A short guide on effective nutrition planning
Photos by Joseph Greve and Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash
Simply put, food is fuel, and this is converted to energy or power. If you want to get stronger and faster, load up on those calories.
How much should athletes eat?
The total caloric requirement per day of a triathlete is determined by factors such as age, height, weight, body mass index, and the type and duration of training. You can do your research (readily available from the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition) or you could ask your doctor or nutritionist to do it for you.
Not being able to replace lost calories during training takes a toll on the body. Do you feel tired all the time? Are you more prone to injuries? Cramping? Bonking? Do you get colds, cough, or the flu easily? If you’re answer is yes to any of these questions, there’s a big chance that you’re not eating enough nutrients to restore energy stores (carbohydrates and fats) and repair muscles (proteins) during training.
While it’s true that triathletes should consume more calories than the normal population, this does not give license to eat indiscriminately
While it’s true that triathletes should consume more calories than the normal population, this does not give license to eat indiscriminately. Healthy food choices are still recommended but, more importantly, right timing around training and meal planning are the keys for effective nutrition.
Timing assures that food you eat before and during a workout is converted to energy or used to replenish energy stores, which will fuel your next session. For triathletes, a macronutrient proportion of 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 12 to 20 percent proteins, and 20 to 25 percent fats based on total caloric requirement per day is recommended by the Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance.
When and what should athletes eat?
Before: 30 minutes to 4 hours; at least 2 grams carbohydrates per kg body weight
Meals in the form of smoothies or sandwiches provide good fuel that can be converted to glucose for the first 15 to 30 minutes of training. This also gives food enough time to sit and be digested in the stomach prior to activity, hence lowering the risk of having gastrointestinal problems during the race.
During: Around 30 to 60 grams carbohydrates per hour
The digestive system can only process a limited amount of carbs per hour and convert it to energy during training because most of the blood flow is directed towards the extremities. Consequently, excess carbs not converted to energy will just turn into fats. Convenient sources that are specially formulated and packaged to make carb replenishment more efficient are sport drinks, gels, and energy bars.
After: 200 to 300 calories 15 to 30 minutes immediately after workout followed by a substantial meal one hour after
Your highest caloric requirement is during recovery because you need to replenish energy stores used up during training. This is the window when muscles are more receptive to carbs, which are then converted to glycogen (primary fuel for endurance athletes) and proteins for muscle repair due to micro-tears during long and intense workouts.
Outside the eating schedule recommended above, limit caloric intake to whatever is the balance from your total energy requirement computed per day. Food during these times will mostly be converted to fat if it’s not converted to energy and used by the body.
Following this meal plan should not require you to restrict calories from basic food groups, which will only leave you feeling deprived. Instead, this should encourage you to eat. Train smarter and load up on healthy fuel. Your body will gladly show its appreciation by giving you the best performance of your life.