10 Hot Nutrition Tips to Improve Your Performance

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Training for a triathlon might seem like a great excuse to eat more, but while consuming more calories might be needed, it's also essential to eat the right food that is nutritionally balanced to ensure that you perform to the best of your ability and that you feel really good.

Here are 10 top tips to help you get the right kind of healthy food into you during training for your triathlon and on race day. It’s brought to you by Just Eat, the official food ordering app for Triathlon Ireland 2017 and the Just Eat Fit Food Club.

Words: Helen Vaughan

1. EAT TO RECOVER WELL 

When you're in training, you should aim to eat within 30 minutes of a session if possible. That’s when your muscles are most responsive to nutrient intake. The right food will help you refuel and rehydrate, while also repairing and rebuilding your muscles. 

Optimal recovery food will include carbohydrates to replenish your muscle fuel, lean protein to repair muscles and plenty of water to hydrate. If you're in a rush or unable to get a solid meal into you in that time, chocolate milk, freshly made smoothies and yogurts are great because they give a combination of carbohydrate, protein and liquid to rehydrate. 

Other ideas include spaghetti Bolognese with lean beef, chicken or tuna, muesli with yogurt and berries, or tofu if you’re vegetarian. Eat real food if you can, rather than powdered supplements, although many athletes have both. For example, they might have a quick recovery shake while still at the gym, and then food at home. 

2. LEARN TO SNACK HEALTHILY 

One of the hardest parts about training for a longer distance triathlon is being hungry all the time! Opting for tasty, healthy snacks is a great way to keep your body fed but also give it the food it needs to perform. 

Healthy snack ideas can include protein balls, trail mix, nuts and seeds, yogurt, porridge, nut butters, a can of tuna, avocado on wholemeal bread and loads more. The Just Eat app is also loaded with healthy options that you can order from home or the office (see sidebox). Ordering healthy food to go or pre-ordering meal plans can be a great help if you are time poor. 

3. EAT BREAKFAST 2 OR 3 HOURS BEFORE YOU RACE 

On race day, be sure to have breakfast good and early so it’s fully digested by the time you hit the swim. Also make sure it’s something you’ve eaten before so you know the food won’t mess with your system. 

Most athletes eat fairly bland, non-spicy foods like porridge, banana and honey on soda bread or whatever works for you. Try to avoid eating a lot of fibre as it could lead to adverse effects! 

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4. HOW TO AVOID CRAMP 

Cramp happens when your muscle contracts and goes into an involuntary and painful spasm that lasts for seconds or sometimes minutes. The exact cause is not quite known, but it’s thought cramping may occur due to a lack of proper hydration including electrolytes, muscles being under-trained, and a muscle fatigue. 

To try to avoid cramp, you should stay hydrated during a triathlon, including getting enough electrolytes. Some athletes take salt tablets and others use soluble electrolyte replacement tablets. 

Another tip is to ensure you've done enough training for your event. Also eat plenty of good carbohydrates to restock your energy stores and help reduce fatigue. Good stretching may also help. 

5. DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST 

If you’re going for an early swim or run, don’t skip breakfast first thing as it can lead to over eating sugary snacks for the rest of the day. During the day, it can be best to eat frequently in small quantities if that works best for you. 

Many athletes go with porridge for breakfast. Oats are incredibly nutritious and are a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Other good breakfast options include muesli with 

berries, fruit and yogurt, wholemeal or soda bread with eggs, nut butter, honey and banana, or whatever you fancy. Avoid sugary breakfasts. And drink plenty of water.

6. HAVE A BALANCED APPROACH TO FAT

Much has been said in the past about good and bad fats. But these days, there is more doubt surrounding what is good and what is bad when it comes to fat. 

However, it is commonly believed that the following are sources of good fat: polyunsaturated fats which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and are found in vegetable oils like sunflower oil and fatty fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines are also beneficial. And the monounsaturates found in avocados, olive oil, peanut oil, nuts and seeds are good for a balanced diet. 

It goes without saying that you should avoid crisps, chocolate, biscuits etc and processed foods in general.

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7. BOOST YOUR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Fruit and vegetables are great sources of nutrients, and they can give you plenty of the good stuff you need as an athlete. But try to avoid fruit juices as they have too much sugar and less fibre. 

Bananas are a good source of digestible carbohydrate and potassium, which is an electrolyte that can be lost during strenuous exercise. Oranges are great for vitamin C. Berries are also very good for you, with antioxidants like vitamin A, C and E, which are great for physical activity. Put blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries on your morning porridge, have them with yogurt or throw them into a freshly made smoothie. 

Great vegetables for triathletes include sweet potatoes, which are rich in fibre, potassium, vitamin B6 and C, and manganese for energy production. Leafy greens are full of nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and more. Beetroot is also very good for you as it boosts blood flow and delivers oxygen and other nutrients to your hard-working muscles. 

8. WHAT TO DO WITH CAFFEINE?

Caffeine can help with performance but it needs to be taken right. It can cause stomach issues so you need to be careful, and if you start taking caffeine in a race, you’ll need to keep taking it or you can hit the wall. 

Work out how much caffeine you need before your training session or race. Another tip is to drink fewer coffees in the weeks before a race to boost the impact when you take it while competing.

9. DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY

When it comes to race day, make sure you have practiced with all the food, drinks, energy gels etc that you will consume. Have a tried and tested breakfast that you know won’t mess with your tummy. Use only gels and sports drinks during the race that you like the taste of and that agree with you. Testing these during training beforehand is key.

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10. DRINK MORE WATER

Water is great during training, but also afterwards to help your body recover better. Thirst is a good guide on when to hydrate, but during races, it’s good to stay well hydrated throughout. 

Sports drinks are not generally recommended as they’re full of sugar-based carbohydrates. For shorter races and for training, it's very easy to unwittingly consume a huge amount of calories if you down these drinks. 

If you're doing a long race, however, and you really need a boost, they can be a useful tool. As a rule water (combined with electrolytes for longer distances) should give you what you need, without unnecessary calories, which often have around 10 teaspoons of sugar! If nothing else, it’s probably undoing a lot of the good you’re doing during training.

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WHERE TO FIND YOUR FIT FOOD?

When you’re training for a triathlon, time can be tight so it can be a challenge to find the time to shop well, cook and eat healthy foods. One option is to sign up for a meal planning delivery service. These companies can provide healthy, fresh, portion-controlled meals delivered right to your door. If you are trying to lose weight as part of a calorie controlled diet, eat healthier or gain lean muscle, you can order these weekly meal plans right to your door on Just Eat! Here are some of the great options to choose from. 

The Punnet Food Emporium: 94-95 Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2. Type of food: Healthy Choices 

LowCal Meals Delivered: Butterly Business Park, Artane, Dublin Artane. Type of food: Healthy Choices, Meal Planner 

Paleo Meal Deliveries: Guiness enterprise building Taylors Lane, Dublin Christchurch. Type of food: Paleo, Healthy Choices 

Gourmet Fuel Meal Plans: T30 Rowan Avenue Stillorgan Business Park, Dublin. Type of food: Coeliac/Gluten Free, Healthy Choices 

Rival Nutrition: 3E Crossagala Business Park Ballysimon Road, Co Limerick. Type of food: Healthy Choices 

BodyChef.ie: Bishopstown Bar, Co Cork Bishopstown. Type of food: Healthy Choices

Download the free Just Eat app and try a meal plan from the above healthy food providers.