Nutrition: Small Changes, Big Payoff
Runners and triathletes, by nature, are generally healthy eaters. The longer you train, the fitter you become, and the more food becomes incredibly important both for recovery and for fuel. I’ve been a runner for a long time, a triathlete in training, and a serious triathlete for long enough now to know that food plays a crucial role in performance. Like most athletes, I’ve planned meals well in advance of big workouts, logged what works and what doesn’t, and been careful when attending social gatherings to eat properly and fuel for the next day. I’ve always considered myself a healthy eater; not only because it benefits performance but because I want to set a good example for my kids and raise them to make good nutritional choices. We have occasional treats, in moderation. No one is left feeling deprived.
Recently, with a little nudging, I gave up dairy completely. I drank the occasional chocolate milk after a workout, and ate yogurt and cheese almost every day. After considering the downsides of dairy, I decided to give it up. A funny thing happened. It unleashed an entire diet makeover. Gone were big bowls of white pasta with lots of cheese on top. Replaced instead with corn or rice pasta, spaghetti squash, some lean protein and seasoning (note here: garlic makes pretty much anything taste good!) Gone were milk based recovery drinks…replaced with coconut or almond milk and low sugar protein powder. Gone was my sugary coffee creamer…replaced with coconut milk. Gone were meals based around the tradition protein, starch and vegetable model. Replaced with yes, protein, but multiple vegetables and a wider variety of grains. We never ate white bread anyway, and if I do have bread, which is rarely, it is Ezekiel 4:9 or Dave’s Killer bread. Eggs on top of brown rice cakes are just as good.
Do I miss anything? Not at all. And here is why. I FEEL so much better. My blood sugar seems more stable, and adding in more lean protein at lunch (canned salmon or canned tuna with a pop top is easy and convenient) has eliminated the need for the 3pm “coffee and carbohydrate” fix. My energy level is definitely higher, and I am sleeping more soundly at night. My workouts are more focused, partly due to the energy level increase, and partly due to a renewal of priorities. Healthy food creates a circle of wellness that feeds on itself. The better you feel, the better you want to continue to feel.
Another benefit…the entire family is eating better. Just having more fruits and vegetables available gives the kids something to reach for other than processed snacks. It didn’t happen overnight with them, but gradually they are making their own changes.
I still have coffee in the morning and a glass of red wine in the evenings. I believe these things are fine in moderation. I have given up both, for months at a time and an interesting thing happened. I started eating more to make up for the feeling of deprivation. Giving up either one didn’t seem to have a significant effect on my training. In fact, I perform better with a little caffiene. Caffiene can boost the metabolism and red wine is said to have anti-aging benefits. Again, moderation is key here
Do I get a little grief here and there? Of course. There have been times when somebody didn’t like that I wouldn’t eat birthday cake. They’ll say something like “come on, it’s a party.” I’ve also gotten the occasional “is that what you are going to eat?” I used to launch into long explanations of my training and racing schedule to try to explain to these folks why I was eating (or not eating) the way I was. Over time I’ve learned not to bother. People are going to think what they think. The best response is a smile and a firm “No, thank you.” No explanation necessary. You work hard to be healthy. Be consistent in both your nutrition and your training and you will see the benefits on a daily basis!Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun