How To Eat To Thrive As A Triathlete
Working to achieve a racing weight goal while also trying to fuel your body for sports performance can be tricky.
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Working to achieve a racing weight goal while also trying to fuel your body for sports performance can be tricky. You want to give your body the nutrition it needs to power workouts and feel good in training, but you also want to get—and stay—lean and light. It’s a challenge that pro triathletes and twin sisters Laurel and Rebeccah Wassner know well. Here the creators of the popular Athlete Food blog (Athletefood.com) share their advice—and favorite foods—for balanced eating that will help you achieve total fitness.
Early in our careers we got way too familiar with the nutritional fail.
We skipped meals to cram in extra workouts, and then we bonked. We traveled to races without a stash of homemade snacks, and ate peanut butter cups and Combos for dinner in the airport.
Slowly we got nutritionally savvy, and traded our air breakfasts for a scoop of nut butter or steel-cut oats mixed with quinoa. We figured out which sandwiches will survive a pat-down by the gruffest TSA agent. And now, after more than 15 combined years of training and international competitions, we have a proven repertoire of dishes that are quick and easy to make, packed with nutrition and will satisfy both our voracious triathlete appetites and our families’ expectations of deliciousness.
A few years ago, we teamed up with our food-writer friend Melissa Lasher to create our blog, AthleteFood.com. There we feature recipes that center on three simple concepts:
Make every bite count. We constantly ask ourselves how to pack more nutrition and flavor into a smoothie, bowl of pasta and even our favorite treats. We’ve found that the key to maintaining a good weight and eating a consistently nutritious diet is to strike a balance between eating for pleasure and nutrition. Bacon? Yes, please. But we’ll make it count by using it to flavor a pot of soup, a cup of salad dressing or add salt and crunch to a big salad.
Time your meals right. We work out multiple times a day. Our recipes help us recover from a training session and prepare for the next one.
Plan ahead. Planning is the best defense against returning from an evening run and eating a haphazard snack like a scoop of peanut butter, canned chickpeas and a handful of my daughter’s Goldfish. (Yes, that really happened. So did the stomachache right afterward.) We aim for realism: Are we going to come in from that run and make the homemade guacamole and salsa for fajitas? No. But if we spend 30 minutes making stovetop fajitas earlier in the day, we’ll have dinner on the table before we tear through the entire bag of Goldfish.
RELATED: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Getting Leaner
Food and Training Diary
A three-day sampling of how we fuel our workouts.
5K swim, 2-hour bike, 25-minute run
Steel-cut overnight oats with dried cherries, ginger, almonds
Avocado toast with sea salt, red pepper flakes and toasted sesame seeds
Bagel sandwich with cheddar and fig jam, pretzels
Espresso (for an extra buzz before the final workout of the day) and dark chocolate
Stovetop chicken fajitas
Recipe: Crispy Bars
Stash these in your jersey pocket for real-food ride fuel.
4 cups brown rice cereal
1 T coconut oil
½ cup brown rice syrup
½ cup sunflower seed butter
1 T honey
¼ cup cacao nibs or
½ cup mini chocolate chips
2 T hemp seeds
Pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes
In a large microwaveable bowl, melt the coconut oil. Add rice syrup, sunflower butter and honey to the bowl with the coconut oil and stir to combine. Put bowl back in the microwave and cook on high for 45 seconds. Stir mixture again, making sure the ingredients are well combined. Add cereal one cup at a time, stirring between additions to make sure all of the cereal is coated with the syrup mixture.
Mix in cacao nibs (or chocolate chips) and hemp seeds.
Transfer mixture to a glass baking dish and firmly press into place. (The size of the baking dish can vary; the smaller the dimensions, the thicker your squares will be. I find that a 9×11-inch pan works well, yielding about 16 1-inch thick squares.) You may have to muscle it, but you want the mixture compact so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it into bars. Sprinkle sea salt evenly on top and press it into the bars. Chill the bars in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes and then cut into squares using a serrated knife.
Tip: Can’t stand measuring nut butters or sticky syrups?? Neither can we. Try greasing the measuring cup with coconut oil first. This way the sticky ingredients just slip right out and don’t stick to the measuring cup.
RELATED: How The Pros Stay Lean
Treadmill run intervals, 4K strength swim after run, afternoon recovery ride
Nut butter, coconut oil, honey and sliced banana on rice cakes
Egg sandwich with sliced tomato, cheddar and wilted spinach
Quesadilla with leftover chicken and peppers from fajitas with added Jack cheese
Chocolate chip banana bread and endurance booster juice
Athlete Food Protein Power Bowl
Recipe: Athlete Food Protein Power Bowl
The name of this dish says it all—this is a recovery super meal! This bowl allows us to have a nutritious meal on days when we don’t have time (or energy)
3 large handfuls of fresh greens
(spinach or baby kale)
1 tsp olive oil, add more if too tart
or dry (better to start with less
Juice from half a lemon
1 smoked salmon filet**
5 to 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup shelled edamame
2 hardboiled eggs
½ cup black rice (brown
rice or quinoa), cooked
½ avocado, sliced
1 T toasted sunflower seeds
A few jalapeño slices
Fill a large bowl with greens. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss.
Top greens with the rest of the ingredients, starting with two or three jalapeno slices and adding more if you want a real kick.
**We like to use hot smoked salmon filets. These can be found in the seafood section of the grocery store with the other smoked fish. They come in vacuum-sealed bags. If you can’t find the salmon, replace it with smoked turkey slices.
RELATED: 3 Triathletes On Their Journey From Overweight To Racing Weight
5-hour bike ride
Green smoothie bowl with granola, toast with almond butter, bananas and toasted coconut
On the bike! Gels, drinks and homemade energy bars
Recovery smoothie, carrots & hummus
Athlete Food turkey meatballs and spaghetti, and apple crisp and frozen yogurt for dessert
Recipe: Athlete Food Meatballs
This twist on a classic is both healthy and filling. We keep trays of meatballs in the freezer and let them defrost overnight in the fridge so that dinner after a big ride is just a few microwave minutes away.
1½ tsp olive oil, divided
1 cup jarred tomato sauce, plus more for pasta
¼ cup fresh parsley, oregano, or a mix of both, chopped
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ tsp Kosher salt
3–4 grinds black pepper
¼ cup currants (or raisins)
½ pound white meat or lean ground turkey
½ pound dark meat ground turkey
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a large rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with ½ teaspoon of the olive oil.
Lightly beat the egg in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the herbs, cheese, Kosher salt, pepper and currants. Use your hands to gently incorporate the ground turkey.
Scoop tablespoons of the meatball mixture onto the greased baking sheet. Pour the teaspoon of olive oil into a small bowl, and use it to grease your hands so the meat doesn’t stick to them. Roll each tablespoon of meat between your hands to form balls. If the meat won’t hold a ball shape, stick it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes to firm up.
Transfer the meatballs to the baking sheet and spoon sauce over each meatball, generously coating each one. Bake for 25 minutes.
Remove the meatballs from the tray and discard any sauce left in the pan. Serve with tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over pasta or in a sub roll.
Yield: Meatballs for four pasta dinners or four meatball subs. The meatballs keep for three days in the fridge or two months in the freezer.
Athlete Food Staples
Nut butters: peanut, almond
Dried fruit: raisins, cherries, cranberries
Nuts: whole roasted almonds, salted cashews, walnut pieces
Seeds: hemp, chia, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower
Oats (rolled oats and steel-cut)
Pepper (black and red pepper flakes)
Spices: ginger, turmeric, cumin
Dark chocolate bar
Seafood: wild salmon, halibut, shrimp
Cheeses: cheddar, goat, and a hard cheese for grating, like Parmesan
Seasonal fruits for variety: peaches, melons, apples
Seasonal vegetables for variety: asparagus, squash, tomatoes
Greens: usually kale or spinach
Berries for smoothies