It’s been a cold, wet winter here in Vancouver, but the spring weather is so close I can almost taste it!
The cherry blossom trees are beginning to bloom, the on-and-off wet snow we’ve had since December has been replaced with rain, and I no longer feel like I’m going to freeze the second I step outside.
And it’s about time! Many of the runners I coach have been itching for more pleasant running weather, and I’m totally in the same boat. While I don’t LOVE running when it’s wet, cold, and windy, I can still handle it. Cycling on the other hand? Count. Me. Out.
My official training season for my upcoming half ironman in July doesn’t begin until April 2, but I’ve been spending a good chunk of time in the pool and on my bike indoors to prep my body for the longer-distance training that’s on the horizon.
Another big area I’ve been focusing on, however, is my nutrition.
Nutrition: The Fourth Discipline of Triathlon
Nutrition is an area most triathletes don’t give the attention it deserves. We all know endurance athletes require more carbohydrates than the average gym-goer, but a lack of proper planning and a misunderstanding of the basics of nutrition can lead you to fuel yourself with highly-processed carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Not ideal if you’re looking to avoid the dreaded bonk.
And when you’re training for longer distances, it’s simply not enough to eat a bagel and banana before your workout and expect to be able to keep yourself together until the post-ride waffle binge happens four hours later.
It’s possible to train your body to become more of a fat-burner than a sugar-burner, but the vast majority of triathletes follow the tried and true eat-as-many-carbs-as-possible diet. So when your body is used to using carbohydrates for fuel and you run out of the carbohydrates you have stored in your body (which you inevitably will if you aren’t re-fuelling during longer workouts), your legs and your brain will say “no more” and you’ll hit the proverbial wall.
After my Energy Usage Analysis at Peak Centre for Human Performance, I learned I need to be taking in WAY more carbohydrates than I am during my workouts. I’m still sticking with my plan of maintaining a higher fat diet outside of my training sessions, but there’s no doubt about it – the carb-up before, during, and after key workouts is oh-so important.
If I stick with the recommended 44 grams of carbohydrates per hour (and that’s just the low-intensity workouts!), I’m going to need to take A LOT of gels. I can’t say I’m a fan of the idea of pumping my body full of highly-processed carbohydrates for 3+ hours on a bike and another 2+ hours on a run.
To Gel? Or Not to Gel?
The popular sports gels are meant to provide a quick supply of energy and electrolytes to replenish the nutrients we lose while we work up a sweat. Some of these gels are made with natural ingredients, such as dates, and others are more on the artificial side, consisting primarily of processed sugars and flavour extracts. Deeeelicious.
Another problem I have with the idea of consuming gel after gel on a long ride, is what the heck am I supposed to do with all the packaging? Tossing garbage on the ground may be an acceptable practice during a race where nice volunteers pick up after you (although I’d still recommend hanging on to it until you encounter a garbage can).
But I can assure you our dear old Mama Nature will not appreciate you tossing your empty gel pack on the side of the road during a long ride, regardless of the healthy activity that accompanied it.
So – what’s a glycogen-starved triathlete to do? The answer, my carb-hungry friends, is medjool dates.
Fuelling Your Body Naturally with Medjool Dates
Medjool dates are high in quick-digesting glucose that heads straight to the liver to be processed into usable energy as soon as it’s consumed. Dates are also high in potassium which is one of the electrolytes that is depleted as we sweat. In fact, ounce for ounce, dates contain even MORE potassium than bananas!
One medjool date contains approximately 67 calories and 16 grams of carbohydrates, so I’d have to eat three per hour on lower intensity rides and runs to hit my recommended carbohydrate quote. Which I’m totally okay with, because medjool dates taste delicious!
What I’ve previously done on long runs is grab a handful of dates, pit them, and stick them in a little ziplock bag before heading out. I was so excited when I found out Natural Delights carries pre-pitted medjool dates, because let’s be real – between pumping tires and filling water bottles and opening up my hips, it takes long enough to get out the door as it is without having to pit my dates.
If you’re used to training and racing with gels, chewing solid food on a long run or ride may take some getting used to. That’s okay! If you’re interested in trying medjool dates as a mid-workout fuelling option, make the transition like you would any other change – in baby steps!
Maybe you’ve been taking 3 or 4 gels on a longer ride or run. Begin replacing one of those gels with 1 or 2 dates to see how they make you feel. Because medjool dates are a whole food option (which I am ALL about), they contain whole food nutrients, including fibre. I recommend testing the medjool dates out in small quantities first to see how they make your stomach feel during a long workout.
Once you’re on the medjool date wagon, and I can assure you you’ll find them much more enjoyable than squirting a sticky paste into your mouth every 30-45 minutes. Your body will thank you for fuelling it like a mean, clean, training machine, as will our dear old Mama Nature.
As for myself, I’m looking forward to continuing to fuel my body with high quality healthy fats outside my workouts, and clean, natural sources of carbohydrates within so I can cross the finish line of my first half ironman in my healthiest and strongest state possible.
Have you ever tried fuelling with medjool dates during a workout? If so, what’s your favourite way to have them?
My thoughts on using medjool dates as a natural fuelling option were sponsored by Bard Valley Date Growers, however, as always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.