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Monday, May 23, 2011

Food for Fuel

I’m on the train, and I’ve just finished a small multi-grain roll, hopefully timing its consumption perfectly an hour before my swim. In training for a triathlon, I now have a whole new outlook on food. Calories are no longer “bad” – they are “fuel” that will help me perform. Carbs are now my friend, along with protein and even fats (the good ones). It’s no longer about just thinking about 3 meals, I must think about how to balance my food intake throughout the day and time my intake not too soon and not too distant from my workouts. I also have to think about when I eat certain foods.

I went to a multi-sport conference at Columbia University and found the dietician talks helpful. Triathlon workouts, they said, typically burn 500- 800 calories. Tonight I plan to swim and bike, which will burn about 500 calories. At the conference, there were many vendors selling their food products and the swag bag provided me with a handful of products to try.
I’ve learned some basics about nutrition, although when it comes down to specific choices, it still seems like food can be unnecessarily complicated. From what I’ve gathered so far:
• Eating small amounts of food every 2-3 hours would be optimal. Hmmm….this is a bit hard in a professional world. Not only procuring the food, but eating all the time in client meetings wouldn’t go over so well.
• You want carbs before your workout. But then there was the advice that you want carbs after your workout when your body can best absorb it. And, there was the other advice that you want protein after your workout to help repair the muscles.
• Gels / food bars / sport drinks are not so good after all…or are they? But xyz brand does say “all natural”… but abc brand has artificial flavors, colors, etc. And you need those electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc) to replenish everything you lose when you sweat and to keep your muscles going. Hmmm…the jury appears to still be out. I have found one product – HEED by Hammer that was in my swag bag - that does say it is all natural and is well accolade by many athletes. It’s a powder you mix with water to give you fuel for your workout and replace electrolytes. The first time I tried it was the first time I swam .25 miles non-stop so I became an instant fan!
• You should eat unprocessed foods. Yeah! – this is something easy to comprehend and that I agree with. Executing it can be a challenge but not impossible.

The other dilemma is what to eat on race day and during the race. The big piece of advice that I’ve read is to never try something new the day of the race. Training workouts are also about trying out what fuel works best for you. Since I’m doing a short sprint race that I should be able to complete in less than 90 minutes, I probably don’t need to fuel during the race. I think my plan will be to eat a carb dinner the night before, a bagel and banana the morning of, drink some HEED before the race, and have the HEED drink on my bicycle for the electrolyte replenishment if I can manage to drink and drive.

So, yes, it’s all a bit complicated. The cavemen seemed to have been much more active humanoids than we are and they figured it out in the days before Gatorade, Powerade, Cliff Bars, Power Bars and the numerous gels. And while we are focused on food we can consume quickly during transition times and on the go, they must have had the same concerns while hunting down a saber tooth tiger. I’m convinced the answer to our food dilemmas is written on a cave wall somewhere and that it’s all pretty simple. All I know is that I am always hungry burning all these calories and that food equals fuel.

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