What is a healthy diet? Asks the triathlete…
What is a healthy diet? Asks the sedentary person…
Does a healthy diet mean the same thing for non-athletes as it does for athletes?
No. Not even close.
Diet is as individualized as training. It differs from person to person and even athlete to athlete. No two triathletes will have the exact same training or diet.
Diet constantly changes based on your life, training and genetics.
I’m going to tell you a little about my experience with diet and dietary changes from the start of my endurance career to the present.
Again, diet is highly individual, and I am in no way recommending anyone try the things I am about to describe. But I am recommending you exam the way you eat, what you eat and how it makes you feel.
2008- First Ironman Coming in HOT!… Inexperienced, Poor Nutrition and Pain
Diet: Processed foods, a weekly intake of gels that would kill a horse and drinking my body weight in sports drink… Sounds familiar anyone?
The race was in Louisville, KY in the summertime, and it was blazing hot.
My first Ironman was full of beginner mistakes:
-Overexerted myself on the bike early on
-Starting throwing up gels around mile 50
-The next 62mi of the bike were a disaster
-And the run got pretty ugly as well
I will spare you the details but it was a race that I would rather not remember. Even more, it was a race that I wasn’t expecting; this is not what I trained for… How could I train so hard and miss the mark by so far… One word: Race nutrition.
2008- Two Weeks Later and 1.5 Hours Faster Thanks to Proper Race Nutrition
Diet: Same with a focus on proper race nutrition.
Going forward I made a few key changes to my race nutrition and was able to knock off 1.5 hours in the next try at the distance, 6 weeks after the first.
Over the next few years I still battled with GI issues off and on in training and racing. I found the right race day nutrition for myself over the iron distance, but was still lacking in other places.
2009- Passed Out in a Parking Lot
Diet: Starting to eliminate any food I had difficulty digesting
After a tough race at the Great Floridian Triathlon in 2009, I became seriously dehydrated to the point of passing out while walking to my car after the race.
When I woke up I had no idea where I was or where my car was parked.
The GI issues were much worse than ever for a good 6 months after the race until finally discovering I had ischemic colitis due to the extreme dehydration in that race. I had a hard time eating pretty much anything before a workout with severe distress right away in each workout.
Something had to change.
If you are ever feeling severe pain or you just feel that something isn’t right… You need to listen to your body, don’t push through severe pain.
Besides resting properly and allowing some time to heal, I changed several things in my diet.
-Whole wheat and grains
-And anything that seemed difficult to digest at the time.
I also started cutting back significantly on processed foods.
Side note: Seven years later and still can’t eat tomatoes two days in a row or the seeds bother me.
2011- Received my Elite License and I’m Vegan for Life… Or at least I thought…
Fast forward to 2011, the year we went vegan.
My wife has been a vegetarian for most of her life, but I ate a fair amount of animal products all of my life. That year, to support her and also work on my own healthier eating, I decided to eliminate all meat and dairy products.
Filling my diet with so many colorful and nutritious fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans made me feel amazing. The first two weeks were a little rough, but then I began to feel the benefits of eating all the healthy/unprocessed foods all the time.
Three months later I qualified for a elite license and had two strong ironman races in two weeks time.
That was it, I was sold, vegan is the way to go for me!
2015- I was ready to go PRO… But was my body?
Starting the 2015 triathlon season I was more motivated than ever and looking to step things up within the pro ironman field.
I began working with new coaches and also changing some things in terms of training focus.
It seemed as though I was not able to handle the same training load as the other elite athletes under the same coaches or others for that matter. The level of commitment and training required to compete at a truly elite level is unbelievable sometimes. I would have good and bad days.
Right from the beginning my coaches were concerned with my vegan diet, but respected my choices completely.
After a few months of mostly breakthrough training sessions I was ready to see this new fitness put to use in a race.
Two days before the race I started to catch a cold. On race day my face and ears were a mess and I didn’t have the race I had hoped. But I kept my spirits up and then about a month later I started to have lateral hip pain that caused me to not be able to run in training for a few weeks.
Because of this I skipped Ironman Texas and decided to look for a 70.3 in July sometime. I chose Racine 70.3 which was a cool experience and my homestay was awesome. However, the race was another story. I almost didn’t fly up to Wisconsin for the race since I was feeling pretty sick. My cough was nasty and my head felt horrible, but was so eager to race I had to give it a try. No go, I have never felt so weak and unenthused during a race in my life. I pedaled easy the back half of the bike course and went straight to the medical tent when I hit transition.
I knew something was really wrong.
Shortly after arriving home it was more of the same.
The illness got worse and I broke out in a rash all over my legs from something I picked up in the pool I guess. My immune system was shot. I found out later that my adrenals were barely hanging on. DHEA was non existent and cortisol was all wrong too. We figured out that I was deficient in several things, including 5 amino acids that actually were in my diet through powder form, but I had not been absorbing them. In hindsight I believe the years of training the way I had, and possibly the lack of certain things in my diet coupled with poor absorption of nutrients led to the issues that came to head this past year.
You can get away with it until you can’t. Finally I couldn’t get away with it.
Everyone has a breaking point, but the healthier the athlete overall, the further away that point tends to be.
2017- Moderation, Nutrition and Mind
Diet: Healthy, nutrient dense food, lots of greens and meat in moderation.
Fast forward to today.
Today moderation is the name of the game for me. After all the testing and retesting and trying new ways to eat, I have learned that I need to:
-Listen to my body
-Eat what my body likes, absorbs and needs all in moderation
-Feed my body nutrient dense food in order to recover properly
We are all unique and each of our bodies needs different diets. So read less about what to eat and think more about why YOU need it. Before you assume you are overtraining check to see if it is your diet that just cannot support the training.
And remember: work works, and hard yards are absolutely essential to high performance.