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Triathlon Training: Managing Your Appetite

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Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Appetite is important. It is your body’s built-in mechanism for food intake regulation. Its job is to drive you to eat enough to meet your body’s energy and micronutrient needs, and no more. The appetite mechanism works very well under normal circumstances. Obviously, it never would have survived millions of years of evolutionary testing if it did not work to the benefit of our health.

But our modern lifestyle does not constitute normal circumstances in relation to the environment in which most of our evolution took place. Consequently, our appetite cannot be entirely relied upon to ensure that we don’t overeat and get fat.

The crux of the problem is that many modern processed foods, such as cheeseburgers, are far more calorically dense than most natural foods, such as carrots. Consequently, we can eat 500 or even 1,000 calories in just a few minutes when dining on cheeseburgers compared to scarcely 100 calories in the same amount of time when snacking on carrots. Because appetite is not satisfied instantaneously when food is swallowed (there’s a lag time of 10 to 20 minutes), it’s possible to eat far more calories than you need to satisfy your appetite when consuming cheeseburgers and other such foods. In essence, the modern diet does an end run around our appetite control mechanism.

Exercise is a great way to counterbalance this problem. Exercise increases caloric usage more than it increases appetite, so when you work out regularly some of those excess calories from processed foods don’t end up being stored as belly fat. As a triathlete, therefore, you are in a better position to control your body weight than is the average couch potato, despite the manner in which our modern food environment sabotages our appetite control mechanism. However, even most triathletes struggle to reach or maintain a satisfactory body weight, which we may define as a weight that not only makes us look good but that supports optimal triathlon performance as well. A recent survey of more than 3,000 endurance athletes reported that 54 percent were dissatisfied with their current body weight. Clearly, then, there is a need for triathletes to manage their appetite and avoid excessive caloric intake too.
Following are five appetite management methods that will enable you to prevent a rumbling stomach from sabotaging your efforts to reach and maintain your optimal racing weight.

Eat a Big Breakfast

Research has shown that individuals who eat most of their calories before noon actually eat the fewest total calories over the course of the day. It seems that eating hearty in the morning reduces appetite in the afternoon and evening. In a recent Brazilian study, obese women who ate a large, 610-calorie breakfast every morning lost 21 percent of their body weight over an eight-month period, while obese women on a low-carb, small breakfast diet lost only 4.5 percent of their body weight. The women on the big breakfast diet reported less hunger and fewer cravings throughout the day.

As a general rule, try to consume eat least 25 percent of your total calories for the day within an hour of waking up. Click the #2 below for more.

Eat Often

Naturally, the longer you go without eating, the hungrier you become. Eating frequently throughout the day is an effective way to prevent your hunger from becoming extreme. Of course, while eating frequently will certainly control your appetite, it will not help you manage your body weight if by eating more often, you actually eat more. But there is scientific evidence to suggest that people naturally tend to eat less when they eat often.

For example, in a 1999 study by a group of South African researchers, a group of obese men were given 33 percent of their normal daily caloric intake on two occasions: once as a single meal and once as six small snacks eaten at hourly intervals. Five and a half hours after the initial feeding, the men were then allowed to sit down and eat as much as they chose. They consumed 27 percent fewer calories in that meal, on average, after having eaten the six small snacks.

A sensible eating schedule for most triathletes that will keep your appetite in check and reduce total eating is as follows:

7:00 a.m. – Breakfast
10:00 a.m. – Snack
12:00 p.m. – Lunch
3:00 p.m. – Snack
6:00 p.m. – Dinner
8:30 p.m. – Snack (optional)

Eat High-satiety Foods

Some foods provide more satiety per calorie than others. The foods that provide the most satiety per calorie are those that contain large amounts of specific nutrients that are known to trigger the body’s hunger control signals more effectively than other nutrients. These high-satiety nutrients include fiber, certain proteins, long-chain fatty acids and possibly calcium.
By including plenty of foods that contain these nutrients in your diet, you will be able to keep your appetite satisfied throughout the day with fewer total calories. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Dairy proteins are among the most satisfying of proteins. Dairy products are also great sources of calcium. Among the richest sources of long-chain fatty acids are macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts, olive oil, flaxseed oil and other cold-pressed oils.

The best way to include these foods in your diet for appetite management is in the form of small (150 or fewer calories), pre-meal appetizers consumed 10 minutes before lunch or dinner. On page XX you will find five suggested appetite-spoiling appetizers packed with high-satiety ingredients. Research has shown that such appetizers reduce the amount of food eaten in the subsequent meal by as much as 20 percent.

In addition to natural foods, there are a growing number of specially formulated weight management products that contain high-satiety nutrients and little else. Among them is a line of bars and drinks marketed specifically to endurance athletes called Forze GPS, which contains all of the high-satiety nutrients listed above. One of several sponsored professional triathletes now using the product is two-time Escape from Alcatraz winner Leanda Cave, who says, “It’s amazing to me that a 50-calorie drink can keep my hunger under control for hours.”

Resist Pressures to Gorge

Over the past 30 years, the number of calories in the average American’s diet has increased significantly. This increase is widely believed to be driven by increases in portion sizes in restaurant menu items and packaged foods that resulted from substantial decreases in the cost of producing food and competition between food businesses. The combination of this phenomenon and the constant deluge of commercial advertising for food has essentially inflated our appetites—or has created a breach between our physical and social appetites for food. Researchers such as consumer psychologist Brian Wansink of Cornell University have shown that the amount of food we consume is strongly influenced by the accessibility of food, how much food is put in front of us, and social pressure to eat more, including the pressure of commercial advertising. A perfect example of the last influence is Taco Bell’s invention of the “fourth meal,” a late-night meal of fast food that television viewers are encouraged to add to their daily eating routines.

To reduce the effects of food overabundance on your eating, experts generally recommend that individuals train themselves to pay better attention to the physical signs of appetite, hunger and fullness. The goal is to eat only when physically hungry and, when eating, to eat only until comfortably satisfied, never stuffed. As you get a better sense of how much food you really need to satisfy your physical appetite, you can also train yourself to purchase, prepare, serve and order smaller portions that meet this standard without exceeding it.

Swim Upstream

Managing your appetite effectively in today’s environment is like swimming against a current. You must continuously resist a variety of temptations and pressures encouraging you to eat more than your body really needs. But with a little discipline and knowledge, anybody can do it. This is one case where you don’t want to “go with the flow.”

Hunger-Killing Appetizers

Each of these appetizers contains two or more foods with high-satiety nutrients proven to fill you up fast before a main meal.

Spinach and avocado salad
1 cup raw spinach with 1/4 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced avocado, and 1 tbsp
olive oil-based dressing
142 calories, 15 grams fat (2 g sat fat), 5 g fiber, 2.4 g protein

Crackers and cheese
4 whole wheat crackers (e.g. Barbara’s Bakery Wheatines) with 1 ounce low-fat cheddar cheese
109 calories, 3 g fat (1 g sat fat), 1 g fiber, 1 g protein

Lentil Soup
Example: Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup, 1 cup
150 calories, 4.5 g fat (0.5 g sat fat), 9 g fiber, 8 g protein

Asparagus with almonds
4 spears steamed asparagus topped with 1/8 cup almond slivers and 1 tsp Parmesan cheese
143 calories, 26 grams fat (7 g sat fat), 6.2 g fiber, 7.5 g protein

Baked potato french fries with rosemary
Wash and skin potatoes. Cut into 1/2-inch slices. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake 30 to 40 minutes in oven at 450 degrees, turning periodically. Sprinkle with rosemary. Serving size: 1/2 cup.
117 calories, 6.2 g fat (0.9 g sat fat), 0.9 g fiber, 1.2 g protein