How to race faster by eating more

Ellen Coleman understands nutrition.

More than that, she understands triathlete nutrition. A registered dietitian, author of the seminal Eating for Endurance, and a two-time finisher of the Hawaii Ironman, Coleman knows how you ought to eatand how you actually do eat. In her clinical practice, she fixes the diets of people like you every day.

So when Ellen Coleman says you ought to eat morein several specific waysyou had better shush up and start stuffing your face. Heres the skinny:

1. Eat more. In training you have to make sure that as youre increasing your training load, youre increasing your caloric intake, as well, says Coleman. Seems basic enough, yet, Many people dont adjust their caloric intake upward enough, Coleman adds.

Four signs that youre not getting enough calories to replace those youre burning in exercise are lack of energy, hunger, cravings for junky stuff and weight loss. To ensure you do get the calories you need, follow the advice tendered in the next two points below.

2. Eat more often. Its really hard as a triathlete to eat three meals that are large enough to supply all the calories they need, so youre generally looking at eating five to six times a day, not including bars or gels you might take in on a long training ride, says Coleman.

Most people can't find time to [prepare and] eat three full-blown meals a day. For snacks, thats where some of the products like energy bars and even liquid meals can be helpful, or just basics like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit. It doesnt have to be a big meal, but you can get 400-800 very useful calories in.

Get in the habit of keeping handy a few nutritious foods to graze from throughout the day.

3. Eat more carbohydrate. Again, many triathletes in heavy training dont get enough calories. Of these individuals, more fail to get enough carbohydrate than fail to get either protein or fat.

If someones working out an hour or so a day, eating six grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight should be fine. If theyre training two hours a day, they should be up to around seven to eight grams of carbohydrate per kilogram, and for three hours and up I recommend 10 grams per kilogram.

To ensure youre getting enough carbohydrate, keep a food record, do a little addition, then modify your diet as necessary which usually entails increasing slightly ones intake of certain foods (breads, grains, etc.) already in the diet.

Generally, if youre getting enough carbohydrate and enough total calories, without getting too much of either, then youll consume the proper amounts of protein and fat as well. And its a lot easier to coordinate the diet this way than it is to try and figure out the macro-nutrient percentage breakdown of every meal you eat.

Which is not to say that a few triathletes do not in fact eat too much carbohydrate. Ive had people come to me who are living off pasta, grains, and energy bars, says Coleman. You know better than that.

The most important times to eat carbohydrates (and especially high-glycemic carbohydrates) are before, during and immediately after exercise. Note that one in 10 individuals does not respond well to high-glycemic carbohydrates consumed before exercise. If youre one of these people, youll know it, so eat a low-glycemic carbohydrate instead.

4. Eat more real food. As a general rule, the less humans have messed with a food before you eat it, the better it is for you. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are nutritionally dense, meaning they give you, in addition to healthy calories, phytochemicals, antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber that are lacking or present in smaller amounts in more processed foods, says Coleman.

In particular, try to get most of your carbohydrate in high-glycemic form from nutritionally-dense sources like brown rice and whole-grain breads and pastas.

5. Eat more breakfast. I still see a lot of people who get up early in the morning and do a two-hour ride at 70 to 80 percent aerobic capacity and they dont have anything to eat beforehand, says Coleman. The overnight fast really doesnt do anything to muscle glycogen; but liver glycogen, which maintains blood glucose, is about 80 percent gone. Even a liquid meal or a carton of yogurt is going to help.

It requires some behavior modification for most people, but generally just about anyone can learn to eat a good breakfast. Doing so will not only give you better morning workouts, but will help ensure that you get enough total calories each day.

6. Drink more. The bottom line is, triathletes should drink according to a schedule (5 to 10 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise) and not by perceived thirst, says Coleman. This is the case not only during workouts but throughout the day as well. Get accustomed to having spring water on hand throughout your work day.

Also, weigh yourself before and after workouts to determine whether you are getting dehydrated. (You should, of course, lose little or no weight if youre hydrating properly.)

7. Eat more stuff you like. Many triathletes are too monkish in their eating. Youre supposed to enjoy food, says Coleman. If most of what you eat is nutritionally dense, you dont have to worry about cakes, cookies, pie and ice cream. Thats one of the great things about being an endurance athlete.

If 80 percent or more of your calories come from nutritionally dense sources, and youre eating enough overall, not only is it OK to eat a little junk, but the cravings for that kind of stuff will tend to decrease, Coleman says.

Ellen Coleman can be contacted at (909) 684-3460 or by e-mail at

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