Matt here! When Joel Runyon pitched the idea of a triathlon post, I knew I had to run with it. I’m not planning on triathlons at any point in the future (read: ever), but I liked how Joel’s approach revolved around just one thing: simplicity. I also liked his pro-starch stance, as I’ll be writing on the subject of carbohydrate in the very near future. Lastly, I’d love to see how his experience here stacks up with anyone triathlon runners in the audience. Let me know!
So, more formally: this is a guest post by Joel Runyon of Impossible HQ.
A couple years ago I decided to run my first triathlon. It was something I never had tried before in my life, but I decided to give it a go. I ate mostly what everyone told me to eat – a grain-based diet in order to get enough carbs in my system so I’d have a ton of energy.
About a year later, I found the Paleo diet and focused most of my eating habits around paleo nutrition. But, I ran into a problem: there were nopaleo nutrition focused triathlon guides. Like I had found out earlier, most traditional endurance nutrition encourages you to eat pasta, breads, and grains before and after your race. Lots of it they say. And the more you can stuff down your gullet before racing the better (okay, maybe they don’t say the last part, but it seemed like it). Also, you were supposed to carbo-load on the days leading up to an event and if you messed up even the tiniest thing, everything would go terribly, terribly wrong.
The Simple Truth About Carbs, Proteins and Fats
Not only was it incredibly complicated, but it was all based on foods that I’ve purposely cut out of my diet when I started eating paleo. Eating paleo and doing endurance events simultaneously seemed impossible Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, as I found out, paleo nutrition for endurance events can actually be simpler than conventional nutrition (gasp).
See, while it’s true that you need carbs in endurance races to provide quick sources of energy, everyone simply assumes that you need to get them from grains. The truth is that carbs come from other things besides just grains (grains are just the easy go-to choice). You can get better and more complex carbs from starches like bananas, yams and sweet potatoes. These are more complex and provide the same type of energy that you need over long periods of sustained activity.
Also, while carbs are important, there not the only type of nutrient you need to focus on. Proteins help your muscles rebuild themselves after a workout and by supplying your muscles. if you have energy, but your muscles are shot, you won’t be doing your body any long-term favors. The lean meats in the paleo diet provide the proteins and amino acids that your body needs to rebuild your muscles during this phase.
And fat, while given a bad rap, isn’t nearly as bad for you as people would have you believe. It’s a great place of long term energy stores and if you train your body to burn fat more efficiently, you’re able to expend energy over a longer period of time without having to eat a buffet of grains.
5 Steps To Paleo Nutrition For Triathletes
So, lets cut the crap and make paleo nutrition for triathletes really, really simple. Here’s five steps to make paleo triathlon nutrition work:
Eat Real Food
Can you pronounce the name of the food or the ingredients? Congratulations. It’s probably real.
H20. Drink it. Mix in some gatorade or other similar sports drinks during & post-workout to help replace some of the sodium and other electrolytes you lose through sweat as well (be careful to not drink them all the time, especially when you’re not training – they do have a lot of sugar).
Eat Straight Paleo
You probably have got this down already. Meats. Vegetables. Fruits. Nuts. Boom. Done.
Eat Starches Pre & Post Workout
So this might be the one hang up strict paleo dieters might run into. Don’t worry. Starches aren’t bad if you only use them when you need them. They break down into quick-use energy that your body uses immediately during the workout so they’re actually being used and not simply hanging out in your system. By focusing on good starches like bananas, sweet potatoes and yams and eating slightly higher quantities pre-workout and post-workout, you’ll be able to quickly replace the energy stores you’ve depleted throughout the race and keep you from bonking (or running out of energy) during your training.’
Sample Pre-Workout Meal:
2-3 Eggs + a Banana. The eggs provide you with a high-protein base and the banana is a good source of carbs (glucose) that will give you some quick energy for your workout. Super simple.
Gus, Gels, Blocks and More.
These energy supplements are straight shots of glucose & fructose. If you utilize these correctly, your body will be using these almost immediately once you ingest them. So, while they’re not ideal, after 90 minutes of exercise you’ve usually depleted most of your energy stores so these are some of best options available to get you quick, simple energy. Don’t worry too much about these not being strict paleo. Because you utilize the energy so quickly, they don’t have the harmful effects as if you were ingesting large doses of glucose and letting it hang out in your system while you sit around playing video games all day.
Notice that in all of this, there’s no need for breads, grains or pasta overloading the night before. Carbo-loading isn’t only unnecessary, but it often doesn’t work, is done incorrectly and can result in indigestion problems for those new to it.
If you want to get involved in triathlon or other endurance sports and eat paleo, it’s entirely possible and you can do it without turning your kitchen into grain city. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for your first triathlon today.
Joel Runyon is the creator of Impossible HQ and the Blog of Impossible Things where he helps people push their limits by telling a great story and doing the impossible. He recently released Impossible TRI – a triathlon guide designed to help you run your first triathlon in 3 months.