Nutrition is certainly one of the most overlooked aspects of any triathlon training program. We tend to focus so much on conditioning and not on fully optimizing our training. We have all heard the saying “work smarter not harder”. Well, to a certain extent, that saying can be applied to your training program. We may either say to ourselves “I burn X number of calories a day, I can eat what I want when I want” or “I need to eat less to lose weight for my event”. Both of which may be true in some regards, but without proper structure these thoughts can keep you from getting maximum benefit from your training.
As a result of your training, you may in fact be able to load your body with a lot of calories during the day. If you are preparing for an Ironman Triathlon, then chances are you are burning 2 to 5 thousand calories a day or more during training. And, yes you have room for a lot of intake. However, how and when and what you intake can make a difference in training results.
If you are going to load empty calories, meaning junk food and the like, then do it earlier in the day. Training has a snowball effect, the more you train your body the more calories you burn in a sedimentary state. This means the further you go in training the more calories your body is able to burn just doing day to day activities. However, as your day slows down and your body prepares for rest, the calorie burn will also slow. So load, or eat heavier during the earlier part of the day and taper off as the day goes by and try avoiding single large meals, especially at night. Little Debbies in the morning can be burned off; little Debbies at 10 pm will probably lay with you all night and still be there in the morning.
Note here, I won’t go into detail about the idea of 5 to 6 smaller meals during the day as opposed to 2 to 3 large meals because full books are written on just this subject. However, it is a great concept if it can be incorporated into your lifestyle and has tremendous benefits. If nothing else try to incorporate healthy snacks between meals to keep metabolism up and proper fuel throughout the day.
Study after study has shown that for maximum weight loss it is best to exercise on an empty stomach. Simply put, your body will search for needed fuel and with nothing immediately available it will turn to stored fat for fuel. This is OK, we are all looking for less fat and more lean muscle mass, however, with just a little proper nutrition in the stomach for immediate availability, you are actually going to be able to perform better during your training. Maybe try a small, healthy 100 to 200 calorie snack before your workout and then a sensible snack or meal afterwards for recovery. The result is better performance and a better gain from the training session.
Along that same line, it is very important for endurance athletes to understand good fat vs. bad fat. As mentioned, our bodies will search out stored fat to use for fuel during training. We are asking a lot of our bodies and it is important to keep this supply stored up for our bodies as we push through these rigorous activities. Learn to understand good fuel – more nuts, olive oil, salmon, peanut butter on the bagel, fatty fish and less fried foods, saturated fat, bacon, butter etc, etc…
Learn to monitor how and when calories are taken in. A long day of work and/or tri training can result in major hunger at the end of the day. Try to load earlier in the day to avoid the desire to hit the pantry late at night. Chances are you won’t be reaching for that healthy snack you convinced yourself you would eat at night. If you do, great, but that willpower has to stay strong. Heavier during the earlier part of the day and taper off as the day goes by keeping a constant flow of fuel for your calorie burning machine. Keep fuel available for your workouts so you get maximum benefit. Working out on an empty stomach can lead to early exhaustion and poor performance. Right now you need the most bang for your buck during training.
For weight loss, concentrate on a 1 to 3 hundred calorie deficit during the day. No crash diets, just sensible weight loss resulting from burning just a few more calories than you take in. It is pretty simple math. And the earlier in the day you put those calories in the better.
You made a commitment when it comes to completing a triathlon, give your body the best opportunity available to live up to that commitment. It is not all about physical conditioning when it comes to training. Providing proper nutrition will provide better efficiency and let you fully optimize your training sessions. Give your body what it needs and it will be there for you when you need it the most. Stay focused, train hard and train smart.
Triathlon Training Nutrition and Proper Fueling For Beginners