Tri University: The First Steps Toward Optimizing Your Nutrition

"Tri University" columnist Kristin Goett went to the experts to get the best fuel advice for young age-group triathletes.

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Nutrition is the fourth leg of triathlon, and it’s a beast to perfect. “Tri University” columnist Kristin Goett went to the experts to get the best fuel advice for young age-group triathletes.

Whether you are a short- or long-course triathlete, there comes a stage of training where every pizza is a personal pizza. Ah, yes. Waking up in the middle of the night from hunger is a special feeling. What’s not a special feeling is cramming in meal-prep sessions or, even worse, driving up your food bill with expensive training delicacies.

Optimizing nutrition as a young age-group athlete is no small feat. I sat down with Clifton Duhon, who heads Breakthrough Nutrition, to talk about how to pinch those precious pennies and save seconds of your sanity by bettering your nutritional habits.

Pro Tip One: Fuel Your Own Sessions

As tantalizing as the shiny wrappers of gels and chews are, a single gel can cost a couple of bucks, that, let’s be honest, you may or may not have handy. Duhon suggests saving some money and making your own training session fuel.

Recipes like rolled oat, honey, and almond balls (see an example here) cost about 10 cents per serving and give athletes the macronutrient profile needed to crush those hills and eat watts for breakfast. Other affordable options include: PayDay candy bars (~$1/bar), or creating your own peanut-buttahhh-jelly-time and packing some PB&Js along for your next ride. Dance moves to peanut-butter-jelly-time are optional, but strongly recommended.

Drink mixes are harder to recreate at home, but there are affordable options out there. One example is Breakthrough Nutrition’s line of “NBS”—a high quality option that will run you only 33 cents per serving. (Did I just hear your wallet cry tears of joy?)

Pro Tip Two: Recovery Done Right

Most of us know that how you recover can have a big impact on your next session or race. Personal interjection: when I first started racing long-course triathlons, my recovery after a training day involved an entire sleeve of Chips Ahoy cookies, a Coke, and a frozen pizza. Moral of the story: don’t be like me. But do follow this wisdom from Duhon.

Making a pot of brown rice at the start of the week and then mixing a serving of that with scrambled eggs and a drizzle of honey after a session will get athletes the optimal amount of fat, carbs, protein, and sugar needed to properly (and quickly) recover. Other options to make your chiseled body and less-chiseled wallet happy include: cereal (yes, Froot Loops qualify) and low-fat milk, Greek yogurt with fruit and honey, and a glass of chocolate milk.

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Pro-Tip Three: Eat More. Yes. More.

You probably need to eat more. Yes, you. This is not a drill.

Duhon notes that one of the most common challenges he sees in young endurance athletes is that they are not eating enough, and if they are eating enough, the calories aren’t high-quality.

One of the best ways to gauge how many grams of macronutrients you should be eating is to use the following formula. Yes, sorry, I’m making you do math.

Body Weight (lbs.) x .8 = grams of protein you should eat daily

Athletes should strive for 70-100 grams of quality fat (depending on training volume, weight and sex) a day, and anywhere from a 2:1 – 4:1 carbs-to-protein ratio, depending on your training volume.

Dig in to those top-performing nutrients. And be sure to finish everything on your plate. Ok, I’m done being your mom.

Pro Tip Four: You Probably Don’t Need the Sugary Coffee

Sorry to be a downer, but chances are you can do without your venti triple-shot caramel mocha unicorn rainbow drink.

Lots of people are wasting hard-earned cash on processed sugar and caffeine that will only make you crash hard in the afternoon.

Instead of this cycle of sleep-deprived sugar consumption, Duhon suggests a more balanced approach: don’t become controlled by your sugary drink. Yikes. Aren’t we all? However, it’s important not to rely on the combo of caffeine and sugar to power your day. Much of the time, tiredness is due to dehydration or low blood sugar. This can be solved without that fancy unicorn drink.

Reach for a handful of raw nuts like almonds or walnuts and take a swig of ice water with lemon. If you crave that caffeine, brew coffee at home or grab a fresh cup from the break room, sans sugar. It might take some getting used to, but your newly-stable blood sugar levels will thank you.

Nutrition is the fourth leg of triathlon, and it’s a beast to perfect. Experiment with what works for you, and hopefully these pro tips will save not only your wallet, but some of your sanity as well. Keep us posted on what nutrition tips and tricks you’ve come across in your training!

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