When I started doing triathlons, my mantra was that I exercise so that I can eat.  It worked well for me at the time.  I lost 40 pounds because of my change in lifestyle, but I knew I could do more.  I also find myself reading the various triathlete magazines out there which are filled with healthy recipes like the following:

Farmer’s Market Salad

Shredded Romaine, shredded radicchio, roasted corn kernels, fuji apples (diced), dried cranberries, roasted hazelnuts (chopped), avocado, lemon oregano and a dressing with a clove of garlic, fresh oregano, olive oil, egg yolks, and dijon.

I live in Texas… the home of steak and potatoes, and eating out.  I have a full time job.  My wife and I have 3 kids.  You might get the drift.  I’ll need a hefty raise and an extended 2 hours in my day to prepare meals of this caliber.  Many of my colleagues and athletes are in the same boat.  I am envious of those who can prepare and afford such delicious meals.   So for those of us who would like to eat healthy in a simple and effective manner, here are some tips.  (I am an advocate of the KISS philosophy.  Look it up if you don’t know it… and it doesn’t have anything to do with a man who paints his face)

Tip #1 – Don’t Drink Your Calories

This one is basically self explanatory.  A 32 oz soda has roughly 272 calories.  Orange juice, another culprit, has 110 calories per 8 oz, milk also has high calories at 150 and has a solid place in training efforts.  However, milk also has a lot of sugar, so drink wisely.    1 pound = 3200 calories (roughly)  If you cut out your sodas and sweet teas and drink water, you’ll naturally lose weight.

I drink milk after intense workouts because it is an amazing recovery drink.  It has a large amount of simple carbs with protein and other nutrients great for post workout efforts.

Tip #2 – Check Your Fiber

The average American eats roughly 6 grams of fiber daily.  The recommended amount of fiber for women is around 24g and men around 35g.  If you want to check the relative level of “healthy” of the foods you’re eating, check the amount of fiber and protein it has in it.  As a rule of thumb, the more fiber AND protein a food has, the healthier it is for your body.  Fiber bars are nice, but they are fortified, so use them wisely as well.

Tip #3 – Hydrate!

Just like with fiber, we drink too little.  Check out this calculator to see what you should be drinking:

http://nutrition.about.com/library/blwatercalculator.htm

I like to flavor my water, and a flavoring of choice is Mio.  Yes it does have some artificial flavoring, but I take it knowingly and sparingly.  What you decide to do with your water is up to you.

Tip #4 – Protein

The average triathlete should be consuming .6 to .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  I’ve found over the past months that most of my protein comes from my high fiber foods.

For example, 1 cup of Grapenuts w/1 c of whole milk for breakfast = 24g of protein (14g of fiber).  I also get the Healthful bread a Wal Mart which has 5g of protein and fiber PER slice!  Add a slice of cheese and serving of low fat deli meat to the sandwich and you get an additional 25g of protein and 10g of fiber per sandwich.  I typically eat 2 sandwiches, so between breakfast and lunch, I get 34g of fiber and 74g of protein and the food isn’t that bad!

This way I set myself up for a 3rd meal of my choice.  I don’t go overboard, but I’ve got my fiber and a large amount of protein in the bag.  And I didn’t break the bank to do it.

The additional benefit to protein is that it has a thermogenic effect.  That means that 30% of the calories consumed of protein are needed to break that very same protein down.  Your body temperature must be elevated to digest the protein polymers.  Double bonus!  Just make sure you’re not nullifying the effects by eating too much protein which is high in fat.

Tip #5 – Eat Protein Before Bed

I remember when I heard that we shouldn’t eat/snack after 8.  For the average person, this is fine, but if you’re active, you’re breaking down your muscles during exercise.  Your body needs protein in order to build those muscles back up stronger and leaner.  Your body also releases growth hormone while you’re sleeping to aid in recovery.  It is beneficial if you take in a moderated amount of low calorie protein before you sleep.  It will boost your metabolism,  thermogenic remember :), and aid in the recovery process.

Tip #6 – Take Supplements

You don’t need to follow every fad here.  I find the simplest is the best.  Take a good multivitamin formulated for your body type.  Glucosamine helps keep your joints in good repair.  Fish Oil is essential for heart and cardiovascular health.  I take a few other supplements, but they are specific to me.  I take a little creatine to keep me from becoming a stick, and I’ve found the Extreme Endurance helps my recovery by reducing the acidity of my blood.  (I tried raisins once because they are extremely good at this, but my digestive system rebelled, or should I say, the gas it gave me was atrocious!)

Tip #7 – Calories

Oh the calorie conundrum…  It is very helpful to know your resting metabolic rate because it helps you fine tune weight loss and nutrition needs.  I also use VO2 max testing results to know the exact amount of calories burned during exercise with heart rate and duration data.

That being said:  If you don’t have access to these tools, eat the types of foods which are high in fiber and healthy protein, and you won’t have to worry much about the calories.  If you want to take it to the next level, simply know how many calories are in the foods you’re eating.  Eventually, you’ll set aside that 250 calorie candy bar of 300 calorie cookie because you’ll realize that it represents 2 miles of running or 30 minutes of swimming.  Not worth it!  Although, I do admit… sometimes it is worth it.  VERY worth it!  But I get to decide when those times are.

Conclusion

There is always a fad diet out there.  Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages.  If you follow these simple guidelines and tailor them to your individual needs, you’ll end up eating healthier and feeling better.  Don’t forget that there are always exemptions to these rules.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, parties, to name a few.  You’ve worked hard to gain your fitness.  You can splurge every once in a while.  Just don’t make it a habit.

Happy Holidays!