One of my clients is training for Ironman Arizona and recently he said “as soon as I get my nutrition dialed in, I’m ready to go”.
When I asked him what “dialed in” meant to him, he stuttered and said “well, its where you tell me what to eat, isn’t it?”
Well, sort of.
I can tell anyone what to eat – meal by meal – but obviously its better in the long run to acquire the knowledge necessary to make healthy food choices yourself. And essentially, this is what I love to do: help people learn enough about nutrition so that they have the confidence to plan their own meals and snacks for optimal health and performance.
Since March is National Nutrition Month, here are five nutrition tips to jumpstart your training plan.
1. Eat regular meals and snacks. Do NOT skip meals or just munch all day long on whatever is handy. Its too easy to over or undereat this way, which is what most female athletes do, and then they wonder why their race times are not improving. Ideally, you should eat 5 – 6 times a day and focus on nutrient-dense foods (more on that below).
2. Eat a light meal or snack before and after working out. Of course you can workout on an empty stomach – all of us do once in awhile – but chances are your workout will be mediocre in quality. Maximize that precious training time by having plenty of energy on hand to go the distance (for tips on recovery snacks and meals, see http://www.gotribalnow.com/expert/recovery-nutrition-101).
3. Focus on high quality carbs and protein. A Big Mac with fries and a large Pepsi is a high protein/carb meal but no one in their right mind would say this is a high quality meal. That’s because the protein comes from low-grade, high fat ground beef and cheese, and the carbs come from white bread and sugar-filled Pepsi. A plateful of brown rice, veggies, lean beef (or tofu), and a glass of low-fat milk is also high in protein and carbs but contains a lot more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than the Mickey D meal.
Remember that each meal should have 2-4 oz of lean protein, 3 – 4 servings of grains and vegetables. Top it off with cold milk (regular or soy) and you’ve got yourself a turbo-charging good meal.
4. Avoid processed foods – Yes, this is a no-brainer but still worth mentioning. Packaged cookies, crackers, chips, donuts, frozen meals and the like are fine once in awhile but shouldn’t be a staple of your daily eating plan.
5. Every meal or snack should have at least one fruit or veggie. This is the one thing most Americans (and many athletes) don’t do enough of, which is ironic considering its also the one thing that people mention when asked what makes up a healthy diet. If you want to get serious about health and wellness, then you better get real familiar with the produce department and all it has to offer. Not only will fruits and veggies give you more energy, they’re likely to keep you from getting sick by supplying lots of natural vitamin C, A, potassium, and other good stuff to make you a lean, mean, training machine.
Start dialing in your nutrition now and you’ll be one step ahead to achieving your training and racing goals.