Food, Food, Glorious Food! – Nutrition for Triathlon
As triathletes (whether you’re going for your first or fiftieth race) you will already be aware just how important nutrition is. Get it right and it can help you power to a PB. Get it wrong however, and you will probably hit the dreaded wall halfway through your training session.
I am a firm believer in real food for real people (though supplements do have their place). And one of the best things about training hard is that it can help move you towards a healthy, sustainable relationship with natural ingredients.
I wanted to share my top ten thoughts on nutrition for triathlon (and for life):
1. Fuel your body
The classic analogy is to compare your body to a car. Put in quality fuel and you will get a good performance over a long distance. Scrimping on fuel in terms of quality and quantity is a false economy – you will hit the wall and soon be running on empty.
2. An extra bit of help
We all need a bit of extra help sometimes. Sports nutrition products come in all shapes and sizes – energy gels, bars, drinks, powders. Experiment with different brands and types of supplement to give you an extra boost to finish your bike/run strongly.
What you eat immediately after training and in the following few hours is crucial to your recovery, ability to adapt to your training, and readiness to train hard again next time. Protein shakes or a recovery drink (carbs/protein mix) are convenient and easy to digest immediately post-training. Follow with a well-balanced snack or meal within a few hours.
4. Invest in your health
Triathletes are renowned for buying new kit – for some that’s the biggest attraction of doing three different sports! The clothes, gadgets, kit, upgrades – it’s easy to blow some serious cash. But don’t forget that investing in your own health (via the food you eat) could be the best investment of all.
5. Carbs are not the enemy!
Over the years so many ‘diets’ have emerged which seem to cast carbohydrate as the ‘bad guy’ – Atkins and Paleo are two examples. But for endurance athletes, quality carbs can (and in my opinion, should) still form an important part of a healthy diet. As with anything in life, moderation and quality is key.
6. Love your body
Your body is an amazing machine capable of incredible feats. Try not to focus on your weight or what you see in the mirror. Instead concentrate on what your body can achieve and celebrate your achievements. Love your body because it allows you to power through the water, it sustains you on amazing climbs on your bike, it takes you on runs that make your spirits soar…
7. All shapes and sizes
One of my favourite things about triathlon is its inclusiveness. At any local race you will see people of all ages and every shape and size taking part. What a fabulous example for young children to see – people swimming, cycling and running for the love of the sport, not slogging away in a sweaty gym to conform to an unrealistic image in a magazine.
8. Reward your body
We often associate ‘treats’ with sugary snacks. For long-term health, try to see every meal as an opportunity to reward your body with the quality fuel it needs in order to perform at the highest level.
9. No shortcuts
Just as there are no shortcuts in training – we can’t become Ironmen overnight – there are no shortcuts to a healthy body. Quick-fix diets might seem tempting but they are not sustainable solutions. It might not be catchy and headline-grabbing but nothing beats good old-fashioned healthy eating – quality natural foods enjoyed in moderation with plenty of variety.
10. Enjoy it!
Eating the right foods at the right time is important but there will always be times when we don’t get it completely right. Enjoy your food, make it fun and interesting, share it with friends and family. And if you fall off the healthy-eating wagon (and land on the dessert trolley by mistake), don’t beat yourself up too hard!
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