Neglecting Your Nutrition is Risky Business

This infographic is based on hidden dangers of belly fat and ways to eat healthy in order to slim down and speed up. Let me know what you think and if you like it please share it. (click the graphic to view in full size)





Seven Steps to Triumph at Your Next Triathlon

Do you want to shuffle to the finish line or finish strong at your next race?

If you’re like me then you want to kick butt and collect your finisher’s T-shirt and medal knowing you came prepared and gave it your all.  This means you’ll have to do more than log the minimum swim, bike, and run training to ensure you make it to the finish line.  You’ll need a plan that’s specifically designed to get the most out of the training time you have available. And then diligently execute it!

Doing this takes commitment, passion, and focus.  But that’s true for anything meaningful you want to accomplish in life, isn’t it?

To get started, here are 7 crucial questions to answer:

Do You Know What You Want?  What is the tangible outcome you want to achieve?  This is about your dreams and not about SMART goals.  Do you want to win your age group at your next race?  Or maybe you were the homecoming queen in high school and you want to shed that extra padding clinging to your back side before next summer’s high school reunion.  There are no rules other than to make sure that what you want is deeply meaningful to you!

Do You Know Why You Want It?  This may sound the same as what you want but it’s not.  Why you want what you want is the source of your intrinsic motivation.  It’s that emotional fire in your belly that connects you to your deep desires so you get out of bed day after day ready to train.  Maybe the reason you want to win your age group is to serve as a role model for your children.  Or you want to make sure your old high school pals don’t whisper behind your back about how cute you used to be before you got so big.  Whatever your reason, remember it’s about you and how you feel.

Where Are You Now?  Now that you know where you want to go, it’s time to take a hard look at where you are right now.  What are you willing to do, to give up, or to change in order to accomplish your dreams?  Getting clarity on the gap between where you are and what you want to achieve is the starting place for taking small steps that progressively move you forward.

Tip:  Build positive momentum by measuring backwards… focus on how much you’ve accomplished not how far you have to go!

Do You Have What You Need?  Triathlon is a demanding sport so before you create your training plan get a handle on the list of resources that will support your success.  If you’re new to triathlon and unsure what you need then ask someone who is in the sport some questions.  Meantime, at a very minimum, consider the following:

♦  Do you have enough training time to achieve your goals? Your days are already full so that means you’ll have to stop doing some things in order to fit it in.  Piling triathlon training onto an already busy schedule rarely works for long haul.

♦  Do you have the financial resources to effectively participate in the sport? The cumulative expense of equipment, race fees, travel, etc., can be significant so be prepared.

♦  Do you have access to training routes and facilities? Safe cycling and running routes and quality swimming facilities are key to your success so know what you have to work with.

♦  Are there experts available to help you quickly shore-up your weaknesses and improve your technique?

Do you know how to build your plan?  Crafting a plan that’s customized to your life is more art than science.  While all training plans have common features, such as key workouts and rest days, it’s essential to adapt it to your situation and personality in a way that gets you tri-fit and that’s fun for you.  Here are a few important steps to help you get started.

♦  Always start with the end in mind; write the “A” races in your calendar first so you have your timeline sketched out from the start.

♦  Next, build in key workouts such as long run, bike, and swim days…this usually applies more to IM 70.3 & IM distance races.

♦  If you’re going to include lower priority races into your schedule, then jot them into the plan next.

♦  Now begin to detail what you intend to do each day. Personally I like to work with a three-week training cycle where I have one full day off each week and every third weekend focused on recovery.

Understand that no plan that covers weeks and months will survive the reality of your day-to-day life.  Stay flexible because things will happen that impact your ability to train.  Expect it, adjust to it, and move on.

Do you need to share your plan?  It’s rare that your decision to take up triathlon only impacts your life.  Before you commit all your free time to training be sure to review your plans with people whose support you’ll need in the weeks and months ahead.  There are lots of great reason to do this early in your planning process.  Here are a couple:

♦  Most of us get a much-needed reality check when we share our plans with family and friends. If they’re not buying what you’re selling, then you’ll need to resolve this before you go any further. Without their help and support things can get ugly fast.

♦  This is your chance to avoid or minimize any schedule conflicts and ultimately limit any drama that might pop up.

Are You Ready to Change?  What you do every day determines your success in triathlon.  If you haven’t already established solid training habits, then it’s time to start.  The bottom line is that almost all change fails so it’s important to start small and build positive momentum if you want the change to stick!

Start by listing one or two activities you’re going to focus on each week and get to it.  Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

♦  Do you have a morning routine that supports your goals? Something as simple as consistently logging a 20-minute run or spending 10 minutes stretching will get you moving in the right direction.

♦  Are you properly fueling your body to meet your training demands? You’re putting a lot of stress on your body so quality nutrition is a must…don’t use the training as a reason to eat a bigger piece of cake!

♦  Are you carving sleep time out of your schedule to make time for training? This is common and wrong…you need more rest not less so your body and mind can properly recover.

If you take the time to go through these seven steps, you can expect to finish strong and have more fun at your next race.

Cruising the Post-Race Buffet Line

Race directors are always looking for ways to get you excited about their race.  A popular approach is to entice you with culinary delights that await you at the post-race buffet.  While gobbling down pizza and sandwiches may sound tasty you first need to consider the effort you’ve just put in and treat yourself with the best possible care.

So what should you eat after you’ve given it your all and bolted through the finish line?

Blinding You with Science

Post-race or recovery nutrition is pretty well studied and focuses on quickly refueling your muscles.  From a sports nutrition perspective recovery from a hard workout hinges on getting re-hydrated and replacing your body’s energy stores.  The ideal time to kick start this is in the first 20 to 30 minutes after you sprint across the finish line.  Here’s what the science says:

  • To rebuild your body’s energy stores quickly combine carbohydrates (sugar) with a little protein.  A 3/1 or 4/1 ratio of carbs to protein is considered ideal to get your recovery on track.
  • There is also some research that supports co-ingesting carbohydrate with some caffeine will speed up the replenishment of your energy stores.
  • Carbohydrate only can also work well to fuel up your reserves.
  • Minimize fat and large amounts of protein immediately after the race.
  • For re-hydration the target is to replace at a rate of 100%-150% of what you lost (100% = 16 oz. per lb. or 1 liter per kg).

The key is to slowly and consistently rehydrate while refueling to ease your body out of a dehydrated state and aid in digestion.  But before we get into how to do this post-race let’s first consider whether it matters.

What’s your goal?

Is this a key race or just another training day?  That’s an important question because it will help you determine whether fast recovery matters to you.  If this is a key race and you don’t need to get back to training quickly then how fast you recover isn’t terribly important.  What is important is to enjoy your accomplishment and treat yourself well by adequately hydrating as you consume your post-race meal.

If this is a low priority race that you are using as training then refueling your muscles quickly is important.  In this case you want to focus your post-race nutrition on fast recovery by keeping it simple, staying close to the science, and perhaps focusing on liquid calories for expediency.

Chow time

Now that you have a little recovery nutrition info and your race priority in hand what should you eat and drink after the race?  First up is whether or not to focus on liquids only versus more solid foods with water.

For the most part liquid calories tend to be easier on your digestive system.  Sports drinks and sodas are easy ways to get in some calories quickly.  Another option that’s become more common lately is low or nonfat chocolate milk.

In recent years the milk industry has made a big advertising push into the endurance sport market to offset declining sales in school districts.  The high calorie content from added sugar (or high fructose corn syrup) in low fat chocolate milk that makes it a poor fit for schoolchildren makes it a good fit post-race for endurance athletes.  It has a good mix of carbohydrates to protein, approximately a 3/1 ratio, which puts it on par with other recovery specific drinks, and more important… people like it.

If you get to the finish line and can’t imagine drinking one more sugary drink you might want to focus on water rich fruits.  When you eat oranges, for example, you might not need to drink as much water plus you get the benefit of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.

Another option especially if it’s a cool day or your stomach is a little shaky is chicken broth.  It contains some much needed fluid, calories, and sodium.  And it can be quite soothing after taking in all those sugary calories out on the course.

But if you’ve got your eye on a couple slices of pizza, a chicken dinner, or a basket of pretzels be sure to kick up the amount of water you drink because solid foods will compete with your digestive system for fluid and you’ll quickly run low.  Without sufficient fluid in your system, there’s a good chance you’ll experience headaches and possibly nausea a little later in the day.

Do you have a plan?

By the time you get to the finish line you’ve probably burned up a large chunk of your mental currency.  And when your willpower tanks it’s easy to make decisions that might not be in your best interest.  To minimize the chances of this happening, write out a simple plan of what you want to do immediately after crossing the finish line.  Just make it part of your race nutrition protocol which is part of your overall race plan.  That way you have a better chance of enjoying your post-race experience and getting back in the game more quickly.

Here’s my method

Personally, by the time I cross the finish line I couldn’t care less about eating any food regardless of whether it’s a key race or just a training day.  The only thing I want is a cold drink that has some calories and ideally some caffeine, a bottle of water, and most of all a place to sit down, rest my legs, and reflect on the day.  It has served me well in scores of long-course races over the past 15 years.

I recommend that you test to see what works for you, starting with simple post-race liquids and foods first, and consume less than you might feel you want just to feel how it settles.  Over-consuming too much or too poorly can have lousy consequences… and you can always eat more when you’re ready.

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

Do You Have A Drinking Problem?

Dehydration can turn a great day into a grueling death march in a very short order. Given the importance of hydration to performance, especially long course racing, you’d think that the guidelines for endurance race hydration would be straightforward. But that’s just not the case.

Currently there are two distinct and competing theories to hydration during endurance training and racing.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Position: Thirst Is Not Enough

This approach simple states that if you wait until you’re thirsty then it’s too late:  you’re already dehydrated so you might as well pack it up and call it a day.

Your goal then is to drink ahead of thirst. The ASCM originally detailed their hydration guidelines in their 1996 position paper on Exercise and Fluid Replacement. This position paper established specific guidelines for pre, post, and during exercise hydration that included all sports… not just endurance sports. In 2007 the ACSM revised/updated their position. The 2007 version made two key changes relative to the 1996 paper.

  • The drink as much is tolerable position was removed from this paper.
  • The new position paper acknowledges that body weight losses of up 2% have no detrimental effect on aerobic exercise performance.

The 2007 update also removed specific guidelines to drink within a specific range (a set amount of fluid every 15 minutes) to one based on body weight.  A reasonable change considering it’s unlikely that a 110 (50kg) pound woman needs as much fluid as a 220 pound (100kg) man.

Prerace Hydration Guidelines

The ACSM provides hydration guidelines to ensure you begin your exercise or race in a hydrated state.

  • Drink 5 to 7 ml per kilogram of body weight four hours before the race.
  • Drink another 3 to 5 ml per kilogram body weight two hours before the race.

As you can see, these are general guidelines and because they’re intended to cover a variety of sports, particularly weight class sports like wrestling and judo, you’d need to adjust as you feel necessary.  For most triathletes the guidelines are probably more important for day-to-day training than race morning.  Because based on my experience standing in the long porta-potty lines race morning, being under-hydrated is not an issue.

During Race Hydration

The ACSM position paper acknowledges that for best results you need to know your sweat rate under various conditions.  Its focus is still on hydrating to minimize body weight loss during exercise.  Specifically, to avoid compromising your performance you should not lose more than 2% of your pre-exercise body weight due to dehydration.  Also, thirst alone is not a good indicator of when to drink, particularly for older athletes, because your ability to detect thirst from dehydration diminishes with age.

The ACSM also encourages the consumption of electrolytes, particularly sodium and potassium.  The paper states that the primary purpose of electrolyte consumption is to stimulate thirst and retain fluids while replacing some of the electrolytes lost in sweat.  Here is the specific guideline:

  • For marathon distance events consume .4 to .8 liters of fluid per hour.  Consume closer to the lower end of the range if you’re a slower and/or smaller athlete or competing in cool conditions.  Consume closer to the higher end of the range if you’re a larger and/or faster athlete or you’re competing in hot humid conditions.

Post-Race Hydration

Post-race recommendations are intended to rehydrate your body and compensate for body weight losses

  • Consume 150% of the body weight lost over six hours, or 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost or 1.5 liters/kilogram.
  • Consume salty food or sports drink containing electrolytes to replace lost electrolytes.

The drink ahead of thirst approach and its hydration prescription has provided the foundation for long course race hydration for many years.

However, this philosophy is now being challenged by the complete opposite strategy of drink to thirst.  The first strategy says that if you wait until you’re thirsty it’s too late; you’re already on your road to dehydration.  The latter strategy says to follow your innate sense, drink only when thirsty.

Tim Noakes Position:  Drink to Thirst

Supporters of this theory, which includes some very prominent coaches, believe you should drink only when thirsty and not attempt to replace all fluid lost to sweat.  Their rationale is that you should follow the wisdom of your body because its thirst mechanism was developed over thousands of years.   They believe that the percentage of dehydration and subsequent body weight loss is less important since there’s such a large variation in the ability of individuals to tolerate different levels of dehydration.  Here are some of the key components of this theory:

  • The body is more focused on homeostasis or in other words the concentration of body fluids as opposed to weight.
  • The electrolyte concentration in your body is significantly higher than the electrolyte concentration in even a salty sweater’s fluid loss. The body’s sodium concentration is approximately 140 mmol per liter while the sodium concentration in sweat is approximately 20 to 60 mmol per liter.
  • Since the fluid loss from sweating is greater than the electrolyte loss, the electrolyte concentration in your body increases.  Initially this increase activates the release of ADH, which is a hormone that signals your kidneys to restrict urine output to conserve fluid.  As you continue to dehydrate, your body’s thirst mechanism will kick in so you’ll consume fluid to rebalance your body’s fluid concentration.
  • If you follow the drink to thirst process you do not need to consume electrolytes.  Since the sodium concentration in your body increases as you sweat there’s no advantage to consuming additional electrolytes.  The disadvantage is that you’re likely to over consume fluids because the sodium in the drink will encourage you to drink more, which will drive your concentration lower…in the extreme the result would be hyponatremia

The key recommendation is don’t try to drink to match your sweat rate.  Focus on drinking to thirst, which is anywhere from 30% to 60% of your sweat rate.

So now what should you do?

If you’re feeling a little confused don’t sweat it.  Even the experts are struggling to come up with what the real guideline should be.  And the fact is there’s no one answer that’s right for you in every situation.

Here is a practical approach that I use for figuring out how to properly hydrate for triathlon training and racing:

Weigh yourself: 

Step 1:  To get a handle on your sweat rate, at least once a week weigh yourself before and after a training session.  Keep a log so you can track the changes in your weight.  One hour runs or bike trainer sessions (be sure to use a fan) work best because don’t need to drink much.  If you do consume fluid be sure to adjust for it when you determine your sweat rate.  If possible, jot down the air temperature in your log to get an idea of how it affects your sweat rate.  This will give you your sweat rate per hour.

Step 2:  Once you know your sweat rate, you have a good idea of how much to take in to replace what you lost.  The goal ISN’T to consume ALL of your lost fluid during the race, but to consume enough to maintain performance without stressing your digestion.  For me, I like to replace between 50-80% of what I lose on the bike, and 30-50% on the run.

Remember for calculation purposes 1 pound is equal to 16 fluid ounces or .95 kg is equal to a liter.  This isn’t perfect science but it’s simple and pretty effective.

Be flexible:  there is no one perfect hydration plan that works for all situations.  Do your homework on your hydration needs and adjust to the conditions on race day.  If it’s warmer or cooler than expected your hydration needs to be adjusted up or down, respectively to match your pace to the conditions.

Keep your head in the race:  you thirst mechanism was developed over thousands of years of evolution but your race emotions weren’t.  Do your best to stay calm and focused.  Set up cues, such as a watch that goes off every 15 or 30 minutes, if needed to remind you to check-in on your hydration status regularly during a race.  Always remember the number one rule, especially for long course triathlon racing, is to take care of yourself at all times.

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

How to Avoid Nutrition Meltdown On Race Day

Imagine you spent the last few months training diligently for your big race. Suddenly, within a few hundred yards of the finish line your body shuts down and you can’t take another step. Your energy is shot and your thinking is scrambled.  This can happen to all of us; in fact it happens all the time, even to the best.

Look no further than the Ironman World Championship for some real life examples.   Paula Newby Fraser, in my opinion, is the greatest Ironman distance champion of all time… yet there she was, going through a full nutrition meltdown 400 yards from notching another win in a race she was dominating.

So how do you ensure this doesn’t happen to you?  Here’s my three-step approach.

Train Your Body

You must teach your body to absorb nutrition DURING training sessions. Start anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before your big race:  the longer the race and the more sensitive your system the earlier you need to start. A few guidelines to get started:

  1. Incorporate a “nutrition” plan into each and every training session.
  2. Mix it up so you don’t rely on the same type of calories day after day.
  3. If possible, find out what’s being served on the course and build it into your training on occasion.  This allows you to easily adjust when bad things happen, such as your gels falling out of your pocket.

Here’s how to use nutrition to make a difference in your next race.

Swim training:  Obviously you can’t take any calories in the swim. But do take in some calories before every swim workout by consuming a gel.

Bike Training:  Practice taking in calories before, during and after your ride.  On long rides, carry two bottles on your bike and use a different sports drink in each to prep your body for the possibility of multiple sports drinks given at events.

Run Training:  Consuming calories on the run can be more of a challenge, however, just like the bike, practice consuming calories before, during, and after the each run.  Be consistent because the run leg at any distance is quite demanding, which limits your ability to absorb calories.  Your goal is to keep your blood sugar stable so you can maintain a solid pace.

Meal Planning 101

Never leave your nutrition to chance!  Plan it, write it and review it on a regular basis.  Test it out at least once or twice in training in the weeks leading up to the race. Specifically this means getting up at the time you plan to get up, eating what it is that you think you’d like that morning, and going through the process of a simulated triathlon consuming the calories you plan to consume.

Build your plan by taking a lined sheet of paper and on the left side start with the time you intend to get up in the morning and in 15 or 30 minute increments write out what you are going to do leading all the way through the end of the race. Make sure you have a plan for all three key components:  your pre-race meal and snacks, your actual race nutrition, and your post-race recovery calories.  Some pointers:

Pre-race:  Identify exactly what you’re going to eat when you get up in order to minimize the drama.  Plan in some snacks that you’re going to consume in the hour or so before the race and account for any possible delays or extended waiting time that results from being in a late start wave at a large race.  And be sure to pencil in what you’re going to consume just before the race start.  Here are my rules:

  1. Liquid or blended is best.  This is easier to process on what may be a nervous digestion system.
  2. Minimize the fat and fiber because they slow down digestion process.  Use smooth nut butter instead of higher fiber chunky nut butter, for example.  Avoid healthy whole grains and choose white bread, bagels, and rice instead.
  3. Just a little protein.  Protein powder in a smoothie or mixed with some apple sauce works well and maybe a little cinnamon to improve the taste.

Race Nutrition:  The most important thing to remember is that you’re limited by the number of calories your body can absorb. The old rule of thumb is about 250 calories/ hour; more current research places that number closer to 320 to 380 calories/hour. The new research also identified different transport mechanisms in your body for different types of sugar which is why most sports drinks have more than one sugar source. This is particularly important for longer races because of the higher overall calorie needs of those races.

For sprint and international distance races large amounts of calories aren’t necessary.  The higher intensity of the shorter course races makes calories absorption more difficult.  And your body has adequate energy stores, for the most part, to handle the race duration.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consume some calories.  In short course races focus on taking in 100 to 200 calories/hour to keep your blood sugar stable and possibly giving you that energy bump you need to run strong towards the end of the race.

For long course races your needs are greater.  As a general rule look to consume twice as many calories or more on the bike than you do on the run.  If you plan to consume 300 calories/hour on the bike then 120 to 150 calories/hour on the run works well.  If you prefer solid food like energy bars try to consume them in the first half of the bike leg when your body is less dehydrated to minimize the stress on your digestive system.

When you build your plan be sure to give yourself options. Just because something worked in training doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get it down your throat on race day.  And when bad things happen, such as bottles flying off your bike, expect it and prepare for it:  carry an extra gel flask or some other calories source like chews or blocks just in case.  The additional weight is minimal and the peace of mind is worth it, particularly in long races.

Post-race:  The formula is pretty simple.  Consume 50-100 grams of carbohydrate and 6-20 grams of protein within 15-20 minutes of finishing, preferably in liquid form.  There are a number of pre-measured recovery drinks on the market that work well.  If that’s not an option then do what I do and drink a can of cold cola as soon as possible after crossing the finish line.  It’s not perfect but it tastes good and works pretty well.

Once the race is done quite often the party is on.  Hold off for a little while and focus on getting in some good quality nutrition first.  You’ll recover faster and there’s a good chance you’ll reduce your muscle soreness, particularly if you’re going to race again soon.

Stress and GI Distress

Stress has a huge impact on your ability to digest new calories.  The physiology is simple. When you get into high stress situations or what’s commonly known as fight or flight you engage your parasympathetic nervous system. One of the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system is to get you away from danger as quickly as possible. That means any unnecessary body bodily systems are shutdown. One of those systems is your digestive system because when you’re in danger processing calories is not a priority. The bottom line is your body doesn’t know the difference between running from a lion or panicking in the swim. So how do you deal with this?

In the weeks leading up to the race train yourself to be calm. Practice mindful meditation or deep relaxed breathing before and during training on a regular basis.  Be sure to build time for some relaxed breathing into your training plan. You want to visualize yourself being calm and handling the swim start and all the other drama in the transition areas with ease. The more relaxed you are the morning of the race the easier your body can access and shuttle those valuable calories to your working muscles they so desperately need!

The Weight Management Facts Will Set You Free

If you’re like me, the thought of counting calories, carbs, points and blocks sounds about as appealing as getting a root canal.  Frankly, keeping body fat at bay isn’t all that hard to do, IF you are armed with the facts.  So what is the RIGHT way to fuel up?

Here are the sticking points that keep us baffled about how to eat to keep our weight in check during times of temptation.  It’s time to learn the truth well before your next race so you DON’T have to start your training season by dieting. AGAIN.

Scales and calculators not necessary.

1)      The Calorie Controversy.  Nutrition science confirms it is NOT just a numbers game when it comes to staying svelte; the “information” contained within your food calories tells your genes, hormones, enzymes and metabolism how to respond. Broccoli calories and Pop Tart calories trigger different metabolic effects in your body (even Weight Watchers and the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics are finally recognizing this fact, even changing their programs as a result!).

One of MANY studies demonstrating this was in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Kallio P, et al.) in 2007 which studied two pre-diabetic groups who ate exactly the same number of calories and exactly the same percentage of fat, protein, carbohydrate, and fiber – the only difference was in the type of carbs they consumed.  In the group that ate whole kernel rye products, dozens of genes that had made participants fat and diabetic were turned OFF and genes that helped them become healthy and thin were turned ON. The opposite occurred in the group that ate oats, wheat and potatoes which led to increased stress molecules, increased inflammation and increased oxidative stress.

Additionally, if you consistently eat food that spikes your insulin level (500 Pop Tart calories), you will gain weight.  If you eat food that reduces your insulin level (500 broccoli calories) you will lose weight. Can we please, please put that outdated “calories in, calories out” argument to rest?

Action:    Avoid eating anything that has more than 7 ingredients.  Choose whole food that most look like the way it GOES or the way it GROWS.  And if you can’t pronounce any of its ingredients, don’t eat it.

2)      Fat Facts.  Time to banish the low-fat myth along with acid-washed jeans and gigantic shoulder pads as unfortunate 1980s fads. Adequate dietary fat contributes to numerous physiological processes, helps you absorb valuable nutrients, and of KEY importance, keeps you full so you eat less. You also NEED fat to burn fat (another metabolic response to the “information” contained in healthy fat calories).  Obviously, we’re not talking MacDonald’s cheeseburgers and trans-fat laden baked goods here.

Action:  Good fats come from whole foods sources like avocado, olive and coconut oils, cold water fish like salmon and halibut, and nuts and seeds.  Make SURE you include 1-2 servings of healthy fat at every meal and snack.  One serving = 4 oz cold water fish, 1 tablespoon of oil or nut butter,  5-10 nuts, ½ avocado, or ¼ cup of coconut milk.    

3)      Boost your fiber intake. Fiber can lower cholesterol, reduce your blood sugar, promote healthy bowel movements, and decrease your appetite so you’re not tempted to make a detour for a 1,500-calorie Cold Stone Creamery treat. A study in the journal Nutrition Reviews showed that 14 grams of fiber a day, with no other dietary restrictions, helped people lose an average of 4 pounds over 4 months.

Action:  To get all of fiber’s benefits, shoot for at least 30 grams each day.  Lentils, raspberries, avocado, and nuts like almonds all pack a fiber wallop. Flaxseed, chia, and/ or a fiber powder (look for a soluble/ insoluble blend) in your morning smoothie also helps meet your quota.

4)      The Balancing Act.  Your always-on-a-diet best friend fears carbs, your vegan sister constantly tells you protein is overrated, and you’re still terrified of fat since you first bought those Snackwells Devil’s Food cookies back in 1989. But like all things in life, balance creates the healthiest dietary approach. The right carbs – fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other whole foods – come packed with nutrients. Likewise, protein and fat help build muscle, support fat burning, and keep you satiated. Want more convincing? A study in the journal JAMA concluded that a Mediterranean diet reduced all causes of mortality – including cardiovascular disease and cancer – over 50% among people 70 to 90 years old.

Action:  Model your meals after the Mediterranean diet, with its array of fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, and olive oil. At mealtime, fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies, ¼ with lean, clean protein, and ¼ with a high-fiber, WHOLE FOOD, low-glycemic starchy carbohydrate (see 1 above as it relates to eating things that look like the way they grow – e.g. rice, berries, black beans, sweet potatoes).  Make SURE you include 1-2 servings of fat… and that’s all the measuring that’s necessary to keep your weight stable, your belly happy, and your cravings history.

Holiday Survival Tips for Athletes


If you’re like me, you look ahead to holiday eating with glee along with a healthy dose of dread, too.  Yes, we love those sugar and dough-laden treats from our wonder years.  Problem is, although we’ve been carefully watching the scales and keeping our weight in check all season, those temptations (and the people who push them) are hard to resist.  It’s nearly impossible to say no… but who wants to deal with losing weight yet again come Jan 2nd?

I’ve developed some tactics that have worked for my clients over the years which I think you’ll like too.  Next time you’re confronted with a tough choice, pull one these tricks out of your hat… and delight in your resolve.  After all, you are an athlete – discipline is your middle name!

  1.  Fatten Up and Pig Out.  You heard me right.  Snack on a handful of healthy nuts, some smashed avocado rolled up in deli meat, or munch a bowl of berries drizzled with coconut milk and chia seeds about ½ hour before heading out to a dinner party.  Fat and protein help you feel full so that by mealtime, you can keep your appetite in check; both of these macronutrients beat carbs when it comes to satiety.  It’s hard to think clearly when you’re starving and if you aren’t positive that you’ll be offered healthy options where you’re going, go prepared.

  3. Holiday Cheer.  Yes, red wine has powerful antioxidant capabilities.   But more than 1 glass of alcohol for women and 2 for men have detrimental health effects, and let’s not forget about the added calories and sugar load.  Make sure you eat food WHILE you drink so that your blood sugar isn’t whacked.  And if you insist on more than a glass or two, have a glass of water in between each cocktail in order to stay hydrated, sober and, hopefully, too full to drink more than you should.

  5. Pick Your Shots.  You WILL be tempted to consume fun stuff that, in volume, will short-circuit weight management.  And I’m not a complete killjoy here – a treat or two won’t kill you… the operative word here is “volume.”  So, scan the feast and pick the thing, and ONLY one, that you are going to splurge on.  Is it that creamy, cheese-stuffed pasta dish?  The gooey, brownie cake blanketed in caramel and ice cream?  Once you make your choice, have just a few bites of it… and push it aside.  You may discover that just a little bit is all you need and you can enjoy it pretty much guilt-free.

  7. Emergency Preparedness Kit.  There are times when you may find yourself stuck for hours at holiday parties facing foods that are downright scary (fruitcake comes to mind).  Instead of eating out of “politeness,” excuse yourself to the bathroom and pull out your emergency stash of snacks hidden in your purse or pockets – raw nuts, food bars, dark chocolate, and stuff like that.  Perhaps this sounds extreme.  But when you have dairy and gluten issues like me, you learn to be creative and take matters into your own hands.  And after all, parties are about enjoying the people, too.

  9. Keep MOVING.  Unless you are injured or in major recovery mode, stay active.  You may be bored with your usual training routine and I get that.  So dust off the skis, snow shoes, and sleds.  Or if you live in a warmer climate, drag out your hiking shoes and Frisbee.  Replace eating and drinking activities with physical ones for reconnecting with your friends and family over the holidays.  The 2013 race season is right around the corner – stay fit while taking some time to play with your pals before training heats up again.


Triathlon Nutrition in a Glass!

If you are looking for a great sports diet tip, perfect for Paleo athletes, Vegan athletes and any triathlete hoping to have endless energy, lose weight, and recover FAST, try our super powered protein shake developed by Miriam.



Triathlon Nutrition: How Gluten Sensitivity Whacks Race Performance

By Mir Zacharias

You’re facing another demanding day of work, training, and a bit of family fun time, too.  And you wonder, “Will I have enough energy to take it all on or am I going to find myself dragging through the day again?”

Most people don’t connect the dots between fatigue and gluten sensitivity.  This is largely because your symptoms may not show up for 2 hours to a couple of days after consuming it!  This is different from celiac disease which is a genetic condition that immediately triggers a nasty physical reaction if you eat even a smidgen of gluten.

While only one in 133 people have celiac disease, some estimate that 30 – 40% of the population has some form of gluten sensitivity that creates many of the same symptoms:  fatigue, headaches, and joint pain topping the list.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, malts and triticale. Oats, by the way, do not contain gluten on their own; the issue with oats involves potential cross-contamination with other grains in the milling process.  In addition to the obvious foods (bread, pizza, pastry and pasta), gluten is also widely used as a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent in almost all processed foods and commonly shows up as “dextrin” on food labels.

ITU gold-medalist Timothy O’Donnell is the poster child for undiagnosed gluten sensitivity.  With his performance faltering, he learned that his inability to digest gluten was shutting down his digestive tract, resulting in low energy and sabotaging his races.  Since going gluten-free, O’Donnell finished 1st place in two 70.3 races, San Juan and Galveston, so far this year.

Here’s how gluten can wreak havoc on your body and in your performance:

1. It causes leakage. When the stomach can’t handle gluten, it becomes inflamed; an inflamed gut lining becomes more permeable or “leaky.” A leaky gut allows energy-producing nutrients to pass out of the stomach and into the bloodstream in a form that cannot be absorbed by the body (vs. proceeding through the intestines and broken down into a usable form).  When minerals and vitamins are not taken up, energy drops.   Additionally, these unrecognized food proteins in the blood stream can make you feel lousy:  think gas, bloating, and brain fog.

2.  It adds insult to injuries. Foods that contain gluten also have high levels of the compound arachidonic acid which in large amounts has the ability to increase inflammation of the joints and aggravate pain. Even the Arthritis Foundation recommends a gluten-free diet to support people who suffer from ongoing pain due to inflammation.  If chronic joint or tendon pain is impacting your ability to train, gluten may be the culprit.

3.  It makes you fat. Many think that our obesity epidemic is a result of a slovenly, TV-addicted lifestyle and while some of that may be true there are many people who follow the USDA’s “healthy” dietary guidelines, exercise an hour a day and STILL gain weight.  What’s up with that?  It all comes down to our love affair with foods that cause our insulin levels to stay stuck on high.  High insulin levels make us STORE fat, especially around the belly, and one big enemy behind chronically high insulin levels is wheat.  Want proof?  The glycemic index, which measures blood sugar level increases, of whole wheat bread is 72, while plain table sugar is 59.  Kidney beans come in at 51, grapefruit is 25, and salmon and walnuts have zero effect on blood sugar.  In fact, few foods have as high a GI as foods made from wheat!  And you already know how excess weight can slow performance.

So here’s what you should do:

1.    If you suspect that you have gluten issues talk to your healthcare practitioner and ask to be tested.  You may encounter resistance, so stand your ground if this is something you want to do.  In addition to blood work, Timothy O’Donnell used a test (one I’ve used as well) to discover his gluten issue called the Metametrix GI Effects Complete Profile.  Ask your doctor about this.

2.    If you don’t want to hassle with tests and doctors, perform an elimination diet on yourself.  Go completely gluten-free for 3 weeks and monitor things like energy, GI distress, headaches, weight shifts, and pain.  If you see no improvement, then return to eating gluten it if you wish.  If you aren’t sure if you feel any better, eat gluten after your 3-week hiatus for several meals in a row and THEN see how you feel.  Sometimes it’s the reintroduction that is an even more powerful indicator.

3.    If you see improvement after 3 weeks clean, then kick the gluten habit.  This doesn’t mean you should switch to eating large volumes of processed foods made from non-gluten grains!  An occasional gluten-free treat is fine, but better carb choices are those that look most like nature herself:  sweet potatoes, legumes, brown rice, fruits, and of course, vegetables.  There are plenty of healthy alternatives out there; it’s just about building new habits.

Once you remove gluten from your diet due to sensitivity issues, eating even a small amount of it will quickly remind you why you stopped eating gluten in the first place.  That alone, over time, will keep you on the straight and narrow.

Get Fit First; Then Get Ready to Race

We’ve all heard that early season triathlon training is all about building your aerobic base with long slow distance (LSD) stuff.  Sure the LSD training is certainly important, but it’s only part of the story.  The real key is to build your overall fitness.  Building your aerobic base is only one part of it.

Why Fitness Matters

If you want to finish further up the food chain in your age group then increasing your fitness is the first step.  Or to paraphrase Dean Brittenham, the Athletic Director at the Shiley Elite training program at Scripps Clinic, San Diego, “it’s not the best athlete but the fittest athlete that will win.”  Whether your definition of winning is breaking 6 hours in your next half IM or sprinting ahead of your competitors to win your age group, start by building a solid foundation of fitness and the rest will follow.

1.      Frequency = Fitness:  One of the fastest ways to improve your fitness is to increase your number of training sessions.  Sure there’s some crossover from each of the three disciplines, particularly your aerobic development, but the more often you can swim, bike, and run the better triathlete you’ll become.  Build the habit of two sessions a day, five-six days a week if possible.  Put less emphasis on duration than frequency early in the season.  A routine I use to get started is to swim and run one day and bike and strength train the next… for anything other than strength training it’s very hard to improve doing less than two sessions a week.

2.      Drills = Skills:  The better your technique the faster you’ll go at every distance with the same effort, which is why elite athletes always work to improve their skills.  Whether it’s catch-up or kick on side drills in the pool, fast-spin or single leg drills on the bike…best done on the trainer, or kick-butt or high-knee drills on the run build some technique drills into each session.  It’s free speed so go get it.

3.      Speed All the Time:  If you’ve been off for a while or you’re just starting up, give yourself a few weeks before incorporating some speed sets.  Otherwise quit stalling!  Speed work builds strength, makes you faster, and improves your technique.  Just be sure to keep it short…5-10 seconds for the first few weeks and then build to 20- 30 seconds progressively as you feel more comfortable.  You’ll get better and besides, it’s more fun to go fast!
4.      Eat to Improve:  If you want to become a fat burning machine then you have to do more than just aerobic zone training.  You have to feed the beast to match your training.  Reduce or eliminate the breads, pasta, and pizza and force your body to tap into fat stores for fuel…also known as being metabolically efficient.   The better you do this now the longer you can hold your race pace on your big day…even the skinniest among us has plenty of fat for fuel.

5.      Make It Fun:  Not every activity, especially this time of year has to be triathlon specific.  It’s a long season so look for creative ways to build fitness, particularly if you can include your family members.  If you live in snow country tow your kids on a sled, go snow shoeing, or cross country skiing.  If your swimming is limited then try some dry land training with stretch cords and really work on your strength and technique.  Do some mountain biking or put the biggest tires you can on your bike and try some of those unpaved roads that look interesting but you’ve been avoiding because of those shinny tri-bike tires.  Remember this triathlon thing is voluntary so find ways to have fun and enjoy yourself and you’ll get more fit in the process.  Guaranteed!

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.


Triathlon Training: Lose It To Get Faster Part 2

If improving your health and performance are important to you then weight management needs to be a key aspect of your training.  Shedding that extra weight will allow you to climb the hills quicker and run faster.  And it will stress your body less when your foot strikes the ground reducing the risk of injury.  In the first article of this two part series on weight management we focused on the nutritional side of the weight management equation but that’s not the end of the story.  In Part II we’ll look into three other factors that might be impacting your ability to trim that extra weight and what to do about them.

Fight, flight and fat. The demands on the body from training and racing, combined with stressors in our daily lives (mortgages and in-laws, for example) can keep your body’s stress dial permanently set on HI, causing dangerous fluctuations in the hormone cortisol.  Spikes in cortisol stimulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy and results in an increase in appetite.   Work out your anxieties before they take a toll on your weight and your health.  A quick and painless way to determine whether your stress is out of control is a through a simple saliva test that can be performed by a health care professional.  Just put your lips together and spit… and within days you’ll find out if you are headed toward adrenal burnout and potential weight and health problems.  And no need to worry if your cortisol levels are out of whack, either.  There are some simple lifestyle solutions help you get your calm back!


Reality bites. Researchers have identified a new class of endocrine system disrupters called “obesogens,” believed to be a key cause of overweight in the U.S.  These are the chemicals in our environment that tax our systems by mis-programming our stem cells to become fat cells and may even be altering the function of our genes and impact our metabolism!  Minimize your exposure to the things you can control:  stop cooking or eating foods in plastic containers, Styrofoam and foods that come in cans.  Go organic whenever possible, and steer away from foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and are genetically modified.  Use more planet-friendly cleaners in your home, and avoid dousing yourself with chemical-laden personal hygiene products.  All of these items contain chemicals that are foreign to our bodies, and is taxing an already overworked liver to remove them.  Be kind to your body and it will respond.

Gut-wrenching news. Your dietary and lifestyle behaviors could be causing your gut wall lining to become more permeable or “leaky,” resulting in inflammation in your body, low energy, bloating, skin problems, and may impact your ability to effectively digest and assimilate nutrients from your food.  Maddeningly, leaky gut can show up on the scales as an additional 5 to 10 pounds of “false” fat, too.  As athletes, intestinal permeability does a double whammy on you, since it not only makes you feel lousy, but also puts your overall nutrient uptake in jeopardy!  Remember, you need MORE, not LESS in terms of nutrient dense support than the average person. There is a simple test to determine whether or not your gut lining has become compromised; you can learn about it – and the stress test mentioned earlier, too, from any qualified health care professional.  If it’s determined that you’ve developed sensitivity to a specific food, you can make immediate shifts in your nutritional plan to make you feel and LOOK better within days.  This is truly a life changer!

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

Triathlon Training: How To Lose It, Part I

Your race is right around the corner.  Yet, even after all the training hours you’ve logged, you STILL can’t drop that extra weight.  Selecting lightweight components can shave a few ounces off your bike, but it doesn’t have near the impact of dropping a few pounds from your tush!

Regardless of what you hear, weight management is not a simple math equation, i.e. calories consumed minus calories used.   There are seven other factors you need to consider in order to make a dent in your weight loss efforts and, ultimately, in your triathlon finish time.  We’ll review 4 of these today.

Remember, these guidelines have NOTHING to do with race or training nutrition, but rather are offered as tips for everyday eating for the triathlete!

How To Eat To Burn Fat

Where’s the beef? A review of nearly 400 scientific studies in the Sports Nutrition Review Journal (2004) showed that athletes involved in moderate amounts of intense and high volume training need to consume 3 – 11 servings of animal protein per day since carb-only meals negatively impact protein synthesis and the ability to lose weight.  However, the majority of these studies were performed on men!  Research that just came out in May of 2010 tells us a very different story about women’s proteins needs and indicates that this amount MAY actually vary quite a bit between men and women.  So what’s the right amount?  Some new genetic testing now available actually spells out how much you, from a genetic standpoint, should be consuming AT EACH MEAL.  I’ll tell you a bit more about that later because it’s amazing stuff… but for now, my general rule of thumb is that you should be eating 1 serving of protein at every meal, either a) between 4-6 ounces of animal protein, b) ½ – 1 cup of Greek-style yogurt or cottage cheese, or c) 1-2 scoops of whey or rice/pea/hemp protein powder.

Drop your biking pals, not your fats. Skimping on fats in an effort to drop pounds is an out of balance dietary strategy that will push your performance, your ability to recover, your immune system and your overall health into the red zone.  If you’ve been avoiding fat because you think it will make you fat, keep in mind that good fats like olive oil, avocado, flaxseed meal, and nut butters all actually fuel your metabolism, and – in the right amounts – can help you burn fat.  And, since we’re all a bunch of fat heads (the brain is 60-70% fat), depleting your diet of fat can make you stupid and depressed too.  For a bit more info on dietary fats, check out my video here:

Practice responsible snacking: If you’re not training hard for 90 minutes or more, why would you eat a snack or sports nutrition product when you’re carrying sufficient fat stores to fuel your body?   On rest and recovery days, limit yourself to three meals (or 5 small ones) a day, consisting of the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.  On hard training days, I suggest balanced and nutrient-dense snacks to fuel performance and keep weight in check.  Specific dietary protocols are required – and differ – for training, weight management, recovery and racing.  We will be addressing why periodizing your diet is essential, and we’ll be providing suggestions on meal plans and simple recipe examples during each phase in upcoming newsletters.

Keep it professional. Studies now support the connection between adequate vitamin and mineral stores and weight management.  Since our bodies cannot MAKE vitamins, we have to eat them. Yes, you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from your food, as long as you regularly consume 5-10 vegetables and fruits, the right amount of minerals based on that day’s physical demands, and all the other cell-building, brain-enhancing, hormone-balancing nutrients from your meals each day.  As athletes, the metabolic demands on your bodies are great; therefore, so are your nutritional needs.  For ALL of our athletes, we suggest high-quality, professional grade supplements for baseline insurance.  Avoid the retail, mass-marketed supplement brands.  Who knows what fillers have been added, the conditions in which they’re formulated, or where the ingredients have been sourced (remember the melamine in our dog food?).  Yep, they’re cheap – and they also are made with substandard ingredients that don’t dissolve, get absorbed or have any effect.  Supplements carried through healthcare professionals are worth their weight in gold.

That’s it for this week.  In the next newsletter we’ll cover the other three factors that impact weight management.  Until then train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

The Largely Baffling and Conflicting Theories of Race Hydration (and my 3 little steps to keep it simple)

If you haven’t had the pleasure of enduring a death march at the end of your triathlon due to dehydration then pat yourself on the back!  Top performance relies on proper hydration, particularly in long course events.  Given its importance, you’d think that the guidelines would be pretty straight-forward.  Well, not so fast my friend.

There are two polar opposite theories for ideal endurance racing hydration:  That of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the other by those who are proponents of what I call the ‘Drink to Thirst’ Theory.

But before we get too deep into the details, I’d like to give you some basic definitions for reference:

  1. Euhydration: A balanced state in which the amount of body water meets the body’s physiological demands.
  2. Dehydration: It’s the loss of body water.   The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is considered the authority in the U.S. and in the ACSM’s 2007 position paper on Exercise and Fluid Replacement it set dehydration of 2% as the point where aerobic exercise performance begins to degrade.
  3. Osmolality: It is the concentration of body fluids.  For the purpose of this article we’ll use it to refer to the sodium concentration, which ranges from 130mM-155mM (mille mole)/liter of body fluid with 140mM/liter most often used as normal.
  4. Sweat rate: It’s the rate at which you lose fluid and minerals, primarily sodium chloride (salt), during exercise.  Sweat rates vary greatly as does the concentration of salt within the sweat.  Depending on which source you refer to the salt concentration in sweat is anywhere from 10mM-80mM/liter.
  5. Hyponatremia: An over consumption of fluid resulting in a low concentration of sodium in the blood…125mM-130mM/liter or lower.
  6. Metabolic rate: This refers to your work rate and is the key determinant of your core body temperature…the faster you go the more heat you generate.
  7. Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH): ADH is released with small changes in the body’s osmolality.  The release of ADH prevents your body from losing more water through urination.

The Two Theories

Remember, these are only theories and both camps are passionate about their respective position.

The ACSM provides general guidelines for pre-exercise, during exercise, and post-exercise hydration designed to cover all sports not just endurance sports.  The opposing theory, what I’ll call the ‘Drink to Thirst’ theory, really focuses on hydration during endurance exercise and in particular during long distance running races with more and more emphasis on long course triathlons.

Theory #1: The ACSM Position:  Thirst is not enough

In 2007 the ACSM released its position paper on Exercise and Fluid Replacement which essentially changed some their previously stated positions.  The changes appear to be primarily driven by the research of Tim Noakes and his followers.  The most notable changes were:

  • the drink as much as tolerable position was removed, and;
  • the acknowledgement that Body Weight (BW) losses up to 2% had no detrimental effect on aerobic exercise performance.

Pre-Race:  The ACSM provides specific hydration guidelines to ensure you begin your exercise/race in a euhydrated state.

  • Drink 5-7mL/Kg of body weight 4 hours before the race.
  • Drink another 3-5mL/Kg of body weight 2 hours before the race.

Again these are general guidelines designed to cover a variety of sports, particularly weight class sports where dehydration prior to an event may be an issue.  When it comes to endurance racing, my experience based on the length of the port-a-potty lines on race morning is that starting the race fully hydrated is not much of an issue for athletes.

During Race Hydration:  The ACSM is very specific in that they believe that thirst alone is not a good indicator of when to drink, particularly for older athletes.  In addition two key changes are drinking to equal your sweat rate instead of as much as you can tolerate and the acknowledgement that a loss of up to 2% of body weight (BW) due to dehydration has no effect on aerobic exercise performance.  They also encourage the consumption of electrolytes, particularly sodium and potassium.  The primary purpose of the electrolytes is to stimulate thirst and retain fluid while replacing some of the electrolytes lost in sweat.  The specific guidelines are the following:

  1. Consume 3-8oz fluid/15 minutes for activities lasting longer than 60-90 minutes.
  2. Consume 500-700mg sodium/liter/hour.

Post-Race:  the post –race recommendations are to rehydrate to compensate for BW losses.  The specific recommendations are:

  1. Consume 150% of the weight lost over a 6 hour period…24oz fluid for every pound lost.
  2. Consume salty food or a sport’s drink containing electrolytes to replace electrolytes lost.

Theory #2:  Drink to Thirst

Supporters of this theory believe the body’s thirst mechanism is highly developed and that only water should be consumed during training and racing.  Of much less importance is the level or percentage of dehydration, particularly since there’s such large variation in the ability of individuals to tolerate different levels of dehydration.  The key components of this theory are the following:

  1. Your body is more concerned with the concentration of body fluids as opposed to weight.
    • The electrolyte concentration in the body is significantly higher than the electrolyte concentration of even a “salty sweater” (not something you wear in chilly weather, mind you, but sweater meaning a person who sweats).
    • Since fluid loss from sweat is greater than electrolyte loss, the electrolyte concentration in the body increases as you sweat, your body’s thirst mechanism kicks-in to rebalance your body’s fluid concentration, and you consume water to satisfy the thirst, which rebalances the body’s fluid concentration.
  2. There’s no need for electrolyte consumption if you drink to thirst.  Since the concentration in your body fluids is high there’s no advantage to consuming additional electrolytes.  The disadvantage is that you’ll over-consume fluids, which will drive your concentration low…in the extreme the result would be hyponatremia.
  3. Don’t try to drink to match your sweat rate.  Focus on drinking to thirst, which for most athletes will be between 30-50% of sweat rate.

Here are some other things you need to add into the equation:

Athlete Specific

  1. Your size:  Larger athletes have greater surface area that requires cooling, which is why women generally have lower sweat rates.
  2. Your weight:  The key consideration in body weight relative to hydration is total body water (TBW).  Fat-free mass, which is 70%-80% water, is the key determinate of TBW.  60% TBW is commonly used for trained athletes…the percentage is a little lower for women due to higher levels of adipose (fat) tissue even in trained female athletes.
  3. Your training level:  The better trained you are the more efficiently your body can function in training and racing.
  4. Your metabolic rate:  This refers to work rate and is the key determinant in how fast you’ll dehydrate.  The higher your work rate the more heat you produce.  In order to dissipate this heat and cool the body your sweat rate has to increase.
  5. Your duds:  What you wear matters.  Heavier, non-breathable fabric traps the heat and increases the sweat rate for a given work rate.
  6. Your genes:  Each of us has unique genetic characteristics that determine our sweat rate that are independent of age, training level, etc.
  7. Acclimatization:  The better acclimated you are to the environmental conditions of the race venue the more effectively your body can manage it.  The amount of time required to acclimate varies by individual but 2 weeks is the time frame most often cited as adequate.

External Factors

  1. Heat:  The higher the temperature the higher the sweat rate required to maintain a given work rate.
  2. Humidity:  In humid conditions your sweat is unable to evaporate trapping the body heat your sweat’s trying to dissipate.
  3. Altitude:  At altitudes above 2300 feet it’s common for athletes to have greater fluid losses than at sea level for the same exercise.


So now that you are bursting with all this data, you’re probably saying, “So what should I do?
I still need a plan!”

Well, don’t sweat it.  Developing your hydration strategy doesn’t have to be an overly complicated process.  Actually the simpler the plan the easier it will be to follow.  As for which hydration theory you should follow… Well that’s up to you.  Personally I believe both have strengths and weaknesses so I tend to blend the theories.  Specifically, I do the following:

  1. Bike hydration:  I target consuming fluid equal to 60-80% of my sweat rate on the bike.  This allows the ADH to kick in to minimize the need to urinate and lets me start the start the run reasonably hydrated.  Besides it’s much easier to hydrate on the bike.
  2. Run hydration:  My run hydration goal is approximately 30-50% of sweat rate.  This is just an estimate as it’s particularly hard to measure actual hydration when running through an aid station.
  3. Sodium:   I do consume sodium both during the bike and run legs of the race.  The sodium offsets some of what’s lost in sweat and allows me to consume a bit more fluid than I might otherwise.  It works for me.

Here are my 3 key steps to figuring out how to properly hydrate for long-course triathlon:

  1. Weigh yourself:  At least once a week weigh yourself before and after a training session.  Keep a log handy to track the changes in weight.  I like one hour runs or bike trainer sessions because I don’t need to drink making it easy to determine sweat rate from changes in weight.  Also track the air temperature if possible in your log to get an idea of how it affects your sweat rate.  For calculation purposes 1 pound = 16 fluid ounces or .95 kilograms = 1 liter. This isn’t perfect science but it’s simple and pretty effective.
  2. Be flexible:  There is no one perfect hydration plan that works for all situations.  Do your homework on your hydration needs and adjust to the conditions on race day.  If it’s warmer or cooler than expected hydration needs to be adjusted up or down, respectively to match your race pace to the conditions.
  3. Keep your head in the race:  Your thirst mechanism was developed over thousands of years of evolution but your race emotions weren’t.  Learning to stay calm and focused puts you in control of the number one rule of long course triathlon racing, which is take care of yourself at all times in the race.

Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

It’s ON

Getting your triathlon nutrition right during a race is crucial no matter what the distance.  As the race distance increases, though, so does the importance of your fuel.  If you’ve ever bonked in training or a race you know exactly what I mean.  Keep in mind that there really isn’t one perfect race nutrition plan; there’s just what works for you that day in that particular race.

The science

Before we pull together a specific race day plan, let’s first look at what sports nutrition science has to say about endurance race fueling.

1.      ABSORPTION MATTERS:  No matter how many calories you take in your body can only absorb them so fast.

  • Current recommendation:  30-60 grams of carbohydrate/hour or 120 – 240 carbohydrates/hour.
  • There have been some studies that show by using different carbohydrate sources (sugars) you can absorb up to 90 grams/hour or 360 calories because the different sugars have different transport mechanisms in your body.   These studies are not universally accepted.  Hammer Nutrition is a notable example of a company that doesn’t believe these studies are valid under race efforts and they stick to the 240 calorie/hour formula.

2.      STAYING BALANCED:  More and more endurance formulas are increasing their electrolyte contents.

  • Current science puts recommended sodium intake at 500mg – 700mg/hr. with some sports nutritionists, with whom I agree, putting it at 800mg/hr. or more.


Putting the science into play

When it comes to race nutrition I believe in keeping things simple and having options.  Having a specific race nutrition plan is very important, too.  Grab a sheet of lined paper and write the race start time in the top left-hand column and have each line represent 30 minute increments until you get to your projected finish time…just make it up if you don’t have one.  On each line write what if anything you intend to consume during that time period, e.g., bars, gels, liquid food, salt tablets, etc.  Be sure to note what you intend to carry with you and what you’ll pick up at the aid station keeping in mind that in most long course races the aid stations are every 10 miles in the bike leg and every mile in the run.

My recommendations

I subscribe to the school of less is more so I tend to shoot for 250 – 300 calories/hr.  That way I probably get closer to 200 – 250 calories/hr.  If you feel you need more, try to consume the higher calorie amounts in the first half of the bike leg when you’re more hydrated and the calories will be more easily absorbed.  The type of calories is really up to you:

1.      Solid vs Liquid:  I’ve never had great success eating solid food during a race so I focus on liquid sources only.  I find liquids easier to digest and absorb… but I also know athletes who have to have solid food during long races and thrive on small PBJ sandwiches.  It’s really up to you.  Just make sure, of course, that you’ve tested it out during training.

2.      Have options:  Don’t just rely on a single calorie source to get you through the day.  Have your initial calorie source and have a back-up plan just in case something happens.  Some points here:

  • Just because you trained with it doesn’t mean it will go down well during the race.  Having an alternative can save your butt on race day.
  • Sometimes things happen and you need a back-up.  I’ve personally had the top of my food bottle pop off ten miles into the 112 mile Ironman bike leg turning me and my bike into a sticky mess… and depleting my fuel.
  • If possible, learn and test out the fuels that will be available at the aid stations.  It doesn’t matter if you like them… nor do you have to train with them all the time.  The only thing that matters is that your system can handle them if needed.

3.      Adjust to the conditions:  Base your plan on normal conditions and adjust it to the actual race day conditions.  If it’s unusually hot or the race venue is in a high or low humidity area you may need to dial down the calories so your muscles don’t have to fight your digestive system for fluid.


What I do

Here’s my nutrition plan, if you’re looking for some ideas.

1.      On the bike: For a 70.3 race I carry a 20oz bottle of concentrated Carbo-Pro:   5 scoops (approximately 575 calories) with 800mg – 900mg of added sodium.  As a back-up, I carry a gel flask with 500 calories.  For a full Ironman race I’ll put a second bottle of concentrated Carbo-Pro in my special needs bag with some extra salt tablets.  I could carry it but I hate the extra weight.

2.      On the run:  Other than salt tablets I may carry a gel that I particularly like to use early in the run.  Other than that it’s all about the aid stations.  Once again I hate carrying anything I don’t have too…it’s amazing how little things like carrying a gel flask can become really annoying 20 miles into an IM marathon.


It’s nauseating

During any long course race you’re going to consume a lot of junk so your digestive system could rebel.  Over the years I’ve tried a number of different remedies and finally settled on papaya enzyme capsules.  They’re a natural digestive aid and for me work better than antacids.  Short education here:  antacids neutralize stomach acid versus aid with breaking down the food in your gut… which is what I want in this situation.  I take a couple in the morning before the race and then carry a couple with me during the day to use if necessary.  If you’re going to try them do so in training first to be sure they’ll work for you.  Also, get the capsules and not the tablets, which don’t hold up well in jersey pockets… you can find them at any health food store.

Keep a lookout for my next article, where I’ll cover race day hydration.  So until then train safe, have fun, and hope to see you at the races.