In order to be adept at something we need to consistently practice what we know and continually seek out new knowledge. After getting an education base the next step is practice, practice, practice. Working in the field of medicine we actually call our daily jobs a practice. It is not that we consider ourselves novice by any means. Or that we are practicing in order to one day perfect our work. In medicine, science and physiology there is no end to the knowledge that we acquire. Therefore, as practitioners we are never truly working, but always practicing what we have learned. I am sure this is true in other professions as well, but I am writing from where I come from. It is this daily practice of constantly advancing my knowledge and practicing that I have over the years incorporated into every aspect of my life. My coaching practice definitely follows suit. My athletic practice does as well, as does my nutritional philosophy.
It is here on the nutrition front where I would like to camp out for a bit. This article is not going to discuss specific science and guidelines on endurance nutrition. It is not going to discuss the science of carbohydrate versus fat as a fuel source. Rather I would like to discuss how I think healthy eating should be viewed in order to incorporate it successfully into our already very busy lives. My philosophy is that an athlete cannot out train a bad diet. All too often athletes view their training as freedom to eat whatever they wish. This is not sustainable in the long haul. My wish for myself and for all athletes is for triathlon to be viewed as a healthy lifestyle sport that can be continued successfully for one’s entire life. Daily healthy eating principles contribute to the lifestyle and allows us to keep performing at a high level. If done properly (I will discuss what I think a proper diet is below) it contributes to increased energy, quicker recovery, improved endurance, and greater strength gains. If that is not reason enough a proper diet has shown to decrease heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Who wouldn’t want to achieve any or all of which is mentioned above. Greater performance and obviously longer performance if we are warding off disease. I bet every athlete I know would sign up for that. So, why don’t they? I believe there are three reasons. First, as mentioned above they feel their training is reason to indulge in anything they want. Second, athletes are often so disciplined in their training, both in the workout itself and in their daily lives fitting it in amongst so many other important variables that they are just mentally and physically fatigued when it comes to meal planning. Third, they just don’t know what a proper diet consists of. Now I don’t profess to be a registered dietician, but I am a physician assistant who has practiced medicine for many years and an exercise physiologist for many more years, and the following are the principles I incorporate into my daily practice and what I recommend.
A proper diet for any individual, athlete or not should consist of high quality nutrient dense foods. The majority of one’s daily food intake should contain whole foods. There is no getting around it. When you think high quality, nutrient dense whole foods then vegetables, fruits and beans are those foods that easily meet the requirements. Therefore, one’s diet should consist of predominantly just that. Incorporating whole grains and pseudograins round out a proper diet.
Practice nutrient timing. Although processed foods should be limited and can be eliminated altogether if wanted they do provide quick effective fuel when needed. Therefore, I recommend that if used only be used around workouts. Preferably during and immediately after a workout. This means reserve gels, bars and sports drinks only for fueling and recovering from a workout. The same goes for carbohydrate sources from grains. They should be reserved for when needed most. Before a workout, immediately after a workout, and the first whole foods meal following a workout.
Practice keeping it simple. You don’t need to be a chef to eat well. Cookbooks can be overwhelming and many recipes in them are not always practical for everyday preparation. So start by keeping it simple and use your days off from work to practice the intricate recipes. A simple easy lunch salad can be spinach, berries, pumpkins seeds and almond slivers mixed together, with an apple on the side. Allergic to nuts and seeds then add cannellini beans instead. See, that clearly doesn’t take much preparation. Try adding a smoothie to your day. They are quick and efficient way to add a ton of nutrients to your day. As far as snacks go keep nuts, seeds and berries handy at all times.
Consider where you time is best spent. Is it more valuable for you to catch up on netflix when you have a few extra minutes, or could that time be better spent running to the market to pick up fresh produce and preparing a salad for tomorrow’s lunch.
Eliminate the ability to make wrong choices. Shop for and prepare your own food. If the wrong food is not brought into the house then you can only make the right choice. The same goes with preparing food to bring to work. If you have your own food with you then a wrong choice such as where to eat lunch or what snack to buy is eliminated.
Remember it’s a practice and success is not an end destination but rather a process. As you consistently practice healthy nutrition principles and increase your knowledge you will see with time the process of incorporating a proper diet will become easier and the rewards will last a lifetime.
Published in USA Triathlon's Fuel Station November 13, 2018