Diets are a dime a dozen these days. You can type in the word diet into your Google search bar and you are sure to find dozens, if not hundreds and maybe even thousands of diets. As a matter of fact the word diet deliver 315,000,000 results from Google. Type in diet triathlete and you get over 6 million results. Really? 6 million results but which is best. Diet+triathlete+best returns nearly 3 million results. So which diet really is the best for triathletes and how much attention should we be paying to our diet or really nutrition?
When I first got into the sport of triathlon I ate meat and fish. After wondering how I could improve my performance in the sport I decided to drop meat and within weeks I dropped fish as well. I didn’t do this for any humane reason but more because I wanted to get faster at the sport I had grown to love. What I noticed when I made that change was an improvement in how I felt and how quickly I recovered. I also found that I was more creative in the kitchen and making meals that helped to fuel me was a blast. So is the vegetarian or even vegan diet best for a triathlete? Sure why not, but only if you want it to be.
I have friends who enjoy their hamburgers and pizza with pepperoni and they are terrific triathletes. They have finished Ironman races faster than me and have been known to polish off a double cheeseburger following those races. These athletes are taking care of their body with meat and fish and they are recovering well and training hard on a day in and day out basis. With that testimony then the carnivore diet is best for a triathlete right? Sure it is, but only if you want it to be.
How about Paleo? You know the diet where you don’t eat grains and legumes nor consume dairy (I think…..I am not a paleo diet expert) but you are eating meat. That has to be the best diet for triathletes right? I mean even Triathlete Magazine just published an article titled: Is The Paleo Diet Right For Triathletes? The article discusses how triathletes can benefit from the Paleo diet and how some may need to make a tweak here or there to get what is needed for competing at Triathlon.
If you were just getting into the sport and started reading all of these different diet tips your mind would be spinning but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems. A quality diet for triathletes, and endurance athletes in general, is this rule of thumb:
- ~60%-65% of calories from carbohydrates
- ~10%-15% of calories from protein
- ~20%-30% of calories from fat
Notice I did not say anything about a vegan diet, a paleo diet, a mediterranean diet or an Atkins diet. I also did not point out that you had to do this in every meal or provide any hard and strict rules. If we are so stringent in our food consumption we will eventually fall off the wagon so to speak. All we need to do is eat healthy and not feel guilty over the piece of cake we had at the birthday party we attended. We train hard for months on end and during that time we need to feel unrestricted at some points and those points may require candy, cake or ice cream. Enjoy it because that one scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough isn’t going to sink your training nor ruin your race weight.
If you consume complex carbohydrates, eat lean protein and include healthy fats into your diet regardless of what you call it then it is going to be the best diet for the triathlete in you. I choose to get my carbohydrates from plant sources and my lean proteins from eggs and tempeh/tofu. I include healthy fats in my diet from sources such as avocado and coconut. I don’t make it difficult and actually adhere to the theory of keep it simple, tasty and clean. By keeping to that theory I know that I am fueling my body properly for a healthy lifestyle as well as a heavy training load. This doesn’t mean that I don’t eat unhealthy either as that is a key to me being able to balance my diet. As a matter of fact on the 4 hour ride I went on this past weekend our mid-way stop included me consuming two donuts. It didn’t ruin my ride, it was what was nearby and something my body craved after consuming liquid calories for nearly three hours at that point.
If somebody were to ask me what the best diet for a triathlete was I would tell them that the best diet is the one that helps them recover and perform to their expectations whether that be paleo, vegan, raw, or whatever the next diet du jour is. Following a real foods diet is what I think will work best for triathletes of all abilities.
Lastly, I also believe that nutrition or diet is something that we as triathletes should pay attention to year round and not just during the latest training cycle. I wrote a post for Triathlon Training that you can read [HERE]
What Do You Think Is The Best Diet For A Triathlete?