Tri 101: Eating
Now we’ve come to a favorite topic and pastime for many endurance athletes. That is eating!
There are two big goals with eating. One is to replenish the stores of energy and nutrients that got used up during training. The other is to provide the raw materials to repair the parts of the body that got broken down during a workout. Remember, its the repair from breakdown that ends up making someone stronger, faster and more resistant to breakdown in the future.
The basics are pretty simple. The body uses three key types of foods to do all of that: carbs, fats and proteins.
But here’s where it gets sticky. There are countless approaches to eating and combining those basics into your meals. You’ve likely heard of a lot of the popular trends people are following at the moment. There’s Paleo. There’s Keto. Throw in plant based, raw food or gluten free and the choices get dizzying!
Here’s a few simple concepts that may help demystify eating and help you craft a diet that works for you. The goal is to eat in a way that keeps your body balanced, healthy and at a fairly steady composition that doesn’t fluctuate much.
These have taken on a bad name recently. The promise is that by starving your body of carbs it’ll force you to become a more efficient fat burner. And while there is some truth to this, as an athlete who will likely be training and racing at higher intensities from time to time, fat burning cannot provide enough fast energy to make that possible. It takes fast burning carbs to go fast on the race course.
But an even more interesting piece about carbs is that they are used to help synthesize new muscle during the repair and rebuilding process. They provide the fuel for the protein you eat to be turned into lean muscle. That process is more difficult on a very carb restricted diet.
High quality protein is super important for muscle repair. Muscle gets broken down when you train. When it gets repaired at night during the recovery process, that is when you get stronger. Incomplete protein sources or low intake of even good quality protein will limit this process.
Another piece to the protein puzzle is that as someone gets older, they need to have a higher percentage of their diet be from protein to trigger the body to repair muscle. So eating protein sparingly especially for athletes who are getting on in years can potentially result in muscle loss rather than muscle building.
These buggers have taken on a golden glow in recent years. In the early days of triathlons everyone was afraid of fats. But now people seem to gobble them down in pursuit of getting their bodies to become more efficient fat burning machines. And indeed, if you are more effective at breaking down fat for fuel during endurance events, you will likely outlast your competition and race faster longer.
But fats do so much more than provide energy for exercise. If we look inside the body we can see how essential good fats are for overall health. Every cell membrane has fat in it. Every hormone in the body is made from fats. It is the most abundant source of energy inside the body. There is enough fat inside a human being to run about 500-miles if you could utilize it all. There are only enough carbs stored in the body to run about 20-miles.
Translating all that info into real world meals is the magic that happens from eating well.
Here are a few keys to doing that. When you look at your meal in front of you there should be a few things you see:
- A good source of high quality unrefined carbs. This can come from foods like sweet potatoes, beans and whole grains. The volume should not overwhelm your plate though!
- A good source of complete protein. This can be from animal sources, from dairy or from combining a grain with a legume (rice and beans, beans and tortillas, bread and peanut butter).
- A good source of fats and oils. Olive oil sprinkled over a meal once it is cooked is a great way to ensure you are eating good oils. Other sources are almonds, walnuts and the super food of oils which is avocado. And great combo foods include salmon and other cold water fish that are high protein and packed with good omega-3 oils.
These are the small things in certain foods that provide a lot of the enzymes needed to utilize the three big categories of food in your diet. Think greens and all things fresh that are rich in color. These include kale, spinach, collard greens and chard. Then there’s peppers, tomatoes and berries of all kinds. Including some of these in each meal really brings the nutrient value of what you are eating way up and adds life to everything.
Here is a video with some additional tips on eating!
Here is one of Tommy Buzzcut’s favorite recipes. Hope you like it!
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(This is the fourth in a 9-part series of blogs on tips to help you train and race at your best!)