We all religiously fill in our training logs. They have swim, bike and run on top of neat little columns. They might even have another section for any extra comments… Like ‘I was like Michael Phelps in the pool today; Chris Hoy eat your quads out, or ‘a plank of wood could have run faster than I did’. These logs make clear that our sport comprises three disciplines, but this triad would fall over like a drunken sailor without a few more pillars to hold it up. I am not talking about the greatest race wheels or the newest go faster lycra with added anti chaff, I am talking about rest and recovery, and one of these extra curricular activities – my favourite subject – nutrition.
During my university days my definition of food and of drink was a curry and a Bacardi Breezer. Since then I have embarked on a slightly more healthier nutrition plan: courtesy, in part, to the pearls of wisdom imparted by my good friend, and Don of Nutrition, Professor Asker Jeukendrup.
We are bombarded with messages like ‘lose 100kg in 10 days by only eating Jelly Babies’; or ‘eat 20 grapefruits and shed 25inches in 24hours’. Forget the majority of these fads. Healthy eating for athletic performance is not rocket science (I am fortunate not to suffer from any allergies or intolerances). The basic principle is this: keep it simple, eat natural foods as much as possible, balance intake with output and everything in moderation.
I love to eat. Rat, dog and snake were consumed in Indonesia. ‘Hoover’ would describe my penchant for consuming leftovers. So, given the lack of ‘rat steak’ on sale in our local supermarkets what does my daily diet look like? First off – it is healthy, balanced – with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats (with some saturated ones thrown in too).
I have two breakfasts. One when I wake up, before my first session. This is a couple of rice cakes or a frozen banana, with sunflower butter and honey on top, washed down with an oversized Cup of Joe. Decaf is not in my vocabulary. After my first session I have my second breakfast, this is either hot oatmeal with another grain (like spelt/buckwheat/quinoa) mixed in, with honey on top – or a huge bowl of raw oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut and yogurt all mixed together. My choice depends on whether I am running later in the day (if so, I chose the former, lower fibre option, to avoid a case of the ‘gingerbread man’). For lunch I have either baked potato, wholegrain bread/wraps or brown rice with salad and either tinned tuna, sliced meats, pulses (such as chick peas), and a bigger than average bowl of cereal and some nuts or fruit as a snack.
I eat meat most evenings, either fish or white meat – with red meat once a week to keep my iron levels up. I also love liver and kidneys. Horse was the red meat of choice in Switzerland. Ostrich in South Africa. On the side I have roasted/steamed/stir fried veggies, and a big pile of grains – such as quinoa, buckwheat, rice, wholegrain pasta – or potatoes. Desert is always a bowl of cereal, and frozen berries. I have olive oil on everything. Even porridge.
I don’t deprive myself of any foods. Nothing is ‘naughty’ – it is just eaten in moderation. A few pieces of chocolate a day definitely doesn’t do me any harm, and as for pizza – well, I can always squeeze one of those in – especially when on a training camp with Cat ‘Masterchef’ Morrison who cooks the best pizza this side of Rome. If my training sessions are longer than 90mins I swig Cytomax energy drink and/or a gel or two. On longer rides I always have energy drink, a couple of gels and a chocolate bar, to replicate the race. Immediately after a hard session I make a smoothie – with frozen pumpkin, ginger, Muscle Milk powder (cake batter is the dogs danglers), blackstrap molasses (for iron), lemon juice and water…….blended into deliciousness and downed in one.
In the two days before an Ironman I stick to plain, simple food to maximise my energy reserves and limit any possibility of ‘gingerbread man’ distress. The day before I have a bowl of porridge with tahini and honey. Lunch is a couple of white bagels with cheese and olive oil. Dinner is tuna pasta with a tomato based sauce. With – yes you’ve guessed it. Oilve oil. On race morning I have rice cereal with honey and nutbutter stirred in and a cup of coffee to ‘get things moving’. Aside from water, I don’t have anything else until I’m on the bike, when I have two bottles of Cytomax (400 calories in each), two gels and a small chocolate bar. On the run I have one gel every 25minutes (that’s 1g of carbs per kilo of body weight per hour) with some water, which mainly goes anywhere but in my mouth.
Immediately after the race I crave chips, a kebab, pizza or burgers, and tend to indulge in more than one. My world record breaking two large burgers, two plates of chips, one plate of onion rings and 15 donuts after Ironman Arizona last November could have been deemed to be slightly excessive though!
I don’t claim to have all the nutritional nuggets, and much of it is down to trial and error, with some common sense and a few episodes of Masterchef. But next time you fill in your log book make sure you’ve paid as much attention to this hugely important pillar of success. And, if you are in Indonesia, reach for ‘rat in a bap’. It never did me any harm!
Published in 220 magazine in April 2011