This is the first article in a five week series where we discuss proper nutrition for triathletes. The first week focuses on basic nutrition practices for general health. Moving forward we’ll explain the importance of fat, protein, and carbohydrate as well as share strategies to calculate your daily caloric expenditure and the proper macronutrient breakdown to improve your athletic performance.
Basic nutrition practices for general health
The evidence of poor nutrition is rampant. You don’t need to look further than your friends, family, and coworkers for proof. It’s an unfortunate reality, but there’s no sense in sugarcoating everything just because they do.
There’s equal evidence to prove that proper nutrition can fuel performance across disciplines. Football, baseball, basketball, track & field, and yes, even triathlon. Especially triathlon! First, though, let’s define ‘nutrition’:
Nutrition: the process of the body using food to sustain life.
Getting the nutrition you need seems easy enough. You know what foods are healthier than others. For example, you know that a chicken breast will do more for you nutritionally than chicken nuggets from the local fast food joint. However, the vast majority of Americans get the execution wrong. High-fat and high-sodium diets low in essential nutrients aren’t doing you any good.
Quick: what’s are the four basic food groups you learned in grammar school? Fruits/vegetables, meat/poultry/fish, dairy, and breads/cereal.
In theory this should work. In practice, we suck at it. Millions of people each year die from diseases caused by their poor diets. Chances are they spent many years eating too many of the wrong fats and too few of the essential nutrients. Nutrition need not be complicated. So here’s what you can do to prepare well-rounded meals day after day while staying away from the drive-thru.
The 1-2-3 Eating Rule of Thumb
Coined by ISSA (International Sports Science Association), the ‘1-2-3 Eating Rule of Thumb’ calls for 1 part fat, 2 parts protein, and 3 parts carbohydrate per meal. This will work for most anyone, and especially those nutrition-minded individuals looking to maximize athletic performance. This is your basic approach to health (or healthier) eating and the same set of principles we teach in the SENS Fitness Fat Loss Program.
The great thing about this basic approach is that it works whether you’re trying to lose fat, build muscle, or improve your athletic performance. It ensures proper portions and being in a caloric deficit while getting adequate protein for muscle development and substantial carbohydrate for performance fueling.
Of course this 1-2-3 approach can be adapted to each individual, their eating tolerances, goals, and sports. For example, triathletes might adapt this approach once comfortable to a 2 parts fat, 1 part protein, and 3 parts carbohydrate. The reason for that is because triathletes use fat for fuel more than most other athletes so a slight increase in dietary fat is warranted. On the contrary, a bodybuilder for example would be better off sticking with the basic 1-2-3 approach.
In addition to the slightly increased fat intake, triathletes should be eating a carbohydrate heavy diet with moderate protein. We’ve spent years developing our slow-twitch muscle fibers. That’s why it’s important to eat a high amount of carbohydrates to maintain glycogen stores for long training and racing days. Protein is lower than both fats and carbohydrates, just enough to maintain proper nitrogen balance and rebuild muscles. Interestingly enough, despite the lower protein required by triathletes they should still be taking in roughly twice as much as the average non-athlete.
Next week we’ll focus on the importance of dietary fat for triathletes and explain why it plays such a critical role in athletic performance.