Being a triathlete gives you the right to eat what you want, when you want, right? Well, not quite. Because the food that you eat has a direct impact on your performance not only in triathlon, but in other aspects of your life. In this article, Susan Grant speaks to leading nutritionists to determine nine foods you should be eating, and six to avoid.
By Susan Grant
We asked top nutritionists which food items they make sure to put in their shopping trolley, and which ones they either avoid altogether or enjoy sparingly. Across the board, these nutritionists agreed on one simple rule: If you can’t pronounce many of the words on the nutrition label, you should probably stay away from it
Berries (Frozen And Fresh)
“Berries such as raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are high in antioxidants, vitamin C and everything important your body needs for muscle recovery,” says Liz Applegate, PhD, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Applegate suggests keeping frozen berries on hand to throw into smoothies or on top of cereal.
Whether you steam it, boil it or just eat it raw, kale truly is a super food. “It’s fibre-rich and full of phytochemicals that help fight free radicals,” says Bob Seebohar, a sports nutritionist and registered dietician based in Boulder, Colorado.
You may have seen bottles of nettle extract at your local health food shop, but the best way to get all the benefits of this herb is to steep the leaves like tea. “One cup of steeped nettle leaf has 2,000mg of calcium and a good supply of iron, which are two nutrients all athletes need,” says Jennifer Adler, a certified nutritionist and professor of nutrition at Bastyr University in Seattle. Adler recommends taking one cup of dried nettle, putting it through a French press, pouring water over it and letting it steep overnight for up to 10 hours. “It has a very mild taste,” Adler says. “You can put tea bags in with it while it steeps for flavour or doctor it anyway you want with sweetener or mint.”
Eaten for centuries because of its unique enzymes that were thought to aid digestion, papaya has a multifaceted nutrient value. “Papaya is very high in vitamin C, but it’s not an easy food for most people to obtain if they don’t live near a tropical area,” Applegate says. Papayas are something of a nutritional masterpiece; they are full of folate, potassium, vitamin E, vitamin A, lutein (for good eyesight) and lycopene.
While eating fresh foods is always best, if you’re looking for a quick, quality source of low-fat protein, grab a can of beans and simply rinse them off to get rid of any added sodium. “Beans offer carbohydrates, protein and fibre, which are three things triathletes need to aid in recovery,” Applegate says. “Canned beans are already cooked, so you can just stuff them into a burrito or put some on top of a salad.”
Grass-Fed Red Meat
According to Adler, the difference between grass-fed red meat and commercial red meat is astounding. “The fat content is so much lower, and you also get the benefits of fatty acids that don’t exist in non-grass-fed meat,” she says. “It’s often said that red meat can be inflammatory to the body, but much of that has to do simply with how the cow was raised.” If you switch to grass-fed meat, be prepared to spend a little bit more. Grass-fed or not, Adler recommends eating no more than 115-grammes in a serving and limiting your intake to once a week. Remember when cooking grass-fed beef that the cooking times will be much shorter because of the lower fat content of the meat.
The benefits of eating fatty fish are well-documented. “Fish such as salmon contain the best source of beneficial EPA and DHA compounds that have been shown to have cardiovascular benefits,” Seebohar says. “Although other foods like walnuts contain omega fats, you have to eat a lot more of them to get the benefits because your body converts the fat compounds in fish more easily.” Can’t stand salmon? Try taking fish oil in supplement form.
Venison is a red meat option known for it’s rich gamey flavour. Not only does it taste great but is high in protein and has a lower fat content than beef. It also has added the benefit of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, iron and zinc making it a ideal to include in recovery meals.
Many soy products such as tofu have received a bad rap because of their high estrogen levels, but Seebohar believes tofu is still a nutritional powerhouse. “You would have to eat soy products like tofu every single day at every single meal to see a hormonal change in your body,” he says. “The protein in tofu is phenomenal, as well as its fatty acid content.” Tofu is also versatile; you can use it in place of meat or blend it into everything from smoothies to spaghetti sauce.
Full of plant chemicals known as lignans, which have been studied for their cancer-fighting and cholesterol-lowering properties, flaxseeds are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids. “Keep in mind that when you see products with whole flaxseeds in them, it’s really kind of just an advertising gimmick,” Seebohar says. “In order to absorb them, they need to be ground up because your body cannot digest the shell of the seed.”
Cheesy Puffs (and any other product with orange dust coating)
“What is a cheesy puff even? It’s entirely fabricated and isn’t really even a food,” says Applegate. Needless to say, if it isn’t really a food, it probably doesn’t pack any nutritional value, and cheesy puffs don’t. Additionally, many products with that (admittedly delicious) orange dusty coating actually contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), a controversial chemical additive that has been linked to everything from headaches to heart palpitations. “If you really love cheesy puffs, go ahead and enjoy some on occasion, but don’t bust out a bag after a 100 kilometre ride as a recovery meal,” Applegate says.
Packaged Biscuits And Crackers
“In general, I tell people that the closer to the earth a food is, the better it is for you,” Seebohar says. Any type of packaged cookie or crisp is fine to eat occasionally, but if you could find all of your day’s menu items in a gas station convenience store, then something has got to give.
This one’s a tough one. “Drinking more than two drinks a day is of no help,” Applegate says. “Alcohol interferes with glycogen rebuilding, and if you are serious about doing well in your sport, you should toss it altogether.” Applegate recommends that if you do want to drink, enjoy a glass of wine with your meal and that’s it.
While milk is high in vitamin D and calcium, with so many lower-fat options out there, it’s just a waste of calories and fat. “Stick to non-fat or low-fat milk to get the nutrients you need,” Seebohar says.
Canned Vegetables And Fruit
“Canned produce is blanched at such a high heat that it loses most of its nutrients, and then they pump it with sodium to give it a longer shelf life,” Seebohar says. Stick to fresh vegetables and fruit for more nutritional bang for your buck.
Yes, those perfect squares you used to fold up and shove into your mouth as a kid were delicious. “I call them fake cheese, because they pretty much are entirely processed,” Seebohar says. “Enjoy full-fat cheese in small amounts for the protein and calcium, but stay away from the singles.”