When training for a triathlon, we should eat to train, not train to eat. I know people who do triathlons to train to eat. Working out allows them to eat extra calories. If they were not working out, those extra calories would be stored around their waist, thighs and hips. Other people set the goal of doing a triathlon in order to lose weight. However, as their training progresses their weight has not gone down – it has stayed the same or even gone up! When you are working toward a goal such as a triathlon, food is fuel for your training and racing. In order to have good training sessions, you need to think about eating during the day as well as around and during your training sessions. And, good training sessions lead to a good race.
Your daily eating contributes to the quality of your workouts. You want to be sure you are getting enough calories to support your daily activities and training, and enough carbohydrates to provide energy. For activities such as triathlons, carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel in your body’s tank. If you are trying to lose weight, you should reduce the calories in your regular meals – not your pre-, during- and post-workout fueling. This will allow you to lose weight while having quality workouts. Each daily meal should include carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables and grains), protein (meat, dairy, tofu, nuts), and fat. The combination of these three will give your body fuel while helping you stay full.
A lot of people think they should work out on an empty stomach. However, having a snack before your workout can give you more energy, leading to a better workout and more calories burned. Your pre-workout snack should be between 100 and 300 calories and contain primarily carbohydrates. Some examples include a mini-bagel or toast with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, a packet or two of instant oatmeal, or a banana and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. The timing of your pre-workout meal is highly individual. Some people need to eat an hour or more before their workout; others can eat and then head out the door.
If your workout runs 60 to 90 minutes or longer, and you are going to work out again the same day or the next day, having a post-workout meal can help you recover and get you ready for your next workout. A post-workout meal should include both carbohydrates and protein to refill energy stores and repair muscle damage. Commercial recovery drinks are available, but 8 to 12 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk has been shown to be a great choice for a recovery meal. You should have your recovery meal within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
As you train for your triathlons – remember to eat to train. Use your meals as opportunities to set yourself up for a great workout and a great race.