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Fuel yourself to triathlon success

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

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If you’re an endurance athlete reading this, the chances are that right now, you’re used to fuelling your body to meet your increase caloric expenditure with foods such as pasta, bagels, bread, milk, cheese, and pretty much anything that’s calorie dense, and that will help you to maintain a reasonable balance between calories in vs calories out.

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But, the chances are also that you’re recovery time between workouts is slow, you suffer from a  lack of energy, frequently feel bloated, your guts may feel messy during training, and you frequently seem to hit ‘the wall’ during training and racing. It shouldn’t be like that!

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As an endurance athlete, whether recreational, age grouper or pro, you will be burning around 1000-3000 calories per day more than mere mortals. But most endurance athletes seem to think that because of this higher demand, that they can eat pretty much what they want in order to satisfy the energy requirements of the body. Too many people end up using their training volume as an excuse to eat a diet high in refined foods when really, training and competing should be a reason for them eating a healthy, well balanced diet.

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Consuming a diet high in foods such as the aforementioned, as well as things like sweets, biscuits, pastries, cakes, muffins and all those other tasty treats, leads to heightened blood sugar levels. During exercise, the excess glucose can be used as an energy source, but where most endurance athletes continue to consume these foods during their ‘normal’ daily life, it leads to increased free radical damage within the body, inflammation, poor recovery time in between workouts, and an increased potential for insulin resistance.

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When you add the above to the high training volume, which itself causes inflammation within the soft tissues of the body, this further negatively affects the bodies internal function, and subsequent performance. If the inflammation is chronic, then the athlete will end up with sore joints, fatigue, poor and incomplete recovery, increased incidence of sickness and poor sleep patterns. Studies are also showing that a diet that is high in refined carbs, is strongly linked to an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol production, which opens you up to a whole new world of problems, such as coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis and strokes.

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In addition tot he above, many people have food intolerances, most of which are completely un noticed, or ignored. The diet that’s high in calorie dense, nutrient scare foods is one which increased the consumption of common intolerants such as dairy, wheat and gluten. These intolerances often manifest themselves as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gas, weakened immune function, and generally feeling like crap. Most people will put these symptoms down to their training volume, when really it’s usually predominantly down to having a less than satisfactory diet.

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With an exercise regime such as that of a triathlete and endurance athlete, your body is already under a pretty big level of stress, so your diet should be one which support your health, as opposed to one which ends up adding to the internal stresses of training. In a nutshell, nutrition should support your training, rather than simply being a case of ‘calories in vs calories out’.

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When working on the nutritional program of an endurance athlete, the very first thing that we will do is to find out which foods are causing, or could cause, problems. To do this we will eliminate the common intolerants such as wheat, gluten, dairy, grains, caffeine and alcohol for one month. This means that the athlete will eat a diet that composes of entirely fresh, wholesome foods. Wheat and cereal based carbohydrates will therefore be replaced with foods such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, lentils, chickpeas, sweet potatoes and yams. Healthy fats are consumed through foods such as seeds, nuts, fresh fish, coconut oils and avocado. Lean protein needs are met by many of the above foods, as well as lean meat such as organic beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pheasant and eggs. Eggs will occasionally however be taken out of the diet also, as it is possible, and common, for people to be intolerant to these. The athlete will consume plenty of fresh fruit, and loads of vegetables also, to ensure the body is receiving a high level of good quality vitamins and minerals.

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After this initial month, we will gradually and systematically re-introduce certain foods to see whether they have a negative effect on the athletes feeling of wellbeing. If any ill-effects are felt, such as bloating, cramps, fatigue, or digestive problems, we can be pretty safe to say that their body doesn’t want to be eating that food, so we get rid of it for good. If however the body has no negative reaction, we can determine that the body is able to handle that food well, and so can be reintroduced in moderation.

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The end result is that the athlete will end up at the end of the process knowing what foods are going to be of actual benefit to his/her health and physical and mental performance, and the foods that it is necessary to avoid. This then allows the athlete to complete their training regime in the knowledge that the nutritional strategy is supporting rather than inhibiting their performance. Improved diet leads to improved performance. Many people will often say that sports performance is 50% training and 50% nutrition, but I would totally disagree. It’s 100% nutrition, and 100% training, so train well, cut out the crap, eat fresh, and gain the competitive edge.

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To your success

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Andy ;-)

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