When I first started all this swimming, biking, and running a number of years ago, I was very strict with what I ate. Not that I'm not strict now, it's just I'm not over-the-top obsessed about eating certain things. I went from a can of Coke a day years ago to abstaining from it between January '02 right up to Ironman Canada in August when I planned to have some in the last ten miles of the race to carry me home. Boy was I ever looking forward to that black syrupy goodness cascading down my parched throat and just feeling the boost of sugary energy hit my veins and then surge into my depleted leg muscles, powering me to the finish. You can imagine my disappointment when I grabbed a cup at mile sixteen of the run: eight and a half months of willpower and deprivation came down to this sip...of......warm.........PEPSI!!! Dear God, what had I done to forsake thee?!?!?
Many restrictions in my diet have remained in place over the years: no fast food; only drink pop when on a bender with the vodka; during the latter stages of a race; or as a reward for after a race; no deep fried foods; no chips unless they're the lime-flavoured tortilla-style usually going hand-in-hand with the vodka or Coronas. As the years passed, the time frame of going from being extremely strict to only relatively strict before a race declined. It went from months to weeks to a week before the big event. However, the longer the race, the more time out I would go cold-turkey on certain things. If I was doing a "C" priority race and I wasn't too concerned with the results, understandably the diet could be bent somewhat for special occasions like birthdays, having friends over, rainy days, Tuesdays, or, for that matter, any day that had a vowel in it. The results I saw was the guilt factor of eating poorly before a race went up, but my race results didn't necessarily go down.
It was a camping/race week in Penticton about three years ago where this became really evident. We headed to the Okanagan as a family tenting week with a race thrown in to do the two birds with one stone thing. I didn't train much the week leading up to the Olympic-distance Peach Classic (a terrific event by the way) due to the distractions - kids, beach time, hot weather - you know, the things that make camping great. Of course, living out of a tent and having only a tiny stove to cook on meant that it was hard to eat at the proper times and consuming exactly what is needed for a peak performance (I still don't even know what that is). Also, there's two four-year-olds who love ice cream almost as much as me so we were doing that every day and hot dogs or mac and cheese for lunch, the quick and easy
stuff. So race day comes and I have the best day on that course I've ever had. I felt strong and was happy with the results. It was then I made up my mind to not deprive my body of what it seems to like/need the most - ice cream.
As a fire fighter, we live at the hall with ice cream being a staple of our diet. In the summer we'll get some almost every day. When are most races? In the summer. The body needs to be able to adapt with the fuel it gets and use it to its fullest. Ice cream at work is also a method of payment if you screw up doing a job at a scene, make a mistake driving, or if you forget to do something. Pretty much any error on the job can be rectified by this cold, creamy, currency.
I've heard that the more expensive the ice cream, the "better" it is for you. I guess it's supposed to have more natural ingredients and less junk in it. I think it's all good but I've definitely developed a taste for certain types over others. Why isn't this stuff another food group? It's got plenty of goodness in it that us triathletes crave during training. In the type I looked at (that just happened to be in my freezer as part of the research for this article) it boasted the following nutritional contents:
- Fat - 12 g: We all know certain types of fat are good.
- Sodium - 75 mg: Duh. All triathletes from day one learn that our bodies need more sodium than the average person.
- Carbs - 20g: Double duh. That's the second thing we learn. Carbs are good. It's why we love our bread and pasta!
- Protein - 2g: Now this is a little on the low side for recovery after a hard workout but throw a little whey protein on top and voila, the perfect solution.
Of course what you may not read until after is the fact that all this tri-goodness is encompassed in only half a cup. A half cup?? Every seen anyone eat only a half cup of ice cream at a sitting? Not likely. But just think in terms of recovery the benefits you'll be reaping if you double or quadruple the quantities of sodium, carbs, and protein after that hard run in the heat!! There was also a few ingredients listed that I couldn't pronounce but they were listed towards the end which means there's not all THAT much of the stuff in there, right? It's amazing what this stuff can do - It brings you up when you're feeling down (your blood sugar anyways), it's a reward for a race or workout well done, it's motivation for finishing a race (that may just be me), it's a great comfort food when you're feeling down about that crappy hill workout of which you only did half. Of course the guilt involved with this type of consumption is proportional with how much you eat - the more you eat, the worse you feel about that half workout and how you don't deserve to eat the stuff but then you feel better because it tastes so good so you eat more to quell the bad thoughts that are trying to take over!!! This creation is straight from the Devil himself sometimes. I made eating ice cream the night before shorter races this year a tradition until I snapped out of it and made it only something I'd eat once in a while. In the weeks leading up to my ultra run I did this past weekend I even turned down the delicacy twice at work. Twice!!! I thought in terms of willpower I was The Man. Of course, then came Halloween the week before my race and everything was all shot to hell - don't even get me started on my addiction to chocolate.