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How many times have you heard someone say you can't out-exercise a bad diet? It's true. If you're pushing yourself hard towards a race goal, you should take your diet seriously. Forget about everything in moderation. As Mark Wolff says, do you train in moderation? Don't expect your body to peak through stress if you don't fuel it right. These simple tips will keep you on track, don't expect a silver bullet. It takes commitment to up your game!
1. CLEAN UP
Obvious but often ignored, cut the junk out of your life. Processed foods contain all sorts of rubbish that stop your body from recovering, cause inefficiencies and weaken your immune system. Start by reading food labels, if you don't recognise any of the ingredients, don't eat it. Even better, don't buy it in the first place and avoid temptation.
2. GET REAL
Two words: whole foods. Psychologically it's easier to add a habit than remove one, and if you're focusing on getting more fruit, veg, whole grains, lean meat and fish into your diet you'll have less room for rubbish.
3. DO CARB MATHS
Sorry, but there's no one size fits all approach to carbs. You need to vary your intake according to how many hours you're training.
Below is a great reference table from triathlete.com, outlining your daily carbohydrate needs. Bookmark this page if you need to find it quickly.
Training Volume (hours per day) = Carbohydrate Needs (grams per kg of body weight)
1 hour = 5 g/kg
2 hours = 6 g/kg
3 hours = 7 g/kg
4 hours = 8 g/kg
5 hours = 9 g/kg
>5 hours = 10 g/kg
4. PROTEIN & FAT RATIO
Look at your carb intake as half your diet, then split the other half evenly between protein and good fats. There's so much complex, conflicting advice out there about ratios, I believe you can't go far wrong with this rule and it's more important to listen to your body. If you're recovering quickly and feeling good, you're doing it right. If you're consistently low on energy or craving sugar then you need to address your balance (or you might not be eating enough).
My favourite tip is back! The best monitor of this is urine, old school but true. It should be consistently straw-coloured.
ONCE YOUR DIET IS CLEAN
1. TIMING - PRE WORKOUT
The right food at the wrong time is completely useless. According to Bob Seebohar, sports dietitian, exercise physiologist, and coach at fuel4mance.com, you should have some sort of nutrition 1-3 hours before a workout.
Here's a way to keep it simple.
Before 1-2 hour sessions: fewer carbs will teach your body to rely on fat stores for energy which can be beneficial. Sports drinks are a good plan, and the natural caffeine in your TrueStart Coffee will mobilise your fat stores to give you more fuel.
Before 3+ hour sessions: eat 200-300g of carbs 1-4 hours beforehand. Again, your TrueStart Coffee will help you train harder for longer.
2. TIMING - POST WORKOUT
Your muscles are primed to absorb carbs and protein in the 30-60 minutes following a workout. Tip: avoid really fatty food which can inhibit carb absorption, your fat intake can always wait until later on. A natural caffeine boost can increase the rate that your body absorbs glycogen which speeds up recovery, so a nice TrueStart Coffee boost is a great idea (not to mention will sort you out for the rest of the day).
3. REHEARSE RACE DAY
The sooner you get your body used to your race day nutrition, the better. Experiment early on find a routine that works for you.
Remember, on race day you should have a breakfast that you're very used to (for me, it's porridge or toast and TrueStart Coffee!) and start to replace calories on the bike. When I first started doing triathlon, Simon told me that the bike is a rolling buffet. This simple rule has worked for me, eating small amounts every 20 minutes or so. Obviously this is not so relevant in shorter races, you don't want to over-eat! I stick to real food as much as possible, and the odd gel that I've trained with (I can't stomach more than one per hour).
FINALLY - DON'T GET TOO OBSESSIVE!
This is easier said than done. By our very nature, we triathletes are obsessive types. Remember, it's more important to keep your mind healthy than constantly confuse yourself with the latest advice. Listen to your body, it'll soon let you know if you're getting it wrong. If it ain't broke...