Fine Tune Your Diet to Fuel
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This Fitness Makeover will focus on
nutrition for the endurance athlete. A year ago, Bob Petraglia from Boston,
Mass., began swimming 800 meters three times a week for fun and fitness. As
most of us find, he was addicted to the endorphin rush that his newfound
exercise provided, and within six months Bob was up to 2,000 meters six times a
week (with 3,000 meters on the seventh day).
This fall, he plans to race in the annual
2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater swim, and depending on how that goes, perhaps a
five-mile swim in St. Croix.
These are ambitious goals for a relative
newcomer to the sport, but having spoken with Bob Im confident that
hell be crossing the finish line in both events with no problem at
Bob had questions regarding his daily diet
and how he could maintain or gain back some of his weight; he has dropped 18
pounds since he started swimming, only half of those pounds intentional and
At 59 and 152 pounds, Bob needs
to be about 160 pounds, according to Leigh Fish, MS RD, a Los Angeles-based
registered dietician who specializes in athletes (her boyfriend Josh also
happens to be a triathlete on the US National Team!).
Given that I am not a registered dietician
or nutritionist, I have deferred all advice that follows to Leigh and
have only served to break it down into a reader-friendly article (and Ive
learned a few things from our guest source in the process
so thank you,
Bob writes that he feels healthier, more
alert, and a lot hungrier than ever before since he began swimming on a daily
basis. This is natural, and he needs to increase his intake of carbohydrates in
a specific way to avoid losing more weight while sustaining the energy
he needs for optimum performance.
Most people assume that binge-ing on pasta,
grains and breads is the best way to gain the quick energy needed for endurance
According to Leigh, Bob needs to keep his
metabolism running all day long with frequent snacking, and not just three
large carbo-friendly meals.
Eating only large meals may not give
you the sustained energy that you need for an intense swim workout, especially
if your most recent meal was more than two hours before the training
session, she explains.
Although you wouldnt want to
have a large meal right before your swim, a small snack which is mainly carbs,
such as a cup of juice or a half a granola bar, would be just right.
Bob supplied me with a comprehensive daily
diet breakdown of foods he eats and snacks on (which I forwarded to Leigh), and
vegetables were the only food group that was somewhat neglected.
Including vegetables in your lunch and
dinner meals is very important, says Leigh, because it allows you
to eat a large volume of food without a large amount of calories. Be sure to
choose an array of colors when eating fruits and vegetables, as this will
provide you with the multitude of vitamins and minerals that you need before,
during, and after your workouts. Remember, not everything comes in a pill, even
if its a multivitamin.
(Great advice, if you ask me
most people I know, I rely on vitamins more than I should for my daily
Bobs diet could also use more dairy,
and Leigh recommends consuming it after the tough workouts.
Reloading with a protein/carbohydrate
food is useful to replete any glycogen stores that may have been lost in heavy
training. Good options are a glass of milk, low fat ice cream, cottage cheese,
Bobs consumption of protein is
Herculean, with generous daily portions of chicken, nuts, hamburgers, and tuna.
Leigh reminds him that fish and eggs are another protein source not to be
Bobs only apparent vice is a
passionate addiction to Doritos. A whopping five times a week at up to 10
handfuls a pop, this is the one area that gave Leigh the right to slap our
subject with a major meal makeover.
10 healthy handfuls a
day?! Now really, how healthy can a handful of Doritos be? A good
substitute here would be pretzels," Leigh says. "In the meantime, weaning
yourself off the Doritos would be a wise option since your dependence seems to
"Allow yourself Doritos three times a week
and limit your intake to two handfuls that fit into a small bowl. If you
want more, refill the bowl ... with pretzels! Slowly, your dependence
will just turn into a now-and-again indulgence.
Comment from the peanut gallery: My
guilty pleasure is ice cream, and since speaking with Leigh Ive begun weaning
myself off of those easy-to-consume-in-one-sitting Ben & Jerrys pints.
Instead, Ive stocked my fridge with Ben & Jerrys frozen yogurt, and I now
only allow myself a half-pint (served in a bowl instead of right from the
carton). Hopefully Im getting my post-workout protein fix while weaning myself
off of those oh-so-good-but-oh-so-bad fat calories.
As far as monitoring his weight, Bob need
only step on a scale once a week. Daily scale-stepping will show minor
fluctuations that can wreak havoc on ones psyche and contribute to
hyper-self-analysis not a good road to go down.
Instead, a weekly weigh-in can give you a
consistent reading that over time will paint an accurate picture of where your
body weight is, and should be.
Bob is an avid vitamin- and mineral-taker,
and although Leigh admits that most people would rather rely on a pill for
their essential needs, she stands by her claim that there is no comparison to
vitamins and minerals gleaned from real foods.
She does, however, suggest the occasional
extra dose of Vitamin C and E, given the endurance athletes above-average
Vitamin C and E are good antioxidants,
especially for endurance athletes who experience a great deal of oxidative
damage during long bouts of cardiovascular activity. It cant hurt to take
this, but also may not be necessary each day.
Finally, the last bit of wisdom that Leigh
offered to impart to Bob (and possibly to more than a few readers of this
column), is the if a little is good, then a lot is better
misconception about protein intake.
Given Bobs healthy meat consumption
discussed earlier, there is little reason for him to boost his protein intake
with powders and energy bars in his between-meal snacks.
Considering the intensity level that
you are swimming, you need, at the most, 1.2b/kg of protein per day," Leigh
said. "For a 152-pound man, this is only 83 grams of protein. 1 cup of milk for
breakfast, 3 oz. of turkey and 1 slice of cheese for lunch, and 5 oz. of turkey
for dinner provides about 87 grams of protein. Some protein powders in
smoothies can offer up to 25 grams of protein (and 100 calories), all of which
are unneeded in Bobs case.
In the end, Leigh was impressed with
Bobs dedication and overall healthy eating habits and lifestyle. The
recommendations she gave were not major diet overhauls, but rather ideas based
in common sense and backed up with respectable knowledge and experience.
With a few little changes, Bob will find his
top-priority goal of being a healthy athlete a reality. In the water, he should
expect to continue to surpass even his own expectations.
Although the above overview is broad and has
been written to apply to the general active population, it is important to note
that the feedback came after a comprehensive analysis by a registered
It was based on an individual of a certain
height and weight, with detailed specifics of the subjects diet plan.
Anyone considering a drastic change to their eating habits (for better or
worse) is urged to consult a registered dietician or nutritionist who can
outline a plan to address each individuals specific needs.
If you are interested in being the
subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and
include a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.