Photo: Korupt Vision
“I grew up on a farm in mid Canterbury NZ. Accordingly, my staple diet was meat and 3 vege. The farming culture is traditionally old school, but ironically it seems the new age nutrition approach for endurance athletes is centred around the concept of paleo, and or LCHF. In some ways I feel like I have just gone back to my roots.”
Although when I first started out racing, the era at the time was a high carbohydrate diet both during training and in the lead up to a race. I didn’t put a lot of thought into my nutrition, but still naturally ate reasonably healthy and still tended towards meat and 3 veggie’s at dinner, but definitely piled up on the muesli and bread at breakfast and throughout the day.
TRANSITION BACK TO MY ROOTS
A few years ago I did some metabolic testing with AUT (The Auckland University of Technology). This data gave me an insight into how heavily I was relying on carbohydrates.
It was clear that if I raced at the intensity I normally did, that I would inevitably blow up due to lack of being able to digest enough carbohydrates. The testing indicated that I was using almost 100% carbohydrates for fuel when running at 71% of my capacity or at about 14.1km/hr.
As I was racing a lot of long distance multi-sport and thinking about doing my first Ironman, it naturally initiated the process of change in my diet. It took a while to transition, as it’s easy to lapse back to old habits. It wasn’t until I was based in Tahoe for 5 weeks in preparation for my big race of the year XTERRA worlds; I had a solid reason to give everything I had to the final lead into that race, and my family and I had travelled especially to Tahoe for me to train. My wife is always the first to remind me that not committing to every aspect of the big picture, will inevitably result in a result that is less than what I am capable of. She is very persistent in personality with a background in exercise physiology and nutrition and is often too much of a presence to ignore.
I dedicated the entire month in the lead up to XTERRA worlds and I proved to myself that I could perform a lot better and feel better on this type of nutrition plan.
The key things I noticed during this process was:
- More consistent energy throughout the day.
- The ability to train for longer without fuel
- My body overall felt better and the calf injury I had been carrying seemed to dissipate entirely
- I was sleeping well even at altitude
- I was less hungry
- And lastly, I was hitting higher training volumes than I ever had and feeling really good.
Almost 3 years have passed, and I have never been re-tested to see if there was a change metabolically but I’m happy with this approach to nutrition and I know it serves me well during training and on race day. I was lucky enough to have a consultation with Asker Jeukendrup from ‘My Sports Science’. Asker is at the top of the game when it comes to sports nutrition and consults with many of the world’s best athletes. It was awesome to sit down with him, he gave me confidence in how I approach my nutrition and a few things I can work on too.
If I can pass on any insights into ways in which to transition to a paleo diet seamlessly, they are as follows:
- Plan well. Write a shopping list for the week based on either recipes that you like, or just keep it simple and eat salads with protein at lunch and meat and 3 veggies for dinner. Breakfast is normally the hardest place to make change as most people rely on a cereal and toast for breakfast. I have a protein smoothie instead, with a coconut cream and unsweetened almond milk base. I use a pea protein by Nuzest not a whey protein and I add MCT oil, raw cacoa, LSA and a probiotic powder for gut health. The fruit base is half a banana and organic blueberries. You will find my recipe below in the video, with another recipe for a paleo muesli that I make and use to put on my smoothie as a topping.
- Avoid cafes and restaurants entirely at least for the first week. It will be way too easy to lapse if you even go near these places.
- One of the benefits of a paleo diet is that you don’t get as hungry, but it will take a while for this benefit to kick in as you need to effectively come off sugar and you will get a come down. For the first week rely on an additional smoothie, or veggies with a nut butter to get your through the tough times.
- Drink water between meals rather than during meals. As an athlete I find I am probably dehydrated most of the time. But if you try and drink a tonne of water every time you eat it will affect your digestion. If you can drink between meals, you won’t feel as hungry and it will hold you off snacking. I use a strong sugar free electrolyte called ELETE that ensures I am hydrated and not taking on empty water.
- Training fuel: One of the things I often get asked is what to eat when I am training. In the states it was easy as they have a lot of paleo sports nutrition. Nut butters mixed with coconut oil is the main one I used at the beginning. Now I don’t really eat during training. If it’s a long ride day, I might stop at a café and get a coffee with cream and choose something paleo like a frittata or a raw cake. If I have a key session that I a need to ensure I get the most out of, then I up my carbohydrate intake with roast veggies the day before (lunch and dinner). It takes a while to increase the muscle glycogen stores, so I make sure I plan a day in advance for key sessions. I also use gels once a week for my key brick sessions. This is normally on a Saturday. I do this to train my gut so it is more accustomed to coping with gels on race day.
- Let go of your attachment to food. Sometimes I think a lot of athletes have a food obsession. Myself included. Someone told me once to take a moment to think about what I am eating before I eat, and ask myself it the food I am about to take in will serves me. It makes it pretty simple and it makes me feel good to make the right choices when it comes to food. We all know what good food, and I’ve found that if I tune into the after effects of crap food that it helps me avoid it. I want to feel good. I want to hit every session of my training plan and I want to make sure I make the most of my career without leaving “food for thought”.
PALEO MUESLI RECIPE
- Preheat oven to 140 degrees
- Loosly chop all the nuts and put them in a bowl
- Heat coconut oil, honey and salt over medium high heat in a large saucepan, for about 3-5 minutes. Then add seeds, nuts and coconut flakes and stir to coat.
- Spread muesli mixture evenly onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and add dried raw cacoa to the mix.
- Allow to cool for about 20 minutes or until hardened. Break apart granola. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
There is however a difference between how I approach my training nutrition versus my race nutrition.
It’s not news to anyone that the foods you take on are going to have a really direct impact on how your body performs. This is true for both mental and physical performance, both of which are of equal importance when I race.
I’ve developed rituals that work well for my mind and body – it’s important to note that everyone is different. People’s metabolisms work at varying rates, so there is no golden rule when it comes to this stuff.
Pre-race day I like to keep it simple, without a lot of changes from what I would eat on a daily basis. That means a lot of cooking, whether we’re at home or in a hotel room. If we’re on the road I stay away from the buffet and food I wouldn’t eat on a regular basis. Simple flavours, safe combinations – your stomach is always a little more susceptible to uneasiness close to a race. The other big thing is hydration; making sure I’m taking in electrolytes with my water for the entire week leading into the race. I use a piece of technology called the MX3 to test my hydration, and it can take a long time to get back to a hydrated state. The ideal option is to always be hydrated but failing that focusing on it for the entire race week is the next best option. I use Elite and Nuun for electrolytes.
The day and night before a race is pretty simple for me. It comes down to good, healthy food. I don’t worry about loading up on carbs massively, but I do increase my carb intake especially the day before at lunchtime.
I do this by ensuring there are lots of roast vegetables at lunch and at dinner, and I might have a smoothie before bed too. You want to eat things that your body is used to.
Don’t try a new fuel without knowing how your engine is going to respond.
The other element of the night before a race is going through the process of getting my head around race nutrition. The key is to make sure I take on enough carbohydrates per hour to fuel my output, and to keep up the hydration – this is vital as it allows you to maintain the body’s ability to absorb the nutrition as it goes in. I set up my bike with gels – a product called High5. I find it easy to digest and I prefer to take it as a gel shot rather than to have it mixed into my bottle. The reason for this is that it gives me absolute control over how much I’m ingesting. If it’s diluted with water, I don’t know how much I’m taking on at any one time, and it’s more difficult to control your levels throughout a race.
A gel shot also helps you feel like you’re getting that kick every time you take it – it’s less of a progressive feeling and more of a boot up the backside.
I’ll take on a gel every 17 minutes, so looking at a half ironman which is just over 2 hours of racing, I’m looking at 7 gels total over the ride – and another 4 on the run. I set my GPS to race mode which will have a 17 minute timer on it. So as I exit the swim I’ll take on a gel as soon as I can, whether that’s in transition or in the first few minutes of the bike ride. I’ll also take on a good amount of water because my hydration will be down after the swim. And then repeat the process every 20 minutes – a gel, then lots of fluid.
My bottles on the bike are boosted up with quite a strong electrolyte mix, which I’ll try to make last as long as I can through the race. I use electrolytes with zero sugar. It’s the saltiness I crave and what I know my body needs. The mix I make works out to have 700mg per hour of exercise. So, if I can only carry 1.4 litres of water for a 4hour ride for example, than I will put 2800mg into that amount of water and try to ensure it lasts me the whole ride and I take it on at regular intervals.
When your taking in gels regularly you get pretty over the taste of sugar and the salty taste seems to balance it out and make me want to drink more. If I need extra fluid, I will use the hydration stations on the bike course, but generally I will stick to using my own nutrition.
THE FINAL RUN
Going into the run, that’s where you’re going to notice the benefits of the hydration and nutrients that you have taken on throughout the race. I won’t change anything in terms of my increments – I’ll still have an alarm on my watch and that goes every 17 minutes and that’s when I will take a gel and some fluid to wash it down. As I work through the run, I’ll start to integrate caffeine in the form of Red Bull. This is probably only in the last 10 km, or 30-40 minutes of racing. Red Bull gives provides me with a hard kick of energy that I need when everything is hurting in the last stage of a race.
After all of that, it’s about recovery. The way you recover is just as important as the way you prepare. But I’ll cover that another time.