The subject of nutrition is a personal one; what works for me might not work as well for you, your girlfriend or your husband. I only seek to impart a few bits of wisdom I have gained from training, racing and coaching over the past 6 years.
Do you “EAT TO TRAIN” or “TRAIN TO EAT”?
For most less experienced athletes, I think the answer is probably the latter. You train, you feel good, you “refuel” with lots of food and beverages and move on to the next workout. Very few take into account that what they eat in the days and hours leading up to a hard workout can positively or unduly affect the workout itself as well as the intended result
of that workout.
Unfortunately, nutrition is not a particularly sexy issue. As triathletes, we all know to think about the run, bike and swim, some of us also include strength and recovery to the list. …And then there is nutrition. In general, I find that most people know very little about the types of foods their bodies need to properly fuel them for the next workout or next recovery period.
Success begins well before you start training. If you are successful at fueling and refueling your body, your body will thank you and respond with ever increasing speed and endurance. For those who are just starting out in triathlon, altering a few basic nutritional components of your diet can greatly benefit your efforts and affect your results. As you increase your distances and training load, proper nutrition leading up to and following your races becomes ever more important for overall improvement as well as a speedy recovery.
Spring Training Season
This is the time of year that athletes come out of hibernation. The bike trainer is set up in the living room, and the swimsuit has made its way to the hook on the closet door – rather than hidden away under your boots in the back of the closet. Maybe you are starting to train for a spring half marathon hoping to jumpstart the body and mind back into training mode. Some athletes have gained a bit of weight over the winter months due to their much reduced training schedule, holidays, parties, celebrations and just general lack of interest.
There are a lot of people out there that say that this is OK – you have to give yourself a break and the body physically needs the much deserved downtime and less structured workout schedule. Some coaches will say it’s normal to gain 5-8% over your normal racing weight in the “off season.” I agree with this to some extent. However, as most people have probably already experienced, weight becomes increasingly more difficult to lose as we age – no matter how active you are. As a result, I try to adhere to a < 5% rule: No more than a 5% weight gain between the time I finish my last race of the season and the day I begin training again.
130 pound woman with 5% weight gain = 6.5 pounds therefore off season weight should not exceed 136.5 pounds.
180 pound man with 5% weight gain = 9 pounds = therefore off season weight should not exceed 189 pounds.
Luckily for men, losing weight is generally not as difficult, but an extra 9 pounds is still quite a bit of weight to be carrying at the start of the training season. We all know that in order to lose weight, you must burn fat. The body maximizes fat burning during long, slow, aerobic
workouts. However, because of the short days and uncooperative weather this time of year (especially in the Mid-Atlantic / Northeast), the “calories in” generally exceeds the “calories out” from October to February. The weight will eventually come off as the weather improves and you can get outside for longer workouts. But if you really want to jump start your fitness this spring, you should consider modifying your diet in addition to beginning a training
regimen. Combining both diet and exercise is the best way to quickly lose the winter flab.
I’m not here to push any particular diet ~ there are so many to choose from these days including: Mediterranean diet, Paleo, Glycemic, Zone, blood type diet, Atkins, low carb, Vegan, Vegetarian, Weight Watchers, high carb JennyCraig, to name just a few….
There is no single solution for that works for everyone. I’ve found that using concepts from each of the first 3 work for me –– but individually I find each can be a bit limiting. You might find that a more structured plan works better – the key is finding something that you can consistently follow and that is easy and/or convenient for you – because if it isn’t, you won’t do it for long.
Nutrition: Critical to Training
Hopefully knowing that nutrition plays a critical role in your training, your recovery and your performance will lead you to make some smart choices at the grocery store and when you are out to eat. Eating smarter will provide added benefits to your training, and will make all the work you are putting in even more worthwhile. My next post will talk about ways to periodize how you eat throughout the season so your diet mimics your training phases. Responding to what your body is asking for nutritionally will further aid your hard work.