Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Nutrition: Eating for the Right Tool

by Sue Aquila

When I show up to race long, my team prepares a top 10 list of my competition and they expect me to memorize their numbers. Yes, the sherpa team is available for rent, just not when I am racing. Don't even think about it!

I smile every time someone on my top 10 list shows up too buff… like bodybuilding competition buff. The are lean and stripped. Usually these incredible bodies lack the ability to finish strong. My smile widens if they advocate their paleo lifestyle.

Yes, I am a tool. Or I should say that my body is my tool. Last fall, I focused on developing a body with elite level body fat for my race in Kona. The effort was a success as I continued to improve in my race performance on the Big Island.

This winter, my goal was to increase my lean body mass. This is the hardest goal for me because it requires me to focus on eating, not on the ever climbing numbers on the scale. And they did climb.

During this period I ate more... lots more. I ate more of everything: protein, fat and carbs. Each day my goals adjusted based on the time spent training, including lifting. Some days I was consuming 4000 calories. Note that this was in the winter, in the “off” season.

The results? I added almost 4 pounds of lean body mass. The best part? My body fat percentage stayed elite at 18%. I expected a huge increase in body fat. This shows yet again how my perceptions of my body are often wrong.

Some tips:

  • Work with a sports performance dietician. The RD can give you a spreadsheet with goals based on training hours.

  • Eat big early. Start with breakfast (usually 700-800 calories). If you leave too many calories late in the day playing catch up can be overwhelming.

  • On strength days, I consumed tart cherry juice mixed with whey protein immediately after lifting. The reduction in DOMS was unbelievable this season.

  • Before bed on strength days, I consumed a casein shake with a banana. I found that this actually helps me sleep.

  • Fat grams consumption was a huge increase. I added avocado, butter, nut butters and olive oil.

Getting back to being a tool: The body I am building is not the body I would choose. I loved my lean runners body. The body I am building is almost unrecognizable to me. My shoulders are getting big. My chest has widened. Shirts have stopped fitting. My pants are getting tight in my quads. This is not the body I want but it is the body of a successful long course triathlete. It is up to me to apply the tool for the correct use.

Where am I going from here? The goal is to get a few pounds lighter while maintaining my lean body mass. We will see what a reduction in body fat (16%) will do for my performance. If performance declines, the experiment ends.

Looking for millimeters…


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 fewoman.com. You can find her on Twitter @fewoman.
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