Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Essential Nutrition To Support Prolonged Training

2-weeks into my base Ironman triathlon training and I am already feeling the training stress. Juggling multiple roles in life and work takes a lot from the body. I've been aware of my own body changes and reacting to the training. Just yesterday, after a (just) 30minutes of trainer on Turbo (which meant high cadence), I felt what I've not felt for a long time - difficulty in standing upright upon coming off the bike. Fair enough that the training mileage has been increasing the way it was planned, the following four weeks of base training will only start to demand more from me physically and mentally. Recognising these, nutrition, apart from rest comes into the equation. Honestly, this is two area I am personally struggling as I squeeze more time to do other things that matters more, like spending time with the family.

The idea of nutrition or some would call it supplement is to protect the body from extensive tissue damages, boost the immune system and to lessen oxidation stress. While all these may sound complicated, I aim to (again) use myself as an experiment to see how I would react to these lack or excessive nutrition. I aim to be as natural as possible, if that is not possible, an alternative would be suggested.

Vitamin C - With less rest and more training, adding on to a prolonged training, your immune system will start to get weaker and a normal cold will turn into a full blown flu which will render you not able to train for days, if not a week. Most of us fail to see this coming thinking it will tide away. Vitamin C will help to protect cells from oxidation apart from helping with iron absorption. Lack of Vitamin C will also prolong wound healing (like small cuts or blisters).

Food rich in Vitamin C : All fruits generally with Guava, Kiwi, Orange to be a very good and affordable source of Vitamin C. Don't forget your vegetables such as Broccoli. Eat as much as you want. As a general guidance, two oranges provides 1000mg of Vitamin C, which is what a normal person need per day. As an athlete, go for a the acceptable upper limit (UL) of 2000mg. Excessive Vitamin C will be purged through urine and study has shown mega dose of 5000mg will cause diarrhea.

Vitamin B Complex - There are eight type of Vitamin B researched and each provide different functions. Combination of these eight Vitamin B is known as B Complex. Generally, Vitamin B is known to help with metabolism of fuel to energy. Fuel in this sense is the carbohydrate, protein and fats we eat everyday. Vitamin B Complex help support the neuro system as well. It is known that Vitamin B will help those under stress. It is known to support the heme (iron) profile in the body - which is essential for endurance athletes. Lack of Vitamin B will also contribute to prolonged fatigue, heart palpitation, loss of appetite, numbness or pins and needles sensation and even sore-throat. These are symptoms we take for granted everyday and overlooked without attempting to understand the basis of it happening; lack of Vitamin B or deficiency.

Food rich in Vitamin B Complex : Vitamin B Complex is high in unprocessed food. Meat, fish, nuts, leafy vegetables are high in Vitamin B. It is hard to over-dose on Vitamin B as it is water soluble (similar to Vitamin C) and will be excreted via urination - which explain the wastage that occurs when one takes Vitamin B supplement more than the body can absorb. Avoid energy drink that usually add in high concentration of Vitamin B and claim to "help you get energy". It is not sustainable. If the need arises, a good Vitamin B complex supplement suitable for pregnant women would be the best and cheapest option. 

Good oil/Omega 3 and 6 - Good oil, Fish oil or oil/food rich in Omega-3 and 6 is good as an anti-inflammatory supplement especially if the training involves a lot of impact like running. Apart from that fish oil or food rich in Omega-3 and 6 provides the body a better lipid (fat) profile and assist the body to use fat as fuel - which from the endurance athletes point of view, is a big win. I need to bump up my intake of these good stuff. 

Food rich in Good oil/Omega3 and 6 : Good oil such as virgin olive, virgin grapeseed, virgin coconut, (virgin?) fishoil is a good start. If you are considering to replace your oil at home, always read the label first. Not all oil are created equal as many are refined from pomace or known as second press. The gem is in the first press. Don't forget the good old avocados with good (plant) fats that is another superfood. For food rich in Omega3 and 6, but you hate the smell and taste of fish, there is always the super food known as Chiaseed. I've written about it before. You can read it here. If you have been taking fish oil, be aware of the fish oil source as to minimize taking in contaminated sources (mercury poisoning on mega dosages or accumulative ingestion)

Iron - Feeling tired, over-trained and under-rested? Fatigue may come in various ways masquerading the underlying cause of iron deficiencies in triathletes. The demand of iron in training triathletes (and any endurance sports people for that matter) are the most overlooked factor and many took it too lightly. I had a bout of low iron level that was not funny at all. There is a limit on how much iron can be processed and absorbed by the body. Typical absorption rate is between 1 to 5mg/kg of body mass per day. How did the iron dip happen? When this happened to me in 2009/2010, I was under stress at work and had to keep up with my Ironman training. The body reacts to training and it adapts by increasing the total amount of blood in vessels, including iron-rich red blood cells (that carries the previous oxygen). The concentration of hemoglobin in your blood stays roughly the same, but more iron are used up– and a result, the body start dipping into the iron reserves. Iron depletion has caused many world class athletes their career and even with sophisticated and planned training, it could go undetected. It happened to me and by the time rectification were implemented, it was too late. 

Food rich in Iron - Plant based iron rich food such as soya bean and lentils offer high iron per serving. Traditional spinach is known to be iron-rich. Meat, the red variant and host of shelled seafood carries high level of iron. Key point of iron in food is the bio-availability of this mineral taking into account the body absorption rate. Due to my condition that took close to 6-months to fix, I am on 500mg of ferrous glutanate, which is a more readily available iron supplement. If you are taking iron supplement, don't forget to boost the Vitamin C intake as it will help the absorption.

Powdered green - Powdered green refer to plant based, phyto-rich food that are concentrated and allow the body to readily absorp the nutrition. Some example of this is super food such as spirulina, wheat grass, algae, barley grass. Why are they so needed and potent? One thing is because we can never eat enough green food such as the super food broccoli, spinach, alfalfa and other leafy green. Powdered green functions as a supplement to the already robust diet that incorporate healthy vegetable profile. Remember that this is not to replace real food and if you are, you shouldn't be training for any sports anyway.

Food supplement recommendation  - My choice would be spirulina. Go for the powder form instead of the tabs as it offers better value for money per serving.

Whey Protein - Whey protein is the highest grade of protein you can purchase with your money. Whey protein originates from milk and a by-product during cheese making. Whey protein is almost pure protein when compared gram to gram. Go for the highest concentration, which could be as high as 80% protein per serving. During high intensity exercises, your body will deplete glycogen (sugar) and uses sacrifices muscle mass for energy. As our body regenerates at all time, a demanding training schedule will inevitably wears you out. Refuelling correctly using Whey protein is one of the investment you can put in. Just careful and read the labels. As much as possible, up to two serving can be taken separately per day to allow better absorption and less wastage. 

Food supplement recommendation - no hard and fast rule here. Whey protein should not be mistaken as a "protein shake" or as a meal replacement. Again, it is meant to supplement an already healthy diet for an active training triathlete. Avoid sugar laden "protein drinks" and stay away from those high in fats. Remember to look out for at least 80% purity. 

For more reading on good food we should be eating more, head over to these three articles I've shared back in 2011.

Do share with me your thoughts on what other good food that can be options to sustain an active and support the demanding training that will only get tougher as the day rolls by.


  1. What this supplements really is a mega pack of muscle. I think the hype about this product is a bit too much. That being said, I'm a huge believer in this product, and I love using it.

  2. Ee Van,

    Thanks for 're-releasing' these nutritional tips. I've unfortunately fallen off the healthy eating bandwagon for the past 6 months due to work, life etc taking precedence... and you know how fast things snowball from bad to worse.

    Before I realise it, my last recorded long swim was 6 months ago and the Dailymile account stopped asking me to update my training since June.

    With IM finally coming back to our shores, I am now trying to re-discover that mojo.. Lost em to the stock markets up and downs (as I'd like to reassure myself).

    So, this nutrition tip is really timely and my first step to that Sept 2014 aim is going to be towards emptying that fridge of mine off those leftover cakes and pies...

    Regards, Ariff

  3. Love the tips! I am looking for a skin tightening
    solution as I have recently lost quite a bit of weight. I will take your tips into consideration :) Thanks for the blog!

  4. I usually take vitamins everyday with a very tall glass of water after breakfast. And I definitely try to take them with food and lots of water.