Episode 65 - 5 Key Nutrition Strategies to Manage Your Return to Triathlon Training

5 Key Nutrition Strategies to Manage Your Return to Triathlon Training

If you’ve ever had a break from training, there are a few key things you need to do with your nutrition on your return

Maybe you’ve been sick or injured, gone on a triathlon free holiday (who even are you?!), you’ve taken a few weeks off after a key event or had something personal come up that’s been a handbrake on your training. 

Whatever the reason, this is an important time to prioritise your nutrition strategies. To ensure you’re putting in the right building blocks, at a time when your body is really receptive.

Listen in as I give you five nutrition tips to make the transition back into regular triathlon training a smooth and easy one.

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Episode Transcription

Episode 65: Five Key Nutrition Strategies to Manage Your Return to Triathlon Training

Taryn Richardson  00:00

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  00:41

Hello, hello. And thank you for putting me in your ear holes. today. I'm coming to you from my cupboard as per usual, and what I want to talk you through today is some strategies to help you manage return to training. So wherever you're listening, whether it's going for a long run, or maybe sitting on the wind trainer, I would love whatever you're doing whatever your activity you're doing, to send me a selfie or a screengrab of you listening - wherever you are. Tag me on Instagram at dietitian.approved. You've got to spell dietitian correctly though - the Australian way with two T's not a C. But I love seeing my Academy athletes on our Power Hours every Thursday - some of them are running on a treadmill, some of them are going for a walk, some of them are sitting on a wind trainer.  I love that we can multitask and exercise and upskill in our nutrition as well. So definitely tag me if you're doing something like that right now.

Taryn Richardson  01:38

So today's episode on managing your return to training - now what does that actually mean? Return to training could simply mean getting back into it after being sick. You know, where you've had a few days or a week or a couple of weeks off, and we're kind of restarting again. It could be maybe some holidays where you've had a week off or a couple of weeks off, or multiple weeks off where you're not in your usual rhythm of training. You could have been injured. And so you've really not done much until now and we're sort of starting to get back into that. You could have had an offseason break - whatever those things are! You could have done a massive event - like maybe you've just done Kona, maybe you've done Sunny Coast 70.3, or another big 70.3 Ironman event, or whatever it is, and you've had some downtime, and you're just getting back into your training now.

Taryn Richardson  02:30

It could also be  - it's not necessarily a return to training. But it could be that you're new to training - that you're just starting out. And some of these strategies are going to be really useful for you. When we are high achieving triathletes and we do a lot of exercise, it's really important that we overlay our nutrition strategies with that. But when we're used to training at such a high level and doing lots of volume, or lots of training hours, when we go from doing nothing to just a little bit, we kind of forget that that's actually a really key important time for nutrition. It's not a time to be relaxed, or under doing it because it's actually quite a big stress on your body to go from not doing anything to suddenly doing something again. So we need to be really mindful of our nutrition in this key window.

Taryn Richardson  03:23

Rather than going "Oh, well, I'm used to doing, you know, six hour rides. So a 60 minute easy ride is nothing. So I'm just going to not put any nutritional strategies around that." So I've got five strategies for you to help manage that return to training, whatever the reason is that you've taken a bit of a backseat and we're just starting to get back into it.

Taryn Richardson  03:46

So the first one is that you really need to match your fueling to your training load. And quickly, quickly align that as soon as possible - as in, in a day. I don't want that to happen in a week or two weeks, or you know, months. We know that in as little as three days of not eating properly, that's enough to affect our sex hormones - male and female. And for female, three days of low energy availability around training is enough to drop a menstrual cycle out for that month. So it's really important that you quickly match your fueling to training and we're not in a hole, even if it's a short one.

Taryn Richardson  04:29

Now, don't be guided by your appetite at this time. It actually takes a week or two for your appetite to catch up to what your body's doing. It's not a great regulator and signal for how much fuel you need. Most of the time, when you a lot of the time when you don't train and then train, your appetite doesn't tell you that you're hungry. And so you're like, "I'm not hungry, so I won't eat" and that doesn't happen for a little while. It'll maybe take two weeks for that to happen. And then you're suddenly ravenous and you can't seem to fill the hole. You just want to eat everything. And that's your body playing catch up. It's giving you the message that you've under done it and so it's sending out all of your hunger hormones to go, "Hold on a minute, we're in the red, we're in a hole here, catch yourself a back up, let's make them really hungry, make them eat everything, so that that deficit is not so great".

Taryn Richardson  05:25

But that's not a great way to eat. We've definitely under done it for the first trajectory into training, and then we're overdoing it later on down the track. So make sure in those first couple of days of returning to training, we're eating to support that. And that is periodisation in a nutshell. But doing it quickly, not having a lag.

Taryn Richardson  05:47

The second strategy is to make sure you're getting enough protein and ensure that it's distributed nice and regularly across the day. When we're returning to exercise, it's really important that we focus on getting the right building blocks at the right time. We don't want to have no protein for breakfast or not enough in our recovery meal. And then a little bit for lunch, potentially, but still not quite filling our cup, and then overdoing it and having way too much at dinner. That is quite a common way for people to eat - you know, quickly grabbing toast as you run out the door for breakfast. Lunch, maybe you're grabbing some sushi or you've got a salad, but it doesn't really have enough protein in it. And then dinner is a very protein rich meal. Maybe it's a massive steak that's as big as your hand or it's two of your hands.

Taryn Richardson  06:37

But what we want to do is split that all up, spread it across the day nice and evenly and fill our cup at regular intervals. And that is going to maximise your results and our muscle protein synthesis pathways. Particularly when you're returning to training - it is this window of opportunity to make sure we're ticking the right boxes, hitting our right targets because our body is so open to absorbing those nutrients at that time. Particularly if you're new to triathlon. You will just eat away at your muscles, if you're not getting enough protein in your day to day diet. It's going to borrow it somewhere and it's going to borrow it from your muscles.


Taryn Richardson  08:19

The third strategy, which kind of leads on nicely, is that you really need to dial in your recovery nutrition. Now most triathletes suck at their recovery nutrition, unless you've had some guidance in this space. Making sure you do a really good job in the beginning is key, particularly as you build that training load up again. Now your requirements for recovery are really individual. So I'm not going to go through it here. But we need to be making sure that we're ticking the right boxes for you -  and protein's a big one and getting enough there. But also carbohydrate -  we need to refuel our muscle glycogen fuel tank, and you need to understand what that looks like for you. I would encourage you to be a bit more, sort of, efficient or aggressive with your recovery nutrition practices, particularly when you're returning to training because of that window of opportunity. And we don't want to put ourselves into too much of a hole or a deficit because we don't feel like we need it or our appetites not there supporting that. But now's the time to kind of give yourself a kick in the butt and be a bit more aggressive in this space so that you can backup and recover again quickly and not feel so rubbish when you get back into training load again.

Taryn Richardson  09:38

So we've taken a bit of a break for whatever reason, and we're getting back into it. We need to make sure really quickly our daily fueling matches our training load within a day or two. Okay? No lag. We need to be making sure we're getting enough protein and that it's evenly distributed across the day. We don't have a small amount/inadequate amount early on, and then a huge massive dose later on. It's nice and evenly spread. And then thirdly, making sure your recovery nutrition after every single session is perfect for you. If you're doing those three things, then you're doing better than probably 95% of the triathletes that returned to training with no nutrition knowledge.

Taryn Richardson  10:23

And my fourth strategy, when you're returning to training, is making sure you still focus on the micronutrients. They are still key. You don't need to take a supplement or a multivitamin or anything like that. You can get enough from food as long as you're doing a good job of eating all of your nutrient rich foods. So think fresh fruits and vegetables - all of the colours. In fact, the more colours the better. As well as our whole grain breads and cereals, nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado, fatty fish like salmon, and tuna. Let's think about where we're getting our micronutrients from. Not just our macros. Yes, we need to understand how much we need for our macros. But in doing that, and tracking macros, and counting calories, and all those sorts of things, we seem to forget that micronutrients are also important. And we need a big injection in our diet when we're starting to ramp up our training load again.

Taryn Richardson  11:18

So make sure you're getting your two serves of fruit, five serves of veggies on the daily. Make sure you're getting enough fibre in your diet. Make sure you're meeting your calcium needs. That's so important as an endurance athlete. We need it for strong bones and teeth, but calcium is involved in every single muscle contraction. So if you haven't listened to it yet, go back and listen to Episode 40 where I talked about calcium and why it's so important for endurance athletes. The other nutrient that you really need to concentrate on, as an endurance athlete, is iron. Are you getting enough from your diet here?  Do you know how much you need? Are you meeting your IDI or your target? And do you know how to look into what your iron levels are and make sure they are optimal for somebody that's active? We have higher requirements and different targets when we train for three sports - different to the general population. So if you haven't listened to it yet, go back to listen to Episode 33, (this is some, you know, good Christmas holiday listening) where I was joined with Becky Hall who is a fellow Advanced Sports Dietitian who has done a lot of research in iron and endurance performance. So a good place to go if you have no idea what I'm talking about with iron.

Taryn Richardson  11:54

These are two really important nutrients that you need and you need to be across. And it's something we cover in the first phase of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, for that reason. When we are spending eight weeks together, building out your day to day nutrition, these are two key things that we talk about pretty quickly in the program, because they are so important - and triathletes don't have any idea how to get enough here. So if you're interested in that we open doors again in January 2023. So just planting the seed now, if that's something that you want to do for next year.

Taryn Richardson  12:30

Other nutrients that we also need in our diet are our pre and probiotic foods. And a lot of us kind of forget about that. We don't need to take a probiotic supplement again. There's definitely reasons for that, but you can be getting a lot of these things from your diet. So think yogurt, kefir, kombucha (but real kombucha, not the fake stuff), kimchi, sauerkraut - a lot of these fermented foods are really good for our gut and our gut microbes. The same as our prebiotic foods, which our gut bacteria need. A lot of that stuff's found in our fruits and vegetables.

Taryn Richardson  13:07

So again, another tip for making sure you have that good PLANT BASE diversity in your diet, particularly when you're returning to training. That's a key time where we have increased needs for a lot of these things. But also, just on a day to day basis. I'm really passionate about getting people to eat well on a day to day basis to set them up for performance now, but also long term health into the future. Like, you can do some pretty bad damage in your fit years when you do triathlon, that you won't have any ideas about until you're like 80, or maybe 90 and retired from the sport and you've done some damage to your bones, or other things like that. So even though you exercise a lot and you think you eat really well, just think big picture- where are we going with this? And are you putting the right things into your high performing, you know, machine - your body? Which is your temple! Are you doing the right things NOW to set you up to be healthy later?

Taryn Richardson  14:02

And my fifth and final strategy for what to do when you're returning to training after a bit of a hiatus is to make sure you lean on those anti inflammatory foods. As you re-establish that regular training rhythm, it's likely that you'll probably have an increase in our pro inflammatory markers. You've got that inflammation happening just from exercise, and that's normal. It's natural. It's nothing to be worried about. But you might be a bit sorer. Ever had a break from the gym and then come back to squat day and then you just can't walk down stairs or sit down on the toilet or do anything a few days afterwards? We can help dampen that down and quieten that inflammation a little bit without anti inflammatory foods.

Taryn Richardson  14:44

So focus on getting your omega-3s and your polyphenols that will help offset that oxidative damage and soak up the free radicals that we produce during exercise. So think things like oily fish - like salmon, tuna, herring, mackrel. Our plant based sources of omega-3, so flax seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. And you can even get some marine sources from seaweed and like sushi nori sheets. They're also a great source of iodine, which is pretty limiting in the Australian diet.

Taryn Richardson  15:17

So this is just your gentle reminder that if you are doing a bit of a return, or even you're planning a break over Christmas, or some point in the future, to really make sure you focus on your nutrition, when you come back to training. It's so important then, and even more so important when you very first start out in the sport. So if you're listening - awesome! You're in the right place. But if you're fresh, and new – NOW is the time where we need to be really diligent with your nutrition. But it's not something we focus on until way later - once we've got a coach and we've upgraded our bike and we feel like we're in a rhythm with training and racing. but we're starting to have negative things happen. That's typically when people go "Okay, I better look at my nutrition". But really, it's from the get go that it's so important to understand what you need to be doing - so you're setting yourself up for success, rather than making the mistakes that others make. Do it right from the beginning.

Taryn Richardson  16:18

I would rather you not get injured or find out you're in low energy availability, or keep getting sick and rundown and stressed and tired, and you have no idea how to fix it - feeling, like, what I call "the tired triathlete". Like by Fridays you just wrecked. You can't get through your long sessions on the weekends. You're just exhausted all the time, you're starving and your body composition is not doing or responding to what you're throwing at it. The tired triathlete epitomises all of those things. I don't want that for you. I want you to feel supercharged. I want you to feel like you can push through the back end of hard training sessions because that's where the magic happens. I want you to have energy right throughout your week. No big peaks and troughs. I want you to get through big long training session days and feel like you could keep going. That's some good yardsticks that you've got your nutrition relatively dialed in, if you can feel like that.

Taryn Richardson  17:13

That's my five simple strategies to manage your return to training - from a nutrition perspective. You've got to do a lot of other things too, right? Body maintenance, make sure your training doesn't spike, etc, etc. But nutritionally making sure you're matching your fueling to training - like, so important. That is one of the key things you need to get right if you're doing triathlon - before you start taking pills and potions and worrying about the latest supplement craze.

Taryn Richardson  17:38

No. 2 - getting enough protein but making sure it's spread well. We don't have this huge big, overflowing your cup amount at one meal and not enough at the others. Let's try and get that evenly matched. Particularly if you're a vegetarian or a vegan athlete, really important that you're getting enough for you and what you need to actually absorb and extract from those foods too. Aggressive. Efficient. Prioritise recovery nutrition, particularly when you start out again, or you're just starting. And always, but particularly in that on ramp into training again - so, so important.

Taryn Richardson  18:17

And understanding what you need for YOU because it is very different depending on who you are and what you got going on. Micronutrients. I feel like I bang on about fruits and vegetables all the time. Yes, I'm a dietitian, but we seem to forget that we need these things. No, you don't need a multivitamin supplement. It is purely a safety blanket. You're going to pee a lot of that out and so it's a complete waste of money and you're just making expensive pee. But how about we take a step back and focus on the foundations of eating properly and eating well which means eating fruits and vegetables. Not that sexy, but so much more benefit to micronutrients and pre and probiotics and fibre and healthy fats and so many different things that are setting us up for life. Anti inflammatory foods, make these your best friend and if you're not using some of those things already, then I'd probably be looking at putting them into your diet more so anyway. Something we can dive into inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy if you want to know more. All right, that's it for today. Thank you so much for having me in your ear holes and hey, if you are doing anything or you're listening, send me an image, post it on the socials. Don't forget to tag me. I always love to see what you're up to.

Taryn Richardson  19:35

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to www.dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 

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