Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Some folks say that there are 4 disciplines of triathlon. I believe there are 5. Swim, bike, run, transitions, and nutrition/hydration. There is a great deal of information to glean on nutrition and hydration. I read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos and am still learning and understanding more about what our bodies need for optimal performance and daily life. Below are my takeaways from a podcast dedicated to the topic of nutrition and performance by Purple Patch Fitness (PPF), a coaching team lead by Matt Dixon, a former professional triathlete and elite swimmer. *This post represents one philosophy on nutrition and fueling that can be used as a foundation for building a nutrition plan.
Matt Dixon interviewed PPF resident nutritionist, Kyla Channell, owner and
founder of Nutritional Revolution. I was excited to learn that Kyla interned with ROAR author, Stacy Sims, who focuses on women's physiology and their needs as athletes. If you haven't had an opportunity to read and explore Sims' wisdom, I encourage you to do so. Check out the blog review I wrote on her book, ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life.
Eat all three macronutrients. These are carbohydrates, protein, and fats. It's recommended that your daily caloric intake include a balanced amount of each, which is broken down as follows: carbohydrates 40%, fats 30%, and proteins 30%. It's not expected that every single meal will consist of that perfect ratio, but the 40-30-30 recommendation can be a guiding tool. In terms of portions, Kyla offers a range, as training varies day-to-day and so portion sizes will also vary. The rough guideline is: protein: .8-1.2 grams/pound of body weight carbs: 1-3 grams/pound of body weight
fats: 1/2 a gram/pound of body weight
Food for recovery. I once thought that recovery simply meant taking a rest day or getting a massage or doing some restorative yoga. Guess what? Food is critical to our recovery. Post-training, make sure to replace and replenish with protein and carbs to minimize muscular breakdown. These macronutrients will pull in the amino acids and muscle glycogen that we burn through while training and competing. Timing here is critical — if possible, consume protein and carbs within 30 minutes of completing your training. Note: As we age, our bodies become more sensitive to carbs, especially for women. Kyla suggests tapering carbs (and calories) throughout the course of the day, especially if the the bulk of your training is done earlier in the day. Don't be afraid of carbs, as they are a critical part of recovery — just use them effectively.
Fueling for training. Kyla used a case study of a 90-minute trainer ride at a high intensity, first thing in the morning. Before the 90 minute trainer ride. Her philosophy is to front load nutrition prior to training. She suggests that consuming carbs before hopping on the bike is ideal, as you have just fasted all night. Carbs are the most digestible and will quickly leave the stomach so muscles can utilize the energy faster. What might those carbs look like? That will be approximately 20-30 grams of carbs, and could be a banana or a few slices of toast or a couple of rice cakes or a few scoops of apple sauce, or oatmeal with maple syrup. This is not breakfast and is a moderate amount of food — something small, as you want to get the carbs in and have nothing left tin your stomach.
During the 90 minute trainer ride. Continue to hydrate. When we sleep, our bodies are losing fluids through breathing, through the skin, etc. In addition to hydrating, fuel at the 30-45 minute mark with carbs like blocks or chews, a banana, home made energy bites, etc.
After the 90 minute trainer ride. Recovery, which includes lean protein and carbs, eating whole foods if possible. Kyla noted that we should minimize fat intake as fats are the slowest to digest in the stomach and this can impair the digestion of the carbs and proteins you're trying to get to your muscles. She also suggests minimizing the consumption of antioxidants post-training, as it can limit your ability to adapt to your training session. So, eat those berries and drink those berry/spinach smoothies a few hours post-training. Protein shakes can also contain antioxidants, so again wait a few hours before having that protein shake.
Fueling for Racing: For the bike leg of a triathlon, Kyla recommends 3-3.5 calories/kg body weight/hour and for the run, 2-2.5 calories/kg body weight/hour. You'll notice that she suggests consuming less calories on the run portion for practicality reasons and because of the way nutrients are absorbed while running. One reason she sites is that less calories cause less GI stress. Depending on the length of a race and the speed of an athlete, the source of calories generally comes from mixed macronutrients. However, throughout the course of the race, the athlete should transition to less fats — to less proteins — to more carb-dominant nutrition in order to ease stress on the stomach. Kyla mentioned that could be a bar, but be aware that often times bars can be higher in fat and for racing that isn't ideal as fats take longer to digest.
Practice with your fueling before race day. On race day, it's important to not vary from what your body is accustomed to consuming while training. Unfamiliar nutrition or hydration can cause GI stress to your body. On race day, our bodies are already in a state of stress from race day nerves, and our ability to absorb nutrients can be limited due to the stress from racing, the environment, race conditions, etc. Kyla recommends that we hit our caloric intake during training so our brain and body are prepared to consume the same amount of calories, if not more calories on race day. The caloric goal while training will vary based on the intensity of the training session, and so not all training requires the same caloric intake and should be adjusted as needed.
Nutrition and women. For women in particular, nutrition is undeniably tied into our cycle. About 5-14 days prior to a menstrual cycle beginning, progesterone and estrogen increase. This means that we can expect to have a higher core temperature, less sodium in our body to lose (we start sweating later while working out), and less accessibility to glycogen in our bodies when performing higher intensity activities — and so our bodies will want turn to more free fatty acids. In addition, our bodies have a lower plasma volume, which makes carb delivery a little more complex. One solution is to ingest additional carbs. Muscle recovery can also be a bit slower at this time.
Find what nutrition works best for your best performance and — Eat. Train. Recover. Repeat. Enjoy.
Check out the new move video of the week: Partner Glute Bridge Bicycle