Our diets can all be improved – for race performance and health – and now is the ideal time to begin making changes for 2018.
First, let’s address stomach distress during triathlons. We often refer to race-day nutrition as ‘the fourth event’, because getting it wrong has ruined the performances of even some of the best.
Firstly, don’t over-consume. In the vast majority of cases, I find that athletes are consuming far too many calories and fluid too early in their races. Don’t try to load-up on calories pre-swim or in T1! I advise my athletes to begin conservative refuelling only after they’ve been on the bike for 20 minutes.
Next, remember that fewer calories are better. You are NOT trying to replace calories burned with calories ingested. That’s simply too much for your stomach to handle! Instead, think about how few calories per hour you can consume (as a fat-adapted athlete, this will be easier than you think). During your triathlon, fewer calories are generally better. If you start to bonk, you can always add small amounts of food to recover. However, if you’re stomach is overloaded with an excessive bolus of food, then there’s not much that you can do to improve race performance.
Finally, most athletes don’t spend enough time fine-tuning their race nutrition while training. Specifically, you should be experimenting with fuelling tactics during workouts of similar intensities and conditions as your race.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, ‘nothing new on race day’ – that rule applies to nutrition as well as kit!
The good news is that by weaning yourself off of simple carbohydrates and introducing more healthy fats into your diet, you’ll not only begin to perform better, but you’ll also improve your overall health. Healthy fats are those found in nuts and seeds, avocados, butter, coconut oil, grass-fed beef, coldwater fish, eggs… the list is quite extensive.
When you increase the proportion of healthy fats to carbohydrates, you’ll start teaching your body how to access free fatty acids – and possibly ketone bodies – as fat-based fuel. Doing so will help you avoid the fluctuations in blood sugar and GI distress that are common with a sugar-focused diet, and you’ll find that you can get through your workouts and races on far fewer calories per hour.
If you’re interested in making the transition to a higher fat, lower carb diet, I recommend these steps:
Cut out the bad carbs first. Start with sugary drinks (they cause systemic inflammation), hidden sugars in packaged foods, sweetened yoghurts and breakfast cereals, and highly refined flour products (like white bread and pasta). All of these foods produce an excess of insulin that sparks the blood sugar rollercoaster that perpetuates our sugar addiction.
Introduce healthy carbs. I’m not saying zero carbs! Our goal is to replace the bad carbs by making better choices. For example, I’d choose green produce like asparagus, broccoli, leeks, coriander and brussel sprouts, as well as big handfuls of leafy greens such as kale. Put these on a cooking sheet with some avocado oil or coconut oil, and bake until al dente. Enjoy with fish or other healthy protein, and you have a delicious and well-balanced meal.
Focus on healthy fats. Many athletes worry that eating fat will make them fat, but that’s NOT the case if you eliminate and replace the bad carbohydrates! Healthy fats should be eaten at all three meals, and when snacking. For example, reach for an avocado or a handful of walnuts instead of a cereal bar or a bowl of ice cream, and you’ll stay on track.
Don’t graze during the day. When you’re carbohydrate-dependant the signals sent from your stomach to your brain tell you to refuel frequently. You actually don’t need a snack every two to three hours and, once you start becoming fat-adapted, you’ll discover that you get less hungry.
To get faster and stronger, and to recover more quickly, focus on a higher healthy fat, lower carb, moderate protein diet. Follow my guidelines for a few weeks and I predict you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Dave Scott is the first 6x IRONMAN World Champion and a Master Coach of IRONMAN U. As the founder of the Dave Scott Multisport Institute, he dedicates himself to making triathletes of all levels faster and more efficient. Learn more at www.davescottinc.com