Nutrition 301 - The Final Frontier

If you read my first two nutrition articles you are probably expecting something pretty intense for my final installment. Truth is, the more serious you get with your nutrition, the simpler your eating becomes. Before I get into my tips for getting to race weight, let me outline my view of the basics surrounding body composition.

The body that you have is the long-term result of input vs. output. As an athlete, your goal is to maximize your session quality and speed of recovery. When session quality is high, recovery speed is rapid and weight is stable - you have a very effective nutrition strategy. Sure you may want to be a little leaner, but from a training point of view, you are close to optimal. It's worth bearing this in mind because being even a few pounds underweight can delay recovery, reduce session quality and greatly increase your risk of injury.

Most athletes spend their time talking about nutrition strategies that relate to training. Specifically, what to eat during races/key sessions and how to speed recovery. While these topics are essential for athletic performance, the real issue for body composition is what you eat when you are not training.

An effective nutrition strategy results in an athlete developing a virtuous circle, where food is used to enhance the body's ability to operate efficiently. Athletes that are seeking to reduce unwanted body fat should remember that a key component of this virtuous circle is eating the rights foods and the right times. Failure to replenish muscle glycogen after workouts will short-circuit this virtuous circle of training, recovery and improved body composition. Athletes must eat (and eat well) in order to reach their ideal body composition and train strongly.

So, here is what I do when I want to have my body running optimally.

  • I eliminate dairy from my diet. Personally, I love dairy products, but I have found that my digestion and body composition respond favorably to removing dairy.

  • Beers? Bad news, I'm afraid. I have found that alcohol slows my recovery and, I suspect, my metabolic rate. When I want to be firing on all cylinders, I drop it. After a few weeks, I don't miss it... much.

  • I eliminate as many processed foods as possible and base the majority of my nutrition on fresh fruits, veggies and lean protein. It's pretty easy to do this if you only shop around the outside of the supermarket. When I venture up the aisles, it is only to purchase "recovery" foods.

  • During and following my long training sessions, I use a range of moderate to highly glycemic carbohydrate sources to provide the energy necessary for reloading my muscles. Examples of these sources are brown rice, barley, wholegrain pastas, potatoes and wholegrain breads.

  • Within my main food groups (fruits, veggies and lean protein), I eat as wide a range of items as possible. I buy the highest quality ingredients that I can afford.

  • I eliminate all trans- and hydrogenated fats from my diet and carefully limit my intake of saturated fats. I eat moderate amounts of unsaturated fats and tend to eat the majority of my fats late in the day. This helps tide me through the night.

  • In order to enhance my metabolic rate, I try to train twice a day, six days a week. I've found that my "minor" session need not be very long to give me a little lift through the day and/or before dinner.

  • I limit my use of sports drinks and sports bars to during and after my longest sessions. The rest of the time, I do my best to eat "real" food. Here, I am assuming that you are already eating minimal amounts of sugary foods and drink (these were eliminated, as much as possible, in the previous article).
That's pretty much it. I have found that these eight points, when combined with a structured training plan, are what it takes for me to get myself in race shape.

Two final tips:

  • If your current diet is dramatically different than the above plan, you will be best served by making gradual changes towards this method of eating. While some athletes can make rapid adjustments, large changes in diet can be both physically and emotionally stressful.

  • In the 48 hours prior to an A-priority race, it is useful to glycogen-load by eating three to five small servings of moderate to highly glycemic carbohydrates. These top-up servings should be added to the athlete's morning and mid-day food plan. The additional glycogen can result in an increase in weight (two to five pounds depending on the size of the athlete) and should not be a concern.
Good luck,