Our three blog instalments covered most of the aspects of improving your personal triathlon journey. While the diet portion was the least read, it received the most questions by far. I could say that I was surprised, but I really wasn't. The explosion of information in social media of building this aspect of our lives and the onset of TV cooking shows to over saturation, has led to everybody thinking that it's the most important issue in improving one's performance.
I can say unequivocally, that it is not!
However if I was asked for one word to describe the outcomes, it is 'confusion'. So I thought let's answer some of the questions put to me. I'll start with the most simplified answers first, so if you think you have some form of knowledge in this area, don't be put off early, as with these five questions and answers I think there will be some valuable information in them for everyone.
Q1 - I started with triathlon primarily to lose weight, and I have experimented with eating similar to in your blogs. However I still don't know what diet is best for me, and I find it all so complicated. Can you give me a simple example of how best to lose weight?
The easiest and probably the most effective way to lose the weight while still improving your health is to just eat natural things. If it grows, eat it. Drop all processed food, the lot. Go to two aisles in your supermarket, the fruit and veggie aisle, and then the meat aisle. Ban yourself from all other aisles.
Drop sugar completely. Take it in its natural form in fruits. Why? To reignite your metabolism, to recalibrate your own insulin delivery system, and your taste buds! This does not take a long time, between 7 to 10 days of zero processed sugar. Yes, its tough the first 3 days, but by day 10 you won't have the cravings sugar brings.
Stop not only the fizzy drinks but also the sports drinks, that are marketed as 'so good for you'. Don't panic, we can reintroduce not the sugar but some electrolyte drinks later. Sounds so simple, but its not. We are bombarded with marketing of how this and that helps us. If weight loss is your main objective, you will be shocked at how quickly your body will lose weight, and continue to do so if you continue to do so after the initial 10 days. Sugar desensitises your taste buds. What about spreads? Use an avocado instead.
Q2 - We have consulted a nutritionalist, and have found that I have the same advice for me as my husband. He is losing weight but I'm actually putting it on. Is there a difference for men and women?
You have answered your own question. If you look at what you're doing with hubby as a scientific experiment. The answer is of course yes, but not only in diet, but training efficiency as well. We are all different in our group advice. Men can generally eat a greater proportion of carbs than women. I have found women eat less protein than men and when they do, they usually trim all the fats off the meat, thus depriving themselves of much needed benefits which I'll point out in a later question.
Q3 - What is best to improve me in athletic performance?
This was answered in the diet blog but it is continually asked. For me its about sustainability. Some diets do have a greater level of what I call artificial improvements in performance.
This is because they are so strict that keeping to them as a lifestyle of eating is near impossible for most of us. Then, as little, and only little, portions of other food creep in, we get the effect of re-compensation, that ruins all the 'good' work that we have put in. Thus, as a generalisation the 40 30 30 way of looking at an eating plan has more lasting benefits for both men and women.
Q4 - What is your take on fasting diets that have become so prominent in recent times?
Let's start with the fact that this form of dieting has been around most likely the longest. The re-finding of this as a solution is newish to the general public.
I have personal experience of many forms of this, from the 5 and 2; every third day as 'no eat day'; to the less strict 'on the 7th day I cleanse' plan. At the more extreme, I have also experimented with 4 weeks of no solid food in a controlled environment, where soup was allowed as the 'solid' every third day for the 'on' meal. While I could listen all day to the anecdotal findings of this fascinating subject, there are two stand outs that I can nearly assure all as being gospel:
1) The body is a craver and a storer for its own survival. The human experience to me is built around survival. Thus, when the body is shocked at the confiscation of solid fuel, it remembers subconsciously, like the elephant, 'it never forgets'. That works two ways - to over replenish once out of the fast, and also more importantly before the fast the body or psychology 'picks up' the 'secret' that next week he is going to be on this fast, so I better stock up now, before the rationing begins.
That is my experience and the feeling that most of my fellow fasters believe is a very real outcome. Again some can use great discipline to overcome these urges that we have created for ourselves.
Is it difficult to not eat? Do you get 'hunger pains'?
Yes, and no.
Just as a sugar denial could be classified as a fast, the only difficulty is experienced in the first 3 days. Once over that hump it is surprising how easy it is till about week 3 to not even think about it. Why from week 3? Again the word 'think' comes into play. All things dieting, or eating plans, are intrinsically linking to our personal psychology. When one thinks 'one week to go', one tends to think 'I'm nearly there' and 'hey presto' we start to feel hungry. On a much smaller scale the above mental aspect also springs into action regarding sugar.
Studies have shown that even on the 5/2 diet, that people tend to eat from 25 to 50% more food than on the day before they have their fast day. Is it subconscious? I would hazard a guess and say yes.
Fasting while training hard brings in another whole set of new dynamics to deal with.
Some believe that we need to rest our bodily functions, and I don't argue against this as I actually have done this myself for the last 20 years. That is to take a day off eating at least every 14 days. Do I do it to diet, obviously not! It is just a routine in life for me, and may be a hangover from when in my last sport of boxing, dieting was always a factor in my life at that time. I do know that I always felt better the day after. I'm sure there is no scientific reason, but just my feeling. So if one wants to fast while training, I can say this is the least intrusive option.
2) On that second point, fasting tends to be a little more triggered to anger. I have no evidence of that, just personal, which is only a positive if you are in the fighting game. Fasting is not an eating plan I recommend while working out consistently. A one day body cleanse per 7 to 14 days to me is not fasting.
Q5 - If you had to pick only one food that you would add to most athletes diets what would it be?
I left this to last, as we know I'm just the most politically correct guy out there. So I didn't have to think on this one at all. So you may take that lack of thought time needed, that he really believes it. So what is it? Animal fats! Yes, I said it.
I wince when I see athletes who train hard and live an exacting lifestyle, trimming off what could be argued is the best part of the meat. The animals fat, as does the cartilage to a lesser extent, provide the materials needed for the body to create testosterone and other hormones that are helpful in so many ways for the rejuvenation of your torn down bodies.
The key for me is to build metabolism function, by limiting processed foods and fasting the sugar. With a consistent eating plan your body will do what's right for you. Give mother nature a fair chance and half the worlds food ills would just disappear.
Thats the way I see it.