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3 Simple Sports Nutrition tips

Posted Jun 24 2010 8:10am
Tomorrow Laura and I will be on the road for a 7 hour drive to Lake Lanier, GA. This will be Laura's first Iron Girl triathlon and I am so excited to share this experience with her and all of the other future Iron Girl newbies.
Although this is a sprint triathlon and may be "short" in distance, there is nothing easy about this course. I have done this race for the last 2 years and both times I finished the race I was wondering if I really did a sprint triathlon?
The 1/3 mile swim + 18 mile bike + 3 mile run is not easy and you need to have your climbing legs ready for this event. Sure, there are lots of climbs on the bike and the out and back run seems like it just goes up and never goes down but let me tell you about the swim. No, no hills during the swim but to get from the swim exit to transition you run up the most steep hill I have ever seen in my life!

I will be speaking at the pre-race expo at 1pm. Please come if you are doing the race or live nearby. Rather than telling everyone how to fuel for the race on Sun, I decided to discuss my favorite 5 Simple Sports Nutrition tips help athletes learn how to live an active and healthy lifestyle as a triathlete as well as learning how develop an individualized race day nutrition plan.

Here's a sneak peak to 3 of my 5 tips (simplified) that I will be discussing in my talk
Tip #1: Sports nutrition is the 1st principle

In my opinion, nutrition is the 1st principle of triathlon training, not the 4th principle. Daily nutrition first, then swim, bike run. You can have the best coach, the best designed training plan, lots of discipline and motivation and the best nutrition fueling strategy but if you aren’t as disciplined with your daily diet as you are with your training routine, you will constantly find yourself struggling to improve with your workouts as well as being consistent with your training.
If your diet is filled with foods that limit performance, such as simple sugars and salty or fatty foods, or have habits such as not eating breakfast, overeating, not fueling properly after training or going long hours without eating, there is no perfect training and racing nutrition plan (or product) to help you have a great race day experience. Triathlon training starts with your daily diet and making your health your first priority. Ultimately, if your daily diet is under control and balanced with healthy foods, you will find it much easier to know what your body actually needs or doesn’t need during training.

Tip #2: Carb-emphasize
You don't need to be a veteran athlete to know about carbo-loading? The name kinda says it all. You load your body with carbs. The understanding is that if you decrease your training volume, and expend less calories than normal, your body will break down the sugars from "extra" carbohydrates and you will encourage your body to store extra carbs as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Essentially, filling your fuel tank for race day Well, the idea of carbo loading is a great idea but over the years I think athletes have taken the concept to the extreme.
Carbo loading does not mean eating pasta until you physically can’t eat any more or eating every carb (specifically the processed ones) in sight on the days leading up to your race. Although I don't want people to calorie-restrict on the days leading up to a race, I encourage everyone to forget about “carbo-loading” and to focus on a balanced meal, rich in slow digesting carbohydrates.
Rather than eating a heavy, calorie-filled meal on the night before a race, plan to have a portioned-controlled meal, rich in complex carbs on the two nights before the race. Aim for around 450-550 calories (+/- 50 calories depending on your body size) of a mix of slow digesting carbs (making up around 65-70% of your meal), such as pasta, pizza, any kind of whole grains, sweet potatoes, non-gassy veggies, fruit, rice or bread and add in lean or low fat protein, such as fish, turkey, chicken, eggs or egg whites, veggie burger, tofu, part-skim cheese, milk, beans, cottage cheese and a little health fat such as olive oil, fish or nuts.

Tip #3: Topping off your fuel tank
You can thank me later for telling you to not overeat the night before race day because there is nothing worse than waking up with a full stomach and knowing that you need to put some food in your body at least 2 -3 hrs before the race start.
No matter the racing distance, it is important to put something in your body on race day morning so that you are not hungry before the race start and you have enough back-up fuel in your system to get you through the race. The key here, just like your "carb-emphasized dinner", is that you don’t want to overeat. Your just topping off your fuel tank.
From a physiological standpoint, what you eat on race day morning isn’t going to ensure you that you are going to have a personal best time on race day. Training, pre race nutrition and race day nutrition are all factors in your performance on race day. However, I can assure you if you are feeling bloated, starving, ligtheaded or fatigued before or during the race, you are not going to have a great racing experience.

My advice to you, rather than skipping breakfast or drinking a Red Bull on the road, I want you to focus on a healthy, and hopefully well-practiced, slow digesting carbohydrate snack with a little fat or protein to keep you satisfied in the hours leading up to the race.
Pre race nutrition is going to differ for everyone depending on food preferences, terrain, weather, racing volume and racing intensity. Keep things simple and be sure to consider your hotel/room arrangements on race day morning (ex. no microwave for your normal pre-race oatmeal or no fridge for your normal hard-boiled egg or milk)
It’s very important that this pre-race meal is balanced and that you don’t just consume a 300 calorie bagel, a bowl of sugary cereal, a power bar or 2 banana’s and an energy gel. I believe that adding a little protein and/or healthy fat to the meal will help keep your blood sugar stable before the race start as well as slowing down digesting to keep you feeling satisfied during the race. It’s also very important that you have a big glass of water with your meal and if you want coffee, that is perfectly fine with your breakfast.
I find that many people eat way to close to the race start because they worry about not having enough fuel during the race but believe me, your pre-race meal is not going to be the defining factor of whether or not you finish the race. On top of your taper, your carb-rich meal last night and your pre-race snack, you are going to have plenty of fuel for the race.
Remember, the later you wait to eat solid food, the more likely your stomach will not agree with what you are putting in your body.
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