Pillars of a Nutrition Plan
By Bob Seebohar
This article originally appeared in USA Triathlon Magazine
Athletes embarking on their nutrition journey are often confused about where to begin. I certainly can understand this because there are so many different messages in the media, and since each athlete is different, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone. The goal of this article is to provide you foundational knowledge about where to start when developing a sound nutrition plan.
Pillar No. 1: Understand your training cycle
Before you decide what, when and how to eat, you must first know what your training cycle is at the current time and understand how it progresses throughout the year (periodization).
While many athletes may know their training cycle, they do not know what their physical goals of each may be and this is must-have information. For example, your nutrition plan will be different if you are in base training where your physical goals are focused on improving endurance, strength and flexibility versus being in a build cycle where you are trying to build speed and power.
The underlying factor is energy expenditure. When the amount of energy you expend fluctuates, your nutrition plan should support these changes.
Pillar No. 2: Improve your metabolic efficiency
All too often that I encounter athletes with body weight or body composition goals, and while manipulating body weight can certainly be justified at certain times of the year, I have found that improving an athlete’s metabolic efficiency (the body’s ability to use more internal fat as fuel and preserve limited internal carbohydrate stores) also will provide the necessary steps for changing body composition or weight. It’s actually a very easy way to manipulate body weight/composition without calorie counting or being a slave to food. The primary way to improve your body’s metabolic efficiency is to control your blood sugar throughout the day by pairing lean protein and fiber rich foods at each feeding.
Pillar No. 3: Figure your daily nutrition plan
All triathletes share a similar nutrition trait: they want to be told what to eat, usually out of frustration. While I do not support prescribing a daily calorie budget, I do recommend athletes learn more about the food they eat and its effect on blood sugar.
As mentioned in Pillar No. 2, controlling blood sugar is of utmost importance in the big picture. While it may seem as easy as putting together a lean protein and fiber food source, this practice must be periodized and linked to your training cycle (Pillar No. 1). When energy expenditure increases, the type of food (and sometimes the amount) will change to support your body’s energy needs (this is called nutrition periodization). Align your daily food intake with your training cycle.
Pillar No. 4: Figure your training nutrition plan
Of course you realize you are different than your training partner or friend but there are a few training nutrition tips that I can pass along that are fairly general.
The first is to remember to periodize your training nutrition. Base training likely will not require using many calories during training since your body has enough stored carbohydrate to fuel 2-3 hours worth of moderate-intense exercise. If you have also spent some time becoming metabolically efficient, you will not need as many calories during a training session that is over 2-3 hours.
I have seen many metabolically efficient athletes require only 60-100 calories per hour. This is lower than normal but these athletes have trained their bodies to use more of their fat stores as energy at higher intensities thus they simply do not need to feed as much during training.
This also has a bonus in reducing GI distress. Hydration is also very important, as is electrolyte consumption, but this is highly variable among each individual athlete based on sweat rate and environmental conditions. Experiment with both during different training sessions and environmental stressors to determine what your body will need.
Use these four pillars to begin formulating your nutrition plan for the season and remember to fine-tune your nutrition as your training cycles and energy needs change.
Bob Seebohar was the 2008 Olympic Sport Dietitian and was the personal sport dietitian for the USA Triathlon Olympic Team. Bob is also an elite triathlon coach and works alongside Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon Bronze medalist, delivering coaching services to professionals, age-groupers and youth in Littleton, Colo. Bob’s book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Use Fat, is a great resource for athletes to learn how to teach the body to become more efficient in using its fat stores. Visit www.fuel4mance.com for more information or contact him at email@example.com.