Nutrition can get complicated. Keep it simple with tips from the crew behind one of the best bars on the market.
by Becky Simon, Registered Dietitian, Bonk Breaker
Let’s face it, as simple as it should be, eating healthy and fueling for IRONMAN training can get overwhelming. But as Bonk Breaker founders Jason Winn and Chris Frank know, keeping it simple is really the key to doing it right. Frank himself is a Category-1 road cyclist, and knows first-hand the importance of timing in both fueling and recovery. “Without consistent fueling you’re heading towards a bonk,” he says. “It’s easy to get behind in your calories, whether that is during training or throughout the day.”
As the creator of the bars, Winn, a former collegiate football player and IRONMAN athlete, stresses choosing minimally processed, real food. “Your body recognizes real food, it’s that simple,” Winn explains. “Quality matters when it comes to what you put in your body.” Read on for more of Frank and Winn’s easy nutrition tips to keep you strong and well-fueled throughout your race season.
1. Eat real food
Focus on foods that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Remember, not all calories are equal: nutrient-dense foods are naturally packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. On the contrary, empty calories from processed foods offer little nutritional value and minimal benefit. Athletes require more than just calories—they need “high-octane” fuel that replenishes muscles and increases athletic capacity.
So what’s a hungry triathlete to eat? Real food. Real food is simple. Real food is minimally processed and is as close to how it’s grown in nature as possible. Aim to fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. When you don’t have the time or luxury to cook or prepare real food, try real-food based snacks such as squeeze-pack nut butters with fruit, Greek yogurt, trail mix, veggies and hummus, or real food nutrition bars like ours.
2. Eat consistently
Like a well-oiled machine, athletes perform better when they are sufficiently fueled. Your body can only use so much nutrition in one sitting, however, so eating all your calories at one or two large meals isn’t optimal. Think back to Thanksgiving dinner, when you were sure you ate enough calories for a couple days. But could you really train for a week and have enough calories from that one meal? Definitely not.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast that includes two to three ounces of lean protein, two to three servings of carbohydrates, and 10 to 15 grams of healthy fat. Continue eating well-balanced carb and protein rich snacks and meals every two to three hours. Bonk Breaker’s High Protein Bars make a quick breakfast or afternoon snack when time is tight.
Related: The Basics of Nutrient Timing
3. Fuel like an athlete all day
It’s easy to focus on fueling around training hours, and then neglect your nutrition the rest of the day. Whether you’re busy at work, jumping from appointment to appointment, or running the kids to activities, it’s easy to forget about fueling. However, your body doesn’t forget and is continuously recovering and preparing for the next day’s training session or race.
Fueling like an athlete all day also means eating enough. If you’re feeling consistently tired, zapped for energy, craving sweets or constantly thinking about food, you may be in a calorie deficit and need to eat more. The fear of gaining weight often results in many under-fed athletes. However, keep in mind that getting to so-called race weight is only worth it if you’re still strong and able to train without injury at that weight. Instead of restricting calories, focus on functional, nutrient-dense food choices.
What foods will give you the most nutrition and fill you up? Real foods, like vegetables, fruit and lean protein that are high in fiber and protein. These foods not only fill you up, they keep cravings at bay and provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for recovery.
Water is a wonderful performance enhancer, aiding recovery and helping avoid cramping. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, only you can determine your fluid needs because it greatly varies from athlete to athlete and depends on conditions.
During exercise, determine your hydration needs by calculating your sweat rate. Weigh yourself before and after a hard workout. Each pound lost represents one pound (16 ounces) of sweat. During training, replace sweat losses accordingly, and try to lose less than two percent of your body weight.
If you are properly hydrated you should urinate every two to four hours throughout the day and your urine should be light in color. In addition to water and fluids eating real food high in water content also contributes to hydration, such as yogurt, oranges, lettuce, melons and soups.
Recovery is when your body adapts and becomes stronger and more resilient. Three-time IRONMAN world champion Mirinda Carfrae says that recovery is actually what gets her to the finish line. “Recovery nutrition is critical, especially as I’ve pushed my body to perform while training and racing at brutal IRONMAN races,” said Carfrae. “I know that eating immediately after training is what I need to help get me to that finish line.”
Fuel properly during exercise, so that you’re not famished after training. Within 15-30 minutes of training, consume a carb and protein-rich snack such as chocolate milk, yogurt, smoothie, protein shake, or a Bonk Breaker High Protein bar. This sets you up for the next day’s training. Recovery doesn’t start until you eat, so fuel up before you put your legs up.