Fuel Your Fire

Train harder by choosing the right breakfast for your session


Posted: 27 April 2011
by Selene Yeager

How many times have you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? The answer should be 'plenty' and that's because it's true; front-loading your day is essential. But plenty of triathletes disagree on the particulars of a smart morning meal: the fat-phobic suggest skipping it until after your session; those planning a long session fuel up like builders; and those close to a race search for the perfect winning fuel.

Whatever you're doing the idea is to keep your muscles energised, your brain focused and the rest of your systems firing on all cylinders. "You first need to look at the duration and intensity of the training session ahead," says sports nutritionist Barbara Lewin, who works with cyclists and triathletes at Sports-Nutritionist.com. "Then you need to take in foods that give you the fuel to perform your best." Here's how. Calories are based on a 68kg athlete.

Picture credit: Sue Tallow

Easy Spin or Run

Calories: 200 to 300
Time before: 30-45 minutes

Strategy:
You don't need much for a sub-two-hour ride or a one-hour run. But don't skip breakfast. "You'll go into deprivation mode, and risk overeating later," says Lewin. Just 200 to 300 calories will replace the glucose you lost while you slept and let you work longer. Include foods with fibre. "Fibre can increase the amount of fat you burn during exercise," says Lewin. It slows digestion, so your glycogen is harder to access, which forces your body to pull energy from your fat stores.

Try this:
A small bowl of porridge and half a banana

Time Trial or Race

Calories: 400
Time before: About two hours

Strategy:
Triathletes often take in too many calories from the wrong places before a race. A little fibre is OK, but too much can slow you down. Aim for less than two grams by eating foods like bagels and white bread. "Watch for fat, as well," warns Lewin. "Many athletes eat peanut butter, thinking they're getting protein, not realising that it's 70 per cent fat. Then they feel weighed down."

Try this:
Two slices of white bread with jam, 60g of fat-free yogurt, a banana and a glass of orange juice. Eat an energy gel or sweets 15 minutes before the start.

Hard Ride or Long Run

Calories: 600
Time before: Three hours

Strategy:
A tough two- to three-hour ride or two-hour run will burn more carbs than a long recreational ride or even a one-hour race. Consume about one gram of carbohydrate per 400g of body weight. The harder you ride, the more glycogen (carbs) you require.

"You need plenty of energy, which means more food and calories, so eat early enough that your body has time to fully digest them," says Lewin. "Top off with a gel or a few bites of a bar right before you start to ride." Research shows that athletes following this eating strategy can push 20 per cent harder near the end of rigorous exercise than those who don't eat before they start.

Try this:
A bowl of porridge, one slice of toast with a tablespoon of nut butter, 200g of yoghurt and glass of orange juice. Have a gel, a few bites of bagel or some sports drink 30 minutes before you start.

Long Ride

Calories: 400 to 500
Time before: Two hours

Strategy: Because you won't be going full throttle, you can eat a wider variety of foods. Lewin suggests a breakfast rich in mixed carbohydrates, plus a little protein and healthy fat. This will give you an energy boost and prevent you from running out of steam.

Try this:
Two pancakes, 100g berries, 200g of fat-free yogurt and one slice of bacon or a scrambled egg.


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