Two triathletes recently contacted me to set up nutrition consultations. Both are staring down at upcoming Ironman distance races and neither is satisfied with their training progress to this point. Feeling frustrated and panicking a little, they reached out and asked for help. I’ll refer to them as Tom and Sally. (It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I LOVE helping athletes like Tom and Sally who reach out for help – it is my passion!)
In instances like this, the first thing I ask for is a detailed diet log, to better see how an athlete is eating on a daily basis. (Do you ever wonder whether you could adjust or tweak your eating habits to better support your training?)
As it turned out, I quickly learned they are like you, very serious about their training and their goals.
I also learned that despite them training for what was essentially the same race, they were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to how they ate.
Sally’s daily total caloric intake, despite training 12 or more hours per week (or trying to), was far below what her activity level and training volume demanded, by a wide margin.
What she proudly believed was a “disciplined” approach to eating in order to “get leaner,” was actually excessive calorie restriction. The end result was chronic exhaustion, constant hunger, and uninspired training. Unfortunately, as is all too common for many athletes like Sally, what she most accomplished was to feel very frustrated!
(I’ll admit, I did whisper in her ear that in all likelihood, her body was reacting and performing as though it was being starved. Yep, she sure was shocked and dismayed to hear that!).
On the other hand, Tom was getting enough calories, BUT on an almost daily basis, his diet was littered with simple sugars and junk food. He mistakenly convinced himself that because he was training “like an animal,” (his words) he could treat himself a little bit each day.
Tom learned the hard way that his frequent, less than optimal daily choices delivered chronically high insulin levels that led to cravings, energy and mood swings, and more body-fat than he desired. (The key take-away words here are frequent and daily. I don’t believe there are any “bad” foods, only bad habits!)
Listen, in the 35 years I’ve been training, competing, and coaching, I’ve seen and heard it all, especially as it relates to nutrition.
I always chuckle, shaking my head in amazement (and at times, disgust) as those emails pour into my inbox, boasting of the latest “cutting edge” info on a new nutrition “breakthrough,” or a “recently discovered” biohack to a leaner better body, all delivered courtesy of any one of a plethora of internet marketeers (masked as “coaches” and self-proclaimed “experts”). Do you get those kinds of emails, too? You might be smart to delete most of them, I think.
So back to Tom and Sally – with their well intentioned but somewhat “flawed” efforts to improve, what did they learn?
The answer to that question is rooted in a philosophy that can be summarized with these words: BALANCE and MODERATION.
I also told them the same thing I’ll say to you now: commit to eating in a way that is in harmony with your goals.
If you’re wondering where to start, begin today with the guidelines below. Remember balance and moderation.
For optimal results and enjoyment, apply them most of the time and especially around key training periods.
- Eat a varied and well-balanced diet, containing copius amounts of fruit, veggies, fat (especially those known as “good” fats), and quality protein.
- Eliminate or minimize processed foods, especially those containing simple junk sugars.
- Eat an amount that reflects your activity level and training volume (e.g. more calories in the days leading up to big training days, and less on other days).
This simple philosophy will then “set the table” for you to refine and personalize your approach, learning through experimentation and small tweaks.
It isn’t about extremes, “biohacking,”or strict adherance to any one particular approach. It also isn’t about a “secret,” marketed in a way that hooks you into believing there’s an easier way – a magic bullet. There isn’t.
It’s about sound principles applied daily, combined with smart experimentation and continually dialing it in.
Ok, one more thing, some “food for thought” before I sign off: there is this certain 4-time IRONMAN Age-Group World Champion who is as tough, competitive, and committed as they come, who also happens to love chocolate and red wine!
Reflecting today’s message of balance and moderation, I know she would never give up those awesome foods entirely; for her, they add richness and enjoyment to her life and they taste good! However, to her credit she also carefully picks her days to indulge, especially during key training periods, choosing to eat in complete harmony with her goals as an athlete.
ps: Because so many of you have asked, yes…..I’ll have more posts in the future on a ton of other nutrition topics, so stay tuned and don’t forget to get in touch if I can help.