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Fueling and racing

I get to work with some amazing people. Truly awesome athletes of all ages doing amazing things and I am truly honoured that I get to help in whatever way I am asked to provide input.

I get asked a lot about food and fuel as this does seem to be THE grey area for a lot of athletes. So I thought I would write a few lines on a few things to help dispel a few myths and put a few minds at rest along the way. None of it is rocket science, all of it is written in a way that I can understand, so if I can understand it, you can as well, I promise.

Fat, fat, fatty, fat.

The first point I wanted to talk about is fat. Fat is and has been given a really rough ride by many over recent years. It’s “fat free” this and “fat free” that wherever you look. However did you know that fat is the body’s most efficient source of energy? In my food geek palace I can show you that 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories, compared to a miserly 4 each from protein and carbohydrate respectively. So if you are an endurance athlete and you’ve been living on a low fat diet, I would say that by increasing fat intake in your diet, your training will improve as well as your recovery times. Significantly though you’ll see increased performance at high level training which you can then take into races and meets.

The recommended fat intake for athletes sits at about 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day. So this would be 60 to 80 grams of fat per day of dietary fat for triathletes who weigh between 120 and 160 pounds. Simple maths we can all do yes? Eating 20% to 30% of your calories from good fats is in my eyes sound nutritional advice for endurance athletes that will help improve your training and racing. That said you need to know what you're all about so work with someone who knows what they are doing if you're looking for real, sustainable results

Whatever you do though, please don’t be cutting out fat. To give you some ideas of where to get good fats, I get the majority of mine on a daily basis from nuts, peanut butter, coconut oil, avocado and tuna.

I also get asked a lot about carb-loading. When you do this choose pasta and breads. Don’t make the mistake of extra fat-loading through sauces, butter, cheese, chips etc.

Thin is not good.

I do a lot of body fat composition testing as part of my work. I use it to track change and see where people are. I use it as much for me as I do for the athlete as seeing positive change is a good motivator. That said, becoming obsessive about it isn’t healthy and normally ends up in a slap and a frank conversation. So I use it as a guide and give athletes a range to work within, not a number to achieve. I have a line I use a lot in my work which is “listen to your body” and this is a great example of when you should do that. Listening to your body, taking note of how you feel and perform, as opposed to forcing your body to achieve a self-selected number IS the way to go in my eyes.

Energy drinks and chocolate bars before racing.

Sugary foods eaten just before competition are a complete waste of time. There I said it. In no way will they improve your speed or strength as it takes your body up to 4 hours to digest food completely. So it follows then that foods eaten just before an event are going to be in your stomach when you compete and most, and I stress most of the energy used in competition or practice comes from food that you have eaten in the days leading to an event that has been stored in your muscles. The sugar and caffeine boost of a soda or candy bar may provide a temporary lift but bear in mind that fructose, sucrose, glucose, and other simple sugars (mono and disaccharides) are really poor carbohydrate sources for fueling your body during exercise. Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) are the best choice for endurance athletes, because they allow your digestive system to rapidly and efficiently process a greater volume of calories, providing steady energy.

Drink and be merry.

Water is the most important nutrient I talk about day in, day out. Most people I work with don’t drink nearly enough. A lot of people tell me they aren’t thirsty but thirst is a poor indicator of how much water your body needs. Most athletes who suffer from dehydration when racing don’t know they are dehydrated until they have gone past the point where they can control it themselves and manage their own body through a race. So I talk a lot about “prehydration” and drinking fluids before you race and then subsequently managing fluid when you are racing. Determining your “sweat rate" can help determine your proper hydration needs if you suffer with hydration issues. One way I have done this is to compare my nude body weight before and after an event or training session. The difference is water loss, which has helped me determine how to replace it. I’ve worked on the premise of 1 pound of weight loss equaling 2 cups of water. Dehydration affects your performance and ability to concentrate. I think we would all agree we perform better when we have better levels of concentration.

Enjoy your day and work hard whatever you are doing.

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