What exactly does your typical top pro triathlete consume on a daily
basis? Are there as many dietary variations amongst the elite in this
sport as there are, say, types of running sneaker? Is there really a
global diet that benefits all?
I consider myself a fairly healthy eater. I'm not vegetarian, but I eat
little red meat (maybe once/week), getting most of my meat-protein from
turkey. I'm easy on the fat, consuming, at most, 40 grams of it per day
(on average). Lots of fruit and water. I've cut back on coffee, have
never smoked, and have maybe 5-6 units of *** per week. If I
compare myself to most of my colleagues, I eat very well.
But if I compare my dietary intake to, for example, Dave Scott, I start
to fret. I recently re-read Scott's triathlon training book, and it
freaked me out (again). We've all heard the tales of Scott rinsing his
cottage cheese under the cold tap--make of that what you will--but the
man pretty much went to the extreme with his diet, eating almost no fat
at all (I'd estimate, from what he has said, he was well under 10 per
cent per day, and probably more likely under 5 per cent). I recall an
article in an old triathlete (early 80s) where the journalist commented
that Scott had nothing but oranges in his fridge. And, at this period,
he was living in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but oranges!
I enjoy fruit as much as the next person, but how can one exist on a
diet of virtually zero fat? Can you imagine going out for a meal with
Dave Scott? The bulk of vegetarian meals include a fair bit of fat;
indeed, compare, for example, a vegetarian lasagne with one made with
chicken and you'll find that typically the chicken lasagne is lower in
fat and calories. Where did Dave go out to eat? Maybe it's very
different in Davis, California, but over here in the UK, you'd be hard
pressed to leave the house. Did Dave just not attend weddings and stuff
like that, or did he pack a bagel?
And can you imagine inviting Dave over to your house for a dinner
party? Let's say you'd invited Dave personally and only remembered to
tell your spouse at the last minute; they'd flip out! That's one meal
for Dave and something else for your other guests. :)
Okay... so, I look at Dave Scott, and I see a very focused eater. He
pretty much ate as well as one could. But then you look at his legend,
at *the man*, and those six IMH titles, and you think: fair enough. It
worked for him.
And it worked for Mark Allen, to a lesser extent. Allen was effectively
a vegetarian who ate red meat from time to time as a kind of reward for
his hard-working body. I remember an article in a fitness magazine a
few years back (magazine title escapes me) where Allen was talking
about these cookie substitutes he'd devised that were made with, I
think, lentils and brocoli. Yeah, they may have been totally healthy,
Mark, but don't look for Ben and Jerry's bringing out "Lentil-Broc Dyno-
Shock" anytime soon.
And then we come on to someone like Thomas Hellriegel. Twice the
bridesmaid, Hellriegel took radical steps to ensure he'd win IMH at
least once. Prior to the 97 IMH event, Hellriegel became a vegetarian.
Furthermore, he ate no fat for *six months*. No fat at all! For six
months! But he won the title, and maybe that's all that mattered
(strangely, he hasn't been anywhere near the same force since winning
in '97 -- case of motivational problems, maybe?).
But... then we have Peter Reid. A consistent top-five placer at IMH,
Reid made the breakthrough in '98 with a stunning win (over Van
Lierde), and pretty much every other major IM worldwide. Reid is pretty
much middle-of-the-road when it comes to eating. An example of his diet
from the '99 Road to Kona supplement:
5.00 AM Coffee
9.00 AM Eggs (2), few slices of toast, English muffin, yoghurt, meusli,
banana, bagel with peanut butter and honey.
3.45 PM "Couple of sandwiches"
7.00 PM Burgers and fries in front of the tv, or possibly a meal at the
Reid believes that his diet is fairly regimented, but, let's face it,
he's no Dave Scott in the food department.
Reid's wife, Lori Bowden, arguably the greatest athlete in the sport
since Paula, is the real shining light in this otherwise depressing
piece. Bowden has, by her own admission, a very "athlete-unfriendly"
diet. She pretty much eats whatever she likes. All kinds of junk. One
can only imagine the horrors of those "treats" she stopped at her
Grandma's for while skipping bike workouts a few years back -- probably
Mr Goodbar's and Hershey's Kisses. But Bowden is easily the #1 long
distance triathlete in the sport, further testified by her recent
record-breaking 50KM run.
Troy Jacobson, too, gets my vote when it comes to filling your stomach.
I'll have to dig the article out, but I recall a piece about Jacobson's
Ironman-week race diet in an old Triathlete. Good old Troy puts away,
on average, 2-4 Sam Adam's and 1/2 gallon of B&J ice cream *per day*.
Three cheers for this man!
This has only skimmed the surface: what about the diets of legends like
Newby-Fraser, or Karen Smyers (I'm sure Karen allows herself a few
luxuries), or the current elite like Van Lierde and Michellie Jones?
Of course, one probably needs to take athlete's nutritional revelations
with a decent pinch of low-salt; it's likely that they're stretched to
the same degree as, let's say, the "typical" training week. Troy
Jacobsen may, in fact, eat like Dave Scott, but feels he gets an edge
by saying he eats a little more of the good (bad) stuff. Scott,
meanwhile, maybe ate nothing *but* red meat! He just told us all that
stuff about the cottage cheese to annoy Tinley. Who's to say?
And who's to say what makes a good diet? Let's face it, "expert"
nutritionists change their opinions practically every year on what is
good and bad for the body. Just a week ago, I read a piece that stated
that "experts" are now claiming a glass of beer is healthier than a
glass of red wine. I knew my body wasn't lying to me.
I'm willing to go the extra yard when it comes to getting the right
fuel for the body, but I'd like to be confident that I'm not shooting
myself in the foot, at least mentally, when it comes to skipping that
chocolate brownie. Or an ice-cold beer on a hot day. Or a quarter-
pounder with cheese (albeit once every six weeks). If somebody out
there can prove to me that a vegetarian, or zero-fat diet will make me
into a super-athlete, then I'm up for it! But the problem is, nobody
Maybe we're only a decade away from some kind of new method or computer
that can analyse my body and tell me *exactly* what I should eat to
allow myself to function at my optimum athletic level. We may well
discover that I thrive on a diet of endless brownies, all-beef patties
and beer, or perhaps -- and please, Lord, no -- brocoli and lentil
"cookies", but until such a time, it will remain anyone's call.
Ah, and to my point: how *well* do you eat? When you find yourself
raiding the cookie jar, do you do it with pride, or shame? Do you, too,
rinse the remaining fat from your cottage cheese? Do you find yourself
left-out from the dinner party invitation list? Or do allow yourself
those little extras?
I've rambled on a bit here, and it's time to go. Besides, all this
stuff about what the pros eat has made me hungry. Anyone know where
Lori's grandma lives? :)
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