It's been 4 years since I originally wrote an article where I shared my tips for "surviving" the Silly Season. I recently realised that some of the things I mentioned longer match my way of thinking. With that in mind, here is the remastered version 😉.
Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year. I enjoy it so much because I love spending time with family, friends and I relish the atmosphere of happiness and harmony that you can feel everywhere. Food is also at the top of my list. A lot of what was prepared in my house when I was growing up was rarely cooked at another time of the year. Now that I live overseas, I enjoy the food even more every time I visit Mexico. I have also learned to enjoy the food that is prepared in Australia as well as sharing some of the Mexican cuisine by cooking the family stuffing recipe. Apparently I have turned it into a tradition over here too.
This year the circumstances have been very different and many people will not have the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones or have the agenda full of parties and festivities. I still thought it was important to share with you these points that I consider essential.
Even though the article is called “Guilt-free Silly Season”, I promise you none of my tips will result in a look of terror from your nanna when you suggest she makes a sugar-free cake.
This pandemic has shown us how important it is to value what we have. Take the time to be with your loved ones and enjoy their company by staying in the moment . Stressing about how many calories you're eating or how much weight you think you're going to gain, will only distract you from the things that really matter like the company of those around you and the hands that prepared the delicious food in front of you.
Skipping meals or not eating enough during the day to "save calories" will only make you hungrier at dinner, end up eating more than you needed, and enjoying less than you should.
Sometimes this is unintentional. We get so busy chatting, cooking or travelling during the day and we forget to eat. Try to listen to your body and eat if you're hungry, preferably choose foods that you know will make you feel good and that will keep you satisfied for longer.
Filling your plate with vegetables or salad isn't going to stop you from finding room for the casserole or the things you really like. It is better to fill your plate with what you love the most from the start and give yourself the time to enjoy it. By the way, if vegetables or salad are on the list of things you enjoy most... go ahead! But this applies to the rest of the food too.
You don't have to try absolutely everything there is, especially if you are already full, remember there’s usually enough for leftovers.
What's done is done. Hating yourself for everything you ate and how "bad you behaved" doesn't help at all.
Staying active has countless benefits, however "burning dinner calories" does not belong on this list. Killing yourself by exercising the next day to compensate for everything you ate is neither necessary nor healthy.
If you're going to exercise, do it because you enjoy it, don't use it as a punishment for everything you ate or as a way to justify everything you're going to eat afterwards.
Thinking about January as the month you're going to “behave yourself”, start your diet and finally “be good” only causes you to feel guilty during December. It's impossible to enjoy something when it's done with guilt. "I’ll be good in January” practically translates into “what I’m doing right now is wrong but I will fix it later”. This prevents you from following everything I just recommended and prevents you from enjoying the things that really matter during this season: family, friends, health and all the good stuff.
Thank you for reading! I wish you a merry Christmas and hope you and your loved ones are enjoying good health.
The Ironman 70.3 is an endurance event with an approximate duration of 4 to 7 hours during which our body is subjected to a constant effort, so physical and mental preparation are vital to achieve a successful result. In addition to proper training, nutrition plays a fundamental role in this physical preparation. Whether this is the first time you will compete at this distance or you already have accumulated experience, mastering your nutrition strategy will help you achieve the best outcome.
Days before the race… Let the feast begin!
Aah… the famous carb-load, that longed-for time when many athletes treat themselves with less-than-perfect foods under the pretence of “carb-loading”. I once saw a crossfit coach eating Nutella from the jar as part of “carb-loading” for her weekend’s competition. It was Wednesday (oh dear).
Don’t get me wrong, properly executed carbohydrate loading is very important and its positive impact on performance is well-proven. However, there are certain rules we need to follow to make sure we are having the proper carbohydrate loading instead of just loading kilojoules, or worse, extra kilos before the race.
For an event such as the half ironman, the carb-loading needs to start 36 to 48 hours before the competition. This means that if your race is on Sunday, your carb-loading should start Friday and continue through Saturday.
Carbohydrates should be the priority for your meals, but this doesn’t mean that now you have an excuse for only having high-sugar foods. This is a trap since foods high in sugar are usually high in fat too (yup, Nutella falls into this category </3 )
An intake of 8 to 10 g of carbohydrate/kg of body weight is recommended. This means that if you’re a 70 kg athlete, you should be having 560-700 g of carbohydrate per day.
Protein and fat intake should remain the same and, if possible, decrease a little bit.
“Thanks for the numbers, Gaby but I don’t want to count grams for everything I eat”… alright, alright… here are some practical tips:
Split your meals into 3 main meals and 3 snacks. In each of these make sure you’re having high carbohydrate foods (fruits, rice, pasta, bread, wraps, oats, etc.).
I said you shouldn’t have ALL your carbs from sugar but adding some to your meals certainly helps to increase carbs intake (i.e. you can have a slice of bread with jam or honey as a snack).
Drinks are quite helpful as well. During these days you can have a glass of juice or sugar sweetened tea and have some Gatorade/Powerade with your snacks.
Try having 1 to 2 extra serves of carbohydrate per meal (i.e. if you usually eat half a cup of rice, try having a full cup).
This is an example of what your day would look like
Well done! You completed your carb-load with success but this is just the beginning… Today is the day! Breakfast is very important for making sure you start your race with your fuel tank full (you’ll need it, trust me).
Eat your breakfast 2 to 4 hours before the race. The advantage of triathlons (I see it as an advantage) is that usually 2 hours before the race starts you need to be in transition getting all your gear ready so the chances of being awake 3 hours before your start are quite high… take advantage of it! I usually suggest that my clients have breakfast as soon as they wake up, that way you have enough time for processing your breakfast.
Don’t, I repeat, DON’T eat something you’re not used to. Make sure you try your breakfast before with training.
The guidelines suggest having 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrate/kg of body weight. So if you’re 70 kg, you’ll be having 70-280 g 2 to 4 hours before the event.
Avoid fat intake as much as possible and keep your fibre intake low.
During the event… Avoid hitting the wall!
Have you heard this expression before? In Mexico we sometimes say “se me acabó el Gansito” which translates to something like “I ran out of Twinkies”! And yes, it’s exactly that, you run out of fuel. You have your fat stores but the body can’t burn these stores as easily as it burns carbs so performance starts decreasing significantly. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to include carbohydrate consumption during the race and the recommendation is to have 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour.
There is a great range of products you can have such as gels, jelly beans and bars that are high in carbohydrates. If you have the talent and inclination you can also make your own snacks with bread, honey, jam or dried fruit. I usually recommend getting pre-packaged products as I find them easier to carry but that’s your own choice. As long as you get your carbs in, there’s no big deal. Sports drinks are also very useful since they help you to stay hydrated and carb-ed at the same time.
Here’s a table with high-carbohydrate foods that can help you choose what you’re having during the race:
After the event… you crossed the finish line but this is not over yet
Congratulations! You crossed that finish line, what a wonderful accomplishment after all those hours of effort, not only during the race but during training as well… Well done! But guess what? Your race is not over yet, at least not nutritionally speaking. Recovery is extremely important! (No, I don’t mean beer.) Even though you executed your carb-load, you had a great breakfast, and you topped-up your carbs during the race, your body is running on empty and it is crucial that you recover those nutrients ASAP.
Quite often, after such a big effort, you don’t feel that hungry, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat – it’s totally the opposite! This is the moment where your body is ready to get those nutrients and send them straight to your muscles so they can recover properly. So take advantage of what is offered to you at the recovery zone, eat that fruit, drink the choc-milk and gobble down a sandwich or an energy bar.
Just as you need the right food, hydration is very important. Losing as little as 2% of your body weight in water can have a significant negative impact on your performance so make sure you drink water before, during and after your race.
Other general tips
Caffeine intake has been shown to have a positive impact on athletes’ performances. Having your breakfast with a strong cup of coffee with sugar/honey (carbs!) could be beneficial. This is without even mentioning the other great benefit of having coffee in the morning.
Don’t try anything new during the race. This is very important, make sure you try all that I’ve mentioned before during training so you know how your body reacts to it.
More is not always better. Yes, 60 grams of carbohydrate can help you perform better, but this doesn’t mean that 120 grams will give you super powers… don’t do it! Your gut has an absorption tolerance of ~60 grams of glucose per hour so having more than this increases your chances of having gastrointestinal discomfort.
Do you have any questions? Would you like to share your experience with me? I would love to hear it! email@example.com
Good luck at your race!
Cermak, Naomi M., and Luc JC van Loon. “The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid.” Sports Medicine 43.11 (2013): 1139-1155.
Higgins, Simon, Chad R. Straight, and Richard D. Lewis. “The Effects of Preexercise Caffeinated Coffee Ingestion on Endurance Performance: An Evidence-Based Review.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 26.3 (2016): 221-239.
Jeukendrup, Asker E. “Nutrition for endurance sports: marathon, triathlon, and road cycling.” Journal of sports sciences 29.sup1 (2011): S91-S99.
Rankin, Janet Walberg. “Dietary Carbohydrate as an Ergogenic Aid for Prolonged and Brief Competitions in Sport.” IJSNEM 5 (1995).
Finding time for cooking can be complicated for athletes with tight schedules. Fitting the extra time for cooking into a day already busy with training, work, family and life can be a lot of work.
Preparing food in advance is a great way of adding quality and variety to your diet. Taking extra time one day a week can lower the stress around mealtime and increase your ability to enjoy nutritious and delicious food while saving time and money.
When it comes to meal prepping, the first image that comes to mind for most people is a fridge full of containers with meals individually packed for the whole week. However, I see some downsides to this method:
Having the same meal every single day can become very monotonous.
The chance is high that towards the end of the week the food will become less appealing, either because it has been sitting there for a while or because you have had enough of it.
If some elements in the container go off quicker than others the whole meal can go to waste.
The method that I like and often recommend is to prepare a few individual items. This allows you to build different meals and snacks around those items. Here are some additional benefits of doing this:
It adds variety to your meals.
They can be stored for longer than a week. Some things can be cooked in bulk and portions frozen for another time.
It is easier to store these elements in ways that will increase their storage life.
With this in mind, here are my top 5 tips for nailing your meal prep.
You will need to store food so make sure you have adequate containers, and ensure they are freezer friendly.
Silicone freezer bags are great to storing food or taking snacks with you without using disposable plastics such as Ziploc bags.
Having gadgets such a rice cooker or multi-function cooker can be handy too. Rice cookers are relatively affordable and, as someone who used to either overcook or undercook her rice, this gadget has been truly appreciated in my house.
If possible, try to cook in batches things that you know can work well in different dishes or formats. For example, one of my favourites is cooking 1 kg of chicken breast at once. I add some seasoning such as salt, pepper or BBQ seasoning before cooking them, then I split them in individual portions and freeze them in silicone bags.
From here I can either a) add them to my lunchbox the night before with some salad and pasta or rice so they are defrosted and ready to eat the next day or b) have them available to add to soups, make as sandwiches, or mix with different type of sauces to add to dishes.
Other things that I love cooking in batches are roasted vegetables, soups, mince meat, dressings and sauces.
Probably one of the most frustrating things to prepare in advance are salads. It's often hard to store them in the fridge without them wilting very quickly. Even though they are still unlikely to last the whole week, I have found that chopping different veggies in advance and storing them in individual containers increases the likelihood of them staying nicer for longer.
I still recommend that, whenever possible, you chop your vegetables closer to the time you will eat them so they can be as fresh as possible.
There are some pantry essentials with a long storage life that can become the perfect companions to some meals. These are particularly handy when you have 3/4 of a meal ready but you are missing the carbohydrate or protein. I always have these available in my pantry: tinned tuna, tomatoes, beans, corn kernels and chickpeas.
Look at the week ahead and plan in advance to ensure you have everything you need. This also includes your time - having big plans and finding out halfway through you don’t have enough time to execute them can become very frustrating.
Lock some time in your schedule when you think it is going to be most convenient for you to spend 1-2 hours in the kitchen.
Make a list of the things you would like to cook and the order you are going to cook them.
Get all ingredients and gear required.
Set good music (recommended)
I’ve been a dietitian for more than nine years, and during this time, I’ve been a strong advocate for nutrition and how this can make a significant positive impact on an individual’s performance and health. In addition, being a triathlete has helped me understand the main struggles endurance athletes face when it comes to improving their nutrition.
Information overload. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the best diet to follow, the new magical supplement and the #1 food you should avoid.
Constant body battle. Your body refuses to change despite how much you train or look after what you eat.
You are going nowhere. It feels like you are barely improving. You are often cranky, lacking energy and unable to bring out your best self.
Understanding how to use nutrition to your advantage is fundamental to unlocking your true potential. The following are key principles I have identified as paramount in ensuring an athlete uses nutrition to maximise their performance potential and take your performance from average to outstanding.
Get your foundations right
A common mistake I see is thinking that nutrition is a quick fix. Unfortunately, I know many people wasting time and energy finding that ‘magical supplement’ or following a trendy diet hoping it will be the solution to all their problems.
As much as we all would love a quick fix, unfortunately, that is not the case. Fuelling your core is all about getting your foundations right. Ensuring your diet has all essential nutrients that you are consistently fuelling throughout the day and paying attention to hunger and fullness cues.
When all essential nutrients are present in your diet, your body has the vital tools it needs to work as efficiently as possible. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients your body needs daily. When one of these nutrients lacks, the body needs to make adjustments that can ultimately create imbalances.
Diets advising against consuming any of these nutrients are likely to be unsustainable and to put both your health and performance at risk.
Eat what you need when you need it the most
The ultimate purpose of your training sessions is to provoke a physiological adaptation that eventually will lead to improved performance. This is because your systems receive different stimuli depending on the type of training, and your body adapts in different ways. Ultimately, the idea is that you can perform the same effort faster, better or easier next time.
It turns out that nutrients and energy are critical for each step along the path. Your body needs the energy to complete that training session, but it also needs nutrients for those adaptations to occur.
Fuelling your endurance means ensuring that you can commence your training sessions feeling energised, maintain your energy levels throughout the session and optimise your recovery and performance adaptations afterwards.
A frequent error I see athletes making is underestimating their training sessions. They often think the session won’t be as hard or long, so eating before or during is unnecessary. However, even if you can complete your sessions in a fasted state, many athletes would likely benefit from consuming energy beforehand.
Another essential thing to keep in mind is the importance of prioritising post-workout recovery. Right after your training session, your body becomes very efficient at absorbing essential nutrients that will replenish your fuel stores and repair your muscles. So in the first hour after your training session, remember the following: Refuel, repair and rehydrate.
“Do not try anything new on race day” is a saying known by most athletes. As important as I think this is, I believe most people do not adequately implement this phrase. Just because you ate an energy gel while running and nothing happened, it doesn’t mean that having five while running a marathon will go as smoothly. Therefore, it is important to try things the way you intend to do them during the event.
Doing this will help you decide if what you are planning is truly going to work or if some adjustments need to get made BEFORE completely ruining a race and months of preparation for it.
Fuelling your performance is all about feeling confident at the start line, knowing you have a successful plan to ensure you will feel energised during the event. As a result, the likelihood of gut issues is low and that you will be crossing that finish line feeling strong.
This principle took me the longest to understand, mainly because they don’t teach this at uni. You learn about nutrients, pathways and systems but rarely about the influence food has on mood and its cultural and social implications. All this seems secondary and irrelevant.
I thought that what was pulling me towards eating certain foods was weakness and lack of willpower for a long time. I used to think that maybe I didn’t want it bad enough. I now understand that food is more than energy and fuel; food is connection, family, joy. Having a truly healthy and balanced diet also means embracing and accepting these other components of food.