Diet Advice for Triathletes

There are many almost cultic philosophies around food, and I am not particularly against them. It’s just that none of them is the universal panacea they’re sold as.

That said, they can be the panacea for some, but we are all different, so it pays to experiment a bit.

But if I am  to give one piece of advice, it is this:

Eat food, mostly plants, not too much

— Mike Pollan

It’s that simple, basically.

And then there’s all the details. But if in doubt, eat plants.

Real Food

Food that you buy raw, no label, is real food.

Industrially “enhanced” food is often prepared in a way that makes it much less nutritious.

If, on the other hand, you take the raw produce and prepare the food yourself, much more nutrition is retained.

And then I will recommend organic produce where feasible. No need to support the chemical industry and conventional farming.

Meat

When I tell people that I am a triathlete and I eat mostly vegetarian, I am often asked whether I can really get enough protein/energy without meat.

And I must admit I often roll my eyes when I hear that question, because it’s so incredibly naïve, even if it’s quite understandable, especially in such a meat focused food culture as the Danish.

Take dried chickpeas as an example. They’re a good plant based source of protein, and contain just over 20 g of protein per 100 g. That’s about the same as beef, which is probably surprising to many. The difference is that chickpeas contain much less fat than beef, but much more carbohydrates (63 g/100 g). It is easy to get enough protein as a vegetarian, it’s not as if you live off salads. I actually don’t really like salads.

Not eating meat is to me a question of conscience, health wise it’s not a problem, in moderation. As with everything, really.

Timing

When you eat in relation to training and sleep is important.

It’s always good to get some carbohydrates and a little protein soon after training, within 15 minutes, preferably with a main meal shortly after.

I recommend that all meals during the day are complete meals, and contain carbohydrates, fat and protein in a good balance.

If you want to loose weight you can increase fat and protein in your evening meal, and no snacks the rest of the day. Preferably go for a period of  12 hours between the evening meal and the next days breakfast, where you don’t eat.

If you want to gain weight, or maintain weight, just eat carbohydrates for dinner, and snacks if you need it. Some people have a tendency to lose too much weight when they train a lot (I wish I was like that), so they may need plenty of small meals and snacks to maintain their weight.

Caffeine

You can do without.

But I love my coffee and don’t want to do without. I am pretty strict about not drinking coffee past noon, because caffeine makes your sleep worse (even if you can easily fall asleep), and have a half life of 8 hours in the body.

Caffeine stimulate the nervous system so you are more alert and awake, essentially the same as a light stress reaction. If you are fighting too much stress in your life I recommend you eliminate caffeine and other stimulants of that type. Guarana is popular in energy drinks, for example, and work in the same way.

Sugar

Just don’t. It’s not food. But used during training and racing it is clearly performance enhancing.

My recommendation is to avoid sugar during training as much as possible. During long sessions (over 2 hours) it can be necessary, and it is also important to test how your body handle it, before a race, but otherwise don’t use suger in daily training and your daily food intake.

But please use during racing.

 

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