Endurance Sport Nutrition, Competing at Your Peak

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01.10.15 at 12:01 pm

Diets, I’ve tried a few. From carb loading before races to ketone, to magic ingredients which promise wonderful results for athletes. You might have read my IronMan journey blog, a ‘fat to fit’ story of losing weight for competitive performance and personal challenge.

The trouble with these diets however, is sticking to them. It’s been a couple of years since my IronMan race, and it’s fair to say I’m starting to put the weight back on. Last month I made the decision to sign up for next year’s IronMan Frankfurt, and so the nutrition journey begins again.

We spoke to Alan Scott a few weeks ago about his training regime for the IronMan championships in Kona, and it’s clear that nutrition is a topic he considers incredibly important to his health and his performance. He is also a great believer in a low carb diet for endurance racing events If it’s good enough for him, I’m a shoe in for the world champs next year if I convert to low carb right? I’ve decided to have a look at the ketone diet which I’m trialling as I write.

Endurance Sport Nutrition Blog Photo

The premise of the ketone diet is to reduce your carbohydrate intake to almost nothing, forcing your body to burn fat, in the form of ketones, as fuel instead. Within a few days of cutting the carbs, your body’s supply of glucose and muscle glycogen runs out, forcing your body into a state where it begins producing ketones.

Effectively a survival state our bodies have adapted for in the event of famine, the excess calories your body has stored as fat when not watching what you eat are now burned as a fuel. So far this has seen me slim down significantly in just a few weeks. But the promise of the ketone diet is more than this. The idea is that your body slowly adapts to this new diet, becoming more and more efficient at burning the fat. With time, you can store and use enough energy to compete in endurance events such as Ironman triathlon at a very high efficiency without the need for the glucose spikes from energy gels. So far, I just feel a bit tired and have very bad breath!

It’s all about the super foods

Beetroot was just an ordinary root vegetable with a slight predisposition to staining my chopping board, when one day, the power of marketing turned it into a super food.

Packed with nitrates, beetroot became the go to source for boosting nitric oxide in the blood, and in turn, creating a better ‘fuel efficiency’ in the muscles. As subsequent studies have come out over the past few years, there has been doubt as to what extent a dose of beetroot can improve performance at the higher levels of cycling. Many are drinking large concentrated shots daily just to get their nitrogen fix. My major issue however, is that cyclists and triathletes have been #pissingtherainbow for years. Isn’t it time some other fruit or vegetable came along and took its place? Please welcome to the party, tart cherries.

Monlomerency Cherries, known for their tart, sour flavour are grown in huge numbers in the United States. Originally cultivated by the Romans, presumably to support their cycle teams, the cherries have had a slip in popularity over the past few years.

Endurance Sport Nutrition blog picture of cherries

The American tooth has been getting sweeter, and all of our lives busier. Perhaps there’s no place left for Monlomorency cherries anymore? Fortunately, it turns out they happen to be a fantastic super food, just waiting to be discovered by cyclists and triathletes.

Full of anthocyanins (a flavonoid compound which produces the bright red colour as well as the bitterness) they are thought to promote ‘potential health-promoting properties’ such as ‘reducing muscle soreness after exercise’ and ‘enhancing heart health’. Ultimately, the fruit promises faster recovery, decreased muscle pain and less muscle damage according to the Cherry Marketing Institute, funded by the North American tart cherry growers and processors. The actual scientific data seems a little thin on the ground, but I can’t see any reason for them to exaggerate the claims.

It’s clear that diet plays a huge part in training. At the elite level, athletes are working to produce marginal gains, training their bodies to work as efficiently as possible and use every bit of energy they put in. Carefully planned diets can be the difference between a win or a second place.

Losing an extra half a stone can make more difference than hours of swim training or thousands of pounds worth of bicycle carbon. I will continue with my high protein, no carb ketone diet. I’m proud to have slimmed down after less than a month, but with the lack of energy I felt while running, it’s probably not going to become a long term thing. I have already started to introduce a few more carbs pre-training to help my energy levels. Ultimately, from my experience, a proper balanced diet still seems to be the best way to keep healthy. Everyone is looking for a magic bullet, in my experience weight management contributes massively to performance and the only thing that has helped me reduce my waistline over the years is keeping a food diary. It’s amazing if you use My Fitness Pal to log your food how quickly you stop overeating. And if you cheat, you are only lying to yourself!