The triathlon of a nutritionist

A few months ago I participated in my longest triathlon so far: The Sailfish Costabrava Distance Short, or as they have nicknamed it, Ballena Distance; with 1900m of swimming, 48km of cycling and 10km of running. Some will find it easy and others, like me, a challenge.

I have never been a great athlete, but a year ago I was encouraged by triathlon and did some sprint triathlon. This year I wanted to increase my distance and I knew that if I wanted to overcome my challenge with comfort and dignity, I had to train with enough time, do it well and obviously eat well.

As for the daily diet, I have not had to take pains, eating healthy is not a problem for me. As is logical, it is something that I like and it is completely linked to my profession. In addition, I love fruits and vegetables, whole grain products seem tastier and it is not a problem for me to remember to combine food correctly so that meals are complete , with a carbohydrate portion, a protein portion and a good plate of vegetable.

“In the blacksmith’s house, wooden knife”: The first mistake of the dietician aspiring triathlete

Something that I didn’t think about at first was that my diet had to change during the season. If the amount of exercise increased the calorie intake, it should have done so as well. When I saw the plans that the coach gave me, I should have calibrated my diet well and planned my diet with the necessary changes in time. In consultation I am really very heavy in this sense, I insistently remind my athletes to notify me when they increase the load , I ask them to pass me their training plans in case the quantities have to be adjusted, to let me know if they are hungry, yes They are more tired than usual … On the other hand, I didn’t take it into account with me. And how did I find out? Because I was hungry!For a few days I was hungrier than usual until I solved the problem.

Have you ever had the feeling that hunger never ends? I remember that for a while I had breakfast as usual and after 2 hours my stomach felt completely empty, I ate and after a while my stomach was roaring again … until I realized that I was not eating enough, so I recalculated the calories I needed based on the training and increased the carbohydrate intake to have the energy that I was lacking. In this way, my feeling of infinite hunger, fatigue and recovery after workouts, improved.

No surprises on the day of the competition

During the season there is something very important, something that every sports dietitian should remind their athletes: try hydration and nutrition in training. Test all foods, gels, bars and isotonics that you want to consume on the day of the competition. And get used to the constant consumption of liquids and food, mechanize the whole process so that the day of the competition turns out perfect.

In this sense, I wanted to be an example and go from theory to practice, trying everything that was necessary and with sufficient foresight to make corrections. But the process was more complicated than I thought. I put you in situation:
started my first road bike last year, with which I started as a total novice to ride the roads. At the beginning, being able to follow the group was my priority, I could not consider the fact of letting go of the handlebars while circulating, I took advantage of the traffic lights to drink and the moments of meeting and waiting to eat something. Even so, more than once I would come home, after 2 or 3 hours, with the bottle practically full and all the gels well stored in the jersey thinking, “Come on, if one of your athletes sees you, what will they tell you?”How many times have I said to a triathlete “what you eat and drink on the bike will mark how you are going to run” , “the bike is your moment, there is no impact, you have everything at hand, you have to take advantage of it to replenish and spend the minimum glycogen If not in the race, you will pay it ”. In fact, my teammates nagged at me saying: “Laia, we’ve been around for 2 hours, shouldn’t you have finished the two jerry cans you have?”

The importance of personalizing nutritional standards

Over time I have improved my hydration on the bike, although I do not meet the standard needs, in fact, I have discovered that my hydration needs are not the standard. By weighing before and after training, I have verified that my water losses, as usual in women, are low. Generalizing, the loss of liquid is usually 1 liter every hour, in my case it is approximately 500ml and depending on the heat somewhat less. Thus, it is not extremely difficult for me to consume what I lose.

The aspiring dietitian athlete’s second mistake

April finally arrived and with the heat the first competition of the season, my first Olympic triathlon. I came to this triathlon without having done any supplement tests in the race. Well, this is not entirely true, I had not tested anything in the training sessions of the season, but I had done it last season when I was preparing to run a half marathon and some mountain races. I assumed that what had suited me then was good for the triathlon. And what happened the day of the competition? Second big mistake, doing something I hadn’t tried I went over the list, knowing that I would drink less than I should, I put twice as many isotonic powders in a single bottle.I thought that at the very least I would cover the sugar and salt. The result was that it was really bad, so on the bike I drank less than I should, each drink was a horror.

I left the bike in T2 and took the gummy that had been prepared for me in the run bamba. I kept it in the tritaje with the intention of consuming it at km 5 and running. As you can see, the mental planning was clear to me, but at the moment of truth the gummy was banished to the wastebasket. Yes, I threw it away. I honestly saw myself unable to eat anything and less to chew something. Her stomach was queasy and her heart beat over what to eat wasn’t viable.

Later, when reviewing the guidelines, I realized that the intensity in a mountain race or in my case, in the half marathon, were not high, the rhythms allowed me to eat and drink without problem. This is not so in a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon. With the intensity in the race, all the time that had elapsed since the start of the test, the consequent dehydration and the nerves to the full, my stomach closed and I had no choice but to continue running with a drink of water to the finish line .

Learning from mistakes

After the experience, the conclusion I came to was that I should try to consume food in some intense race training , such as series days and also do tests on bike days that included transitions. Another very important thing throughout the season would be to take advantage of a secondary competition, such as sprint triathlons, to finish testing how and when I could eat and how my body responded so as not to have surprises on Sailfish days. Oh, and also find an isotonic with a better flavor that allows me to put two scoops in the drum without it tasting like rays.

From April to September I continued with my training sessions, trying different supplements, flavors of gels, isotonic, I have learned to pedal and drink at the same time to feel as prepared as possible for the big day.

A few days before the competition I readjusted the amounts of the diet again to the decrease of the training load and I revised my diet of carbohydrate loading. For many athletes, the overload diet is one of the best moments: being able to eat so much pasta and rice is usually a joy, but when it was my turn to do it and I started eating, I had to lower the amounts. Just looking at the amount of spaghetti on the plate made it impossible to finish them.In fact, if he ate it all, he was not hungry to eat at the next meal. This happened to me in April, for the Olympic, so for the Sailfish I modified the guidelines: I reduced the amount of complex carbohydrates such as pasta and rice and increased liquids such as juices or smoothies, I also added sugar, jam and honey, to get there to the necessary amounts of carbohydrates without needing to eat such large volumes.

And finally, the Sailfish 

As always, in practice, you cannot follow the guidelines that you have set 100%.

We arrived at Sant Martí D ‘Empuries (where the triathlon was held) on Friday night. Until then I had my perfect guidelines, but there was dinner on Friday and a whole day before the competition. We all competed, so the diet had to be similar, but when you live with other athletes you have to adapt. Luckily, my colleagues are advised and the dinner was successful. Pasta salad with the right amount of money (luckily my clinical eye is pretty tight). The weekend meals could be defined as the “festival of pasta and rice.” Pasta, paella, fruit, pasta and another paella, some fruit again … actually the loading diet is this, but honestly “what a fill of pasta and rice.” In my house I make myself mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, assorted sauteed with couscous … something more varied in the world of carbohydrates!

Finally, on Sunday morning, everyone did have what they wanted for breakfast, which they usually consume on the day of a competition. We prepare the isotonic cans, comings and goings to the bathrooms and to the boxes to place everything well.

Start of the triathlon, exit the water and running towards T1. There, while taking off the wetsuit, I took a shot of gel to wash off the taste of the salt. I took the bike and pedaled concentrated on the road and the bottle. On the bike, I managed to eat and drink what I had proposed, this time without surprises. In the race I did what I had planned: eat nothing and drink a little.

After testing in training, but especially after trying to eat in the sprint triathlons that I have been doing throughout the year, I decided that in the race I was not going to consume anything. It was 10 km, so if I did it right, on the bike there was no real need to take anything in the race, so just before getting off the bike I took the last gel and ran to the finish. It was the right decision: to this day I cannot eat anything when I run at high intensities, my stomach closes up and I am not able to swallow when my heart rate is so high. In fact, I still have to practice drinking water a lot while running because more than once I choke or it enters my nose … so nothing, make a note of it for the coming season.

After the triathlon season is over, it only remains to think about future goals. What I have clear is that I have to keep training, pay attention to my coach to be faster and more efficient and keep training my stomach. If at any point I decide to go the long distance, I should be able to consume gels on the run and hydrate myself better. I have to pass this subject that I have failed next year.

And so far my experience during this season. An experience lived as an athlete and sports nutritionist. I have been able to appreciate the advantages of my profession, but I have also realized that having the knowledge does not mean being able to apply it. And sometimes, just because I have certain knowledge, I have passed the list and made huge mistakes.

Both the successes and the mistakes have helped me to be a better nutritionist. Having these experiences helps you put yourself in a situation, understand the athlete when he tells you “I couldn’t eat, my stomach was completely closed”, “I had to stop 3 times in the race to go to the bathroom”, “I ran out of batteries”, “I was hungry”, “I was so nervous that I could not eat breakfast” … stories, comments that are important to each person, that help me to continue breaking my helmets to find the solution that each one needs and is doing well, because we all have needs but not the same and we cannot cover them in the same way.

For this reason I love my profession, having to know the discipline of the athlete, know the sensations, adapt to the needs, customs and hobbies to be able to personalize the details of each person at each moment and competition.

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