The picture is of me cooking dinner for Team Every Man Jack in Kona for the World Championships. Note: I don't always cook like this... Onto the post!
Nutrition is such a massively discussed and debated topic in triathlon, other endurance sports, life, and just about everything else. Rightly so, as there truly isn't anything more important than what you eat. I plan to blog a lot about nutrition as I am always researching a ton on the topic and want to share what I learn and what has worked and not worked for me personally.
When it comes to triathlon, there are so many different opinions on the perfect diet, from low carb high fat, to high carbs but only "good" ones, to only eating caveman foods, and much more. On top of that, there are tons of companies advertising supplements all over the place and with all of this information, it gets completely overwhelming to even know where to start. This post isn't going to create an in depth personal nutrition plan but rather explain how I go about building my diet and my philosophy behind eating what I eat.
What you eat truly becomes who you are down to the cellular level. You are built off of what you put in your body so it becomes pretty obvious that an athlete looking to squeeze the best possible performance out of their body would need to build it from a strong, healthy foundation.
Instead of counting my calories, I make my calories count
What do I mean by this? It means that when I put calories into my body, I try to make them calories worth putting in. I want them to have value and add to my well-being. These are calories that come from foods with a lot of nutritional value meaning they are from sources filled with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that benefit my health. The opposite of this would be an empty calorie. That term gets thrown around but I never really understood what it meant until my college professor gave me a great example of empty calories. The example she gave is a saltine cracker, or really any type of cracker, or pretzel, white bread, etc. The reason these are empty calories is because they are still a source of calories but offer virtually no nutritional value. As stated above, a food with nutritional value will offer more than just quick burning calories by including micronutrients. These foods also cause your body to feel satiated and will cause you to feel more full. One of the worst parts of empty calorie foods is that they don't make you feel satisfied, so you feel constantly hungry, but instead of giving your body the nutrients it wants, you continue to put more empty calories in and this can lead to weight gain, nutrient insufficiencies, and more.
So what do I eat?
I used to read so much about diet and nutrition only to find that when I walked in the grocery store, all of this information wasn't actually helping me on specifically what to buy and how to easily make it into something at home. Unfortunately, cooking has never been my specialty, but I have become much, much better in the past year at making easy, nutrient dense meals and cutting a lot of the crap out of my diet.
My typical day
This is a topic I will save for a different post as it is a huge rabbit hole to jump into but here are the ones I currently take. I'm not a huge supplement person, but I do take a few as insurance if I'm missing any nutrients. The ultragen works amazing in smoothies and is the best post workout powder I have used. Just be careful as it has a pretty high calorie content.
Breakfast (with a workout soonish after)
Oatmeal! If I'm walking out the door to a super early swim or something I'll just grab a banana otherwise my pre workout breakfast is oatmeal. I toss in raisins, blueberries, peanut butter, greek yogurt, sliced banana, and chia seeds. This works great for me before a long run or ride as it's calorically dense, easy to digest, and doesn't upset my stomach while working out.
Breakfast (without a workout right after or post workout)
Egg scramble extravaganza. I make a variation of this almost every day. It's great after an early morning workout or on a day where you aren't working out right away in the morning. I start off cooking sliced sweet potato in coconut oil on the stove. When that's done I throw chicken sausage in the pan and get that looking nice (once or twice a week I use bacon). Then I throw 2-3 eggs in and scramble them into everything while also throwing in a couple handfuls of veggies. I get this 8 veggie mix from Trader Joes that works great making it easy to get lots of different veggies in. Then, when everything looks nice and cooked I throw it on a plate, put some salsa and sliced avocado on top and enjoy!
This is the hardest one for me. Especially when I'm working and I have to pack something. It usually ends up being a couple PB&J's, some turkey jerky, an apple, and anything else I can grab from my house on my way out the door. If I'm at home, it'll usually just be leftovers.
I am guilty of eating out for dinner a decent amount but it is usually to some pretty healthy spots. Generally, when I have dinner at home it is a form of a protein like chicken or fish, a carb, which is rice a lot of the time, and a salad with olive oil.
For dessert, I generally just munch on some dark chocolate. There are actually quite a few health benefits to having some so I don't mind using that to satisfy my dessert cravings. Other than that, I occasionally will have a bowl of Peanut Butter Puffins, which are kind of my weakness.
I love smoothies and they are so easy to make along with being an effective way to get a lot of nutrients in a great tasting snack. I generally just blend up random frozen fruit with some almond milk, maca powder (link below), chia and flax seeds (links below), Ultragen, that I mentioned above, and greek yogurt.
Other than that, most of my snacks include fruit, nuts, and jerky. I try to stay away from chips, crackers, and packaged foods but I do love my chips and salsa.
Supplies I order online
It can save a lot of money and time to order certain things from Amazon instead of having to get them at the store. These are some of the things I order on there that tend to be a lot more expensive in stores and for less quantity.
Tips for leaning out
This is basically my main piece of advice for leaning out. Cut the crap out of your diet, specifically added sugar. If you can make just one change, make it to be cutting out added sugar. I promise if you cut out sugar, you will notice results very fast. I've experimented a lot with this myself and I haven't found anything that can make such a difference so fast. We consume so much sugar as a society and it has become a huge problem. Even when you think you're not, there's a good chance you're probably still consuming too much. Look at something like a flavored yogurt if you want your mind blown. A little cup of flavored yogurt, which is something a lot of people consider healthy, can have up to 30 grams of sugar or more. WHAT!? Cray cray. Don't drink any sugary drinks either, just stick to water. It might feel hard at first, but if you drink only water for 2 weeks the craving for sugary drinks will be gone and you'll probably be a lot more hydrated.
My dairy conundrum
I love dairy, but I also do really notice the effects of kicking it out of my diet. The point I'm at now is to consume very limited amounts of it, which is basically just greek yogurt at this point. This seems to be a very debated topic and one that has research on both sides, but for me personally, I feel it's a lot easier to lean out and I feel lighter and faster when I'm not consuming dairy. I still have an occasional ice cream or something with cheese on it but for the most part, not that much anymore. It was also way easier to take out of my diet than I expected. These days, there are alternatives for everything it seems so it's easy to have something like almond milk instead of cow's milk. This is definitely a personal decision but I thought I'd share my experience with it.
As long as I'm getting the good, I'm OK with the bad
This is my philosophy when I want to eat something that may not be super healthy. If the rest of my day was solid and I got in nutritious foods, then it's OK for me to eat a cookie or two. I also generally take this mindset into having a few beers or glasses of wine. If you take a super strict approach to not having any "bad stuff," you'll probably end up miserable and eventually cave worse than if you just occasionally sprinkled some bad into your diet.
I hope that was helpful in sharing my mindset in my daily nutrition and diet habits as well as some of my philosophies behind eating with you. As I said earlier, I plan to blog quite a bit more on nutrition with topics like race nutrition but in the meantime, check out my foam rolling guide. If there is anything you would like to hear more about, please let me know in the comments and don't forget to subscribe!
Jake is a triathlete and coach with a passion for travel and everything triathlon. He loves sharing his knowledge and experiences with others.
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