“I just wasn’t eating enough for the amount of exercise I was doing.” That is Lucy Charles-Barclay’s honest assessment of her formative months in triathlon following a switch from an Olympic-contending open water swimmer.
“Now I have a healthy, balanced diet and top up on what I want,” she explains. “I’m burning so many calories, when I’ve had all the good stuff, I’ve probably still not eaten enough, so I rarely say no to a cake stop – and I’ve seen a positive difference in my rate of improvement.”
Lucy is sat with 220 and a posse of social media fitness influencers after a Red Bull-facilitated lunch in the triathletes’ training mecca of the Club La Santa resort in Lanzarote. The 25-year-old explains how, with an extreme exercise regimen by any standards, she has learnt to eat sufficiently without becoming hung up on nutritional choices. It sounds straightforward, yet dietary issues in everyday life as well as during races remain the bane of endurance athletes, indiscriminate of gender and muddled by complex human psychology and the strive for perfection. But while the “need to be professional in every aspect of life” could lead to an obsession with ‘healthy eating’ – or orthorexia to give it its medical term – Lucy understands that restriction of food types or quantities is not going to support her long-term ambition of being the best Ironman triathlete in the world.
Processed food is neither outlawed nor prioritised, and part of that is down to astute planning. “Previously, I might fill up on crap after a session, before then trying to eat well,” she admits, but now Lucy, and coach, husband and fellow pro triathlete Reece, will batch cook and slow cook meals at their Essex home ready to be served up with minimal fuss when they return from a hard day’s training.
In hotter climates, she’s also aware that her appetite drops and while she might crave salads, she’ll be conscious to snack and graze far more to stay replenished. Then, when it comes to race nutrition, she’ll practice during training, and that includes caffeine. “It’s something I’ve always used,” she says. “Particularly before a high intensity track session or strength training in the gym. If I’m on a long ride, I’ll have a Red Bull to stay alert and concentrated on my effort in the latter stages.”
Race-week itself will be a beige affair as far as food is concerned. She cuts out fruit and veg a couple of days before the race to limit fibre because it is sensitive on the gut, but will have porridge on race morning. But not tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning is a different matter, starting with a key track session of 8 x 1km efforts, and, as it’s also a Friday, it means pancake day at Club La Santa. Some things are just too sweet to miss.
Read Tim’s full interview with Lucy in issue 362, out 21st February. Subscribe to the magazine here