Nutrition information is one of the most asked topics by triathletes. Although many people take nutrition to extremes such as counting every calorie, I try to simplify the consumption of what you eat and how much. My philosophy is that once you break the habit of eating junk food, excess carbs, even excess butter on foods and in cooking (habit breaking takes about two months), then you can really understand what to eat by what the body is telling you to eat. This “listening” is very important as your “engine” is telling you what it needs.
The other point I stress is not to worry so much the amount of calories an athlete eats, but rather the type of foods being eaten. If a person regularly consumes fruits (for your sweet tooth), vegetables, some starches and meats, your body will regulate itself with the proper amount of calories you need and you will not overeat and thus gain inefficient weight (fat).
I encourage people to change the flavor of their eating with various ways of preparing foods such as:
- Vegetables: raw or steamed, when steamed you change the flavor via spices. This gives the taste buds a whole different sensation.
- Meats: grill, broil, bake, and marinate all types of meats.
- Fruits: fresh, dried and occasionally jelly (as long as fresh with no preservatives or additives).
A great mantra is to “treat your body like a temple.” I can’t say I have always treated it this way, but this is a good suggestion. Yes, it might cost more to buy natural foods, etc., but if it makes the body hum better, then it is worth it. However, I don’t want athletes to stress that if they don’t have a budget to buy the higher priced organic, free range foods or if there isn’t a type of store like this in their area, then they should still make sure they eat the key staples such as fruits, veggies and meats.
I personally never followed a calorie counting method, unless at races. I tried once for two months, but this was too time consuming for me and I wanted to do other things with my time. I think eating what your body tells you to eat, which means you have to “listen”, is a simplistic way of controlling what you eat. Since retiring from triathlons, I have only been able to train about six hours a week on average (how many calories an hour does one burn typing ten hours a day?), yet I haven’t gained a pound from my race weight. Editor’s note: fat weighs less than muscle. I eat pretty well and I listen to what my body craves.
Now, we do have breakdowns and that is fine (my wife just made a homemade blueberry pie, crust and all). If you have a sweet tooth such as cookies, candy bar, etc., I encourage you to either:
- Take the candy bar and cut it into small pieces, eating the candy bar over a more extended time period.
- Grab only one cookie and walk out of the room from where the cookie originated. You may be too tired or lazy to have to get out of your chair and simply walk back to the d@#m cookie bag. In the meantime, your appetite may be satisfied with that one cookie.
- Also, don’t buy the junk food in the first place and if your significant other does, have that person hide the junk food OR have a special locker where only that person knows the code. (Aside: I have a friend who for the last eleven years has his wife lock him in their bedroom at night. Only she knows the code so he never gets up in the middle of the night to eat. This is one way he keeps his weight down.) If you know you can’t get to the sweets, you are less likely to crave it. A great way to shop at a grocery store is to shop around the edges of the store, not the aisles, where more of the food is processed.
- If you are craving a nonessential food product, but you are not necessarily hungry, quickly occupy yourself with a hobby such as reading which takes your find off of this craving. Also, a piece of fruit while doing a hobby should do the trick.
Again, if you can change your habits for two months, the cravings will come less often and not as intense. You also mentally will have broken these menacing desires. Have I demonstrated any pure science here, no, just common sense for an athlete wanting to improve. Next issue I will talk about specific nutritional needs pre and post training and racing.