January 22, 2014 | Posted in:Nutrition

I am doing to IMUK 2014 in July to support the charity Scope. You can raise money for the charity at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ironcrab.

I have entered my 3rd week of the Tri-Ripped programme feeling comfortable that I have been following the training and the diet required to achieve my goal at the Ironman UK 2014. However, constantly looking to tweak, change and ultimately improve I have been looking at my diet in a bit more detail. The fad at the moment is Paleo or Low Carb Diet?

Which diet is best for Ironman / Endurance Training?

There are literally hundreds of diets out there in the public domain and market. My usual google search for ‘diet’ returns Weight Watchers, 4:3 Fast Diet, 5:2 Fast Diet, Atkins Diet, Diet Chef and Dukan Diet in that order on the first page.

Time to get more specific and look at ironman / endurance training diets. My searches resulted in an interesting array of results with various views on the diet, fuelling and recovery. My very very high level summary of my understanding of the current consensus is that ‘old school’ theory was that an endurance athletes’ staple diet included pasta, bread, rice, bagels and anything else white and sugary to ensure that carbohydrate levels are constantly topped up to support the volume of training that is being undertaken. The ‘new school’ is that your carbs come from ‘clean’ sources such as vegetables and you need to ensure your body does not have an excess supply of carbs. This allows the body to be trained into using your virtually unlimited source of fat as a source of energy. You do need to use carbs to fuel sessions longer than 90 minutes and ensure your daily protein intake is in adequate amount and sufficiently timed for recovery.

The above narrows down the options for the ‘diets’ to the Low-Carb or Paleo type diets. This aligns with the current eating plan I am following in the Tri-Ripped Training Programme. Undertaking a bit of investigation work I came across a number of interesting Ironman and Endurance Athletes that follow such plans. I will outline these below and finish with a summary of the plan that I will be following going forward.


Green Smoothie

Green Smoothie

What is Paleo?

I think that Low-Carb is self-explanatory but I wanted to put an explanation of what The Paleo Diet is which I taken from the website thepaleodiet.com:

The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. The following seven fundamental characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.

  • Higher protein intake – Protein comprises 15 % of the calories in the average western diet, which is considerably lower than the average values of 19-35 % found in hunter-gatherer diets. Meat, seafood, and other animal products represent the staple foods of modern day Paleo diets.
  • Lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index – Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables represent the main carbohydrate source and will provide for 35-45 % of your daily calories. Almost all of these foods have low glycemic indices that are slowly digested and absorbed, and won’t spike blood sugar levels.
  • Higher fiber intake – Dietary fiber is essential for good health, and despite what we’re told, whole grains aren’t the place to find it. Non-starchy vegetables contain eight times more fiber than whole grains and 31 times more than refined grains. Even fruits contain twice as much fiber as whole grains and seven times more than refined grains.
  • Moderate to higher fat intake dominated by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with balanced Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats – It is not the total amount of fat in your diet that raises your blood cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, but rather the type of fat. Cut the trans fats and the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in your diet and increase the healthful monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats that were the mainstays of Stone Age diets. Recent large population studies known as meta analyses show that saturated fats have little or no adverse effects upon cardiovascular disease risk.
  • Higher potassium and lower sodium intake – Unprocessed, fresh foods naturally contain 5 to 10 times more potassium than sodium, and Stone Age bodies were adapted to this ratio. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work properly. Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke – the same problems linked to excessive dietary sodium. Today, the average American consumes about twice as much sodium as potassium.
  • Net dietary alkaline load that balances dietary acid – After digestion, all foods present either a net acid or alkaline load to the kidneys. Acid producers are meats, fish, grains, legumes, cheese, and salt. Alkaline-yielding foods are fruits and veggies. A lifetime of excessive dietary acid may promote bone and muscle loss, high blood pressure, and increased risk for kidney stones, and may aggravate asthma and exercise-induced asthma.
  • Higher intake of, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals – Whole grains are not a good substitute for grass produced or free ranging meats, fruits, and veggies, as they contain no vitamin C, vitamin A, or vitamin B12. Many of the minerals and some of the B vitamins whole grains do contain are not well absorbed by the body.


And Here’s What I Eat During Ironman!

I came across an article from an Ironman athlete call Nell Stephenson at her blog site titled And Here’s What I Eat During Ironman! Nell is an avid Paleo follower and the diet that she describes on race day can be followed any typical training day when preparing for an Ironman. The tweak that would need to be changed depending upon your training for the day would be the gel bars during exercise. Below is a summary of the article:

-Breakfast is Nell’s ‘signature’ smoothie: banana, egg protein powder, 8 oz water and raw almond butter with leftover roasted yam or sweet potato with a black coffee and, of course, plenty of water.

– First PowerBar gel 10 minutes before the race start adhering stringently to the 4kcal/kg body weight/ hr of endurance training & racing for bouts lasting longer than 90 minutes. For Nell, at 116 pounds, (52 kg) this equals 208 kcals or 2 gels per hour. That’s all she eats for the entire race, whether it’s a marathon, a 1/2 Ironman or full Ironman. Nell also uses while racing MetaSalt tabs, one every 30 minutes. (I use and recommend salt stick caps (ensure you keep them dry) or cramp block).

I must jump in and add two points here. One is that there appears to be no Paleo option to fuel sessions longer than 90 minutes with gels constituting the preferred option. Secondly, Nell can go for a whole Ironman on nothing but gels. In previous years I have opted for energy bars on the bike to feel full. I have tried nothing but gels but will be experimenting. I am currently 97kg so using the above method means I need 388 kcals or 3-4 gels per hour (assuming about 27g of carbs per PowerBar gel).

Race Day Fuel

IMUK Race Day Fuel. Make sure you practice your fuelling.

-Recovery is covered by HOMEBREW which is stated as being a must do for recovery for The Paleo Diet for Athletes is a must do for recovery. It’s a formula based on body weight of a high glycemic fruit, like banana, glucose egg protein powder and a pinch of salt.

-Then, it’s a gradual shift back to Paleo eating, keeping in mind that recovery time = length of workout time.


Another article in on the mensjournal.com website titled Paleo’s Latest Converts. This again is based upon the paleo diet and its use by endurance athletes. Again I will summarise below:

Endurance athletes find success with paleo diets.

The article is based around a professional cyclist Dave Zabriskie, ultramarathon runner Timothy Olson, and triathlete Simon Whitfield, who are additions to an increasing list of elite endurance athletes that have pushed away the time-honored plate of pasta in favour of a “paleo” approach to nutrition. Zabriskie has dialed down the carbohydrates and replaced them with copious amounts of healthy fat. And as multitudes of paleo converts claim (and anecdotal evidence suggests), this may be the key to optimizing performance and extending careers into the late thirties and beyond.

The 34-year-old American cyclist started working out at conditioning coach Jacques DeVore’s Santa Barbara gym in October who tempted Zabriskie to experiment with the Paleo diet. (Zabriskie is no stranger to experimentation, Zabriskie competed in the 2011 Tour de France on a mostly vegan diet.) Once he overcame his initial lipid phobia (cyclists live in horror of gaining even trivial amounts of weight), Zabriskie upped the fat in his diet to upward of 60 percent of his caloric intake.

A typical daily food diary entry listed 3,800 total calories. His meals for the day included coconut oil, avocados, eggs, almonds, cashews, chicken breasts, beef jerky, string beans, onions, and protein powder. The nutritional breakdown was 323 grams of protein, 239 grams of fat, and 147 grams of carbohydrate.

I very important point made in the article is that Zabriskie coupled his new dietary approach with high-weight, low-repetition resistance training in the gym, as well as hill repeats, jumping squats, and other forms of high-intensity interval training. The idea behind eating and training this way is to gain strength without gaining weight, train the body to run on fat as a primary fuel source, and naturally maintain high levels of testosterone.

Over the off-season the 6-foot cyclist dropped his body weight from 168 lbs to 154 lbs while improving his dead lift from 150 lbs to 245 lbs. This while increasing his power on the bike by about 15 percent! (This gives me great confidence as the Tri-Ripped Training Programme so far has me adopting this type of approach to my training.)

The article then moves on to Mark Sisson, former Ironman triathlete and author of the bestselling ‘The Primal Blueprint,’ and hence badged as a Paleo guru. Sisson used to think that it wasn’t possible to be a world-class endurance athlete on a paleo diet – that you just couldn’t overcome the need for copious amounts of glucose in the form of carbohydrates without crashing and burning. But now he has changed his mind. He says that one of the problems with the few studies conducted on low-carb performance to date is that they were done on athletes who had not yet fully adapted to burning fat as a primary source of fuel, a process that can take weeks, if not months.

Dr. Stephen Phinney, a professor emeritus at UC Davis, who has spent three decades studying low-carb performance states that the mainstream consensus has been that you need carbs to do anything other than very moderate intensity exercise. But after a period of adaptation, the body will switch over from carbohydrate to fat as its main fuel for exercise with equal or better performance. That makes an athlete essentially “bonk-proof.”

Phinney cites the example of Timothy Olson, who won the 2012 Western States 100, a 100-mile footrace through the High Sierras, in record time on a low-carb, high-fat diet: “He’s so but even if he’s seven or eight percent body fat and only weighs 140 pounds, he still has 25,000 to 30,000 fat calories. If you’re about to undertake an event that’s going to cost you 14,000 calories, which tank would you like to be hooked into?”

Another benefit of the paleo diet is that it may help extend athletic careers by counteracting the deleterious effects of aging, Phinney says. Typically, below 50 grams of daily carbohydrate intake, the body responds by producing a fuel source from fat called ketone bodies, which also have anti-inflammatory properties that combat oxidative stress.

Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield says thinking about his old dietary habits ”I was like, ‘If low fat is good, then no fat must be better.’ I thought carb loading was the way to go.”

Now his diet includes such paleo staples as coconut oil, bacon, and ghee butter, with a focus on quality fats and proteins and “adequate” carbohydrate supply. He credits the switch with much of his professional success, which consists of 10 consecutive Canadian Triathlon Championship titles, gold in the triathlon at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and silver in 2008. It’s also played a role in his athletic longevity.

Final word on Paleo

Continuing on the theme of the Paleo diet I found another couple of interesting sites that you might want to check out but I will not be going into more detail here they are an interview from 2011 with amateur Ironman Triathlete Tristan Jenkins at the myedibleadvice.com. and a blogpost also from 2011 from ironmom title Countdown to Ironman: The Paleo Ironman.

Again these follow on from the above stating low carb, natural food as their basis with no alternative other than gels for longer sessions. To note these two article both state that they are keeping their volume down when training whilst increasing intensity. One thing I will show below is Tristan’s favourite food:

What is your favourite thing to eat…

… before a race?

A Paleo Breakfast of Champions: Bacon and Eggs, with Lots of Avocado.’ I’ve never tried avocado in this way before. I don’t know if I am grossed out by it or not but will certainly be trying it.

… during?

I have yet to figure out a healthy Paleo option for race nutrition. As a result I use an energy gel called CarbBoom and I put a Maltodextrin powder in my water called CarboPro for added calories.

… after?
A green smoothie. Often consisting of avocado, celery, cilantro, banana, fish oil, almond butter, an egg, and any other healthy food I find in the fridge

… anytime?
My favourite things to eat are yams, cubed, and baked in the oven covered in salt and pepper, coconut oil and cinnamon. AMAZING! I struggle to find Yams in supermarkets in the UK (I can’t even find them on amazon!) but you always substitute with Sweet Potatoes (which include anti-inflamatory properties which Yams don’t).

An alternative view

Whilst doing the research for this post I received an email from the infamous and well respected Ben Greenfield which looked like this:

I’m not Paleo.

I personally think it’s a little silly to exclude
certain plants, grasses, dairy and grains…

…when in fact, many of these kinds of
foods you can actually digest if you make
sure you ferment, soak, sprout, etc.

But if you don’t have the TIME to do these steps,
then eating Paleo is an excellent choice.
Low Carbohydrate Diet For Triathletes

The aim of the email was to promote a book which I am familiar with which is the Low Carbohydrate Diet for Triathletes ($17.00  or £13.13 in eBook version). There are a large amount of links in the book that could be clicked in the eBook version but obviously not the printed edition so hence I recommend if you buy the book go for the eBook version. There is a lot of good information in the book mostly with different recipes and meal plans. One thing that is really useful are his recommendations for race day nutrition. This book is great if you are looking for a bunch of recipes. It has lots of great recipes and sample meal plans. The book is quite brief (around 30 minutes reading in totality but it does have a number of great links to the website and other internet links.

Slow Carb Diet

Now I cannot talk about a low carb diet without bringing up The Four Hour Body (£14.99 reduced to £10.39 at time of print) by a guy called Tim Ferriss.This book is not about Low-Carb but a Slow-Carb Diet.

The book is not a back to front read, instead the reader is encouraged to ‘pick a chapter and have a go’ depending upon their goals and what they want to get out of the book. Some chapter options include:

  • Losing fat
  • Gaining muscle
  • Improving sex
  • Improving quality of sleep
  • getting a six pack
  • Controlling body using temperature

Ultimately the diet is broken down into five rules:

1. Avoid “white” carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, white rice, white bread, potatoes). It is advised to emphasize high protein foods, legumes, and vegetables.
2. Eat the same few meals over and over again.
3. Don’t drink calories.
4. Don’t eat fruit.
5. Take one day off per week and go nuts. (I love this!!!)

My Ironman Training Diet Plan

In summary, all current research and evidence, either through testimonials or my own experiences of trying to implement the change of the last couple of weeks, are leading me down the path of the Paleo or Low Carb diet.

I will not be going Paleo as I do not like the whole approach of dictating what you can or cannot eat based upon what was available to our ancestors. It just doesn’t feel right! I will however, be making a conscience effort to reduce my carbohydrate intake in-between training trying to implement as much of the advice as I can from the Low-Carb /  Slow-Carb and the Tri-Ripped Diet Plans as I can. This will mean that my typical day (minus training) will look something like this:

Breakfast: 4-5 egg omelette on wholemeal toast

Lunch: meat (chicken, beef, ham etc) with salad / vegatables and some sort of legumes (lentils, black eyed peas etc).

Dinner: Meat and two veg, optionally brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato etc.

Snacks: protein shakes / protein bars, smoothies (reduce/remove intake of fruit)

One thing that I will additionally be concentrating on is my water intake and ensuring that I initially get 2 litres per day in outside of the amount I drink during training. Pre, during and post training I will ensure that my pre meal will align with the intensity of the upcoming session (i.e. slightly higher on the carbs if high intensity to ensure quality of the session). During the session I will drink nothing but water unless working-out above 90 mins in which I will experiment with gel intake using 4kcal/kg bodyweight/hour. After the session I will have a protein shake with a 3:1 protein to carbs ration to ensure I am on the path to recovery as soon as possible. I will continue in recovery mode for as long as the session itself lasted before reverting back to my ‘slower-carb’ diet.

I will experiment with the 24 hour day-off from the diet to keep myself sane and allow for a couple of beers on the weekend. However, if I am not continuing to lose weight after a couple of weeks I will abandon this approach until I get to me goal weight.

I am happy with this intention and feel that this is not a ‘diet’ but a mechanism to ensure that I am aware enough to make smart food choices during the day but have the incentive of the ‘day-off’ to talk myself into holding off on eating a pie until the weekend.

Sorry if I have waffled on a bit on this one but there was a lot cover. Hope it has been on some help. It has definitely helped me to educate myself on the subject and give me confidence that I am going the right way about it by reducing carb intake whilst increasing intensity of training.

All the best


I am doing to IMUK 2014 in July to support the charity Scope. You can raise money for the charity at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ironcrab.

You can also raise money by using this link to when making any purchases from amazon . A small percentage of each sales will go to the charity if you do.

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