Food for thought

One of my goals (set in the aftermath of my Castle Howard DNF debacle) was to sort out my nutrition. I have always been a bookworm, so, true to type, the first thing I did was read a book about it. The book I went for is Training Food by Renee McGregor, which I’d seen mentioned in a magazine (I think it was Trail Running, but it might have been Outdoor Fitness). The first half of the book is all about the science behind sports nutrition, including the different components of food (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) and what they are used for by the body, as well as recommendations for the quantities of these to aim for depending on one’s sport or training load. Being a biologist, I already knew the basics, but it was useful to read about planning the optimum ratios of carbs to protein and fat.

The second half of the book is recipes. I thought this bit was really good; I’ve got two of the Feed Zone cookbooks, and a lot of the recipes in them are, frankly, a bit weird. The recipes in Training Food were, for the most part, things I’d actually eat, and there’s a really good section on snacks that has some very appetising recipes (including the best brownie recipe I’ve ever made).

My next step was to find out what I’m actually eating. I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app and used it to track what I was eating. I only did it for a couple of weeks, partly because I got fed up of weighing my food and was finding it a time-consuming faff, but also because I felt that it could quite easily become a bit of an obsession. I’ve got a healthy relationship with food and I’d like to keep it that way. That said, knowing that I was logging everything that passed my lips made me very mindful about what I was eating, so I can imagine it would be a very useful tool for someone who was trying to lose weight or radically change their eating habits.

The results of my two week experiment showed that I was basically eating enough (given that I’ve been almost exactly the same weight for over 2 years, I’d already worked that out) but that I was getting more fat and less protein than I’d thought. I’m not too worried about the fat – while more than the 1g per kg of body weight that the book recommended, it wasn’t a huge percentage of my diet and I’m not going to beat myself up about the odd biscuit or piece of cake. I also hate low-fat versions of foods, particularly yoghurt (of which I eat quite a lot).

My figures for protein were more interesting. Across the two weeks, I averaged about 85g of protein per day. This is probably enough for me, but McGregor recommends (for my body weight) small protein “pulses” of about 16g 3-6 times a day. I get that, in general, with each meal, but my snacks don’t tend to have a lot of protein in them. So I’ve invested in some protein shake powder, which I’m attempting to take at work, particularly on days when I’ve had a hard training session or I’m expecting one!

Since Castle Howard I’ve also experimented on rides by cutting my Clif bar up into bitesize pieces, mixing it with jelly babies and “grazing” off this during the ride. I did this at Aberfeldy, where I was doing the bike leg of the relay, and it worked really well – I didn’t feel sick at all and finished strongly in a personal best time. I also had a Honey Stingers Waffle, which seemed to go down easily (being basically pure sugar). Admittedly, I hadn’t done the swim and I didn’t have to run after, but I felt that I could have done the run. I also deliberately only took one bottle of SIS Go drink and picked up a bottle of plain water halfway round. Together, this meant that I didn’t take in as much energy as I probably should have, but crucially I didn’t feel sick! I do still need to work on taking on more calories while on the bike, but it’s a start.

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