Triathletes Grocery List For Everyday Nutrition

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The Fourth Discipline

A Triathlete's Everyday Grocery List
A Triathlete's Everyday Grocery List. © Chris Tull

Nutrition is the fourth (and most important) discipline in a triathlon. Consider your body a finely-tuned Ferrari and your muscles the engine.

During a race, if you don’t provide your engine the right fuel, you’re not going anywhere fast (otherwise known as the notorious “bonk”).

Even in your everyday life, your body still requires the right kind of nutrition. Extra pounds will slow you down (don’t believe me – try racing with a 10 lb weighted vest and see how your times are).

Don't Fear the Carb

So if you’re a triathlete, what’s the best way to eat? It definitely can be confusing.

Every couple years, new information surfaces about the “right” way for people to eat. Some diets say you should avoid carbohydrates and eat heavy proteins. Others push high fats. Then there are the ever popular liquid, vegetable, and juicing diets.

So what’s the right answer?

Here’s my take: Humans are pretty adaptable creatures. We can survive on a lot of different diets. Thus, there isn’t necessary a “right” or correct way to eat. It’s an individual thing, and has a lot to do with your fitness goals.

As a triathlete, your goals are to eat so your body can fuel itself through endurance workouts. Carbohydrates provide your muscles with this fuel. Carbohydrates provide about 2,000 calories worth of energy within your muscles. These calories are what you use aerobic activity.

Thus, to be a triathlete, you must not fear the carb.

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Everyday Nutrition for Triathletes

The Ironman Smoothie
The Ironman Smoothie. © Chris Tull

Triathletes should pretty much eat the same way anyone should eat for optimal health. What this comes down to is the following:

  • 70% of your nutrition comes from carbohydrates,
  • 25% of your nutrition comes from protein,
  • 5% of your nutrition comes from fats.

I hate math, though. I don’t want to have to try and count percentages and calories. Check out the figure top of this page for an easy way to keep up with how to eat.

This graphic is a revised version of the U.S. Government’s MyPlate. At each of your meals, try to set your plate up like the graphic at the top of this page.

The biggest tweak I’d suggest for triathletes is to replace their daily recommendations with water, and to increase the number of vegetables over fruits.

Note: Dairy products tend to contain refined sugars, which can cause weight gain. Also, not everyone is lactose intolerant.

If you crave dairy, though, like I do, get some unsweetened Almond or Soy milk and Greek non-fat yogurt.

In general, here are the guidelines:

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, with 20% of that from fruits and 30% from vegetables. The vegetables are complex carbohydrates, and the fruits simple carbohydrates. Good fruit choices are apples, oranges, pears, bananas, and grapes. Some good vegetable choices are broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, frozen mixed vegetables, salads, and green beans.
  • Grains: For 25% of your plate, fill it with some good natural or whole-grain products. Avoid the refined or enhanced grain stuff. This is about one handful size serving. Some good whole-grain choices include whole-grain breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. I’m a big fan of oatmeal and quinoa.
  • Protein:Fill the other 25% of your plate with some lean protein. This is about one handful size serving. Good sources of protein include white chicken, turkey, eggs, or fish. If you’re vegetarian, consider tofu or beans. Protein powder works as well.
  • Fats:While your body needs fats, you don’t have to worry about getting them. You’ll get your daily allotment of fat from the other healthy foods in your diet (e.g. an apple alone has about 1 gram of fat). If you're absolutely craving fats, though, you can sneak in some foods like natural peanut butter, almond butter, and nuts. All these contain healthy fats. Just don't go crazy on these items.
  • Water:Drink water all the time. At your meals. In between. Learn to love water. At least get 8 cups of water in a day. Water helps with digestion and also prevents muscle cramps.

Avoid the extra calories and sugar of things like sodas and fruit juices.

Note: While alcoholic drinks may be low in calories, your body treats them like sugary drinks. I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink alcoholic drinks, but if weight-loss is a goal of yours, watch what you drink! It’s often the culprit for hundreds of unwanted calories in one’s diet.

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An Everyday Menu

The Ironman Smoothie
The Ironman Smoothie. © Chris Tull

Here’s an idea of a good daily menu for a triathlete in training.

  • Breakfast: Egg-white omelet with sliced tomatoes and bell peppers, 1 banana, and 1 piece of whole wheat toast with almond butter,
  • Snack: 1 apple, celery sticks with natural peanut butter, and a couple whole wheat crackers,
  • Lunch: A BLT on whole wheat toast with tomatoes, lettuce, and low fat mayo. Also, a small fruit salad,
  • Snack: Protein shake (made with scoop of protein powder, handful of frozen blueberries, low fat Greek yogurt, and 1 cup of almond milk). Also, a couple cucumber slices on the side,
  • Dinner: 1 piece of lean meat (e.g. salmon or chicken), 1 cup of brown rice, 1 dinner salad with olive oil and vinegar as dressing, and a cup of grapes,
  • Evening Snack: Low fat cottage cheese mixed with Greek yogurt, blueberries. A couple of baby carrots.

If you can follow the 80/20 rule (you eat great 80% of the time) you'll do fine. That gives you some wiggle room to have some birthday cake at your nephews or to go a little hog wild on Thanksgiving