116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor's note: Jason Clark of Iowa City is a group exercise instructor at North Dodge Athletic Club and a participant in the Eastern Iowa race scene, competing in runs, duathlons and triathlons.
By Jason Clark, community contributor
Several months ago, Triathlete magazine asked a handful of professional triathletes what they ate the night before a race.
The responses ranged from pizza to chicken and asparagus. When asked what they ate the morning of the race, the responses were just as varied.
This informal poll confirmed there are few hard and fast nutrition rules during racing season. Essentially, if it works for you, go with it.
The only rules I try to follow is to make sure my food is providing me with the proper amounts of nutrients and is as natural as possible. That doesn't mean that I necessarily eat non-GMO, organic produce but it does mean that I prefer to get my nutrients from a spinach salad with some grilled chicken rather than from a burger and fries at a fast food joint.
Many people get into running or the triathlon as a way to lose or maintain weight. Losing and maintaining weight are two very different things and should be approached somewhat differently.
If you are trying to lose weight, the simple act of getting off the couch and moving is a great first step. However, if you are anything like me, you will reach a point where exercise is just not enough. Perhaps your genes are conspiring against you or maybe it is your love of good food. Either way, there will come a point where you will need to make additional lifestyle changes if you want to attain your weight loss goals.
This means altering your diet.
I am not a fan of any one diet - especially fad diets. The science surrounding many fad diets is less than convincing and in some cases absolutely wrong. However, if it works for you, go with it.
Among triathletes, you will find adherents of the paleo lifestyle, vegetarians/vegans, and everything in between. None of them are wrong - as long as you are getting the proper amount of nutrients and calories.
The first step toward proper nutrition during racing season is to educate yourself. The Internet is a great place to find bad information. Be careful and don't let yourself be taken in by crackpot science - there is a lot of it out there with regard to diet.
It is vital to keep in mind the diet you need to lose weight (if that is your goal) and to feed your active body may not fit any one particular published diet. They certainly don't work for me. You may need to do some experimentation to see what combination of foods will keep you energized without making you pack on the pounds.
Here are my personal rules for feeding the active body.
First, be moderate. Serving sizes matter. We almost always eat too much. Using your hand as a guide, you generally want a palm sized serving of protein, a hand sized serving of vegetables, and a thumb or two sized serving of carbs/fats.
Secondly, the types of protein, fats, and carbs matter. Fish and chicken are generally better choices than a hamburger. Also, broccoli and asparagus are better than corn and celery. Carbohydrates are easily digestible and are your body's preferred source of energy. However, you can get carbs in your diet better ways than eating a candy bar. Rice and pasta are both good sources of carbs.
Third, drink lots of water. We tend to mistake thirst for hunger and therefore eat more than we should.
I realize for a lot of people that is more easily said than done. I grew up hating vegetables. I found, however, when I learned to cook with spices (butter and salt do not count) and learned to prepare food in other ways, vegetables became a regular part of my diet. There are many good sites on the Internet that will provide you with simple recipes that are quick and flavorful. Take the time to make the changes you need to make.
Integrating your new diet with an increase in training also can be difficult. It is important to provide your body with the calories and nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy immune system and to repair and strengthen muscles. This means you need a wide variety of foods with right amount of calories. Again, this may take a little work to figure out.
One mistake many new athletes make is assuming they burned more calories during a workout that they actually did. This leads to self-rewarding behavior. We tell ourselves we just ran five miles or biked 30 and therefore we can have that burger, large fries and fully leaded Coke for lunch.
Some people can get away with that but most of us can't. A lunch like that will undo all the good your workout just did.
If you know you are going to be starving when you get done with a workout and are tempted to reward yourself, come home to a pre-made meal in which you have controlled the portion size and content.
I have a lot of imperfect days with regard to my diet but here is an example of a good day:
5:45 a.m. - Bottle of water and banana
6 - Bike workout
7 - Small omelet with onions, bell pepper, and cheese. More water.
9:30 - Apple or a few strawberries.
11:30 - Turkey sandwich, baby carrots, water, or diet soda.
3:30 p.m. - Tortilla chips and salsa
4:40 - Teach class at the gym
6 - Bow-tie pasta with grilled chicken and broccoli. Water.
7 - A cookie or two if I can sneak it past my wife.
It is fully possible to lose and maintain weight without gimmicks or fad diets. It just requires some self-discipline and motivation.
Don't despair if you have an off day. Just make the determination to do better tomorrow.
Keep training and I'll see you at the next race.