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Sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci digs into a reader’s food diary and offers advice for eating, performing and feeling your best.
Hometown: Beirut, living in Dubai
Years in tri: 2
Occupation: Hedge fund executive
Best tri accomplishment: 6:15 at 2011 Ironman 70.3 Antwerp
Tri goal: Sub-12-hour Ironman
Nutrition concerns: I’ve recently transitioned to a gluten- and dairy-free diet following a food intolerance test, but I’m having bigger digestion problems and my energy levels are plummeting. I’m also trying to bring my weight down for my upcoming Ironman and have been targeting a daily deficit of 500–800 calories.
1:30 A.M. Wake up. Black coffee and a handful of dried apricots
2:15 A.M. Gluten-free cereal bar
3 A.M. 180K bike ride. Take in 100 calories (Gu gels or rice-based cereal bars) and a salt capsule every 30 min and drink 600ml of water per hour
8:30 A.M. One caffeinated Gu with 1 salt capsule before a 45-min run off the bike
9:30 A.M. Gu recovery drink
11 A.M. Breakfast of half-cup of buckwheat with peanut butter, banana and blueberries
1 P.M. Lunch of grilled chicken with baked potato and Greek salad without cheese, with one cup vegetable juice
4 p.m. Herbal tea with gluten-free cookies (treat for the day) after a nap
8 P.M. Dinner of steak with roasted vegetables, sautéed spinach and half-cup basmati rice
10 P.M. Omega-3 capsule before bed
I couldn’t help but notice that you go to bed at 10 p.m. and rise at 1:30 a.m.! Even for the most hard-core of triathletes that is very early, and it barely allows for any sleep. Although you do mention a nap in the afternoon, I am concerned that you are not getting enough sleep, which can trigger false hunger and, over time, impede your recovery and cause undue stress on your body.
As for your increased GI distress, I hear the same complaint often upon switching to a GF diet. It’s a big change not only for your taste buds, but also your digestive system.
You should add one or two additional servings of fresh (or frozen) fruits daily to increase both your soluble fiber and total carbohydrate intake while following a GF diet. Try adding a fruit at 4 p.m. and at either dinner or near bedtime. Switch to more beans, grains and legumes rather than relying on GF bars and rice (which tend to be constipating). Cooked grains will better serve both your energy level and gut before your morning workout, as they provide long-lasting, slowly digested complex carbohydrates. You can easily batch-cook them in advance so they are ready and waiting for you when you need them at 2:15 a.m.!
Regarding your plummeting energy levels, I have three suggestions for you. First, you said you are taking in 100 calories per 30 minutes while training. Experiment with increasing that to 300 calories per hour and you should notice a great improvement in your energy both during and after your workouts. Second, I strongly suspect that your plummeting energy level is directly related to both your weight-loss effort and lack of sleep. I urge you to do anything you can to work more sleep in to your busy routine—3.5 hours is not adequate for your body to recover from intense training, and will wreak havoc on your energy level. Lastly, I caution against aiming for a large caloric deficit while training for an Ironman. Although achieving your ideal racing weight will undoubtedly help your PR efforts, adequate calories to fuel your training and recovery is as crucial to your triathlon and Ironman success as actual body weight. A deficit of 500 calories per day will yield a 1 pound-per-week weight loss, and should still leave you with sufficient fuel and calories to train. Aim higher than that and you are short-changing your body of much needed energy to train, work and think. Good luck!
Clinical nutritionist and certified sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci is the owner/director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.