Saturday, October 8, 2011

Paleo for Triathletes: Part 1

This is my 7th year doing very first race was a sprint distance in Strathmore, AB in 2004. I had literally learned to swim 3 months prior, and had purchased my very first tri bike at the same time. The next year, 2005, was the year I really got into triathlon and completed my first Olympic, 1/2 IM, and full IM.

For the past six years, I've become fitter and fitter, but my body shape and size never really altered at all. For someone who trains as much as I do, I expected my body composition to be a heck of a lot better than it was. You wouldn't know by looking at me that I had done multiple IM's!

I am passionate about the sport, but my ego would still get a little bruised every once in a while when I would compare myself to other athletes. Why can't I "lean down?" "I am training 16 hours a week for weeks and weeks on end, and am staying away from junk food and eating clean...What am I doing wrong?!?!" This conversation would play itself over and over in my head.

I was so frustrated -- I had tried so many changes to my diet and nothing worked. I even tried fasting and severely restricting my food intake (the good ole FALLACY of calories in, calories out belief) and you can just imagine how successful that was...

Then, a little over 6 months ago, I stumbled (completely accidentally) upon the Goddess of Paleo, Nell Stephenson's blog. At last, someone put forth a common sense approach to eating and fuelling -- a way of eating that was EASY. I didn't need to go out and buy a whole bunch of new spices to make recipes that I would only make fact, I don't even really need to cook! (My kind of cooking is not having to cook. Heh-heh-heh.)

There are no recipes I have to follow. This was the biggest discovery -- that I didn't need to go out and buy a recipe book and make my life more complicated by following all these recipes. Let's face it, the LAST thing I want to do when I come home from a swim,bike, and/or run is to have to follow some recipe and an hour later I can eat.

When I am hungry, I want to eat NOW. Not have to dink around with a recipe...

My life is more simplified now, and my nutrition is stress-free: I don't follow recipes, I do meal assembly. I cook chicken breasts (that is the extent of my cooking), nuke yams, boil water (yes, this IS my kind of cooking!), and make omelettes. :)

The best thing about my conversion to Paleo? My body has leaned down completely on its own. I haven't had to restrict what I eat, I haven't had to go to bed hungry. I eat when I am hungry and my body composition has literally changed before my eyes. I have gone down 3 swimsuit sizes since March of this year -- without even trying. It's like my body is naturally doing this on its own. I've had friends not recognize me..and I was never a big girl -- always a size 6 at 132 lbs.

Now, here comes the disclaimer...(Hahahahahaha!)

I am not 100% Paleo. I do things that would probably make Nell's hair stand on end, but I am a thousand times better off than I was six months ago, and I am still a work in progress. :)

So what does it mean to eat Paleo? And how do you go about making the transition?

For those of you who have no idea about Paleo (like me) the biggies you need to learn is to eliminate ALL grains and ALL dairy. Let that sink in and terrify you for a moment:
  • No bread, pasta, oatmeal, rice, quinoa
  • No yogourt, cottage cheese, cheese, milk
I knew if I wanted to make a successful stab at changing the way I eat, I would have to make a plan. I decided to work on eliminating dairy first. I started by eliminating yogourt -- this was actually really easy as I always felt a little bloated after I ate it, but I never stopped eating it until now, as I thought "it was good for me." Next, I eliminated cheese.

I knew the whole eliminating grains thing was going to be an all-or-nothing affair however. There was no way I could get around do that half-assed...

So, I went to the grocery store and loaded up on bananas, carrots and yams. And I mean LOADED up. My BFF Charmaine came over to my house one day and laughed at my hoarder-like stockpile of yams and bananas on the kitchen counter. Hahahahaha!

Getting my carbs from carrots and yams -- especially yams , was the secret I'd been missing before in all my previous nutrition-clean up attempts. I would always try "incorporating more vegetables" into my diet in the form of salad...instead of a hearty veg like a yam or a squash. This was a key lesson for me.

I remember the first day I eliminated grains...I baked a butternut squash, then put some olive oil on it and ate it for dinner. I was satiated. SATIATED! For the first time in my life, I didn't feel bloated and heavy and craving chocolate cake like I would after eating 3 bowls of spaghetti. I was thunderstruck. And excited, as I realized I could definitely get used to this way of fuelling!

Now, I need to insert another disclaimer here...

I know a lot of athletes do just fine eating bagels and them I say "Good for you!" But for me, my body responds well by eliminating them. I am writing this series of blog posts for those athletes who have struggled like I have in finding an effective way to fuel and train for IM races.

I have received quite a few emails about the changes I've made to my nutrition, so I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences about my Paleo journey.

I have to plug Nell's blog again, as I have learned so much from perusing her archives, as well as emailing her questions. I've asked questions via her blog as well and she responds with lightening speed. She is an amazing resource.

So...onto the nuts and bolts of a Paleo way of life...You can eat anything you want from this list:
  • Meat (preferably grass-fed, but I am not there yet. I just eat meat from the grocery store: primarily chicken breasts and lean ground beef, sometimes a pork chop. :))
  • Eggs (I eat 21 eggs a week. I am not joking. I was actually shocked when I realized this, LOL!!)
  • Veggies
  • Fruits
  • Good fats (I eat A LOT of avocado, olive oil, Udo's oil)
That is the bare bones summary of what the Paleo way of fuelling yourself entails. There are a number of points to fine-tune things, but to get started I stuck with this list. Granted, at first I ate a bunch of cold cuts (really processed, bierwurst -- LOL!) but gradually, my body sort of made adjustments on its own and I moved away NATURALLY to less processed shit meat.

There is also the concept of timing your eating of fruits - say have an apple after a session instead of while sitting around...but initially, I found it better to just eat whatever fruit I wanted/craved. It is better to eat fruit than a frigging Pop Tart or a 100 calorie Thinsation piece of chemical (and honestly, now....those things are like the mini chocolate bars you get at Halloween -- you CANNOT eat just one.)

Again, over time, I naturally started to shift away from eating so much fruit and started to eat more a handful of baby carrots. Or a bunch of snow-peas. (Now I believe that the Paleo diet calls for an elimination of peas and beans, but I am a work in progress, and eating snow-peas are wayyyy better for me than eating a big bag of dill pickle chips.)

Another BIG lesson for me was the sheer amount of good fat I started eating. In fact, I noticed that when I consumed a hearty amount of good fat in the morning, I had no craving for sugary stuff in the evening. Again, there is a fine-tuning that goes on with the fat consumption...I now eat a lot of good fat throughout the day as well. "A lot" of fat = in terms of what I ate before I made the change to a Paleo-style diet. (Pure Paleo-istas, please forgive my selective way of adopting Paleo principles! Hee-hee!)

So, in a capsule, the things that really changed for me when I first made the shift to Paleo are:
  • The amount of meat I ate increased (like A LOT -- like I would eat the whole rotisserie chicken as a snack, and I am not joking. But remember, I train A LOT.)
  • I put avocado over everything.
  • I started taking Udo's oil 2-3 times a day (I have 2 protein shakes a day, and I put a Tbsp of the oil in each shake. This stuff made my nails stop peeling! It took a few weeks, but sure enough, my fingernails are hard for the first time in my life instead of soft and peeling.)
  • I don't take a strict all-or-nothing approach, I am not hard on myself -- I still consume whey protein, I eat snowpeas, I put Lipton onion soup mix in my meatloaf -- :)
  • I am in more tune with my body -- I eat a lot LESS nuts than I did before, and for me personally, I found it better to stay away from nut butters too. Nut butters go straight to my ass. However, coconut oil, and coconut manna, my body responds to -- in a good, ass-reducing kind of way. :D
Stay tuned for Paleo for Triathletes: Part 2!!

:) :) :) :)


Keith said...

Very interesting! I'm so glad to hear it's working for you. Too bad I missed the chance to check out your bum last weekend.
I could cut down on dairy quite a bit, though I need to find something to put on my granola. Oh, wait, no grains. now THAT would be hard.

Have you ever tried bison? There is a company that does natural bison letting them live they way they used to eating the native prairie grasses, and it tastes great. Lots of iron and nutrients.

Lisa Graham said...

Cool, this is super interesting - thank you for posting this Julie! Sounds like it is really working for you, in terms of both your body changes and your STELLAR race results this season! I will def check out that blog, but not too sure on the whole giving up bagels/cheese/milk for me as those are staples in my diet, but it's worth a look!

Julie said...

Keith -- I have tried bison! There is actually a place in Cowley I could go to get it, but I haven't made the effort to go there again...been there once before.

Lisa -- I was thinking of you and your bagels when I wrote that you know! Hee-hee!! I really believe different things work for different people and if you find out what works for you, then that is golden! :) :) And speaking of stellar race seasons...who is the Queen of Hearts? You are the Queen of Hearts. LOL!! :) :)

Shannon Wicks said...

Just got my copy of The Paleo Diet for Athletes...liking what I have read so far...good post btw

Theia said...

No ice cream????


I don't know if I could do it. Not just ice cream, of course, but eliminating entire food groups. And the two food groups that make up the majority of my diet, at that.

Julie said...

Shannon -- So cool! I am interested in your experiences on your quest to get rid of those pesky GI issues!

Theia -- LOL!! It is totally not for all people -- when I eat ice cream, I fart. And they stink. So, let's just say there is an incentive for me to eliminate that food item. Hahahaha -- same as with pasta. I never knew how much of a stinker I really was until I started eliminating stuff and didn't toot anymore. Go figure. :D

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Interesting, thanks for sharing, alot to think about