I tend to separate my thinking about time this way. "Before Triathlon Hiatus, or BH" and After Triathlon Hiatus, or AH" The ability to view my tendencies from both perspectives has given me more than a few insights. Getting back into triathlons made me think a lot about training. When I look back on the type and amount of training I did before or "BH," all I can say is I did a lot of things very, very wrong. And it showed in the results I got. But I can say that I had started to change before I got sidetracked by my life. What stands out now, and what was beginning to become apparent back then is triathlon is really about being able to grasp "wholeness." In life we spend so much time taking things apart, breaking them down into their unique components that we sometimes do not see the bigger picture. Triathlon falls easily into this category. We often see it as three different sports and train according to this view. Our workouts mimic those of the swimmers, cyclists, and runners we sometimes try to emulate.
The problem is we aren't just swimmers, cyclists, and runners. We are each of these things and we are more. And our body's requirements for training stimulus, fuel and recovery, while somewhat similar, can still be markedly different from the requirements of athletes concentrating only on one of these sports. We need to acknowledge that and then plan/train accordingly.
Looking at my own life I had to start with a long look at the foods I was eating. For physical and personal reasons, I had already made a choice to eat what I felt was the best diet for me by becoming a vegetarian after college. But a vegetarian diet, while being good for overall long term health, can be lacking in essentials like B vitamins and iron. There is also the question of making sure I got enough quality sources of protein. Now I supplement these to ensure my overall health.
As I planned my "AH" transition back into the sport I started some new dietary habits and let go of some old ones that I think have helped. Things I have changed:
1. I no longer drink energy drinks that I do not make myself or are not 100% natural. Yep, no Gatorade, no Powerade, no AllSport, and no RedBull (I never drank this stuff anyway. It had way too much sugar and caffeine to be useful in training which is why they now market it as liquid speed). In place of these I use Ultima. There are a couple of reasons for this, my main one being my teeth will probably thank me when I'm older. But I also just started drinking a lot more water (on the order of 10 - 15 8oz glasses a day depending on training load, eating more fruits, and riding with a Camelbak on rides lasting over 2 hours. I've used this hydration protocol for over 2 years now and so far I haven't encountered any problems except a recent ride that had disgusting water so I was forced to use Powerade.
2. I no longer use refined sugars. No more cookies, candies, or cakes unless I make them myself, are 100% organic and use low glycemic sweeteners in place of sugar. Instead I eat more servings of fruit, on the order of 8 to 10 servings daily, both whole and in smoothies. I am finding my caloric needs as well as my hydration requirements are being better met by doing this than using sports drinks. In place of refined sugars I am using Agave Nectar and Stevia. I am finding I have fewer sugar cravings these days and my energy levels are more consistent.
3. No more fried foods. No potato chips, no french fries. These just made me feel gross no matter how good they may smell or taste.
4. Eat more frequent meals throughout the day. Once I started doing P90X along with my normal workouts, it became very apparent three meals was not going to be enough. This is where extra servings of fruit and vegetables comes in handy. These extra meals are "nutrient dense." And once I made the shift to more natural organic foods I found my actual meal sizes decreased. I assume this is because the foods I now eat provide more actual essential nutrition allowing me to eat smaller portions while getting more actual usable food. This is just a guess but I think it is probably correct. The big reason for larger and larger portions in our societies is probably because the foods we get from fast food chains or processed/manufactured foods is calorie dense and nutrient poor.
5. Take more meals in liquid form. This is by no means every meal. But out of 6 meals I shoot for at least one smoothie and one glass of fresh juice daily. I currently use both a Vitamix (Yeah, I own a blender that can mill grain or knead bread) and a Juicer to prepare nutrient dense juices and smoothies made from fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I use various recipes for fruits and veggies as recovery drinks, snacks, and full meals depending on the combinations of the foods I choose. I am also making and eating more soups year round. The reasons for this are many but the two that stick out most are that by taking more meals in liquid or semi liquid form, I am making it easier for my system to digest the food and get the necessary nutrients into my system more quickly.
6. Buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. This was one of the easiest changes I think I made. For a long time I didn't think the expense and effort necessary to find organic foods was worth the trouble. The major selling point for me, aside from the possible health benefits, was simply taste. I cook most of my meals myself and I found the taste of the food I was preparing was superior when I used organic foods in my dishes. This in turn made it more appealing to prepare my own foods and stick with eating them.
7. As much as possible drink only pure water from a trusted source. This is sort of an add on to the first change but I feel it deserves its own mention. I came to this conclusion after I stopped using the common sports drinks. When I drank sports drinks, I often still felt thirsty. That sensation of thirst ceased when I relied only on water and Ultima. Then I noticed I drank more water when I started having my water delivered in glass containers. I also noticed I stopped drinking water out of fountains and other sources and started to carry extra bottles with me or in my car. I can only assume the reason for the change in my behavior was taste. If the water you drink tastes good, you drink more of it. Drinking more water also allows you to flush toxins from your body which is necessary for optimum health.
8. I no longer use gels or many of the common bars on the market. I either make my own training foods for rides and runs or I eat Garden of Life Whole Food Bars. Aside from being made from whole fruits and vegetables, these bars include probiotics which aid digestion. Healthy digestion is essential for a properly functioning immune system. And for endurance athletes especially, a strong immune system is a must.
In addition to the benefits to my training and recovery, these changes seem to have enhanced my overall sense of wellbeing. I just feel better about everything now and honestly tend to get a lot more done both in my training and in my personal life. It makes you wonder how much social and personal emotional turmoil could be caused by poor nutrition alone. Personally, I believe everyone's nutritional needs vary widely so developing a fueling/nutrition plan is something that requires as much attention and insight as you would put into any other area of your life you find meaningful like your training/racing or your work. But I also feel most people, whether they are athletically minded or not, would benefit just from drinking more pure water, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and limiting the use of processed foods (especially sugar) whenever possible. And hey, Chuckie V says as much on his blog so it must be true.