As an avid triathlete there are a number of sacrifices that you make for your sport. Early to bed, early to rise, and endless hours spent training, programming and planning, to name but a few. Despite all these sacrifices, many nutrition basics are commonly neglected, often leading to unfavourable training and racing outcomes, illness and injury, and undermining all your hard word. Here is a list of common nutrition mistakes amongst triathletes and tips on how not to become one of the statistics.
Mistake #1: Using vitamin and mineral supplements as a way to compensate for a less than optimal diet.
There is simply no replacement out there on the market for real, whole food. If I only had a gold coin for the number of times I’ve heard someone tell me their nutritional bases are covered regardless of their poor dietary habits because they take a multivitamin and mineral supplement each day...
If you believe this, you are doing yourself a massive injustice. Of the 600 known compounds found in food, only 13 vitamins and 22 minerals are accounted for in the supplements available today. Supplements can never replace the array of health protectors, phytochemicals and fibres found in whole food. You also need to consider the synergistic way in which nutrients interact with one another to enhance absorption and utilisation within the body. Nutrients found in food are far better absorbed and utilised than those found in pill form.
Whilst vitamin and mineral supplementation definitely plays a role in correcting nutritional deficiencies, it should never be viewed as a quick fix for your dietary insufficiencies. A little planning and foresight can go a long way in the nutrition department. Get rid of the pills and get into some real food.
Mistake #2: Calorie over-compensation
Yes, I know. You train hard and so you ‘deserve’ that extra large white chocolate and raspberry muffin along with your large latte (plus two sugars)… or do you really? It has been well documented that most people over-estimate the number of calories they burn during exercise and over-compensate or simply over-eat post exercise.
I’m not saying you can never indulge in a few ‘treat’ foods and beverages, what I am saying is that there are many individuals who make this the post-training rule rather than the exception. As a triathlete who trains hard and values your health, what your body really deserves is quality fuel and not too much of it. A wholesome snack or meal following a training session should always include a source of protein and fat to assist in warding off those hunger pangs and cravings a few hours later. So next time you pull up at that café after a long session, consider ordering some poached eggs with a side serving of smashed avocado and tomato – satisfying, adequate and delicious.
Mistake #3: Over-hydrating
Yes, you read that right. Drinking according to your thirst is in, and hydration schedules are out! The important thing about nutrition and science is to stay abreast of the latest research. For years we were told to start drinking as soon as possible into exercise and to continue to drink regularly throughout longer sessions. However these recommendations have resulted in overzealous fluid intake and a dangerous condition of ‘fluid intoxication’ has crept into endurance sports.
New research encourages athletes to listen to their bodies and drink when thirsty. When it’s hot, you’ll probably feel thirsty earlier on in your session and when it’s cold, wet and windy your thirst may be delayed substantially. The important thing is to drink when your body tells you that you need to and not to overdo it.
Mistake #4: Skipping recovery meals/snacks
There are many excuses for “forgetting” or “ignoring” the need for post-workout refuelling. Whether it’s not having the foresight to have an adequate snack with you for after your session or the desire to “save” on overall calorie intake, the excuses or reasons are nonsensical and invalid. Recovery refuelling is paramount, not only to performance but also to optimising immunity and minimising injury. Plan to consume a quality fuel source within half an hour of completing your session. Your recovery meal should include a source of carbohydrate, to replenish glycogen stores, and some protein to rebuild and repair.
Commercial sports nutrition bars can be useful when out and about, but when at home treat yourself to something wholesome and sustaining. A homemade smoothie can be packed full of all the goodies you require – try blending together a handful of berries (frozen is perfect), a scoop of good quality protein powder, one egg, two tablespoons of natural Greek yoghurt, a tablespoon of flaxseed meal and a glug of milk – perfect!
Mistake #5: Focusing on weight to the detriment of health and performance
I can relate to wanting to look a certain way and carry only a minimal amount of body fat but sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we each have unique body shapes and sizes and we need to be realistic about what we can achieve in the body weight/shape department. Performance, and more importantly health, can be jeopardised by unrealistic weight goals that require extreme dieting and/or over-training to achieve them. Losing excess body fat can assist in improving your performance, but not if you are under-fuelling and risking illness and injury along the way. Be sensible about the way in which you move towards your weight and body fat goals.
A sports dietician can be a useful resource to assist you in working out an eating plan to meet your individual goals.