As we approach the end of the season many athletes reflect on their season and either worry about gaining too much weight in the off-season, or regret never getting down to their “race weight” during the season. Most athletes who have problems reaching their race weight goals fall into one of two categories:
- They workout to justify calories instead of fueling for performance – leading to less than ideal food choices and improper workout fueling
- They are not eating enough which is actually lowering their metabolism and causing their bodies to hold onto those fat stores.
I recently attended an advanced Triathlon Nutrition seminar by Jesse Kropelnicki in September. The seminar focused on two different aspects of nutrition – day-to day nutrition and fueling strategies. I wanted to share with you some perspectives on day-to-day nutrition to help you develop healthy eating habits to not only stay healthy and lean, but to boost immunity and help you perform better and recover from workouts better.
Like other “diets” such as Paleo, Whole 30 etc, Kropelnicki recommends focusing on eating “CORE” foods that humans have evolved on for millions of years: “Core” Refers to foods that are all natural, with nothing chemically altered or processed. This helps keep blood sugar stable while delivering enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to speed recovery and boost performance.
CORE foods include: lean means fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, lean meats, legumes, and lean dairy while avoiding processed foods with higher glycemic indexes such as breads, pasta and sweets. Essentially foods with high nutrient density for recovery between workouts and are low glycemic to help keep blood sugar stability throughout the day while not exercising. These foods also stimulate recovery with protein and provide plenty of vitamin and minerals as well as antioxidants to help protect your cells from free radicals. A few other tips from Kropelnicki include: Eating very frequently throughout the day with a maximum of 2-3 hours between feedings to help keep blood sugar stable and provide a constant supply of nutrients available for muscle recovery. Additionally he recommends reducing the fasting window at night by having a protein shake or some other source of lean protein immediately before bed and something the moment you wake up.
Kropelnicki’s strategy, however, is much less restrictive and focuses more on nutrient value rather than whole categories of foods. You’ll notice that on his list are included legumes and lean dairy which are considered “off-limits” for several other plans. The Core diet takes into consideration that sometimes life gets in the way and those natural foods aren’t readily available. For those times when you must resort to “man-made” foods (foods with a label – generally the middle of the grocery store), use the core ratio to determine suitability. Add total carbs (g) and total sugar (g) then subtract fiber (g). Divide this by the sum of Fat and Protein. If the result is less than 2, then it’s a core friendly food! The only caveat is to ensure that the total Saturated Fat is less than 5g total. It is however key to remember that this is a “backup” and should not be your first choice for food!
So to sum things up – for those time throughout the day (does not include 1 hour pre workout to the recovery period post workout) in between workouts or rest days:
- Eat often (every 2-3 hours)
- Minimize overnight fasting period by eating lean protein right before bed, and again the moment you wake up…. DON’T skip breakfast or routinely do “fasting” workouts. Get that metabolism going!
- Focus on CORE foods and stay away from processed/man-made foods. Look at every bagel or piece of bread or cookie as a missed opportunity for nutrient dense fruits, veggies or lean meats!
Coach Kim’s take: Having had much success myself following Paleo for athletes, I’m happy to see some of the same principals applied but also accounting for those times when you are in a pinch without access to paleo friendly foods as that always stressed me out! When following Paleo guidelines, I absolutely felt like I ate a lot more fruits and veggies, that I slept better, recovered much faster which helped me push harder during workouts. Of course like any lifestyle change – its important to remember not to be too hard on yourself – striving for 100% perfection can be exhausting and everyone slips up now and then. Those perfectionists tend to take those slip ups a lot harder. Really striving for 80/20 or even 90/10 is a much better plan that will help you stay lean and fit, fuel recovery and regeneration and still allow you a few indulgences now and then!