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.

Mapping 2010 Workouts


One of the cool things about using a GPS enabled heart rate monitor, such as the Garmin 305, is that you can easily map your workouts.  Not only does this provide you with pace, distance, and elevation data, but it also gives you an entirely new source of motivation and inspiration.

Take the images below, for instance.  I took all of the data from Garmin Training Center and imported it into Google Earth.  Suddenly, in front of me was an entire year’s worth of workouts and races.   Wow…

Greater Santa Barbara and Goleta Area

You can see in the above map how concentrated my workouts are in certain areas of greater Santa Barbara/Goleta.  The waterfront of SB, to Goleta, the airport, and UCSB.  Included in this map are the UCSB Triathlon, Santa Barbara Triathlon Chardonnay 10-miler and my Jesusita Trail runs.

Looks I got around on foot and the bike, but one thing bugs me… how isolated the groups are. Perhaps, in 2011, I will have to bridge the gaps.

Carpinteria

I had some issues where Google Earth would not draw Carpinteria routes with Santa Barbara.  So, the above map is the area just off the right of the Santa Barbara/Goleta map.  Workouts in this area include the turn-around for long bike rides via the 150 and the Carpinteria Triathlon course.  Most of these workouts originated at East Beach in SB, but some started at the Carpinteria State Park.

Oxnard, Ventura and Points South

This area is where 2010 began, with the Boney Mountain Trail Run, which is mapped in the lower right of the map.  We also have the Ventura Triathlon, Strawberry Fields Triathlon and the Camarillo Duathlon (not as an official participant) mapped out as well.  Pretty exciting.

2011 Inspiration

Looking at these maps has already provided some inspiration for 2011.  As I noted before, I would love to start connecting the gaps between Goleta, Santa Barbara and Ventura.  This is going to mean climbing some gnarly hills, many, many more miles on foot and on the bike.  But then endurance athletes are known for their insane abilities.

I seriously can’t wait until next year, when I can review the 2011 maps and see where I have been.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get some training in outside of California!

The First Ride of 2011!


First, Happy New Year!  What better way to welcome the new year, than with an awesome bike ride through Goleta, Ca.  While the weather was a tad on the chilly side, the brilliant, bright sun and clear weather made for a refreshing ride.

My goal for this ride was simply to take it easy, go the distance and feel my muscles out for what they can put out.  I was nervous that I lost some strength over the past few weeks since I haven’t been riding near as much as I’ve been running.

What I discovered is that my muscles are doing just fine.  While I did feel drained earlier than expected, I am quite happy with the outcome.  The ride lasted 01:08:34 and covered 17.8 miles at an average speed of 15.6 mph.  Not my fastest performance for the Goleta Loop, but I’ll take it.

Averages per Mile

The above chart shows the mile split times for average speed (column: blue), average cadence (line: red), and average heart rate (line: tan).   The reason why I built this chart was to see what cycling looks like compared to running.  Here are some highlights:

  1. It took me about four miles before I got warmed up.
  2. I have no idea why I don’t have data for miles 6 and 8.
  3. The cadence and heart rate remains fairly consistent, with speed having the most deviation.  I think this means I maintaining effort on hills and letting the speed slow down, where I should be trying harder to maintain speed with more effort.
  4. You can see that I cranked it up for the last two miles as the heart rate climbed steadily.
  5. Mile 16 is the fastest at nearly 20mph average thanks to a steady, downward slope.  You can see the cadence is significantly lower as well since I didn’t maintain effort during this split.

The point of this is to say that as I continue to train in 2011, I need to be fully aware of my body, my effort and what is happening around me.  It is fine tuning the “mental edge” and putting mind over body (to a point!).

The first ride of 2011 is in the history books.  Not only did I get to enjoy some beautiful weather, but I learned a lot about how I ride…  something to improve upon in 2011.

Some Inspiration: Apolo and a Warrior


Reading is one thing I really enjoy doing right before bed time.  Spending a few minutes with a great book gives me an opportunity to wind down and focus on something more inspirational.

Apolo’s Dedication From the Heart

While I am reading a few books at the moment, one of them is Apolo Ohno’s “Zero Regrets.”  Apolo is a very inspirational person and I find his story quite motivating for both life in general and the sport of triathlon.  Here is a segment of his book that really caught my attention:

He was teaching me right then and there the most fundamental thing: You have to dedicate your heart and soul to something.  Then you go forward; you don’t look back.  And you don’t hold back.  You go after whatever that thing is without being afraid to fail.

After reading this segment, I really wanted to yell out “Yeah, go Apolo!”  But then it was late at night and I didn’t want to wake anyone up.   To me, dedicating your heart and soul to something is, perhaps, one of the hardest things to do.   It means maintaining focus, avoiding distractions, and implementing a dream that comes straight from the heart!

My dream from the heart was to finish a sprint triathlon.  In fact, I finished seven! During this journey I faced a lot of hurdles, snuck by distractions and learned so much about life, fitness, and the sport of triathlon that reflecting back on it, makes me want to cry with joy.

The Commitment of the Dancing Warrior

I have also been reading the “Spirit of the Dancing Warrior,” which uses zen exercises to help the athlete perform to a new level.  With a new focus each week, the book helps the athlete focus on connecting with the inner soul.  Starting with Emptyness (being ready to learn) and Gratefulness (take things for granted), I have now moved on to the Commitment focus.   The segment below grabbed my attention:

Consider whether your lack of commitment is simple complacency or whether you might want to look deeper to see if there is another sport or activity that will engender a higher level of commitment.  In other words, lack of commitment may be a sign that it’s time to move on to something else that’s more appropriate to your development at this particular time.

After reading this segment shortly after reading the segment from Apolo’s book above, it sent a chill down my spine.  What if my struggles during the winter are really an indication that I need to do something completely different for the winter months?

I am not sure what that would be and I would have to do some more research, but it is something to think about.  Instead of triathlon training (swim, bike, run, strength, yoga), maybe I should take up karate or kayaking.

Whatever I choose, it has to come from the heart and once selected, I must be committed to it.  Are you committed from your heart?

Pace Strategy: A Saturday Run Workout Example


Pace strategy during any event, be it a triathlon, basketball game, or speed skating, plays a very large part in the outcome of your event.   Perform at a lower pace and you might be out run by your competitors without the ability to make a come back.  Perform too fast and you may exhaust yourself prematurely.   Finding the balance is where practice and analysis comes in.

My Run Workout

Saturday’s run was an endurance run, meaning slow and steady for a longer distance.  I was a little nervous going into this workout since the longest I had run following the sprained ankle was a 5k (33min).  This workout was expected to last one hour and cover at least 5 miles, hopefully more.   I wasn’t sure if my body was able to go the distance.

Pace, what is that?

I started out like I usually do, letting my body go as I don’t have much reference for pace when starting out.  It always feels like I am running slower than I really am.   And like usual, I was fast. Check out the split times in the chart below:

Let’s take a look at some highlights that you can see in the chart above:

  1. The first half of the run had a more sporadic pace than the second half. In fact, the second mile was more of an interval workout with fast pace for 0.25 mile and then a fast walk.
  2. The third split (2.35), was painfully slow as I was exhausted and walked up a long, shallow hill to Shoreline Park.
  3. In the latter half of the chart (3.35 and above), the more consistent helped moderate the heart rate, which was slowly climbing.
  4. The slowly climbing heart rate in the latter half of the chart, indicates that I was running above my true endurance pace.

One chart, lots to digest.  I think it proves that pace strategy is the largest determinant of success in running.  Had I taken it slower on the first half of the run, the latter would have been a lot easier and I wouldn’t have felt so exhuasted.

Why did it happen?

So why didn’t I take it easy?  Two reasons:

  1. I just started and didn’t have a sense of pace. – Yep, when I first start running, my body wants to go and it feels like I am running slower than I really am.  It takes a mile or two before I can start to moderate my own pace based on feel.  Solution: Run for ten minutes prior as warm-up and use my GPS to measure my pace initially.
  2. I listen to my iPod.  Listening to techno (Scooter’s “Jumping All Over the World”) gets me pumped up and I want to run at the same pace as the music.  It is rather hard to separate the body from the beat.  Solution: Find a slower paced songs for an endurance run.  Something like Podrunner mixes might work.

The next time you go out and run, keep in mind your pace strategy, it’ll save your run.  In fact, it could even save your triathlon.

A Few Difficult Weeks, But I Am a Triathlete


After a bee sting nearly brought on my death and getting the flu the day before the Santa Barbara Triathlon, these past few weeks have been a true test of life, attitude, and my devotion for triathlons.

The Flu Won’t Stop Me!

The Friday night before the Santa Barbara Triathlon, I became ill with the flu. I was so sick Saturday morning that I was alive only in my own little world.  The only improvement could have been death (better be careful what I wish for).  So, instead of heading down to East Beach to cheer on my friends competing in the Long Course, I laid in bed in absolute misery wondering if I would ever move again.

Luckily as time moved forward and I let my body work its way through whatever was causing such horribleness, I began feeling better. In fact, late that evening I was feeling good enough that I went out for a run along the run course.  Perhaps I wasn’t going to miss this one afterall.

Feeling horrible that morning I pulled it off.  You can read about it here.  It sucked, it was great, and it was a true learning experience.

The Unexpected Bee Sting

You don’t normally expect to rear-end a bee while cycling on a residential, paved street in town.  The Sunday before Labor Day, that is exactly what happened. The Bee, instead of calling his lawyer, simply stung me right above my right knee in retaliation for invading his flight path.  Not only did it hurt like hell and my knee swelled up, but four hours later I found myself in the emergency room.  After getting a shot and recovering from near death, they sent me on my way.  Unfortunately, the body needed serious recovery time and I am just getting back into a normal training routine.

The drugs, the shock and lack of training has resulted in lost progress.  In fact, tonight’s spin class was the worst yet and my legs just couldn’t find the energy to sustain decent power for long.

There is a lot of work to do to get back, but we will get there.  I am a triathlete and I will always be a triathlete.

The Broken Heart

It breaks my heart to think that my big end of the year race was likely to be worst than last year’s performance.   As sad, disappointed, frustrated and angry that I am with the events of the past few weeks, rolling with the punches and pushing forward is what any athlete excels at.

I know what my goals are and they have not changed.  My list of “A” races have not changed.  My devotion to triathlons have not changed. Despite life throwing a few hard and fast curve balls right at my groin, nothing has changed…

After taking the past ten days off, I realize that fitness, training, and triathlons are such a huge part of who I am that I can never back down.  Broken hearts mend themselves with time.  While I won’t be performing at the level I anticipated a month ago, I will be performing and I will give it my all.  To do anything less, is simply not good enough.

My Fifth Triathlon Is A Week Away!


I set the goal of finishing my first triathlon for two reasons:  1) to prove to myself that I can do something that I never thought I could do, and 2) to get myself to lose weight and get in shape.

In June 2009, I finished the Ventura Triathlon sprint course in 1hr 38min.  You can read more in my race report: Completed the Ventura Triathlon. Not only did I accomplish the two reasons above, but I caught the endurance, multisport athlete bug. There is nothing like training for three sports while pushing my body to its limits.  The question became, how far will this go?

Since completing Ventura, I completed three more triathlons; Santa Barbara sprint, Carpinteria sprint, and the 2010 UCSB Triathlon.   Four triathlons set in paradise that challenged me in many distinct ways!

The Four Triathlon Results Plotted!

While one might think a triathlon is a triathlon and once you have done one, you’ve them all.  Well, triathlons are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get (thanks Forest!). Think about the factors that have a direct result on race performance:

  1. Training Plans (quality of workouts)
  2. Nutrition (are you fueling correctly?)
  3. Coaching/Support Network (who do you train with?)
  4. Race venue (what is the course/weather like?)
  5. Mental Preparation (are your psychologically ready to endure?)
  6. Pre race preparation (did you sleep, eat, stretch before the race?)

As you can see, the same triathlon is almost impossible to replicate.  This is at the forefront of my mind as I face the 2010 Ventura Triathlon, my first repeat triathlon in my career.   Not only is this going to show how much I’ve improved over the past year, but how successfully I executed my training, how good of a support network I have, and whether or not I am mentally tougher that I was a year ago.

While I went into the 2009 event just wanting to prove to myself that I can do it, there is much more at stake for the 2010 event. Sure I can do it, but the real question is, “How well did I spend the previous year preparing for this event and how much have I improved?”  We will know on June 27th.

Stay tuned…