Monday, February 1, 2016

Planning Your Nutrition Focus

by Sue Aquila

After smashing my ribs and clavicle this season, I decided to use my down time to work on learning more about nutrition. Once cleared to restart my Kona prep, I focused on chasing elite level body composition (women less than 18% body fat).

I knew to reach my goal I would need professional help. I contacted Brittney Bearden, Registered Dietician (RD). Brittney is a sports nutritionist for Division I athletes at Indiana University.

The first thing Brittney asked me to do was keep a food log. She suggested using the app MyFitnessPal. I found it super easy to use and started logging my food intake immediately. Yes, I even purchased a food scale for travel.

In our first meeting she did a bod pod to compare with a previous bod pod I received as part of a study at IU. After the bod pod we discussed my goals. My first was to train hard and have a great race at Kona. My second was to to be as lean as possible while retaining as much muscle mass as I could.

The last part of the meeting involved reviewing my food log. Here is what I learned:

  1. I eat healthy.
  2. I often ate too much protein.
  3. I usually ate too few carbs.
  4. I did not eat enough fats. Lower than low fat.
  5. My calorie consumption was low for my level of training.

How did this happen? As my training evolved in quality/quantity, I failed to change my nutrition. I learned I can’t fuel an elite performance with a middle of the pack diet.

Brittney created a chart for me that detailed my targeted fats, protein and carbohydrates. These numbers changed relative to the number of hours I was training each day. At first, meeting those goals were difficult… and frustrating.

I found that I tended to save a lot of calorie consumption until dinner time. Having to eat 1500 calories at dinner to catch up was ridiculous. I learned the nightly large salad that I loved was the nutritional equal of eating air: no calories, no carbs and no energy.

Over the first week, I learned to increase the size of my breakfast and lunch to spread out my calorie goals. I ate brown rice at almost every meal. I added a tablespoon of olive oil to my lunch and my dinner. Butter found it’s way back into my diet. And I embraced honey on almost everything.

On big training days, I found I was looking for carbs in all the right places! Despite fueling to 80g of carbohydrates per hour on bike. I remember going through my pantry in a hunt for foods with lots of grams of carbohydrates. Size and density mattered. I found dried mango was a great boost!

The amazing part of the journey is that I ended up reaching lifetime best performances in training. I was able to back up the biggest volume block of my life with the most intensity. I was never sick or injured. And I reached my goal:

My experiment and Kona is over. My offseason focus is on increasing muscle mass. Brittney gave me new goals and a new focus.

Now I am looking for protein in all the right places...

Sue started her triathlon journey with a 50 pound weight loss and continues as a multiple Kona qualifier. In 2013, she was named the Overall Ironman All World Athlete Champion in her age group and in 2014 won her age group at Ironman Texas. As a successful entrepreneur, she believes that, “You can run your business like your training and your training like your business!” As a coach (USAT Certified), she helps athletes to develop success in all areas of their lives: family, health and work. She blogs regularly at You can find her on Twitter @fewoman.
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