What started as a bet for David Wallach, author of Chicago endurance athletic blog, Pace of Chicago, resulted in a healthy life change. Not only did training for his first triathlon mean more exercise for Wallach, but the endurance athletic training helped spur him to quit smoking and drinking. Then he improved his diet with a better balance of nutrients.
“They say nutrition is the fourth discipline in a triathlon,” said Wallach. “You know, it’s swim, bike, run and nutrition.”
Now, 12 years after he started training for his first triathlon, Wallach continues exercising and eating right and shares his advice for those looking to boost their own workouts through nutrition:
1. Keep a food journal. It’s his key tip - keep a food journal for one week. Wallach said to write down every single thing consumed each day. The lack of vegetables and the amount of calories consumed may be surprising.
“Look at it and you’ll realize how much garbage you put into your body,” he said.
2. Eat three solid meals each day. “A lot of people just drink coffee for breakfast because they don’t want to get fat, but you have to continue to fuel your body,” said Wallach.
The U.S. Department of Health and Public Services suggests that active 19-50 year-olds consume between 2,200 and 3,000 calories per day depending on age and gender.
Chicagoan Daniel Malinski turned to Wallach as a mentor as he fought to lose over 125 pounds training for the 2010 Chicago Marathon. Malinski said Wallach often reminded him that, even though he wanted to lose weight, he still needed to eat.
"I needed to fuel the machine, as he [Wallach] would say," said Malinski. "Put healthy stuff in, see results and feel healthier."
3. Balance is key. Wallach suggests consuming a range of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and dairy. But the idea of balance is not only about the types of foods athletes should consume. Some believe in significantly increasing calorie and carbohydrate intakes before an endurance event. While Wallach agrees that extra fuel is key, he cautions against stuffing it all down the night before a race. Wallach said to start eating extra calories three or four days before the event instead.
“If you shock your system with that much food, you’re going to lose it all from nerves the next morning in the porta potty.”
4. Stay hydrated. Like many experts, Wallach knows that an intense workout results in sweating and a loss of fluids. The American College of Sports and Medicine says that thirst is a sign that an athlete’s body is headed toward dehydration. They recommend athletes weigh themselves before and after exercising to check their hydration status. If the body weight lowers by more than 3 percent, the athlete is significantly dehydrated. The American College of Sports and Medicine suggests athletes drink water before, during and after exercise.
5. Consume recovery drinks after workouts. The purpose of recovery foods is to replenish the nutrients that you’ve burned after an intense workout. Some eat big meals, while others turn to recovery drinks or supplements. The idea is to avoid sore muscles, dizziness and exhaustion. When Wallach was training for Ironman, he would eat hotdogs as his recovery food, but after working with a nutritionist, he realized that hotdogs weren’t giving his body everything he needed. Per a coach’s recommendation, Wallach tried recover drink Endurox, which he now swears by. Endurox contains minerals and vitamins intended to refuel the body after exercising.
“When I’m done working out, my body craves it,” said Wallach. “After I drink it, I feel better.”
“I realized that the more you put into your instrument, the better that you treat your body from the three disciplines [running, swimming and biking] and stretching, the better you’ll do,” said Wallach. “But nutrition is really the thing that’s going to give you the edge over your competition.”