Eating For Performance
By Bob Seebohar
To be a successful athlete (you can determine your personal
definition of successful), there must exist a balance of
physiological, psychological and nutritional variables.
This article will address the latter and how nutrition
plays into a well-balanced training plan and consequently,
your overall triathlon performance.
In brief, carbohydrates should be the focal point of your
diet for they provide you with the bulk of
the energy needed to sustain exercise. Thee are low
amounts stored in your muscles and liver so it is
important to constantly replenish them. (I will discuss
this in more detail later). A good rule of thumb is to try
to consume 50-65% of your total daily calories from
is such a wide range because every person is different and
prescribing a good eating plan is as individual as
training programs. Find what works for you.
Protein is the next important macronutrient for it will aid
in replenishing lost stores that happen during exercise
and will provide the amino acids that the muscles need to
“rebuild.” It is important to understand that
consuming protein does NOT build muscles. For example, if
you to consume high protein products such as meats,
cheeses, protein powders, etc. while remaining sedentary (ie.
Couch potato), your body would not increase its fat-free
mass. It would, however, increase fat mass and body
weight. During intense, long duration exercise, the body
will depend on a little protein as fuel, but it is not a
significant source of energy. A good rule of thumb is to
consume between 15-20% of your total daily calories from
protein sources (lean is a better choice).
Fat is more important than people believe. Neglecting fat
in your diet can lead to very serious consequences. Fat is
needed in the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins, cushion
the organs, insulate the body and make sure nerve impulses
are efficiently sent and received, just to name a few
functions. Try to keep fat at about 20-30% of your total
daily calories for optimal health and performance.
So the key to optimal performance is to maintain a good
balance of the three macronutrients described previously.
Making sure you have adequate stores of carbohydrate
(glycogen) and making sure your muscles are replenished
with the right amounts of amino acids from proteins on a
daily basis will ensure good health and training/racing. I
did not mention fat because it is often disguised. By this
I mean you will probably consume adequate amounts of fat
without making a conscious effort.
Besides maintaining a “healthy” (remember, it depends
on your individual preferences and what works for you)
eating plan there are specific times you can ingest
certain macronutrients to ensure good performance.
Before training or competition, it is advisable to consume
about 200-400 calories about 2-4 hours before. It is
important to consume familiar foods and to focus mostly on
carbohydrates since it takes them shorter digest. Protein
and fat take longer to digest, thus they will stay in your
system longer and you may fell a heavy, full sensation
when you begin exercise.
If solid foods simply do not agree with your system
pre-exercise, try a liquid meal or sports drink. Remember,
the most important thing is to experiment with different
foods and combinations during training, never right before
During exercise, it is important to maintain blood glucose
levels by ingesting 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (120-240
calories) per hour. As I mentioned previously, our bodyies
do not store many carbohydrates so it is important to
constantly replenish them. Energy gels or sports drinks
are very easy for the body to digest during exercise (or
soft foods such as bananas).
Post exercise is also crucial for nutrition. There is a
2-hour “window of replenishment” at which time it is
critical to ingest carbohydrates and protein. Even more
important is the first 30 minutes following exercise.
Focus on eating foods (carbohydrates) that have a high
glycemic index, meaning they are more quickly absorbed
into the bloodstream. Sports drinks are great for this
since it is sometimes hard to eat solid foods after
exercise. Fruits are also a great choice and also supply
much needed fluid. So the bottom line is to ingest more
carbohydrates than protein (about a 3:1 ration per gram)
and adequate amounts of fluids. This will ensure a faster
recovery, which will allow you to exercise sooner after
Nutrition for enhancing athletic performance can be tricky
but with the basic knowledge provided in this article, you
should be able to eat for good health and performance.
Seebohar, MS, RD, CSCS is the Performance Director at the
Colorado Center for Altitude Training and Performance (ATP
Center) in Evergreen, Colorado.
The ATP Center provides training, coaching,
physiological testing and nutrition services for all ages,
types and abilities of endurance athletes.
Bob Seebohar, MS,
RD, CSSD, CSCS has been a USA Triathlon certified coach
since 1999 and is one of the first USA Triathlon Certified
Level III Elite Coaches in the United States. He has
worked with beginners to Olympians and currently
specializes in working with advanced to elite athletes.
Bob was on the Performance Coaching team for Susan
Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon Bronze medalist, as he
served as her strength coach and sport dietitian during
her journey to becoming the first United States athlete to
medal in Olympic Triathlon.
He blends his extensive education with his experience as
an athlete, exercise physiologist, sports dietitian and
Bob has a Bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sports Science
with a concentration in Wellness Program Management, a
Master's degree in Health and Exercise Science and a
second Master's degree in Food Science and Human
Bob is also the author of the book
Periodization for the Endurance Athlete
Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org