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Maximize Your Nutrition this Off-season

The off-season is the perfect time to dial in your nutrition to improve next year's performance.


We know that triathlon has 3 disciplines: swim, bike and run. But those who want to excel understand the unspoken 4th discipline: nutrition. Focusing on maximizing your nutrition is a far cheaper and better way of getting faster than buying the newest carbon wheel-set. This post is about understanding how your nutrition directly impacts your performance, and how to maximize your nutrition for personal gains.

Let's begin with a standard workout week:

1. Monday: Recovery Day

2. Tuesday: AM-Bike VO2max Intervals PM-Swim Technique

3. Wednesday: AM-Swim Intervals PM-Run Intervals

4. Thursday: AM-Bike Tempo PM-Swim Moderate Intervals

5. Friday: AM-Bike Recovery PM-Run Easy

6. Saturday: AM-Bike Endurance PM-Run Easy

7. Sunday: AM-Run Endurance PM-Swim Recovery

What nutritional rules do we need to follow to maximize our performance during this sample week?

First, we need to know why we are eating. Most people eat because they are hungry. But in our case, we are eating today to fuel tomorrow's workouts. Let's repeat that point: We are eating today to fuel tomorrow's workouts. If tomorrow's workouts are more intense (as in Monday's VO2max workouts) or long (such as Saturday's endurance bike), we will need more fuel the day before. Conversely, if it's a Monday or Friday recovery day, we will need less.

Second, our bodies are quite basic. They don't see the marketing hype that our brains do.They don't care what the hottest "Instagram Influencer" is eating. They can only use three sources for energy: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. In terms of energy utilization, our bodies also prefer them in that particular order.

So, how do we use this to our advantage? There are many different types of carbohydrates, and they can be broken down into fast burners and slow burners using something called a glycemic index. Examples of fast burners are candy, soda, dried fruits, and rice cakes. These are good to eat just prior to or in a workout, but can also cause a hard bonk. Slow burners are legumes, vegetables, and most fruits.

The day before a standard workout, you'll need at least 3-6 g/kg of carbohydrates. You mess with that, then the session could be for naught. You've bonked. You can't hit the watts and it's a mess. Instead of your sweat beneath your trainer, we've got tears streaming down your face.

For the average 70 kg athlete, 3-6 g/kg carbohydrates means you'll need to consume between 210 and 360 grams per day. But clearly, not all at once! You'll need to space them out every few hours if you want to maximize your nutrition. To achieve this goal, I recommend focusing on low glycemic carbohydrates. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a prudent diet, and one you can focus on your whole life. As I'm writing this I'm also eating my mid-day snack: an apple and cheese stick.

Prior to a workout, especially a hard intensity workout, you'll want 1-2 g/kg of carbohydrate. Personally, I like a banana, or an almond butter sandwich, or both! Optimally, an hour or two before the workout. If I'm waking up at 4:45 am, then a banana is a quick-to-eat energy snack and will keep me going for an hour.

Protein is slower to digest than carbohydrates, and they build back the muscles we just broke down in the workout. You'll need 1-2 gm/kg a day, so our 70 kg average athlete needs 70-140 grams. Two things to keep in mind: 1) It's best to eat protein throughout the day in divided doses, and 2) you'll need protein within 20 minutes after the workout to begin the rebuilding process. Personally, I use Fairlife Chocolate milk when I'm near a refrigerator, and when I'm not, the Fairlife Core Power is a shelf stable option that travels easily. Again, immediately (<20 minutes) after the workout.

If you want to lose weight, you've got two options:

One, you can cut the fat. Remember, not all fat is bad...only the fat that is solid at room temperature: butter, bacon, lard, coconut oil, and cream, for example. Fat is very caloric dense at 9 calories per gram. A standard 4gm pat of butter has 36 calories! The other fats...vegetable oils, mainly...are good for you. Two other sources of good fats are almonds and avocados. Eat 2-3 servings of these healthy fats daily.

Or two, and I feel this is the best way, go with the lower end of the ranges. Keep eating the foods that work for you, but target the lower end of the range. Our 70 kg athlete now only needs 210 grams of carbohydrates and 70 grams of protein a day. Because carbohydrates and protein both have 4 calories, we're down to 1,120 daily calories. Also, chose the minimum requirement of the ranges in terms of pre- and post- workout intakes. You still need the pre-workout and post-workout snacks, as well as all the other food throughout the day, but you're eating less of the same foods. Your muscles will have what they need to do what we need them to do.

Le'ts return to our sample workout week and break it down into the real world so it's not so complicated:

1. Monday: Recovery Day

2. Tuesday: AM-Bike VO2max Intervals PM-Swim Technique

3. Wednesday: AM-Swim Intervals PM-Run Intervals

4. Thursday: AM-Bike Tempo PM-Swim Moderate Intervals

5. Friday: AM-Bike Recovery PM-Run Easy

6. Saturday: AM-Bike Endurance PM-Run Easy

7. Sunday: AM-Run Endurance PM-Swim Recovery

Monday: Recovery Day

Without a workout, the primary focus of this day is to get enough high-quality food and hydration to recover from the weekend and prepare for Tuesday. Because there is no AM workout, you skip sleep in a little later and have breakfast.

Because I'm looking forward in the week, I know I've got VO2max intervals tomorrow morning, so I'd go on the higher side of the ranges. Breakfast would be 2-3 eggs (7 gm protein/egg) with toast or a banana and coffee. A low-fat mozzarella string cheese stick has 7 grams of protein and coupled with an apple (25 gms carbohydrate), makes a quick and easy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Lunch is two turkey sandwiches with vegi's. Dinner is lean meat, 2-3 cups of vegetables, and 1 cup of rice. Usually, I'll drink a glass of Fairlife before going to bed. If I've got VO2 intervals the following day, I might have a banana before bed as well.

Tuesday: AM-Bike VO2max Intervals PM-Swim Technique

Wednesday: AM-Swim Intervals PM-Run Intervals

Thursday: AM-Bike Tempo PM-Swim Moderate Intervals

These 3 days are about the same. I'd make a quick cup of coffee and eat a banana as I was getting on the bike or headed to the pool. I'd pull a bottle of Infinit from the refrigerator and sip on that throughout the VO2max bike workout. Post workout, I'd have a glass of Fairlife Chocolate Milk (or a Core Power if I'm at the pool,) shower, change, and eat my standard breakfast. Mid-morning, lunch, and mid-afternoon are similar. If I'm going to the pool in the afternoon, I'd have a banana instead of an apple mid-afternoon because bananas have more carbs than apples and give me a bit more "pep." The rest of the day is the same as Monday.

Friday: AM-Bike Recovery PM-Run Easy

This is an easy day to plan for, because I'm not looking for calories prior to the workout, and I can get a bottle of water (I usually use BCAAs today) or cup of coffee and hit the trainer for an early AM recovery ride.

However, tomorrow (Saturday) is a big day, and you've got to be honest with it. That means eating some extra fruit for your mid-afternoon snacks, a solid dinner, and maybe a banana with the chocolate milk at night before bed.

Just a quick side note on supplements. I have intentionally not written too much about supplements during this post. I'll address that topic later. I only use supplements which carry the NSF Certified for Sport Program seal. The Scivation Xtend BCAA Powder is NSF certified (as of 12/13/18.) Remember, it's on you to ensure what you take is not contaminated with a WADA prohibited substance.

Saturday: This is a big day on the bike and a run in the afternoon. Again, as on other days, my morning routine is set, and I'll carry all my Infinit bottles with me to the bike. I usually consume 1 bottle per hour. As soon as I'm done, it's my recovery drink, Fairlife chocolate milk. After the ride, I'll spend the next several hours over-replacing my fluids and I'll usually start my run with a good snack 90 minutes before I head out the door.

Sunday: Again, a harder day with an early morning run, recovery like Saturday, and then out the door for a swim in the afternoon. Recovery after the pool is Core Power and then I'll make sure I'm stretched out with foam rolling and sitting in my Air-Relax.

Common Mistake #1: I'm going to drink only water for my workouts.

Egads! Really? Did you not read anything I just wrote? Your workouts will suffer and you won't hit the crazy high watts you need to get faster and crush your competition! Keep it simple: a almond butter and banana sandwich has around 70g of CHO and 10g protein. Keep the water workouts to your low-intensity recovery workouts that are < 60 minutes.

But sometimes, this one starts a little bit differently. I'll hear a story that someone was riding with an "elite" athlete who only drank water during this crazy hard ride or run. Because the elite was only drinking water, the reasoning goes, then I should only drink water, too. But, I'll let you in on a little secret: the "elite" is an elite because they know exactly what to eat when they work out. The reason they were drinking water during this "crazy hard" workout was because this was a recovery ride or run for them. It kinda hurts, but it's true. The elite might even sandbag a little if you ask them about it. So focus on yourself and what your body needs for performance.

Common Mistake #2: I'm going to go Paleo (or Keto, or South Beach, or no-white-foods, or....)

These diets are often too low in carbohydrate for serious athletes and are too restrictive for most others. As a result, compliance suffers. Stick with a prudent diet that's high in fruits, vegetables and lean meats, and adheres to the above guidelines. That's what you need to excel.

What do you think about this post? Let me know.

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