Working With a Nutritionist

August 2, 2016


Amazingly athletes will hire every kind of coach before they work with a Sports Nutritionist.  They'll download every kind of swim-bike-run App before downloading a meal tracking one.  When it comes down to food we don't want oversight, thank you very much.  "If the furnace is hot enough...", and all that stuff.  And here's a true story that won't help.

In 1992 the night before she set the course record for women at Kona, Paula Newby Fraser had 5 slices of Domino's bacon-cheeseburger pizza and a third of a pan of slightly under baked brownies (which she poured milk over).  She then did a 8 hour 55 minute Ironman.  We're not sure anything she ate was organic and non-GMO.

Now, this was back in the day when people on bikes that today wouldn't sell on Craigslist and wearing running shoes we'd be embarrassed to wear to paint the house were setting the course records that still stand today.  These people ate whatever the hell they wanted.  Almost.

So how does sharing this story help guid you to working with a nutritionist?  Well back in the day these folks didn't have sponsors to please and didn't make a living going from race to race and setting world records.  They did it because they loved it.  This afforded them the ability to train as much as they pleased AND to rest as much as they pleased as well.  No one knew what triathlon was doing to their bodies or how to even fuel for distances and events no one thought to bring together.  These folks weren't wealthy.  They just loved it.  Kind of like people who get up at 6:00 AM to swim-bike-run on a perfectly good weekend morning for nothing  more than to have their pictures plastered all over social media.

Oh back to a nutritionist.  So the old guard, Dave Scott, Paula, Karen Smyers, Mark Allen, Dave McGillvary, and so on had little to go on except for the knowledge base of marathon and cycling.  But they did use their training level and the ability to rest as a way of balancing high level training with the their nutrition.  Then there's you.

Now there's a good chance that your week did not match Mark Allen's week at his competitive optimum.  Just guessing here.  (For those of you who are not familiar with Mark he won more Ironman Championships than miles you put in last month.) In fact there's a good chance our Olympic team and the top field at Kona didn't have one of his weeks.  But back to you.  You do triathlon because you love it and have a job and possibly a life (just a guess here) that won't allow you to put in one of Mark's weeks.  Yup, your furnace ain't never gonna be hot enough.  And this is where a Sports Nutritionist or a Nutritionist can make key and effective adjustments to your daily diet without you splurging for the $400 can of Meat-Head Protein Powder.  Notice we said, "adjustments" as nutritionists understand the physical and emotional complexities of why you binge Oreos during The Bachelor: their adjustments must take hold and help your, ahem, performance.

So now here is where the stories above come in as well - you need to learn to work with a nutritionist (they're not free) to the best effect for you and your performance:

  • Before working with a nutritionist log both your eating and daily details that can affect your eating for a couple of weeks.  Make sure your training log is kept up to date as well including all your measurements.

  • Establish what your objectives are.  Losing 20 pounds is very different from taking 20 minutes off your Olympic best.  We'll give you a clue here and tell you that losing poundage isn't what your nutritionist will be going for.  They'll be more interested in your overall health.

  • On this same point your nutritionist will be interested in your ability to train and what the long term picture is.  Are you training for a season of sprints?  Is an Ironman in the picture?  Do you train with a group or alone?  Do they make you have breakfast after training?

  • Do some learning and understand what micro and macro nutritients are.

  • Identify if there are any medical conditions that may restrict your nutrition planning.

  • Be as honest as you can and write down what your life style preferences are.  winning Kona and partying all night every night may be a conflict.

  • Yes, we'd all like to be like Paula but there's little chance you're going to get that plan.  Expect a plan in which small changes come first.  There's not going to be a "No Oreos" moment.

  • Your nutritionist is going to very interested in the intensity levels you work at.

  • Know your injury history and the likelihood of recurrence.  Should injury repeatedly manifest your nutritionist may recommend a significantly different plan(s).  Remember, your nutrition can contribute to injury as much as anything else.

  • Bring your training plan and the name and contact info for your coaches.  At some point there may be conversations between them (with your permission of course.)  Over the last ten years the staff of Dt has spoken with every sort of medical professional to help our athletes meet their health goals.

  • Be prepared to hear the obvious but take note of the gradual changes recommended.  There is nothing earth shaking that's going to come but understand why certain recommendations are being made.  If indeed better performance is a goal then be prepared to ask a lot of questions especially if sports specific products are being recommended.

  • Stand up and walk away if the first recommendations are a line of products.  (See story about Paula and Pizza above.)

  • Look for credentials.  As an example Coach Jean has an accreditation and is an experienced Ironman athlete and has been training triathletes for seven years. Our Nancy Clark has been a sports nutritionist to the Red Sox and Celtics along a number of pro triathletes.  

If you ask many accomplished triathletes where was the biggest inflection point they will say it was working with a nutritionist.

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