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Sandra’s Story: How Sports Nutrition Improved One Runner’s Race Times

Sandra shares firsthand how her experience with UPMC Sports Medicine’s sports nutrition program and dietitian Jeff Lucchino, MS, RDN, CSSD helped put her on the fast track to a healthier lifestyle and improved race times.

I am a wife, a stay-at-home mother of two boys, and an avid runner. My running adventures started back in 2006 when I ran my first half marathon. I was immediately in love with distance running, as it filled a hole in my heart that college athletics had once occupied.

Since then, I have run a number of half marathons and the Chicago marathon in 2016. I walked away from that race knowing I could do better. I knew I needed to lose the weight I had gained from having children and learn more about proper sports nutrition, especially since I was breastfeeding my youngest son and training for my second marathon in early 2017.

I found out about Jeff Lucchino and UPMC Sports Medicine while attending a marathon seminar held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. I had just turned 40 and run my first marathon. I wanted some things to change for the better in my life, and Jeff and UPMC Sports Medicine helped make that happen.

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The First Steps

After meeting Jeff and finding the support I needed to become accountable for what I was putting in my body, I was able to focus on proper nutrition and training for my second marathon.

We decided that I would share my MyFitnessPal account information with him so he could really check in on what I was eating. I lost six to eight pounds in my first month! I was losing weight by following my training plan, logging my food, and eating what felt like a good amount of food. It was amazing!

We set calorie and macronutrient goals based on whether it was a training or nontraining day, which was a game-changer for me. I wasn’t dieting; I was learning to fuel my body so I had enough energy for my training runs and for proper recovery.

I learned to make healthy substitutions for unhealthy snacking. I learned about portion control, as snacking mindlessly was a big weakness of mine. With two little boys, I was tired and felt like I had very little time to focus on myself. I used all of my energy to make sure the boys were always eating healthy, clean food, but my snacking and portion control were big obstacles in my weight-loss journey.

Small Changes, Big Payoff

Jeff helped me find realistic solutions to my challenges. Every week we touched base via email, and the pounds kept coming off. I didn’t always have perfect days, and Jeff was the first person to let me know that was OK. This was what I needed to hear from a professional: To be successful, lose weight, and fuel my body properly, I had to have goals but also be realistic.

By my second marathon, four months later, I was down almost 20 pounds! We had created a hydration and fueling plan that helped me to improve my marathon time by 29 minutes, and I felt amazing during the race. I actually got faster at the end of the marathon. I was ecstatic!

I met with Jeff after the race, and we set some new goals because working on small goals was helping me accomplish some really big things. I lost another four pounds in April and ran a course best at the UPMC Health Plan Half Marathon. I was almost back to the pace I was running when I was in my 20s and 30s.

The biggest thing I have learned is that different things work for different people. What has worked for me is having the support and accountability Jeff provides by checking in via email or being available for follow-up appointments. I now enjoy what I am putting in my body, and I can see what my body and mind accomplish when fueled properly and not deprived.

Bringing It All Home

A healthy life is a work in progress. When you do something good for yourself, it trickles down and the positive results are endless. I run to be mentally and physically healthy, and to inspire my kids to be healthy. Now that I have Jeff and the Sports Nutrition Program at UPMC Sports Medicine by my side, I really feel like I can teach my children about proper nutrition and exercise.

Jeff has been more than a nutrition coach. He has been someone who I can be honest with about food, exercise, and life. I look forward to all the things I will continue to learn about nutrition and sports performance. With the right help and tools, I have learned that baby steps can become big strides and that so many things are possible. My weight loss, marathon, and overall health goals all now seem to be within my reach.