Can Proper Nutrition Really Make a Difference?

Can Proper Nutrition Really Make a Difference?

amy and suzy at et lake zurich triathlonby Amy H.

How can two races just three weeks apart have such different results? The races were both Olympic distance triathlons, Pleasant Prairie and ET Lake Zurich. The bike course for Pleasant Prairie is a little longer at 27 miles instead of 24.5 for ET Lake Zurich and the run at ET Lake Zurich is slightly more hilly with a couple of rollers, so in essence very similar races to train for.

After completing Pleasant Prairie the only things good I can say about my race that day were that I had a very straight swim, I was feeling really good in T1 and I finished. Not wanting to dwell on the negative, let’s just say that I knew about a mile into the run at Pleasant Prairie it was going to be rough and I would be walking just to finish. There are lots of demons that creep up on you when you are having a bad race day, things like:
“Why am I even here? Who am I kidding, I can’t do this! I am NEVER doing this again!”

Coach Suzy and I talked about Pleasant Prairie right after the race and after hearing me talk about some of the things I did, or better yet, didn’t do, it was highly suggested that I talk with ET Team Dietitian, Laurie Schubert as soon as possible.

So if you didn’t figure it out by the suggestion that I talk to Laurie, Coach Suzy believed poor nutrition was at the root of my bad race day. To most people I eat fairly well, focused on fresh and minimally processed foods. However after completing the Chicago Marathon in October, I started gaining weight and some of my old habits were creeping back in … 2PM at work became the time I stopped at the vending machine for a snack EVERY DAY. Let’s just say nothing good comes out of the vending machine at my office at 2PM. About a month before Pleasant Prairie I got on the scale and saw a number I had promised myself I would never see again staring me in the face. It was time to get serious about losing weight again. There was no way I was going back to 315 lbs, I had worked too hard to get to where I am. I got back on a strict calorie intake diet; it had worked when I first started my weight loss journey, so no reason to change what worked in the past. So here it is the day before Pleasant Prairie and for about a month now I have been seriously counting calories. The pre-race meal of the usual pasta and chicken had turned into chicken over spinach because I wanted to keep the calories in check. I wasn’t thinking about fuel for the race the next day. Tip on race day nutrition: unless you practice hydrating on the bike while moving you won’t do it on race day. How many go for the long group rides and take in most if not all of your hydration and fuel while stopped, either at a stop light/sign or while waiting to re-group? Yeah, well, that was me. At Pleasant Prairie, I had two bottles of hydration leave with me out of T1 and 1 ½ bottles returned with me back in T2. This is the part where you can shake your head, I know – not good. Lesson learned: practice hydration on the bike, while moving.

Laurie was nice enough to schedule a meeting with me very quickly after Pleasant Prairie. Let’s just say going into that meeting I still wasn’t convinced that nutrition was the main reason that the race didn’t go well, as the self doubt in my ability to train for and successfully complete an Olympic distance triathlon was still there. I highly doubted that I would make myself race at ET Lake Zurich; in fact I doubted I could ever do another triathlon.

Laurie and I talked about the recent strict calorie reduction, and she actually suggested taking in more calories. This was so counter intuitive to me; I want to take in fewer calories to lose weight, not more. Anyway ET Lake Zurich was now 2 ½ weeks away and Laurie’s advice helped me have an amazing experience in October when I completed the Chicago Marathon. I had to trust what she was saying and turn my own brain off, pretty much like I do with Coach Suzy’s workout plan. On that front, I really thought that the volume of training would go up. You know, to get me ready for ET Lake Zurich. It actually stayed pretty much the same, if not slightly less.

In essence the only thing that changed between the two races was nutrition. I purposely started riding on my own so that there would be no stopping and regrouping. If I was going to hydrate on the bike, it would have to be while moving. This takes practice. Being a numbers person, I set my alarm to vibrate at me every fifteen minutes when riding, that way I knew it was time to drink. Next I focused on timing of fuel after a workout. I made sure to get in some calories within 20 minutes after I was done, and focused on the 3-4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein to help with recovery. I had never really focused too much on recovery nutrition before; my thought was always why do I want to consume what I just burned off. Again I just trusted what Laurie was suggesting. I added in a few extra calories a day, mainly just for recovery nutrition. Something strange started to happen: mid week workouts were becoming less fatigued and my long weekend workouts seemed to be improving too.

Then it was just a mere three weeks later, one would think not nearly enough time to significantly improve performance. I was excited about race day, I was ready. ET Lake Zurich 2015 was an amazing experience! I actually improved overall pace in each leg, and the best part was that the run pace was better by 2:21. I finished ET Lake Zurich feeling strong. Thanks to Coach Suzy who wouldn’t let me not do ET Lake Zurich and Laurie for helping me start to put the pieces of the nutrition puzzle together.

Lessons learned from the Tale of Two Triathlons:
• You can’t out exercise poor food choices: junk fuel in, poor results out
• You have to practice race day hydration/nutrition all the time, not just expect it to show up on race day
• Nutrition training is just as important as training in each sport. This includes recovery, since it the best way to be ready for your next training session.

Well it’s 2PM, time for a snack, good thing nutrition planning is in place and I have my Greek yogurt and granola ready, plus tonight we swim at 5PM …. A little pre-work out nutrition to make sure I have what I need to make the most of it.

Enjoy all the photos from our day at the ET Lake Zurich Triathlon on the ET Photo Gallery!

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