Simple Nutrition for Athletes?


Aric In Training Makes a Tri Tuna SandwichIs there such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes?  Is is possible to break nutrition and the need to fuel properly down to one or two rules?

I am a huge fan of K.I.S.S., not the band, but the saying “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  But, the books I’ve read regarding nutrition for athletes, endurance or otherwise, talk a lot about what type of nutrients are needed and when.  Reading these books was a lot like reading  science experiment written by someone who had forgotten what English was, replaced with technical garble.

So, I was overwhelmed with the thought of getting the exact amount of protein for my body at just the right time.  Let’s not forget that I am an overworked Analyst by day and I don’t have much time to spend buying food, cooking, and eating in addition to the job, triathlon training, and rest of life.  As much as I tried to make it work, it was just too complicated for this triathlete.

I even tried the paleo diet for a while and have to say that it made life a lot worse.  While it was simple, the complexity in carrying out the diet while at work and with busy weekends just couldn’t work for me.   The paleo diet eliminated some foods that were okay by some diets and were convenient for busy people like me.

So, is there such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes?  If we strip away the metabolic typing, the protein and carb calculators, and even the calorie counting bank recording calories in versus out, what is left?  In my opinion, there is a lot left that can be considered simple nutrition for athletes.   Let’s take a look, but keep in mind that if you are going to get technical on me, please don’t send me hate mail.

This is what simple nutrition for athletes is in my mind:

  1. Avoid the sweets: Sure you can have a little cake and ice cream at the neighbor’s kids birthday, but don’t have a small amount of sweets more than once a week.
  2. Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are anything that doesn’t resemble its natural counterpart any longer, such as anything made with flour, those frozen chicken nuggets, and anything that comes out of a drive through window.  This is the paleo influence on my simple nutrition for athletes.  Don’t eat white breads, processed sausage, cakes, or pastries.
  3. Eat lean protein:  Protein is what helps build muscles and aids in recovery post-workout.  Having a small amount of protein with every meal and a little before and after workout will help you recover and build muscles.  Eggs, chicken breasts, lean pork, salmon, and buffalo burgers are great choices.
  4. Consume fresh vegetables and fruits: Salads, greens, citrus, and berries are a great source of fiber and provide much needed energy for your workouts.
  5. Cook with the intention of creating leftovers:  Cooking four chicken breasts even though you are only going to eat two gives you two extra to eat during the rest of the week.  Package up some salad mix into tupperware and toss on some cheese and other veggies while making a salad for your weekend lunch.  Consume a salad right after a workout to help recover as well.

So, simple nutrition for athletes broken down to five rules.  It is not all inclusive list, but is a great place to start when getting a handle on what you eat.   You might be surprised just how simple this can be while achieving race weight and feeling great about yourself.  There is such a thing as simple nutrition for athletes after all.

Workout Update – Life’s Obligations


Sunset at Butterfly Beach

It has been quiet around here lately and that means life is in full swing.  So a few quick updates from my realm of the triathlon universe:

  1. Shoulders and neck continue to be sore.  A few weeks back, moving furniture I pulled a muscle in my back and shoulder that is causing discomfort throughout my upper back, neck and arms.   It is gradually getting better, but is still quite bothersome.  Maybe I am just getting old?
  2. Workouts themselves have been light lately as I let my shoulders recover.  I’ve mainly been focusing on Yoga, foam rolling, and stretches, but did get back to the gym for a workout.
  3. Today’s gym workout was pretty cool with a combination of jump rope, squat and press, and push-ups.  The shoulders are a little more sore than they were before, unfortunately.
  4. The Paleo/Primal diet has taken a bit of a back seat lately.  This week bagels and bread seemed to creep back in, as did Oreos (Oh no!).  Focus this next week is to get back to a diet with far less processed foods.
  5. My hope of competing in the Greeley Triathlon in June were dashed as life prevents me from leaving Santa Barbara at that time.  I am feeling a bit bummed about it, but I will find other events to do at more opportune times.
  6. I am continuing my own custom fitness tracking solution that I’ve been calling TrainingMetrix.  Help me out and take a look at the blog or the forums.

While I still struggle to return back down to my racing weight and let my shoulders mend, I keep reflecting back on my awesome 2009 season.  Using 2009 as my inspiration for 2011, that little thing called life keeps reminding me of how complex things can get.  Still, triathlons are awesome and they will always be in my daydreams.

So, what strategies do you use to balance triathlon with the rest of life’s obligations?

The Food Cloud Goes Paleo


The Paleo Diet is the latest and greatest of fads in the realm of diets.  We have gone from Weight Watchers to Atkins to South Beach only to realize that what our ancient ancestors ate is probably what we should be eating too.

After all, homo erectus didn’t have the convenience of grabbing a burger and fries from the local fast food joint while looking for a new cave.  No sir or maam, the diet that the human race survived on is no joke.

So, with all of the hype about eating paleo and reading paleo blogs like Mark’s Daily Apple and Son of Grok, I decided to try the paleo diet.  It was time to cut out the processed foods and consume fresh vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, nuts and good fats with a little luck thrown in.

I expected to do well on the paleo as I did quite well with the No Flour, No Sugar diet in 2009.  It really isn’t that much different, although it is much more strict about what you can eat (no potatoes, no vinegar and no grains).  So what could happen?

Well, I found out just how hard it is to eat paleo consistently.

  1. For me, I need to have each meal prepared ahead of time or else I will settle for something more convenient than paleo.
  2. The somewhat limited food items get boring after a while, so creativity in the kitchen is soon to be expanded.
  3. The diet requires a lot of preparation ahead of time, so squeezing in time in the kitchen is hard with my already packed schedule.
  4. The grouchiness is a little like giving up coffee as the body is adjusting to life without an abundance of refined foods.
My paleo food cloud for the past week

Well the word cloud to the left shows exactly what I have been eating.  While I haven’t been sticking to the diet per se (burritos and mochas aren’t paleo!), I do see the beginnings of ridding processed foods from my diet.  Getting rid of the tortillas and buying a coffee versus a mocha will be the next steps. I’d also like to see more lean proteins in the cloud as it appears that chicken and bacon are the primary meats I’ve eaten.  What is good are the nuts, fruits and vegetables, but those too can use a bit more variety.

What are the initial results of going more paleo?  I feel like I have increased energy and clarity of mind.  My weight has only dropped three pounds, which is within a normal fluctuation so I can’t say I’ve lost weight.  Also, my kitchen is being used more and my stove is happy to see me, if for a limited time on the weekends. My grocery bill has also gone up, but my fast food bill has dropped significantly.  So there are pluses and minuses involved, but overall I think the changes have been positive.

However, Before coming to further conclusion, I’d like to gather more data, both physical and workout data.  Theoretically, the paleo diet will help me improve my fitness performance and if its true, the results should be clear in my triathlon training dashboard.   Only time will show.

Have you tried the paleo diet?  What are your experiences?

Remembering Why


As life goes on, training gets tough and the weather turns gloomy, it is important to focus on what matters.   It is important to the success of one’s goals, whether fitness they are fitness goals or business goals, to remember why you set them in the first place.

Reminding yourself of why you set your goals not only provides an amazing amount of inspiration, but provides a check for your own actions.  Are you doing things that are not helping you attain your goal?  Are your actions appropriate for the expected outcome?  If not, look at your goals and make changes to redirect yourself.

Case in point, I have allowed my day job to take over my life, which is hindering my personal goals, including my triathlon goals.  This scares me as I can see the digression in my training dashboard.   I have rechecked my goals and want to make them clear here:

  1. Finish in the top 70% at Ventura Tri in June.
  2. Finish a half marathon in 2011
  3. Going long at Carpinteria Triathlon in 2011, finishing my first Olympic course
  4. Enjoying the freedom of training and how awesome it is exercise.

No time for digression.  Time to bring back balance, priorities and my awesome goals.

Triathlon Training Update – January 2011


It has been a while since I gave an update on my triathlon training.  Seems like after last year’s Carpinteria Triathlon, I went into hibernation.  For one reason or another, it was simply time to slow down, deal with life and do some regrouping.  So, the winter months were not exactly the most productive in terms of triathlon training.

But, it wasn’t like I spent the winter in bed.  In contrast to last winter where I spent quite a bit of time improving my physical side, this winter I focused more on the mental side.  I spent time reflecting on 2009 and 2010 triathlon seasons, studying “the mental edge” and positive visualization.  I learned a lot about what it meant to perform mentally whether during training or during a race.

Studying the Mental Edge

Two books helped me focus and provided some surprise inspiration.  Two of the books, “Zero Regrets” and “Spirit of the Dancing Warrior” are summarized in my post, Some Inspiration: Apolo and a Warrior.  The third book, Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior, is an interesting tale that parallels the other two.  Simply by being focused, in control, and breathing calmly, one can become a warrior at everything they do.

All three books have made me reconsider my approach to everything, but I am learning that becoming a warrior requires discipline, practice and even more discipline.  However, when I achieve the warrior state whether swimming, biking or running, the results are fantastic.  It is like I am transported to a land where gravity works with me, not against me and every step or stroke is pure bliss.  The hard part is getting to that state, which requires one’s mind to let go of all thoughts, step above any muscle pain and focus on breathing.  It takes practice.

C is for Consistency

Speaking of practice, my physical workouts have been sporadic.  Like I said before, life can be quite busy at times, especially during the holidays and end of year.

Daily workout score with moving average.

As you can see in the chart above, my triathlon training is rather inconsistent.  Each marker represents a workout with the value being a function of time and intensity.  Not only has the frequency of workouts dropped off, but also the intensity, starting in mid-January.  In fact, February has been dismal with more zero intensity days since I was an office potato.

The primary workout each week has been a cross training workout that combines strength with cardio training. The workout starts with intervals on the treadmill, then two circuits of strength and usually ending with more intervals on the bike or elliptical.

Weekends would include a long bike, run, swim or combination of the three.  I also started attending a group swim workout at the local pool, which proved to be highly beneficial.  Not only is it a longer pool, at 50m, but very motivational as swimming with other more competent athletes really makes me push harder.  My swim workouts have gone from 500-600 meters to well over 1 kilometer.

Going Forward

So, what’s next? Keep moving forward.  My first triathlon is the Ventura Triathlon at the end of June.  This gives me plenty of time to build my competitive spirit and get back into shape.  With the goal of completing the olympic course at the Carpinteria Triathlon in September, it is clearly time to come of hibernation and get going.  Bears can spend an entire year in their caves!

Putting Ironman in Perspective


I want to be an Ironman.

Over the past three years, I transformed myself from a cubicle dwelling office potato to a sprint triathlete.  After finishing my first practice triathlon three weeks before my first real competitive event, I knew I had the multi-sport bug.  Life was never going to be the same again!  That was the goal, after all.

Looking back over my past eight sprint finishes and now, looking forward to the future, there is one place for me to end up.

Enter the Ironman.

To be an Ironman means that you have mastered the art of multi-sport endurance.  Swimming 2 miles, cycling 115, and then finishing by running a simple marathon.   This is not your typical walk in a park…  at least for many people on this planet we call Earth.

Sprint Triathlon vs 1/2 Ironman & Ironman

The triathlon chart above compares the distances of my previous sprint triathlons to distances of the Half Ironman (70.3) and Ironman (140.6).   My reaction to seeing this chart was along of the lines of, “I think the journey has really just begun.” My longest sprint was the UCSB Triathlon in March 2010 with a distance of nearly 20 miles, just a fraction of the 140 miles of a full Ironman.

My super hairy, audacious goal (shag) has been set…  see you at the Ironman finish-line in a few years.  But which one?

 

Building a Triathlon Training Dashboard


A number of posts back, I talked about the creation of a triathlon training dashboard that would help me track my workouts and training status. I viewed the creation of this dashboard as an essential part of my training, after all keeping logs and journals during any fitness journey can provide inspiration and help identify key areas of focus. Keeping track of your workouts, goals, and performance is a very important part of triathlon training.

As an Analyst by day, I understand the importance of tracking metrics that drive success as well as drilling down into the meaning behind them.  Just like when I drill down into Sales to understand a change in pattern, drilling down into my own life and training is just as important to help me do my best at the next triathlon.

The original goal of the dashboard was to summarize all of the different components that drive performance in a triathlon or workout and track them as I worked toward my goals. My thought was to take these key metrics of workout intensity, duration, nutritional intake, and even life components like stress and sleep quality, record them in Excel and have them automatically roll-up into a series of charts.  The training dashboard would then be a combination of nutrition and workouts in a single view that helped me understand how I was tracking toward goals.  And, if I was off pace for goals, a drill down capability to figure out where I was going wrong… was it nutrition?  was it lack of sleep?  what was causing my lack of true performance?

While the dashboard I was building in Excel was always considered to be a work in progress, it never developed much beyond helping me understand:

  1. how much time was spending on training by sport
  2. how my running pace and cycling speed was improving
  3. what my focus was for the week
  4. when my next race occurred

The bulk of my nutrition and workout data was still being analyzed in Training Peaks as Premium subscriber. While the Training Peaks solution offers a great way to summarize and share workouts and nutrition data, it does not do a very good job of putting it all together.  Each area of focus still reside in their respective charts and it is very difficult to correlate a poor diet back to a decrease in performance.

As I continue to develop my personal Excel training dashboard, I must recognize where I have been struggling and why it is not easy to create a brilliant dashboard for triathletes or any other athlete for that matter. Here is why:

  1. Capturing workout intensity is a mathematical formula that is very difficult to capture.  In fact, Training Peaks developed their own proprietary formula that uses a number of data points to calculate a Training Stress Score (TSS) that rates the workout.   The best I have come up with is a factor of time and heart rate.  This is the biggest obstacle.
  2. Capturing life variables such as stress, sleep quality and positive visualization in an objective manner is difficult.  While I can easily record a point score for each variable in Excel and average them in my dashboard, the score I assign is based on a relative feeling against yesterday or the day before.  Since I have never experienced “worst” stress, how do I know what it really is?
  3. Normalizing component scores so they roll up into a single score.  My life metrics, nutritional scoring, and workout intensity scoring are all on scales.  To roll them up, I need to make sure each metric is weighted correctly.

Solving these issues will help me cross some major hurdles and reinvigorate life into my existing dashboard.  I hope to, in the future, automate and possibly market the dashboard to my readers.  I really think that Training Peaks and other solutions have yet to truly deliver on triathlon training analytics, let alone deliver a meaningful triathlon training dashboard.  After all, Training Peaks was built for cyclists, not triathletes.

*Update, 10/24/2011 – After working on various training dashboards in Excel, I decided it was time to share them with the public.  I founded a company called TrainingMetrix, LLC, with the purpose of bringing simple, yet sophisticated training analysis to athletes of all types, include triathletes.  Check out our community for more information.

If you are interested in helping me out with this project and/or interested in testing a beta dashboard, please email me at:  aricrmh ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com.

For more posts on triathlon training dashboard, please click here.

Stay tuned for more exciting things to come!