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A: Every triathlete occasionally eats more than they mean to, or more than they wish they had. It’s normal and nothing to worry about, as long as it happens infrequently. But if it’s happening more than it used to, or more than you would like it to, consider these three main culprits:
1. Underfueling during training
Whether you did it purposefully to drop a few pounds, or unintentionally by underestimating your needs, underfueling often leads to excessive hunger and overeating a few hours later.
The Fix: Take in at least 30-60 grams of carbs per hour during training and up to 60-90 grams of carbs per hour during sessions longer than 2.5 hours. Doing so will not only improve your endurance and performance but also decrease the pull to overeat later, since your body will be well-fueled during workouts.
2. Inadequate total daily calorie intake
Again, it doesn’t matter if it was intentional or not—this can lead to the feeling that you need to binge, usually on carbs. This pattern may repeat itself every few days, often on non-training days when the body tries to catch up on missing calories from the prior days’ demands.
The Fix: Limit any daily caloric deficit to no more than 250 calories per day during heavy training blocks. Try a metabolic rate test to figure out your specific daily needs and nail your target intake.
3. Denying yourself
Striving to “eat clean” can seem harmless or even beneficial at first, but when taken too far it can be counterproductive. Everyone deserves to enjoy food simply for taste and fun. Forbidding yourself from eating things you enjoy (French fries? Cake and ice cream?) can increase the likeliness of inadequate total intake, preoccupation for treats, or both.
The Fix: Let about 10 percent of your total intake go to whatever you feel like, no guilt.
Note: Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a serious condition, in which a person repeatedly engages in eating large quantities of food in a short period of time (often less than two hours), until they feel very uncomfortably full. These episodes of binge eating are generally accompanied by feelings of being out of control while eating and embarrassment, guilt, or depressed mood afterwards. If you suspect you or someone you know has BED please consult a registered dietitian, a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, or the National Eating Disorders Association information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
Lauren Antonucci is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher, and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.