During my USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach Certification at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego in early 2000, our class was told that a “calorie is a calorie.” The nutritionist who was scheduled to speak was not able to make it as planned, but another sports nutritionist stepped in. She had “credentials” and as I recall was working with a pro football or baseball team at the time. To get to the point, she told us that it did not matter if the calories eaten came from a Twinkie or an apple, a calorie is a calorie. What! I am sure the class squirmed at this idea, I know I sure did! I wasn’t buying it even though she was schooled and had the piece of paper that represented that she knew stuff. But, still to this day I don’t agree. A calorie is not a calorie. Endurance athletes, like everyone, in my opinion, don’t have a “free pass” to eat whatever they like. They may burn or utilize lots of calories to fuel their body, but A calorie is not a calorie. The food we eat becomes us. The food we ingest is broken down, goes through a lengthy intricate and amazing process to become what we are made of, flesh n bone, blood, etc. And To take it a step further, we are what we eat, eats as well. So, if we want a strong healthy body, we better pay attention to what goes in cuz that’s what’s gonna build up into us, just like the material used in a building. Build a structure with poor quality material and you could be standing in a heap after a big wind storm, referring to a poorly constructed building, or stressful situation, referring to the athlete eating poor quality foods. Athletes especially have to be wise about their food choices. In training for a sport, the body is literally being broken down. The muscles of the body are being torn. But then during the rest and recovery phase, the muscles are being rebuilt bigger, better, stronger and faster…ideally. If or when good re-building material is supplied in the form of nutritious food, along with rest (reduced stress, massage, sleep, etc) the body will come back bigger, better, faster, stronger, in whatever your training it to do. But feed it crap, high calorie yet poorly nutritious food, after a hard, long training session or even after a moderate training session and over time performance will start to slide, slump, decline call it what you will but it ain’t gonna be good and it ain’t gonna be pretty! What not to eat would be processed foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, for example. Think sports bars, sports drinks, pretzels, cake, cookies, ice cream, frozen entrees, pizza, burgers, fries, etc. It’s easy to think and feel that after a challenging, long workout you “deserve” or have “earned” such a “treat”, but that’s the worst time for this. Yes it’s nice, but its critical to rebuild after such a session. Give it the high test, high quality foods, and voila, rock solid progression and improvement over time in your training and performance. There are a number of ways of eating to fuel an athlete that are healthy. It’s not my role or desire to say what to eat. But I have mentioned what to limit or avoid altogether for enhanced performance. I do think key foods to boost recovery and therefore performance will be to stick with grains, un-processed proteins, fruits, and vegetables to get the benefit of all the goodness naturally occurring in them. Find foods that are closest to the “dirt”, meaning they’ve gone through little or no processing to change their shape, color, texture, or content. You’ll enjoy the benefits of the vitamins and minerals, the antioxidants, fiber, etc that come as a whole natural package in natures perfect foods. Has anyone seen a Twinkie tree? Or do they grow like A potato in the ground? Eat well, eat mindfully, live simply.
Post race food may be “free” but it’s not always the best post race recovery food. Consider bringing some of your own food to consume post race. It just may help you not be “mush” in the afternoon.