As the ADW team triathlon training intensifies, we speak with a clinical dietician and sports nutritionist to find out how food can fuel our workouts and recovery
We’re nearly halfway through our triathlon training programme and with our trainer, Jack McAllister from Advantage Sports, kicking things up a notch, we’re definitely feeling the difference.
But with such an intense programme that incorporates endurance and strength training, we’ve come to realise the role food plays.
Jack explains, “Whatever your goal – fat loss, adding lean muscle mass or sport-specific training – your body needs different nutrients that are absorbed from food for it to recover, get stronger and maintain good bodily function and hormone balance.”
Amani Kamal Saqallah, Al Noor hospital group’s clinical dietetics leader, adds, “When we are exercising, we are burning fats and building muscle. We should feed the body with its requirements, otherwise the body will use its energy and protein sources faster.”
In simple terms, your body uses the calories you consume as energy. The more physical activity you do, the more fuel you require, the more calories you need to take in.
While there has been a lot of debate about how much we should eat and how often, Jack and Amani are both advocates of eating small, healthy meals more frequently.
Jack explains: “Smaller meals eaten more frequently can be beneficial when sticking to quite a strict nutrition plan as it reduces the risk of snacking. But at the end of the day it is down to preference; just be sure to hit your nutrient requirements.”
And what about that age-old myth that when exercising we can eat whatever we want and go for a run to ‘burn if off’?
“Simply not true,” says Jack. “Your body needs a certain amount of each nutrient on a daily basis to function properly; anything vastly over the number and your body won’t utilise it so it will turn into fat.”
Having said that, Jack and Amani both admit that we are allowed treats, but in moderation.
“The discipline needed for a triathlon is taxing to say the least, and you will drive yourself crazy if you don’t treat yourself every now and again,” Jack says.
A balanced diet
Regardless of your training regimen, everyone has certain nutritional requirements for a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates are used to maintain energy. Good sources include wholegrain foods like rice, pasta, oats and potatoes.
As the building block of muscle repair, protein will help grow and strengthen your muscles after a hard training session. There are two types: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins, found in meat, seafood, eggs and some diary, contain amino acids that are essential in building tissue. Incomplete sources like beans and grains do not contain amino acids.
“Fats get a bad name,” says Jack. But healthy fats can increase your endurance and help with recovery. Low-fat diets can result in the breakdown of protein so include healthy versions like avocado and nuts.
Fibre should be consumed daily in the form of vegetables and fruit. It helps the body digest protein and is full of antioxidants.
While the amount of water we need to stay hydrated differs from person to person, it is necessary to aid in carbohydrate storage, body temperature, bodily waste
Most races, like TriYAS, are early in the morning. So Jack recommends athletes fuel up the night before with a carb-rich meal that’s kind to your body such as pasta with a mild sauce.
On the day itself, you should ideally have a big breakfast three to four hours before the whistle to give you enough time to digest.
Jack explains, “The calorie intake at breakfast should be high: between 500 and 1,000 calories, depending on your predicted energy expenditure. Slow-releasing foods such as whole grain cereals and yogurt would be a good idea to get carbs, proteins and fats for the task ahead.”
Amani adds that participants can fuel up with easy-to-digest carbs such as a slice of toast, fruits rich in potassium such as banana and dates with a cup of yoghurt, or milk with a slice of wholemeal bread.
- Avoid foods like fizzy drinks, fast food, cakes and confectionery, which have no beneficial nutrients.
- Choose protein powders made from whey or milk proteins and consume them within 30 minutes after exercising.
- Vegetarians can get protein from sources including Quorn products, quinoa, nuts, beans, chickpeas, tofu, low-fat dairy products and protein-rich plants like broccoli, green peas, spinach and almonds.
- Vitamins and minerals are essential for overall wellbeing but try to get them from real foods rather than a tablet, as the body will absorb them better.
- If you’re on the go, look for energy bars with about five grams of protein, some carbs and very little fat.
WORDS Rachael Perrett