How to Fuel for Triathlon Success


If you are looking for those magic nutrition tips to drop 10 pounds in two weeks, don't read this column. If you expect fast results from a highly restrictive or prescriptive diet, it's not here.

If you are interested in a life-long eating strategy that has sustainable results, read on. Being a healthy athlete involves a combination of training and solid nutrition habits. Here are ways to succeed when you feed.

Tip No. 1: Think about your diet and nutrition plan as a long-term goal.
You will never reach your full potential as an athlete if you are not healthy. Solid nutrition builds a healthy body.

Tip No. 2: Enjoy food.
While eating fresh vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy products might be close to a religion for some people, they may not be the only food products you want to consume while on earth. If you enjoy things like chocolate, cookies, adult beverages, or chips, there are ways to build those treats into a healthy eating plan without feeling like you've committed food sins.

The 80-20 rule applies to eating, I believe. If you eat nutritionally dense foods 80 percent of the time, 20 percent of your diet can take a diversion to treats without significant negative consequences.

Tip No. 3: There is no perfect plan for everyone, find what works for you.
Some people can deliver outstanding health scores (blood profiles, blood pressure and other health checks) eating red meat five days a week and others cannot. Find a nutrition strategy that works to combine optimizing your overall health with enjoyment and what fits into your lifestyle.

Tip No. 4: Think about your calorie balance like a bank account.
Each day you have a baseline calorie expenditure—the calories it takes to keep you going on a daily basis. To sustain being a regular person, each day you need approximately 30 calories per kilogram of body weight. To find your weight in kilograms, take weight in pounds and divide by 2.2. For example, if weight is 140 pounds, weight in kilograms is 140/2.2 = 63.6 or 64 kg.

To find daily caloric needs, take 64 x 30 = 1920 calories. At 140 pounds, it takes roughly 80 calories per hour (1920 calories per 24 hours) to fuel your body. Of course the exact value changes depending on if you are awake and active or sleeping, but 80 calories per hour is a good start.

Modify this base formula when appropriate:

1) Add more calories (about 100 to 300) to the daily total if you lead an active lifestyle. Subtract calories if your lifestyle is low-activity.

The following modifiers are gross values that include exercise expenditure and the base energy expenditure:

2) Add about 0.15 to 0.17 calories per minute, per kilogram of body weight, for cycling. (For example, 0.17 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 653 calories needed for an hour of fast cycling.)

3) Add about 0.1 calories per minute, per kilogram of body weight, for strength training. (For example, 0.1 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 384 calories needed for an hour of strength training.)

4) Add about 0.13—0.16 calories per minute, per kilogram of body weight, for swimming. (For example, 0.16 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 614 calories needed for an hour of fast swimming.)

5) Add about 0.14—0.29 calories per minute (roughly the range from an 11-minute pace per mile to a 5 minute, 30-second pace per mile), per kilogram of body weight, for running. (For example, 0.2 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 768 calories needed for an hour of fast running.)

If you weigh 140 pounds and you did a killer-hard, one-hour bike workout, your calorie expense account for the day is roughly your base needs plus your exercise calories. Don't forget to remove your base calories from the hourly exercise number: 1920 calories + (653 - 80) = 2493.

Eat anything you please—within your budget.

Tip No. 5: Calibrate base rate and exercise if possible.
While the formulas contained in tip No. 4 are a good start, you need to find ways to hone in on what you are really expending when you exercise and what you expend during normal activity.

Keep track of what you eat for about three days to see what you are consuming to maintain your current weight.

One way to calibrate cycling exercise is with a power meter that displays calories burned for a workout or kilojoules expended during the workout. (They are roughly one in the same.) If your power meter says you only burned 400 calories for an hour of a high-intensity workout, that needs to be taken into your budget consideration. You will begin to know what exercise intensity is worth 400 calories per hour and what exercise is worth 600 calories per hour.

Some heart rate monitors estimate calories burned during a workout. However, some athletes have reported to me that these values are close for them, while others have said it is way off. Consider this number another piece of data.

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