My five-year mission to boldly seek out more intelligent food choices.
The Vacuum of Space and Time
I’ll start off by saying that I have no idea how many calories I consume. Nutrition, when it comes to fueling my body for triathlon training, has been uncharted territory for me. I like to think that I eat a healthy diet but I will be the first to admit I have much to learn.
High volume training seems to create a black hole where an infinite number of calories can disappear. Not necessarily a bad thing if you like to eat but I have found that filling the void with healthy food choices has been a daily challenge.
Added to my own needs are the demands of a busy growing family with a range of food preferences. While Einstein’s theory of relativity predicts that the faster you go, the more time will appear to slow down, my own experience with the space/time continuum has been that there are always empty stomachs and never enough time to fill them. While I still have a long way to go on my voyage to better nutrition, I have managed to discover a few new tricks on my own and found some helpful guides along the way.
My Alternate Universe
Sharing meals with my 3 children and husband has meant mastering the substitution game. Every great chef knows a work around when certain ingredients aren’t available. While I don’t aspire to be a great chef I do like to think of myself as a cleaver cook. Using alternate ingredients to make familiar family favorites more nutritious has been my best trick for eating healthier while keeping everyone happy.
Swapping lean ground turkey for beef on sloppy Joe night is a typical trade off. While my kids want their sloppy Joes with a bun I go one further and have mine over a lettuce salad. Fortunately I love salads and I’ve found they are a great alternative for bread in a variety of dishes.
Visiting the Vegans
Along the way on my journey to better nutrition I spent nearly a year as a vegan. It was something I had thought about for a long time. Adopting a vegan diet was an easy fit for my lifestyle because many of my favorite foods were already vegan. The results, when combined with the demands of my increased training, were mixed.
It felt like I was eating the healthiest diet of my life. At the same time I was piling on the training. I later found out through trial and error and with help from my new watch that my intensity was too high. I felt like I could push myself but when I did, I would suddenly tank.
While dealing with the frustration of fatigue I also found out I was allergic to soy protein. Since I wasn’t getting enough protein I was also losing muscle. What had started as a positive step up for my training turned out to be two steps back.
After nearly a year I decided I needed to look for a different approach if I wanted to stay healthy and build my training. I needed protein and I needed calories.
One benefit of following a vegan diet was that I became very aware of how food made me feel. Potatoes made me sleepy so I started to avoid them before training. I found bread would clog me up and leave me feeling bloated. While I avoid getting into the gluten debate I think it’s likely that has something to do with it. I also consulted a naturopath and they helped me find ways to feel better. Recognizing how I felt after eating certain foods was part of that.
Substituting salad for bread was one easy solution. Finding a substitution for soy protein proved to be harder and it wasn’t possible for me to keep following a vegan diet. I went back to chicken and ground turkey and other lean white meat for my protein. Rather than following a strict schedule or diet I let my stomach be my guide. Gauging how much to eat and when is usually a matter of when I have time and when my stomach starts to grumble.
Big Bonk Theory
Until a few months ago I would never take anything other than fluids during a training session. As I have ramped up my mileage, particularly on the bike, I’ve found this to be a problem. I would reach a point where I would suddenly become super tired. Fluids alone were not enough. I have started adding nutrition bars during my long rides and found that bananas are also good. I don’t have any plans to add solid food during my runs or during my swimming workouts but for rides, when I am out there on my own for many hours, the extra energy has been a big help in avoiding the bonk.
Upon rising – Protein Shake
-Steel cut oats
-Cream of rice
-leftovers from the night before
-raisins, nuts and anything that is easy to store in my desk
-Healthy version of sloppy Joes with ground turkey over salad
-Turkey or chicken over salad with a side of sweet potatoes
-Leftovers stuffed in a burrito wrap
-Usually water only but sometimes electrolyte drinks
-Nutrition bars, bananas and plenty of GU Roctaine and water
-Usually water only but sometimes sports drink and gels
Exploring the New World
I still have much to learn about nutrition. Fueling myself for an entire Ironman distance race is still a big concern for me. Juggling meals for the family with the bottomless pit that comes with higher training volumes has been challenging enough. If you have any tips gleaned from your own triathlon training experience for day-to-day nutrition, fueling during training and race day nutrition strategies please leave a comment below. Your experience is appreciated.