Will Cutting Carbohydrates Improve Your Triathlon Performance? We Ask An Expert...
This blog is taken from a feature I commissioned and edited for Triathlon Plus magazine with Dr Kevin Currell - Head of Performance Nutrition at the English Institute of Sport and author of Performance Nutrition. He is also an Ironman triathlete.
For endurance athletes, eating a paleo based diet seems to be very fashionable these days, with many blog, books and websites dedicated to the subject, The general principle is to eat like we would have when we were simple hunter gatherer animals or “cavemen”. During this time we would potentially have only eaten meat, fish and vegetables, and of course we certainly wouldn’t have been able to walk to shops and buy a quick burger and chips or pop to the supermarket and buy a microwave meal.
The scientific argument for a paleo diet is made on some significant circumstantial evidence around studies of other primate diets, studies of fossils, anthropology and understanding our own metabolic pathways.
If you were to eat like a caveman, what would you need to do? Well let’s start with those foods which are off the list. It includes anything pre-prepared such as pasta, rice and quinoa as well as other cereals and whole grains (like porridge), dairy, legumes (e.g lentils and chickpeas), bread, sausages, most sandwich meats, alcohol and even the humble potato.
What can you eat? Meat, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables. But not any old meat and fish, just those which are organic and grass fed. No tinned fish, just those caught naturally out in the ocean. So pretty simple really.
If you make these changes to your diet what is likely to happen? Well firstly, you will reduce the carbohydrate content of your diet, while increasing the protein and fat intake you have. Most of the fat is likely to come from “healthy” fat sources too. The carbohydrates you do eat will be “slow release” carbohydrates, which is generally a good thing and research would support the majority of your diet coming from these types of carbohydrates.
Alongside this, you will certainly eat more fibre in your diet. Which again is seen as a good thing in terms of health. You will also consume far more micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. You will increase your potassium intake and decrease your sodium intake too.
So far not too bad. However, the word health has been mentioned a lot, with not much mention of performance. We know that restoring and maintaining muscle glycogen post exercise is key to recovery and optimal performance. We know that if you remove carbohydrates from your diet and replace them with fat then your endurance improves, but your time trial performance doesn’t change and you lose the ability to go fast.
Is salt also that bad for an athlete? We certainly lose a lot during training, so maybe we need to replace some in our diet too.
The paleo diet idea is based on significant circumstantial evidence and as such is not based on too much science. There is good evidence that low carbohydrate high protein diets aid weight loss, but not much about the long term adherence to them. I would also question the idea that the humble potato is not a natural food - if a caveman saw a potato I think he would have eaten it. We also know the Inca’s ate the grain quinoa too.
So is the Paleo diet a good thing for an athlete? Certainly some of the principles are. Such as the idea of eating real food and avoiding processed junk. And trying to find natural carbohydrate sources like sweet potato. The protein intake is good too - as eating protein in every meal is essential for athletes. Research shows that 20 grams in each meal is optimal.
However, there are times when an athlete is going to need a more carbohydrate based meal like pasta or bread such as after a long bike ride or during periods of really heavy training. It can sometimes be hard to achieve this when following a paleo diet for athletes. So in conclusion, eating real fresh, good quality food is essential, but don’t get too obsessed - I don’t think our cave man ancestors would have.
Check out Phil Mosley's triathlon & duathlon training plans at TrainingPeaks.com. There are seventy different training plans to cater for all your triathlon needs. Now with Ironman Winter Base training plans.
Copyright © 2016 Philip Mosley
Triathletes: How an end of season break can help you to stay fit, lean and happy this Autumn...
After a long season of racing and triathlon training, October and November are often the best months to take a break. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring some balance back into your life by investing a little more time into your friends, family and career.
Getting the timing right isn’t always easy though. Take too many days off and you’ll spend the next six months battling to regain your previous fitness.
These five tips will help you decide what to do and when to start triathlon training again.
If you’re someone who juggles a busy job, with a family and friends, now is the ideal time to repay some of their patience. Stop focusing on sport for a little while and do all the things you don’t normally have time for. Tell people this is your “easy period” just so they know what to expect. Have a few lie-ins, make your partner breakfast in bed, take your kids to the zoo and do something good at work. Once you’ve done all that, you can start planning your training regime again.
During an end of season break the idea is to recover while staying fit for triathlon. If you’re used to training most days, you don’t need to stop training altogether during your break. Just take it easier than normal. Make each session shorter - half or two thirds of what you’d normally do. In terms of intensity, do 90% of it at a nice comfortable low intensity. Then once or twice per week throw in a few bursts of higher intensity just to remind your body that you’re a triathlete, so that you don't de-train much.
3. Race Schedule
The dates of your big triathlons in 2017 will help you decide when to go back into full training. Following an end of season lay-off, it’ll take you around 20 weeks of intelligent and progressive triathlon training before you hit your peak. If you train for too many months leading into a big race you may actually go past your peak. So try and stay reasonably fit during your end of season break and then start proper training at around 20-weeks before your first big race.
A lack of motivation for training can be a sign of lingering fatigue. So if the idea of a long bike ride or a hard run fills you with dread, you probably need to recover for a while longer. Try doing regular light, low intensity workouts to help you tick over. Keep a score out of 10 of your daily motivation levels. When you start getting regular 8’s it’s time to start building up your triathlon training again.
5. Weight Gain
We all like to indulge in a few treats at the end of the season. The chocolate bars you always avoided, the glasses of wine you turned down – now you can let your hair down and enjoy them more. However, it also pays to remember that you are probably burning fewer calories through exercise right now. It’s fine to gain a few pounds in the off-season but don’t let the trend carry on for too long. If your weight goes up by more than around 4 or 5 pounds it’s either time to start eating better or start training again.
By Phil Mosley.
Triathlon Plus Magazine Coaching Editor & Ironman Certified Coach.
PS: Check out my triathlon & duathlon training plans at TrainingPeaks.com. There are seventy different training plans to cater for all your triathlon needs. Now with Ironman Winter Base training plans.
Copyright © 2016 Philip Mosley
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.