Deborah Giroux of Falmouth began increasing the number of calories she consumed per day about six weeks before the Tri for a Cure triathlon. She gave up alcohol and began eating smaller meals more often.
In mid-May, Dana Lesniak, who lives in Portland, began eating more protein and fruits and vegetables as she geared up for the triathlon. She also added two tablespoons of chia seeds to her yogurt or smoothie to help boost her endurance.
“I absolutely have more energy,” Lesniak says.
It’s a no-brainer that you can’t just go out and do a triathlon without training your muscles and increasing your endurance. Most women begin ramping up their exercise routines months in advance. What some people ignore, though, is the need to prepare your body nutritionally. Veteran triathletes, bicyclists, swimmers and runners say that what you eat as you train for any race is the real key to success. Through trial and error, participants in this month’s Tri for a Cure say they have learned what works and what doesn’t – especially as race day approaches.
“It’s all about nutrition,” agrees Terrie Hoops, 46, who will be traveling from Brandenton, Fla., back to her home state of Maine for her third Tri for a Cure. The race has become a huge part of her life, says Hoops, a breast cancer survivor, motivating her to go on and compete in longer races.
During training, Hoops says she concentrates on eating foods that are highly digestible. Her breakfasts consist of what she calls a pre-race mash of high-protein granola, fruit and Greek yogurt or skyr (a cultured dairy product popular in Iceland that is similar to strained yogurt). According to a website that compared Siggi’s skyr to Chobani’s Greek yogurt, the skyr contains 14 grams of protein, as opposed to the 12 grams in Greek yogurt. Most brands of skyr tend to have a teaspoon less sugar than Greek yogurt.
Like many athletes these days, Hoops swears by chia seeds as part of her pre-race training regimen. Chia seeds have become a highly touted superfood because of their high-fiber content and their starring role in the book, “Born to Run,” about a Mexican tribe of super-runners who could run a hundred miles with little rest.
Hoops says she mixes a tablespoon of chia seeds with water and lemon to drink as she is training.
“They expand in your stomach and hold water,” she says. “By itself, water just sloshes around in your stomach – you need potassium.” (Note: according to a few websites, it is important to let chia seeds, which can absorb 10 times their weight in water, soak before eating them. Rare instances of chia seeds blocking the esophagus have been reported.)
As for post-workout nutrition, Hoops says it is important to eat a small high-protein meal so that your muscles can recover. Lesniak echoes this advice. She uses nutrition powders, which can be mixed into your water bottle, that are specifically designed to restore muscle glycogen, rebuild muscle tissue, and reduce post-exercise soreness.
This will be Lesniak’s sixth Tri for a Cure. Like many women, she has an emotional connection to the event. Her mother was in treatment for cancer when she did the first one six years ago, and though her mother has since died, Lesniak, 39, has made a commitment to the Maine Cancer Foundation, as well as a commitment to endurance sports and good nutrition.
“I just love this event,” she says.
Lesniak has learned some nutrition training lessons through trial and error. She remembers one 80-mile training bike ride in which she failed to bring along anything to eat.
“I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” she says. “I ended up vomiting. I wasn’t sure where I was.”
Lesniak has also learned that the need to “carbohydrate load” the day before a race, at least for her, is a myth.
“It just made me sluggish the day of the race,” she says. “Fueling correctly is really important.”
Deborah Giroux, 50, agrees that establishing a routine is everything when it comes to nutritionally preparing for any endurance race like the Tri for a Cure. She has completed seven half-marathons and this will be her first full Tri for a Cure. Last year she did the 5K run as part of a Tri for a Cure team.
The biggest mistake Giroux remembers making during past trainings was going out to a restaurant the week before and thinking she could eat anything on the menu. She also remembers a time she had eggs for breakfast instead of her usual oatmeal, smoothie and banana the morning of a race. This did not sit well with her digestive system, she says.
Giroux increases her caloric intake from 1,200 to 2,000 while in training and buys “bags and bags” of all kinds of frozen fruits to mix in her daily smoothies. (See recipe). She also eats a lot more bananas to help her avoid cramps.
For all of their commitment to training, all three women admit they’ll kick back and break training once the race is over.
Lesniak says she’ll probably go out and have a big, greasy cheeseburger. Hoops says her post-race go-to food is pizza (or a high protein burrito). Giroux says she’ll probably have a glass of wine and celebrate.
“I want to do well,” says Giroux, who had already raised $5,000 for this year’s race by mid-June. “But no matter what, I’ll finish with a smile on my face.”