Eating right for the training
I have to admit I don’t always eat like I should. But, I love to eat. I love to eat all kinds of food (not only the healthy kind). So, I verge off the path every now and then and eat things I shouldn’t, but I’m not a pro and I don’t get paid to race. I race for fun and while I have goals, it won’t ever make or break me if having a donut on Friday causes me to drop 2 seconds per mile off my next race. If the donut was good (which they almost always are), it was worth it in my book.
However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to learn more about nutrition and what types of fuel I should be eating. As you can probably tell from my previous paragraph, I don’t follow any specific diet except to try to get the macro and micronutrients that I need in order to perform and recover as best I can while fitting it all into a normal life where healthy food isn’t always an option. I like the way an article I read put it recently: I don’t follow a diet that has a name. I just try to eat healthy. I think of a diet as something you do temporarily (otherwise, it would just be your lifestyle and not a diet). The changes you make in what you eat will only affect you so long as you continue to eat that way. The more difficult the regimen is to follow, the less likely the changes will stick for any period of time. Thus, I have found ways that I can eat foods that are better for me that are just as tasty as those I have replaced.
But, this isn’t supposed to be about what I eat. My intention with this post was to go into more detail on a few articles I’ve come across recently speaking specifically to endurance athletes and their intake necessities. Perhaps one of the leading researchers (that I’m aware of) in this field has been Asker Jeukendrup who is a Dutch exercise physiologist at the University of Birmingham in England. He has made many things which have affected our sport already even though you may not have known.
Several years back, he was studying carb intake during exercise and found that his subjects were limited in the amount of glucose you can absorb (typically 0.8-1.0 g/min or about 48-60 g/hour). However, his studies showed that mixed fructose in with the glucose in a 2:1 ratio allows you to absorb up to 1.7 g/min due to fructose’s absorption mechanism being different and capable of happening in parallel w/ that of the glucose. This allows you to take in ~90 g/hour of carbs if done in the proper mixture.
This was important for fueling during racing, but what I’m most interested in at the moment is his studies on protein and carb intake. I’ve seen this information in several different places, but the Triathlete Magazine article put it most simply I thought. This was the table they published from Asker’s studies regarding carb intake needs and training in hours per day:
1 – 5 g/kg
2 – 6 g/kg
3 – 7 g/kg
4 – 8 g/kg
5 – 9 g/kg
>5 – 10 g/kg
He also has studies protein needs and says that it doesn’t vary as greatly as carb needs based on training. His recommendation is 1-1.5 g/kg per day. However, that being said, he did find that using up to 3g/kg did help some people.
A second source which has a lot of information about protein needs (not only for endurance athletes, but for many others as well) was this article written by Mark Sisson who is a Primal eating proponent. He lists quite a few studies and gives references to them all. His research has led him to say that he thinks anywhere between 1-3g/kg can work and that it is a very individual thing, so he seems to agree with Asker although that is quite a large range, but at least it’s a target to narrow in a bit on where you should be.
My personal experience with protein has shown me that I can process a lot of it and it definitely made significant gains for me. Before I started triathlon, I played a lot of soccer, but I also lifted weights and for my size, I was relatively strong. I never took any supplements other than vitamins and protein shakes. For a good portion of the time, I supplemented about 150g of protein per day (I weighed about 75kg at that point, so I was near the 2g/kg). However, I had a hard time putting on much more muscle and I seemed to hit a plateau for quite some time. Speaking with several guys at the gym, I decided to take a shot at taking in more protein. I slowly added more protein until I got to the point, I had nearly doubled my previous intake. I took 2 shakes down at breakfast, two down 30 minutes before I hit the gym, 2 more right after the gym, 2 and dinner and then another 2 right before bed. At that point, I was supplementing my normal meals with an extra 250g (or about 3.3g/kg) of protein daily. I gained about 10-12 pounds of muscle during that phase and was the strongest I’d ever been. So I can say it definitely worked for me regarding strength, but it wasn’t really sustainable for me b/c I had a hard time putting down that many shakes every day. I just got sick of it.
I’m not sure how it would affect me now that I’m rarely lifting. I definitely don’t want the mass at this point, but I’m curious if or how it would help me to recover or have higher quality workouts. At this point, I’m too far along in my training to experiment this year, but I may after my A race just to see if it could help.
Regarding fat, Asker’s recommendation is that if you take down the right amount of carb and protein per his recommendation and you meet your daily energy needs (per your prescribed caloric intake necessity per day), the fat will take care of itself. I’d like to have a little more guideline than that, but that’s all I’ve been able to find from him.
So, if I apply these rules to me and my current level of training, here’s where I’d come out. I’m training about 13.5 hours per week, so I’ll round that to 2 hours per day. I weigh 71.5kg depending on which day I weigh in . He says I should intake 430g of carbs and 110 g of protein. That will account for 2160 calories. According to my metabolic rate workup, I need about 3600 calories per day. So I need 1440 calories (or about 160g) of fat per day. This seems like an insanely high percentage of fat. This would say I’d be on a 48:12:40 diet (C:P:F). That seems unhealthy to me as that’s way over the typical fat allotment per day of anything I’ve seen typically published.
Perhaps I’m doing something wrong here (overestimating my caloric needs? underestimating my protein needs?), but when I’ve tracked my diet in the past, I tend to stay more toward a 50:25:25 ratio. Actually, just looking back at what I’ve eaten today, I had 3576 calories and it was a 48:23:29 split. I’m probably a bit light on carbs typically b/c I did drink a coke today (pure carbs) which is atypical for me. I’m normally a water drinker. I also had fries today ( I told you I don’t always stick to good things) which is another atypical thing and offset me heavy on the fat side. However, without those two things, I probably wouldn’t have met my caloric needs. Overall, I got a pretty good balance in today even with those two things throwing me off of my normal balance.
With that in mind, I’ll probably shoot to pick up a few healthy carbs (sweet potatoes, fruit, and/or veggies) in the next few days. If I drop the coke and fries off, I’v lost about 800 calories that I need to replace somehow.
Well that was long winded, but it was good for me to sort through all the data I’ve collected in my head over the last few days and apply it to myself. Hopefully those references (and maybe some of my own experience) can help some of you.