I grew up on a farm in mid Canterbury NZ. Accordingly, my staple diet was meat and 3 vege. The farming culture is traditionally old school, but ironically it seems the new age nutrition approach for endurance athletes is centred around the concept of paleo, and or LCHF. In some ways I feel like I have just gone back to my roots. Although when I first started out racing, the era at the time was a high carbohydrate diet both during training and in the leadup to a race. I didn’t put a lot of thought into my nutrition, but still naturally ate reasonablyheathy and still tended towards meat and 3 veggie’s at dinner, but defiantly piled up on themuesli and bread at breakfast and throughout the day.
Transition back to my roots
A few years ago I did some metabolic testing with AUT (The Auckland University of Technology). This data gave me an insight into how heavily I was relying on carbohydrates to fuel me. It was clear that if I raced at the intensity I normally did, that I would inevitably blow up due to lack of being able to take on and digest enough carbohydrates. The testing indicated that I was using almost 100% carbohydrates for fuel when running at 71% of my capacity or at about 14.1km/hr. As I was racing a lot of long distance multisport and thinking about doing my first Ironman, it naturally initiated the process of change in my diet. It didhowever take awhile to transition, as its easy to lapse back to old habits. It wasn’t until I wasbased in Tahoe for 5 weeks in preparation for my big race of the year XTERRA worlds. I had a solid reason to give everything I had to the final lead into that race, and my family and I had travelled especially to Tahoe for me to train. My wife is always the first to remind me that not committing to every aspect of the big picture, will inevitably result in a result that is less than what I am capable of. As she is very persistent in personality with a background in exercise physiology and nutrition, she is often too much to ignore.
I dedicated the entire month in the lead up to XTERRA worlds and I proved to myself that I could perform a lot better and feel better on this type of nutrition plan.
The key things I felt through this process was:
1. Plan well. Write a shopping list for the week based on either recipes that you like, or just keep it simple and eat salads with protein at lunch and meat and 3 veggies for dinner. Breakfast is normally the hardest place to make change as most people rely on a cereal and toast for breakfast. I have a protein smoothie instead, with a coconut cream and unsweetened almond milk base. I use a pea protein not a whey protein and I add MCT oil, raw cacoa and a probiotic powder for gut health. The fruit base is half a banana and organic blueberries. You will find my recipe below, with another recipe for a paleo muesli that I make and use to put on my smoothie as a topping.
2. Avoid cafes and restaurants entirely at least for the first week. It will be way too easy to lapse if you even go near these places.
3. One of the benefits of a paleo diet is that you don’t get as hungry, but it will take a while for this benefit to kick in as you need to effectively come off sugar and you will get a come down. For the first week rely on an additional smoothie, or veggies with a nut butter to get your through the tough times.
4. Drink water between meals rather than during meals. As an athlete I find I am probably dehydrated most of the time. But if you try and drink a tonne of water every time you eat it will affect your digestion. If you can drink between meals,you won’t feel as hungry and it will hold you off snacking. I use a strong sugarfree electrolyte called ELETE that ensures I am hydrated and not taking on empty water.
5. One of the things I often get asked is what to eat when I am training. In the states it was easy as they have a lot of paleo sports nutrition. Nut butters mixed withcoconut oil is the main one I used at the beginning. Now I don’t really eat duringtraining. If it’s a long ride day, I might stop at a café and get a coffee with creamand choose something paleo like a frittata or a raw cake.
6. Let go of your attachment to food. Sometimes I think a lot of athletes have a food obsession. Myself included. Someone told me once to take a moment to think about what I am eating before I eat, and ask myself it the food I am about to take in will serve to nourish me. It makes it pretty simple and it makes me feel good to make the right choices when it comes to food. We all know what good food, andI’ve found that if I tune into the after effects of crap food that it helps me avoid it. Iwant to feel good. I want to hit every session of my training plan and I want to make sure I make the most of my career without leaving “food for thought”.
There is however a difference between how I approach my training nutrition versus my racenutrition. It’s not news to anyone that the foods you take on are going to have a really directimpact on how your body performs. This is true for both mental and physical performance,both of which are of equal importance when I race. I’ve developed a few little rituals thatwork well for my mind and body – it’s important to note that everyone is different. People’smetabolisms work at varying rates, so there is no golden rule when it comes to this stuff.
Pre-race week I like to keep it pretty simple, and not a lot changes from what I would eat ona daily basis. That means a lot of cooking, whether we’re at home or in a hotel room. If we’reon the road I definitely try to stay away from the buffet and I keep away from food that Iwouldn’t eat on a regular basis. Simple flavours, safe combinations – your stomach is always a little more susceptible to uneasiness close to a race. The other big thing is hydration, andmaking sure that I’m taking in electrolytes with my water the day prior so that my cells arestocked up before going into the race. 2 days pre-race I will up my carbohydrate intake. As Idon’t normally eat many carbs, this in theory works to load up my starved muscles with glycogen so that I can start my race fully stocked. Instead of stock standard carbs like rice, pasta, bread etc, I instead choose to increase my roast veggies at lunch and dinner with kumaru, carrots and beetroot etc. I prefer eating carbs in the form of veggies, as my bodyisn’t used to eating grains. It all comes down to what you are used to, and its best to go withcarbohydrate foods that you know your body can tolerate.
The day before the race is pretty simple for me. It really just comes down to a good, healthy meals. Following the same approach as I do 2 days out, I keep up the intake of carbohydrates using roast veggies, and then simple stick to my normal breakfast of a smoothie with paleo muesli on top, a double expresso with cream and for dinner I will normally eat fish, roast veggies and salad. You want to eat things that your body is used to, but its an easy mistake to make especially when you are travelling to an event and youaren’t at home. You go to a café, think that looks good and order it and then the next daywhen your racing you question what you were thinking. I’ve made that mistake before andknow not to make it again.
The other element of the night before a race is going through the process of getting my head around race nutrition. The key to race nutrition is to make sure I take on enough carbohydrates per hour to fuel my output, and to keep up the hydration – this is vital as itallows you to maintain the body’s ability to absorb the nutrition as it goes in. I use a product called High5, which has a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin to fructose. I find it really easy to digest. I prefer to take it as a gel shot rather than to have it mixed into my bottle. The reason for thisis that it gives me absolute control over how much I’m ingesting. If it’s diluted with water, I don’t know how much I’m taking on at any one time, and it’s more difficult to control yourlevels throughout a race. A gel shot also helps you feel like you’re getting that kick everytime you take it. I’ll take on a gel every 20 minutes, so looking at a half or full marathon, which is either 1:15min or 2:40min respectively, I’m looking at between 3-4 gels for a half and 6-7 gels for a full. I will choose the same gels but with caffeine for the last hour of any race, to ensure I get an extra kicker at the end. It’s good to have a at least 1 spare gel, asyou might feel like you really need the extra boost, and they’re pretty easy to drop if you’renot paying close attention. I set my GPS to race mode which will have a 20 minute timer on it and take a gel every 20minutes, whilst trying to get at least a cup of water from an aid station in between gels. I choose to not take water with me if I am running in just a runningevent, as I don’t want the extra weight and running events are normally well stocked withfuel stations.
After all of that, it’s about recovery. The way you recover is just as important as the way you prepare. But I’ll cover that another time.\