When I was about 12-13 years old, my father started reading “The Zone” books. He was at a point in his life where his health started to become a priority and numerous health books started to appear in our house. Out of curiosity, I started to read through some of these books and eventually I became more and more interested in improving my health. Considering the fact that I was entering adolescence, my motivation was probably not the same as my father’s, but my interest never really waned from then until now. My cynicism for the “next big thing” might be greater, but prioritizing my health continues to exist.
It can be difficult to remain healthy as triathletes in terms of optimizing our nutrition. We have a huge energy output from training so many hours and it becomes easy to start eating anything we see. After 2-3 years in the sport, I had gone from casually training to putting down serious swim, bike and run hours week in and week out. It was at this point that I came to realize that I couldn’t simply treat myself every time I trained big. A five-hour training day was no longer limited to one day on the week. Now it was occurring on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that meant I was eating poorly more days of the week than not.
It’s easy to treat yourself after you’ve worked hard. It’s the reason someone came up with the term “comfort food.” The problem is that this pattern can also be the reason that body composition remains a limiter for many athletes, myself include. Just think about what might be different if we had a normal dinner instead of Mexican food after every long ride we did (and this not a knock on Mexican food, I’m a big fan).
My buddy Gordo said a long time ago that “eating well is simple, but not easy.” This is such a great point because we almost always know what the superior decision is when it comes to nutrition, but something holds us back. I have a few suggestions to help reinforce this simple idea:
- Out of sight is out of mind. Don’t keep foods in your home that you only tend to eat “because its there.” If you really want it, you can leave the house to get it.
- Eat foods with the least degrees of separation from their natural state. Example: An apple came from the tree. “Easy Cheese” came from a lot places before it settled in that easy-to-use can in your hand.
- Avoid anything that is marketed as a “snack food.” Replace these with fruits and tree nuts.
- Eat more fat. Including more things like avocados, tree nuts, good oils, eggs, seeds, fatty fish like salmon, and butter will help you leave meals more satisfied. Trying to appease your hunger with sugar and starch will just have you eating more.
- Do not skip breakfast.
- Do not expect to be perfect. If the last meal was not-so-healthy, just make the next one healthy. Don’t think one, or even a series of, bad decisions means that you can’t get back on track.
- Plan ahead. My wife is hypoglycemic and has to travel with good foods everywhere she goes. If she can do it, so can we.
I’m going to single out my final suggestion so that if you forget everything else, at least you remember this:
If you are looking to improve your body composition: Eat better before you eat less.