As an endurance athlete, you need to fuel your very active body daily in a different way from the average person. In order to get great results, you need to feed your body healthy meals and snacks frequently throughout the day. This is not an easy task! Here are some ideas to incorporate more healthy eating habits into your day to day routine.
The most important concept is to take the time, make the time, and plan ahead. You’ll need time to shop and prepare the foods you eat through the week. And, to make sure you have healthy, satisfying snack foods at your desk, in your car, and in your workout bag.
One good approach is to do your shopping and food prep on the weekend to cover the whole week or at least the next 3-5 days. Approach this on an individual basis: what types of foods do you like and will you eat? Do you know how to cook or need some tutoring? No reason to buy a bunch of healthy foods you don’t like or don’t know what to do with.
By making extra helpings at meals, the leftovers can provide multiple future meals and snacks. Plan to eat healthy, plan to get enough calories to fuel your work day and your workouts.
Avoid the going into starvation and overeating cycle or chronic underrating cycle by learning to eat every 2-3 hours throughout the day. Eating frequently helps keep your blood sugar stable and even help prevent heart disease. It can also help you effectively control your hunger over the course of the day. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, eating small amounts frequently can help you achieve this goal. Under fueling can also lead to illness, injury and over training.
Quite often we get too busy and simply forget to eat. You can set an alarm on your watch or computer to go off every 2-3 hours as a reminder to eat. Eating more frequently can also help you keep your weight stable or even lose weight by eliminating late night bing eating from being over hungry.
A pattern of frequent snacking and meals also translates well to fueling your training. Our GI systems can more easily take in and digest small amounts of food frequently over the course of a day, workout or race.
Energy Availability (EA)
Energy availability is a scientific term that is getting more widespread attention in the athlete population. EA is defined as the energy available to your body after accounting for energy spent exercising. While we need to fuel our workouts, consistent snacking is important to fuel all the other processes that our body carries out on a daily basis. If you are underfeeding (especially with healthy carbs), this can lead to a condition called “low energy availability” where the body does not have enough resources to fully and optimally maintain all of its core functions. Menstrual cycle dysfunction, stress fractures and impaired bone health are just some of the potential issues arising from under fueling.
Nurture the habit of always having a water bottle with you at your desk, in your car and in your workout bag. Varying your fluid intake through the day and week helps meet taste, hydration and electrolyte needs. For example, electrolyte water, sports drink, plain water, plain water + fresh cucumber, lemon, lime, mint, etc. adds micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) plus flavor.
Snacks & portables to take with you and leave at your desk
- Real food, healthy snacks: Nuts & seeds (especially almonds, walnuts & pumpkin seeds), fresh fruits & veggies alone or paired with nut butter or cheese, crackers & cheese/meat, hummus + veggies or bread, bagels with nut butters or cheese, canned soup/noodles, cut up sandwiches or wraps (PB&J, ham & cheese, etc.), dried fruit such as dates, figs or raisins, dried fruit & nut mixes, instant oatmeal packs, apple sauce or other fruit sauces.
- Best bars to snack on. These bars are minimally processed foods for more nutrition and fiber. Kind bars, Larabars, Clif bars, Bobo’s bars, Rx Bars, GoMacro bars, That’s It bars or other bars that are made with real foods.
- Smoothies. The possibilities with smoothies are endless. You can mix your favorite protein powder with fruits (fresh or frozen) and fresh greens (like spinach) with some coconut water or nut milk and have a great snack or a full meal. You’ll just need a blender and some portable drink containers to take them everywhere you go.
- Portables. These are real food, homemade alternatives to pre-packaged bars and foods. I learned about these from Allen Lim, sports dietician. They’re really tasty, super easy to make and take with you. His books are fantastic and available on Amazon: The Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables. The first one is a great tutorial on how to prep and cook tasty, nutritious meals and snacks. One of his tastiest portables recipes follows this article below. Another great resource for meals and snacks is: Eat, Race, Win by Hannah Grant & Stacy Sims. All these books also breakdown the nutrient profile for each recipe.
Fresh fruits & veggies
These nutrient dense foods deserve their own spotlight as they are so important to our overall health. Most notably, they contain healthy fiber and macronutrients and micronutrients that also feed your brain and body. Among the far reaching benefits these foods can: lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems and positively impact blood sugar. Fuel up!
Creating new habits is not always easy. In fact, eating a healthy diet can be a constant challenge of shopping and food prep. Living in a healthy body is a lifetime commitment. Remember that you are making a conscious choice to eat in order to fuel a healthy body. Look for any unhealthy patterns and triggers that you can change. Ask for support if needed. Track your progress. (MyFitnessPal is a free food tracking app.) Imagine the future when you are feeling strong and healthy in all your daily tasks, training and racing. Reward yourself. And, finally, be patient. This is an ongoing, lifetime commitment to better health and resilience. Eating healthy foods is worth the effort. It’s the reward you give your body for supporting a long healthy life in an athletic, active body. Your body is the vehicle carrying you to your triathlon goals and dreams.