There’s nothing like squirting a Gu, chewing a chew, or popping a Shot Blok to make you feel like an athlete. It’s not just because it looks cool to tear open little packages with your teeth or deftly swipe a bike’s water bottle from its cage at 25 m.p.h. In addition to all that, slurping or chewing the right things can really make a difference in your training and racing. I’m living proof, having survived my first sprint triathlon and only once commenting that I was going to die.
Somehow, through eating well leading up to the race and then fumbling with a gel and drinking Cytomax, I guess I managed to do what the experts recommend. That is, keep up my carbohydrate reserves and replenish lost calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
I was reluctant to look into tri nutrition, because sustained energy and sustainable, healthy athletic nutrition seemed at odds.
The most ubiquitous form of sports nutrition–Gatorade–is a great example of this clash. It may give you back the nutrients you lose during a workout or race, but it’s dyed all sorts of crazy (and potentially carcinogenic) colors and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.* It’s also marketed as an everyday drink when most of the time you don’t need to pour extra sugar and sodium into your body. To top it all off, it’s sold in individual plastic bottles, which is another nail in the coffin of our environment.
As I considered the offerings, however, I decided there’s good news.
First off, the best stuff you can put in your body is food. Eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods will give you sustained energy and balanced nutrients.
For intense training and races, Hammer Nutrition products are a good choice. They do not have artificial colors or flavors. Hammer also parallels the nutritional best practices of the day and gives you complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars. Another great thing about Hammer is you can buy their drinks in powder form and mix them in your own reusable bottle. You can find these products at cycling and sports stores.
Clif makes many good products. I’ve tried and liked Shot Bloks, which are naturally flavored and colored and even organic. There are similar chews from the Luna line called Moons (also with organic ingredients). Then of course you’ve got Clif Bars, Luna Bars, and ZBars. The bars are widely available, and the Shot Bloks I’ve seen in running stores.
Don’t make bars and sports drinks part of your everyday eating habits — save those for your workouts and races. The best pre-race breakfast, I’ve heard, is a bagel with peanut butter.
Don’t rely on energy boosters to make up for lack of sleep, inadequate training, being sick, or a hangover!
Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink.
Don’t worry too much about over hydration (aka hyponatremia) for shorter races. It’s much more likely you’ll become dehydrated at those events if you’re not careful.
Don’t be afraid to eat carbs and fat. Carbohydrates are our primary source of quick energy and if you believe that competing is mental, then consider that fat makes up 60% of your brain!
Do eat lots of whole foods like unrefined grains and fresh fruits and vegetables every day (sorry if I sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s true!).
Do think about your nutrition on and off the treadmill.
Do drink plenty of water if you use gels to make sure you absorb them and don’t feel sick to your stomach.
Do experiment with gels, drinks, and other products while you’re training so you’ll get used to what works for your body.
Do eat a full spectrum of colorful foods — as long as they’re naturally that way!
Do rehydrate and eat some good carbs immediately after the race to aid recovery.
Do take this fun nutrition quiz.