You spend hours training. You buy the latest and greatest in clothing performance and bike gear. You might even hire a coach or join a club. In fact, triathletes invest at least somewhere between 5,000 and 24,000 dollars a year in racing, training, and equipment. On the bike alone, thousands are spent to save seconds of speed, desiring the more aerodynamic and efficient equipment possible.
But, here’s the problem. You can spend all that money and without a diet to match your training, you could arguably be throwing your money down the drain. A bad diet can cause inflammation, reduced sleep, inadequate recovery, and a weakened immune system. All of these results can lead to decreased performance and more importantly, health. Not only are we training for events that require at lease a decent amount of endurance, but we are also training for life- the very definition of an endurance event. There are three things we can control that can ruin a race: improper fueling, a lack of hydration, and chronic overtraining. In the same way, proper fueling, adequate hydration, and appropriate rest or recovery can lead us to not only our best races, but also our best life.
Here are 5 ways to improve your diet, fueling your bodies for health and performance.
- Ditch the processed foods. The world of athletics is filled with processed foods. We tend to be surrounded with pastas, breads, granola bars, energy gels, and drink mixes. All these processed foods, though sometimes a necessary part of training, don’t provide much nourishment to our body. When choosing your carbohydrate sources, remember that real food is always better than supplements. The closer you can get to eating the food from the ground, the better it is for you. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are great sources of carbohydrates that can provide not only the carbohydrates vital to our bodies, but also other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals important for our performance.
- Increase your greens. Your mom was right when she told you to eat your green vegetables. Fibrous, leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, sprouts, and green beans contain ample amounts of nutrients such as vitamins A, C, K, folate, iron, and calcium. These vitamins and minerals are essential to the health and performance of an athlete. For example, Vitamin A can help fight inflammation from training stress and also reduce your risk of skin damage and cancer from long hours in the sun. Vitamin C is beneficial for strengthening the immune system. The mineral iron is crucial to blood rich in hemoglobin, making it an effective transporter of oxygen and calcium is important to our bone strength and health. As an added bonus, combine your leafy greens with an acidic food, such as tomatoes or citrus fruit, to help release more of the nutrients when you eat them.
- Boost up the berries and cherries. Unfortunately, fruit contains a lot of sugar. And sugar is NOT the athlete’s friend. In fact, excess sugar consumption could be one of the worst things we can do for our health. The American Heart Association recommends 24-36 grams of sugar a day. That’s not very much – about 1.25 apples or 1.5 bananas. The solution to this fruity dilemma? Berries! Berries have much lower sugar amounts than most other fruits. They also boast a high content of antioxidants and fiber. Cherries are the exception to the rule. Though often included with berries, they have a much higher sugar content. However, they are listed here because tart cherry juice has been shown (in smaller research studies) to help reduce muscle damage, increase recovery from intense cardiovascular sporting activities, and help improve sleep quality. Try adding tart cherry juice to a protein shake post workout to help your body recover better when you don’t have time for a sit down meal.
- Healthy Fats. The endurance world is plagued with athletes concerned about weight. Carrying a few extra pounds of fat over a long race can bring extra wear and tear on the body. The good news? Fat doesn’t make you fat. That’s right! The nutrition gods are changing their tone. A fat deprived diet is horrible for athletes and non-athletes alike. Healthy fats help regulate our hormones, are essential for vitamin A,D,E, and K transport, help keep our brain and heart healthy, and help satiate our hunger.
- Potatoes. Potatoes get a bad rap. Maybe because they are most commonly associated with french fries, potato chips, mashed potatoes, and scalloped potatoes. However, both sweet potatoes and white potatoes are starches that are very beneficial to the athlete’s body. White potatoes have almost double the amount of potassium that a banana has, making them an excellent source of real food nutrition on a long ride. Sweet potatoes have antioxidants and are an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, making them a perfect pre or post workout fuel source. Just like with anything else, remember that the cooking and condiments are an important part as to the “health factor” of the potato.
For Free: vitamin D
Here’s the good news, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on food to fuel your body. In fact, many times it’s as simple as eliminating the bad and swapping it out for better choices. Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of local farmer’s markets with fresh fruits and produce. Watching for sales, deals, and buying in bulk can also cut down on a lot of the costs seemingly associated with buying healthy and nutritious food. And, unlike the bike shorts or helmet that will eventually wear out, think of the money spent on food as an investment in the quality of your health for the rest of your life. You are not depriving. You are nourishing, fueling that passion and energy from within you.