Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Eat Like A Hobbit

One of the most popular topics on any discussion board is anything linked to nutrition. These discussions are pretty much the same old thing over and over. It is a lot easier to talk about change then do it.

Some of what I recommend goes against widely-held views within the traditional framework of sports nutrition (but not against the cutting edge of elite nutrition). The tips that follow are both healthy and effective.

Food is an emotive topic and most of our ‘issues' with food stem from an emotional basis within ourselves. A rapid change in weight (up or down) is a sign of stress. Your ability to effectively implement these tips will be strongly related to your emotional stability at any one time.

I like to eat like a Hobbit. Even on my lower volume days, I'll aim to eat four meals throughout the day. On my highest volume days, I will get up to eight meals a day. Let's focus on a low volume day, which is more like a standard day, for a long course athlete:

First Breakfast - four to six pieces of chopped fruit, with a cup of non-fat cottage cheese, crushed walnuts

First Session - typically a swim often followed by weights or stretching. I'll have bananas and/or some INfinit recovery

Second Breakfast - stir fry (red onion, mushrooms, eggs and smoked chicken or fish) served with oatmeal or quinoa. Sounds a bit strange but it works for me.

Lunch - more fruit salad or, perhaps, one or two wraps

Second Session - typically a ride, I'll use water, bananas and sports nutrition products during this session

Dinner - either a monster salad that includes an avocado mixed with meat or fish or a stir fry served with brown rice or quinoa

My first breakfast offers me a slow release source of carbohydrates (CHO) as well as hydration during my swim session. A low GI CHO source ensures that I don't get an increase in blood insulin levels. Avoiding an insulin spike is an important part of enhancing my ability to use fat for fuel - Alan will be writing about improving fat oxidation.

For those of you that like to go hard right out of the blocks, early intensity has been shown to inhibit fat burning as well. Makes one wonder about waffles, maple syrup and a hard first 500m (with limited warm-up) on race morning!

Fat burning is critical for all ultra-endurance athletes. Why? For the slower athletes, it must be enhanced in order to improve body composition (your greatest source of improved performance). For the more experienced athletes, it must be enhanced to fuel your ability to hold your desired race intensity.

I believe, that when we see athletes hit the wall, we are witnessing a situation where they have simply exhausted their fuel supply. Their chosen race intensity is prudent from a muscular endurance viewpoint (their watts are reasonable for them), but their bodies are simply not able to meet the energy demands implied by that power output. I estimate that the top guys require over 1,000 cals per hour on the bike. Age groupers face a similar pacing challenge, but it is caused most often by the combination of inappropriate pacing and limited lipid oxidative capacity - these two factors result in glycogen depletion. I believe this is what we see in the common situation of a well-trained athlete hitting the wall for an hour (or so) and then finishing the rest of the race. "The Ironman-Shuffle", giving the body time to metabolize CHO sources.

Back to the body composition point - like the rest of our society, triathletes have a body composition obsession. Let's put things in perspective with some real life data. Let's use me! I've done a ton of ironman races over the last five years. In 2003, I ran a three-hour marathon off the bike at my heaviest race weight, ever. Seven months before that, I ran a 3:18 marathon off the bike at my lightest race weight, ever. So, there's more to performance that what your scale is telling you. That said, the ten to 30 extra pounds that many of us cart around on race day - well, they aren't really making our life easier.

So you think you might want to lose weight? I don't think that's what you are really seeking to do. Rather, I think that you'd prefer to burn more fat and store less fat. It's a subtle change, but it results in a better way of thinking. Improved body composition will only result from the ability to oxidize fat for fuel.

Most of us come to triathlon from a relatively inactive background and a diet that's rich in highly glycemic carbohydrate sources. As such, we've probably spent years enhancing our ability to store fat and not really working on our ability to burn it. It's going to take a while to turn this around - be patient.

Recognize the patterns that impair fat burning and enhance fat storage. Binging on highly glycemic carbs and fasting are the two biggest triggers for most of us.

OK, so that was an important tangent leading off first breakfast. Second breakfast is probably my largest meal of the day. As another aside, in between these meals, I'll snack on fruits (a stable source of CHO and slow release hydration) and lean protein (mainly chicken).

At dinner I tend to load up on the veggies and used a mixture of good fats and protein to satiate me through the night. When volume is extreme, I'll eat a final "first breakfast"-type meal around 8pm. If I find that I am getting really hungry through the night then I'll have a serving (or two) of protein and/or nuts right before bed.

My meals are timed for (about) 6AM, 10AM, 2PM and 6PM - I do not like to go more than four hours without eating something. Long periods without eating have been shown to trigger fat storage. Post workout fasting and extended training sessions without any food (common in athletes seeking to improve body comp) are counterproductive strategies. It's better to moderate, than eliminate, intake.

So where is all the bread and pasta? Where are the massive levels of refined starches and sugars that we read about? Where are the smoothies, the bars, the sugary drinks? I'll use these products from time-to-time, but they really aren't a requirement. In fact, I believe they hold us back (metabolically and nutritionally). And that's part of the emotive issue...

Often the reason we get fired up on nutrition is because we know that we aren't measuring up and our bodies are a constant reminder of the difficulties that we are facing on this front. A person's shape and size tells us nothing about their worth. However, it tells us a fair amount about how they eat.

I have often heard my nutritional recommendations referred to as low calorie or low carb in nature. Given the body composition of our society, I'd say that my guidelines are for "appropriate calories". When I've used the standard formulas taught to nutritionists in the 80s and 90s, they didn't work for me, or my athletes. One of my best pals likes to say, "I only count calories when I am looking for a reason to eat too much." I've found that a focus on eating appropriately works best.

Appropriate carbohydrate consumption is essential for athletes. Each of us will need to find the level, and the source, that meets our needs. Our needs will change as we develop as athletes. My fueling needs and sources are quite different today than when I started triathlon back in 1998. Experimentation and research have led me to a structure that works for me and my crew. I am certain that my guidelines will develop further as we learn more about this topic.

The basic tenet "eat real food" is unlikely to change. That's been good advice for a long while.


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