117% higher, and stroke 136% higher than it was among those in the quintile with the lowest variation in body weight in adjusted models.” (5)

Also, a history of weight cycling demonstrated fewer improvements in blood pressure than those that had not during a weight loss intervention to improve blood pressure (6).

As you can see, there are more negative consequences to weight cycling than being at higher body weight. So the next time you try to lose weight, try to instill habits that are sustainable.

  1. It can result in fustration and feelings of failure

Increases in weight variability over an 8 year period resulting in higher rates of psychological disturbances in women (7).

These were not necessarily things like depression or anxiety. More so a sense of failure or dissatisfaction with oneself. This increases the prevalence of binge eating disorders (8).

This further implicates the importance of weight loss methods that are sustainable and consistent to prevent such negative feelings.

Weight is an indicator of health but not the only one. Your mental health is just as important.

  1. Short term, quick weight loss doesn’t result in long term sustainability.

Quick dieting cyclings tend to stem from quite unsustainable measures. Such as cutting out all sugar products or never eating bread agian. While some tactics such as keto may work for some, it is important to remember that they may not work for you.

Whatever you decide to change in your diet for weight loss needs to be something that you can do the rest of your life if you want to keep the weight off.

For instant, if you cut out all alcohol, you should expect to keep it out or have it only on special occasions. But if that is not something you are willing to do long term, then you need to find a way to fit it your diet.

This article is not to scare you away from dieting, but instead change your approach to dieting.

Here are some of the behaviors it found worked for long-term weight loss:

  • Eating healthy foods: Such as yogurt, fruits, vegetables and tree nuts (not peanuts).
  • Limiting processed foods: Such as potato chips and sugary beverages.
  • Exercising: Find something active that you enjoy doing.
  • Getting good sleep: Get 6–8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Limit sedentary time: Limit the time you sit by scheduling daily walks or finding ways to work standing up.

By making permanent changes to your life, you may not have the leanest bod, but you will have consistent and sustainable weight loss over time.

If you are ready to make changes for sustainable weight loss, schedule a 15 minute discovery call today to see how I can help. Schedule here!


  1. Hendricks KM, Herbold NH. Diet, activity, and other health-related behaviors in college-age women. Nutr Rev. 1998 Mar;56(3):65-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.1998.tb01696.x. PMID: 9564178.
  2. Zhao S, Zhu Y, Schultz RD, et al. Partial Leptin Reduction as an Insulin Sensitization and Weight Loss Strategy. Cell Metab. 2019;30(4):706-719.e6. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2019.08.005
  3. Mackie GM, Samocha-Bonet D, Tam CS. Does weight cycling promote obesity and metabolic risk factors? Obes Res Clin Pract. 2017 Mar-Apr;11(2):131-139. doi: 10.1016/j.orcp.2016.10.284. Epub 2016 Oct 20. PMID: 27773644.
  4. Levin BE. Diet cycling and age alter weight gain and insulin levels in rats. Am J Physiol. 1994 Aug;267(2 Pt 2):R527-35. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.1994.267.2.R527. PMID: 8067464.
  5. Bangalore S, Fayyad R, Laskey R, DeMicco DA, Messerli FH, Waters DD. Body-Weight Fluctuations and Outcomes in Coronary Disease. N Engl J Med. 2017 Apr 6;376(14):1332-1340. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1606148. PMID: 28379800.
  6. Hart KE, Warriner EM. Weight loss and biomedical health improvement on a very low calorie diet: the moderating role of history of weight cycling. Behav Med. 2005 Winter;30(4):161-70. doi: 10.3200/BMED.30.4.161-172. PMID: 15981894.
  7. Pacanowski CR, Linde JA, Faulconbridge LF, Coday M, Safford MM, Chen H, Yanovski SZ, Ewing LJ, Wing R, Jeffery RW; Look AHEAD Research Group. Psychological status and weight variability over eight years: Results from Look AHEAD. Health Psychol. 2018 Mar;37(3):238-246. doi: 10.1037/hea0000547. PMID: 29504788; PMCID: PMC5841595.
  8. Kensinger GJ, Murtaugh MA, Reichmann SK, Tangney CC. Psychological symptoms are greater among weight cycling women with severe binge eating behavior. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Aug;98(8):863-8. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(98)00199-0. PMID: 9710655.

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Recreation sports and activities provide many benefits such as physiological functioning and health, social interactions, and mental health. The 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 19.3% of the US population engaged in sports or exercise each day in 2019 for at least half an hour. That equates to 63 million active people.

However, there appears to be a portion of recreational athletes that do not increase their energy intake to account for increased levels of energy expenditure and are at an increased risk of low energy availability (LEA) [1]. Low energy availability is energy intake that does not meet the minimal requirements for normal metabolic function and exercise. LEA leads to reduce performance, disrupted hormonal regulation, and many physiological functions are downregulated to conserve energy [2]. This appears to be when active individuals consume less than 30 kcal per kg of body weight per day [3]. Chronic LEA can lead to the female/male athlete triad or relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-s), see figure 1 [4].

Figure 1: Representation of RED-S and the Athlete Triad [4]

According to self-reported health, dietary, and performance data, recreationally active individuals not meeting their nutritional needs appear to range between 14-63% depending on the study [4]. Even though recreational athletes are not exercising to the level of elite athletes, they still exercise at a high level and then still must complete day-to-day tasks such as work, family, and social aspects. This means that nutrition can have a huge impact on how an athlete feels from day to day [1, 4].

Recreational athletes are exposed to dietary ‘norms’ (i.e., tracking calories, social media influence, sports supplements, and body composition expectations) that impact a personals dietary intake…sometimes not for the better.

While I would like to say there are specific references I can provide for recreational athletes, there is still a limitation to exact specificity. It is important to keep in mind that each athlete is different.  Some athletes may prefer to have chocolate milk after a workout while others may be better suited to a full meal. Even though sports nutrition is a new field, there are developed science-based recommendations that can get you started in the right direction.

Carbohydrate Needs

Carbohydrates are going to be your primary fuel source and will change the most depending on the sport or activity you are playing. The goal is to consume adequate “quality carbs” to keep your energy levels up during and after exercise. Aim for carbs sources that come from fruits, veggies, and whole grains. General carbohydrate guidelines are [5]:

Amount of exercise/daygram carb/lb. body wt.gram carb/kg body wt.
1-hour moderate exercise 2.5 to 3 5 to 7
1-3 h endurance exercise2.5 to 4.5 6 to 10
>4-5 h extreme exercise 3.5 to 5.5 8 to 12

Protein Needs

Proteins are the tools that your body needs to rebuild and recover. The more intense the exercise is and induces muscle damage, the higher the protein needs are. To help you reach your protein needs aim for 20-30g of protein per meal and 10-15g per snack. A protein supplement is not necessary but can be beneficial for convenience if whole foods cannot be consumed. General protein recommendations are [5, 6]:

 Protein needs/lb. body wt.Protein/kg body wt.
Recreational exerciser0.6-1.0 g1.2-2.0 g/kg
Competitive athlete0.6-0.8 g 1.2-1.7 g/kg 

Fluid Needs

Fluid needs are fairly simple. On a day-to-day basis drink half your body weight in ounces per day [5]. So a 200 lb athlete would consume 100 ounces of fluids per day. For every half hour of exercise consume an additional 8-12 ounces of fluids. If you are a heavy sweater or exercising in heat your fluid demands will increase, and so will the frequency of intake. The overall goal is to be able to have light-coloured urine every 2 to 4 hours, see figure 2.

Figure 2: Urine hydration chart


Unless you are playing or exercising in extreme heat, most recreational athletes do not exercise long enough that they would need to take an electrolyte supplement. As most electrolytes will be replenished through your food.

Body Composition

If you are a recreational athlete with the goal of losing body fat, slashing calories immediately is not the way to go. Most of the time exercise alone creates a calorie deficit that will ultimately help a person lose body fat. However, some athletes have increased hunger after activity and can sometimes eat more than what is required. When it comes to changing body composition while being a recreational athlete meal timing and composition are an important components to help an athlete meet their goals without impairing energy or performance.

While these recommendations will send you in the right direction, sometimes a little extra guidance can make a difference. If you are struggling with your nutrition, then schedule a 15 min complimentary discovery call to see if we would be a good fit to work together!


1. Black K, Slater J, Brown RC, Cooke R: Low Energy Availability, Plasma Lipids, and Hormonal Profiles of Recreational Athletes. J Strength Cond Res 2018, 32(10):2816-2824.

2. Areta JL, Taylor HL, Koehler K: Low energy availability: history, definition and evidence of its endocrine, metabolic and physiological effects in prospective studies in females and males. Eur J Appl Physiol 2021, 121(1):1-21.

3. Loucks AB: Exercise Training in the Normal Female: Effects of Low Energy Availability on Reproductive Function. In: Endocrinology of Physical Activity and Sport: Second Edition. edn. Edited by Constantini N, Hackney AC. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 2013: 185-205.

4.  Logue DM, Madigan SM, Melin A, Delahunt E, Heinen M, Donnell SM, Corish CA: Low Energy Availability in Athletes 2020: An Updated Narrative Review of Prevalence, Risk, Within-Day Energy Balance, Knowledge, and Impact on Sports Performance. Nutrients 2020, 12(3).

5. Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S: American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009, 41(3):709-731.

6. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, Wells SD, Skwiat TM, Purpura M, Ziegenfuss TN, Ferrando AA, Arent SM et al: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2017, 14:20.