In a sport where food is fuel, it is extremely important to understand that what we put into our bodies can have a massive effect on our performance. It can be the difference between functioning at your very best and breaking down all together, therefore it is important we get it right!
We are all built very differently and the effects of what we consume can vary from person to person, however, it all starts with a quality and balanced diet. A high quality diet is the foundation of endurance fitness and it is essential for general health. If you are someone who is prone to injury and illness, or you are having trouble functioning at your best and achieving your desired body composition goals, then you should consider whether or not you are eating and drinking the right things.
A good diet starts with a good breakfast. As triathletes, we think that performance starts with training, think again! For many of us, the fear of over eating and gaining weight often leads to underfed and under fuelled triathletes, where instead, fuelling ourselves with enough of the right foods will lead to better performance in training. Ever heard of the term ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ well it’s not wrong. I would recommend that your first meal of the day should be your largest as this will energise you and help to avoid getting hungrier later on in the day when tiredness starts to kick in.
Continuing from breakfast, it is important to plan your meals according to when you need them the most, for example around your workouts. Have you ever attempted a long run after an all you can eat breakfast? Not a good idea, even when fuelled with the right foods it can do more harm than good. Therefore, it is important to understand when is the best time for you as an individual to take on nutrition, as I mentioned previously, we are all made differently and as a result some of us will cope better than others eating close to a workout. I would recommend fuelling 1-3 hours before a training session, depending on whether the session is short or long.
Eating after exercise
What you eat after a workout, when your muscles are fatigued and therefore primed to take on nutrients, is as important as what you eat before. Again it is very important that you take on high quality foods in order to make sure that you recover as fast as possible so that you are ready for the next workout. I would recommend eating something 30-60 minutes after you have finished your session. This could start with a small snack to get the recovery process started and then followed by a main meal shortly after at a more convenient time. You’ve nailed it when you feel satisfied, energetic and light in all your workouts, no matter what time of day.
Hydration is just as important as the foods we consume. Proper digestion, nutrient absorption, healthy skin, optimal brain power—you name it, they all rely on hydration. How much you need to drink varies greatly between individuals based on size, sweat rate and activity levels. But it is important to keep your body topped up with plenty of water and electrolyte drinks, especially around workouts so that salt and mineral levels are maintained and you can keep performing at your best.
A healthy relationship with food
As triathletes, we can become very obsessive. We log our workout hours and race results with a passion, and we monitor our bodies like a science experiment. However, when it comes to food, this relationship can get tricky and we can often deprive ourselves, even when our bodies are crying out for nutrients. Eating healthy should always be the main focus, but it is important that it remains pleasurable. Try to avoid skipping meals, eating behind a computer screen or reaching for the most convenient food. Instead, try to eat without distraction and if you can prepare your meals at home and take them with you so that they are readily available for when you need them most then do so. If you find that you have a long list of ‘do not eat’ restricted foods, then it is very likely that you are depriving yourself too much. At the end of the day, we are all human and we need a break every now and again. Food needs to be enjoyable in order to have a healthy relationship with food and therefore the odd reward here and there will not harm you in the slightest.
Fueling for a triathlon and all of the long training hours that come with it is tricky to get right, but ‘practice makes perfect’. The goal is to eat enough to keep your energy levels high, yet avoid over-eating and leaving your body struggling to digest foods when it’s already under stress from exercise. It’s a tough balancing act, individual to everyone. Keep in mind that what works for your friend won’t necessarily work for you, so it’s wise to rehearse your nutrition plans during training ahead of a race where you can afford for things to go slightly wrong, helping you to find the food combinations that suit you best.