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Common Sports Nutrition Errors Made by Triathletes

By Bob Seebohar

nutritionNot a training season goes by that I do not receive a question or statement from an athlete that leaves me in disbelief. The unfortunate thing about the sports nutrition field is that there is a copious amount of information out there for athletes. The bad news is that athletes really do not know who or what to believe sometimes. This article will provide you a few of the more popular errors that I come across at Fuel4mance when working with triathletes. 

Error #1: Eating too many carbohydrates.
I know it sounds funny and yes, we do need to consume carbohydrates for energy to supply our sport energy needs. However, far too many triathletes are either eating the less advantageous types of carbohydrates or are simply eating too many based on their training. Considering my concept of “nutrition periodization”, which helps athletes align their nutrition needs with the energy demands of their training cycle, it is important to remember that at certain times of the year, you simply do not need to eat many carbohydrates (during lower volume and intensity phases). There is some emerging research and theories that will be tested but the important take-home message is to cycle your carbohydrate intake based on your training load and the time of the year. 

During the offseason, try to get most of your carbohydrates from vegetables and a small amount of fruits. Overloading your body with carbohydrates will only lead to unnecessary weight gain and potential health implications such as abnormal blood lipids.

During the base season, you will be fine with mimicking the same carbohydrate intake you did in the offseason until your training load exceeds 2-3 hour training sessions. Then, begin to introduce more fruits to your daily nutrition plan. The competition season is the highest energy expenditure cycle so some athletes choose to quench their carbohydrate needs with fruit, vegetables and whole grains (not the processed starches). 

Error #2: Depending too much on sports nutrition products.
Sure, some sports nutrition products on the market do taste good, I admit. However, there is a time and a place to use these. As you just read, you should cycle your carbohydrate intake throughout the year so use of sports nutrition products such as energy bars, gels and sport drinks should be very limited during the offseason and perhaps the base cycle (unless the training load exceeds 2-3 hour training sessions). They can certainly be introduced during the competition season to maintain energy needs, but if you are a short-course triathlete competing in sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons and will finish in under 3 hours, you likely do not need excess calories during training or racing. I know it is hard to believe but the truth is that you can teach your body to use more of its internal fat stores and preserve internal carbohydrate stores which lessens your need for supplemental carbohydrates during sessions or races that will last under 3 hours. 

Error #3: Being a creature of habit with your daily nutrition.
I see many triathletes who follow the same daily diet throughout the entire year. It is a great idea to not only cycle your carbohydrate intake but also add new protein and fat containing foods throughout the year for variety purposes. The best time of the year to adopt these changes is in the offseason or early base season because just in case they do not agree with your digestive system, it will not have a negative impact on your performance.

Try some vegetarian protein sources or animal products that you have not tried yet and add some fat in your diet in the form of olives, avocados and even coconut oil or coconut butter. Get a little creative in the kitchen and blend up a new smoothie with coconut milk, chia seeds, spinach, kale, carrots, bananas, chocolate whey protein powder, tofu (optional) and ice. Be adventurous and you may just find a gem in your new food additions! 

I always teach athletes that they are in control of their nutrition plan. I realize it is difficult at times but by remembering, and implementing, a few of the tips I mentioned in this article, you will be able to align your nutrition needs with your physical training demands. And you may just find that you enjoy experimenting in the kitchen as much as I do!

Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sport dietitian and USAT Level III Elite and Youth/Junior certified triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Olympic Games as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and was the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team.

Bob's book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, teaches athletes how to structure nutrition and training programs throughout the year to maximize the body's ability to use fat as energy and improve body composition. He also has a Metabolic Efficiency Recipe book in electronic format with over 100 metabolically efficient meals and snacks. For more information and to order the books, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact Bob at coachbob@fuel4mance.com

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