Nutrition for Triathletes

So, I made a post in the Women for Tri group the other day and I got a lot of questions on it. There were a few girls that I think even ended up signing up for nutrition coaching which has been wonderful. Triathletes and marathon runners are so incredibly fun to coach. I really love to get their training plans and come up with a protocol to help them achieve their goals, and then when they PR and think the nutrition is why, I just get so happy. ANYWAYYYYyyyy... I want to share some of the tips that I would give to those that are just looking for a little advice, and not just an all around customized program. 

So, if you are triathlete and you aren't following a nutrition program, then I definitely think it would benefit you to do so. It depends on what level of course, but if you are trying to do an ironman then you are going to be exerting a lot of different energy amounts and energy systems on different days and you want to be able to fuel that appropriately. Obviously, the best way to do this is to know exactly how much carbs, protein, and fat that you need to be eating. 

I would love to say "this is the amount that you should eat" but that is going to be so variable for each person based on their height, weight, age, metabolic capacity, goals, and activity level. The best approach to take if you have never done this before is just simply to google some info, look up a general balanced intake and do this for two weeks. This will give you a good starting point. If you gain weight, then you know that you are in a calorie surplus. If you lose weight then you know that you in a calorie deficit. This will be difficult to do in the midst of a heavy training volume because the best approach is to find a basal amount of calories that your body requires at rest, and then you can use calculations to figure out how to build from there. The goal during a big training cycle (like ironman of example), you don't want to really lose weight. That shouldn't be the reason that you do this or really a goal at all. You really should be solely focused on the training FUEL so that you can properly perform. 

If you lose weight during high volume training then most likely, this is going to be muscle that is lost. If you are losing muscle, then that can mean a lowered metabolism and that's never something that we want. Again, as an athlete, your goals should be performance. 

If you have a brick workout that is biking 20 miles and running 3 miles then that is going to require a different caloric intake than running 18 miles on one of your long run weekend runs. Many ironman athletes end up working out up to 25 hours per week, so this becomes like a part time job. With a part time job as an athlete, you clearly need to be paying attention to your nutrition. If you have not read Alex Viada's hybrid athlete, then that is also an incredible book. I'm going to provide the recommendations that he gives in his book which I took a different approach for my half ironman but this will be the approach that I take for my full ironman. I highly encourage you to buy the book so I don't want to be stealing info and providing it to you guys because he owns a business, and I never want to compromise the integrity of that. Nevertheless, it's 0.66calories per mile per pound for running, 2.5 calories per mile per pound for swimming and 0.29calories per mile per pound for cycling. 

These calculations only work if you know your basal amounts. Your resting basal metabolic rate is going to be the rate when you are not sick and just watching Netflix all day with no movement, so when I say "basal", I don't want that to be confusing. The basal that I'm speaking of is more of the amount that you won't eat on a normal daily basis, doing your normal work around the house and your daily tasks at your job. Then, on top of that would be the extra calories that you would add. Those recommendations are in calories, but my recommendation would be to further say that should be 100% carb until working out for 2+ hours. At that point, I would switch to 85% carb, 5% protein 10% fat extra. This sounds like a lot of math, so I'm going to give an example, but if you got out a pen and paper and started writing it all down, I think it would make a lot more sense. 

With all of this said, this is also because I'm a nutrition nerd. I would venture to say that most people in the ironman world might would venture to say this is a little obsessive calorie counting. I'm just trying to provide info so I don't want these to be hard numbers that you MUST follow. First off, you always know your body best. Second, you always want to eat more if your body is telling you that it's hungry. But, you also want to be conscious of what you are doing. From that same book, he says a quote that I totally resonate with: 

"Many consider “calorie counting” a dirty word, which is rather backwards- counting calories is nothing more than calculating how much energy you are consuming and attempting to match that to your desired output. However, for the athlete, calorie counting is not about restriction, it is about calibration. There is nothing wrong with that, and at the end of the day, this is the single biggest factor in determining weight loss or gain, performance improvements versus performance deterioration, etc.

We are calibrating for your performance not being obsessive. With that being said, in order to maintain muscle and fuel performance, these calculations add up to a lot of calories. As a female and understanding females from working with them everyday, this may be something that you need to ease into. Your body will probably hold water at first, but then you will begin to get used to this intake if you keep it up. My recommendation is normally just 50g carb per hour of running during training. This is not as specific, but it's also not as many calories but it seems doable. I want to do the math for you for a random set of numbers so that you can see the difference. 

My example will be a 120 lb female athlete with base macros (not working out but just living life) are 1572 calories 100g P 176g C 52g F who runs a 16 mile training run. 

Per the calculations above: 0.66 calories per pound per mile 

0.66 cals x 120lbs x 16 miles =1267 calories 

There are 4kcal/g in carbohydrates which is what the recommendation addition should be. 

1267calories / 4kcal/g carb=316g C extra on top of your baseline so that would be 492g C!!! 

With the calculations that I gave with keeping it simple at 50g C per hour of running, then this would be different across the board. Let's say for example that this athlete runs a 9min/mile then this will take approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes. This would be an increase of 112g C (50x2.25). I feel this is a lot more reasonable simply to a female's mental state. If you are a male that is really aiming to not lose any muscle while training for a marathon, then I would absolutely say that you need to intake the 316g C. Many times people will say that they "dropped off muscle" during a training cycle, and the truth is because they weren't eating enough. As a male, you may end up eating 900g C per day if your activity level is high enough but it IS possible. 

This is a lot of numbers and may end up with a lot of questions, but I wanted to get the information out there for you guys. I think a lot of times it's just trial and error. I say that so much but truly, you have to figure out what works best for you and what your stomach can handle.

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