Lately a lot of my athletes have asked about nutrition, mainly with the goal of losing some pounds. I believe there is a huge myth out there that when in Ironman training you can pretty much eat want you want.

Watching any Ironman event and it is interesting to note the amount of athletes with some exceptional gear. You know, the $10,000+ plus bikes, the disc wheels, aero helmets you name it, and don’t get me wrong. I like my fast toys too, however are you really going to get the most out of them when you’re well… you know carrying 10-20 pounds in excess weight?

To me, the logical thought process would be that to go faster, the first point of call would be to lose some pounds of excess body fat, before worrying about the weight of your bike or it’s carbon components or how your gear has faired in the wind tunnel.

Many athletes are confused with the conflicting advice out there on the many diets they are bombarded with. Many have tried these fad diets with limited or no success and if they did get a result, how long did it last? Or more importantly was the diet sustainable? Likely not!

The confusion comes because most believe they are eating well but somehow can’t shift the weight (even though they’re training) so they assume that they must be different, or that they have big bones or any number of excuses I have heard. What we really need to understand is what constitutes good nutrition.

Do you actually know what types of food will make you look, feel and perform better and keep you healthy? What about the foods to avoid? Where did you learn about what you should eat? From your parents, friends, media and the latest and greatest diet book.

And that’s wherein the problems lie. Dr. John M Berardi, PH.D. put it this way, “most of what you know about nutrition was taught to you by people who know little or nothing about nutrition”. Eating well is one of those “Simple but not Easy” things but when you keep the rules simple and follow them consistently your results will be phenomenal.

The rules are:

1. Eat every 2-3 hours

Im not talking about a big meal every 2-3 hours – sure there will be 2-3 full meals per day but drip, drip, drip the rest of your nutrition in over smaller snacks throughout the day made up of good food (see below). Also don’t wait extended periods between meals. Most people eat way to much at each meal which means the body will hold on to those extra calories as body fat and those that eat more frequently typically have better blood sugar levels, lower production of stress hormones, lower body fat and more lean muscle.

2. Include lean protein in each meal or snack

You need a complete protein source which means, food that has come from an animal or was an animal, such as lean cuts of beef, chicken, fish and low fat dairy. The ideal amount is ~ 1 gram per pound of body weight. That means you NEED to get some protein in at each meal and snack.

Note: Vegetarians also NEED to ensure that the foods they eat make up a complete protein. A complete protein is when you have the full range of essential amino acids for cellular repair and tissue growth.

3. Include vegetables and or fruit in each meal or snack

Without a doubt this is the biggest thing you can do to improve your health. Fruit and vegetables are packed full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals all of which will make you look, feel and perform better. So include them in each meal and snack. Getting 8-10 servings in a day is ideal and can be a tough ask, so provide the servings in as many ways as possible such as cooked, juiced or raw with each meal. Sorry, saying you don’t like vegetables or fruit is just a psychological excuse. Fact is, they make that much of a difference to your look, well being and performance.

4. Starch or processed carbs only after exercise

The only time us endurance athletes need to eat things like breads, cereals, rice, pasta and starchy vegetables, like potatoes is in your post workout recovery window. This is a crucial window to get nutrients in and absorbed quickly. Getting your fuel restocked in this recovery window also helps improve the amount of muscle glycogen you can store. This is how you develop maximum fuel stores for race day and not by gorging out on food in race week (well talk about that in another post). Make sure you add fruit or vegetables to these meals to help reduce the blood acidosis levels and as soon as that window is done, go back to lean protein and a good tasting selection of fruit and vegetables.

5. Get in your healthy fats

Many people are scared of adding fat into their diets but the truth is that dietary fat is absolutely essential. The 3 types of fats are saturated which will be covered by eating your lean protein, monounsaturated which is nuts, seeds and olive oil and polyunsaturated from flaxseed oil, fish oil and mixed nuts. Fats play an important role in immune system functioning (50% of our cell structure is made up of saturated fats) and also provide you a longer lasting fullness when in harder stages of training like Ironman.

Good nutrition is really SIMPLE when you start by tuning out the noise and following the rules above. Obviously we can get more complex but first try the above for 21 days to develop a good habit and you’ll be well in front of 95% of your competition.