Nutrition is the one of the most vital elements of performance; some may even say it’s the backbone of any great athletic achievement. Nutrition planning provides athletes with the energy needed to train harder and the nutrients needed to recover faster. It’s essential for sustaining your active lifestyle and help you be at your best.
There’s no better way to see the importance of good nutrition highlighted than in an Ironman, where human endurance is pushed to its extremes.
So how can an Ironman triathlete create a good nutrition plan? Here are some things you can consider, according to 15-time Ironman champion Belinda Granger.
A Customized Nutrition Plan
Since every athlete has different body types and needs, your nutrition plan has to cater to your specific needs and goals whether it’s to lose weight, gain strength, enhance endurance or more!
Belinda says, “Nutrition is a very individual thing and you need to work out what actually fits you and what works for you and your lifestyle.”
When you know your body, you can do what works for you. That includes what you eat, when you eat and how you eat your meals. Consulting with a licensed sports dietitian will make this an efficient process so you can get to doing it right away, instead of relying on trial and error.
Additionally, cooking your own meals will make counting calories and macronutrients easier since you can flavour it to your liking, measure the serving size to your requirements -- as well as know exactly what goes into your body.
Carbohydrates Are Your Best Friend
Most athletes are scared of carbohydrates and tend to avoid it like the plague because they believe it makes them fat. (This thought process is especially the case if you entered triathlon as a way to lose weight.) Conversely, there are other athletes who consume too many carbs, or fail to time their consumption correctly.
Carbs aren’t actually what makes you fat; it’s eating absurd amounts of carbs and eating them late at night that’s causing the bulge in your tummy. Doing a five-hour bike ride does not give you the excuse to consume plates of pasta and rice like your life depended on it.
Belinda says, “You need to eat smart, you need to eat well, but in smaller amounts and throughout the day.”
Eating the right carbs at the right time (an hour before your training session, and a small bit with some protein afterward to promote recovery) provides you with a great boost of energy that makes you train harder and have the energy to continue your day. Eat to train, not train to eat!
Top Up Your Electrolytes
Belinda sees not having enough electrolytes in your body as one of the worst mistakes that a triathlete can commit, especially on race days in hot climates. She recommends taking a sweat test early in your training block to know how much you sweat, and how much water and electrolyte you lose in that sweat. This will help you replenish them in the right amounts during and after your training session or race.
You also should be training with the electrolyte/hydration strategy you aim to use during your race so you can make adjustments: how sweet your drink will be, whether you take your electrolyte through liquid or by salt tablets, or even how much you can take in at any point. For instance, you can start getting stomach issues when you try to take an electrolyte drink that’s too high in sugar, but don’t have enough blood flow through your gut (this can happen when the intensity of your exertion or the prevailing temperature increases).
She stresses the importance of getting on the electrolytes early during hot races, saying “The number of people I see starting with water on the bike leg is insane, because you’re already behind the 8-ball from halfway through the swim.” Start with two bottles on your bike, both containing electrolyte. The only time you really need to have just water is at the aid stations pouring it over your head and a little bit in the mouth just to get rid of the sweet taste of electrolyte drinks.
Good Nutrition Is A Lifestyle
Belinda highlights the importance of practicing good eating habits and consuming nutritious food everyday. The importance of this is on par with doing the right type of training.
Good nutrition “is not something that you think about leading to a race. It should be part of your daily routine.” It needs to be incorporated from the time you start your training program up until the start of your offseason, and even beyond.