Friday, August 05, 2011

Ditch the Sugary Gels? Paleo Fuel for Endurance Training

How much money does the average triathlete spend on sugary gels and bars in one year? Now wouldn't that be a scary statistic?  Maybe I don't even want to know, especially considering that most of what's in them is some form or another of sugar, and some flavoring. Maybe a few electrolytes thrown in if you're lucky.

Now don't get me wrong, when I'm racing I know that my body starts shutting down digestion in ever more serious ways. It starts gently but by the time you've been out there five hours or more, there's very little that you can put in your stomach that will actually make it to your bloodstream. Simple sugars are one of those few things. Even the coke that I wouldn't normally ever touch will start to be a necessary staple of my existance at Mile 14 of the Ironman marathon. So I'm not saying that there's not a place for gels in the triathlete's arsenal. I'm just wondering how necessary they are in the overall scheme of a year's training plan.

Tomorrow morning's lake swim will probably be about four miles. I'm going to follow that up with a 1 - 2 hour bike ride. Do you think I might get hungry? Yeah, I'm guessing so. I'm trying to take a "train low, race high" approach to fueling my body. Instead of relying on those sugary gels and bars to get me through my Ironman training like I did last time (I shudder to think of how much money I actually spent on that crap!), I'm going to try and use a more whole foods approach for the bulk of my calories, with some gels/bars thrown in for training purposes (never do in a race what you don't do in training is an important truth in triathlon). I know I'm an Experiment of One when it comes to this kind of thing, so I'll let you know how it fares in human guinea pig land.

So what am I eating tomorrow? A breakfast of my favorite Banana-Coconut Custard, which I've recently taken to adding Chia seeds to for a bigger protein boost. I've also made up some Chia gel, which I've created by combining several teaspoons of Chia seeds with some coconut water. I make these up in little tupperwares to take with me. I need to experiment with finding a more gel-pouch-like way to carry them on my bike though. Stay tuned as I experiment with that in weeks to come. I happen to like the Nutiva Organic Chia seeds, and I buy them from Amazon.com as I've found it's cheaper than the bulk food section of my grocery store when it comes to chia. Chia seeds have this absolutely cool property where when you combine them with a liquid, they turn into a jelly-like substance. This makes them easy to slurp down, but nicely high in protein. Sometimes I mix a few teaspoons of juice in, like cherry juice or a berry mix for a different flavor.

For post-race, I'll bring along my favorite "Macadamias Mix Gingerly" nut mix from Trader Joes, which has macadamias, almonds, cranberries, and candied ginger. Yum!

10 comments:

XLMIC said...

Sorry for my ignorance, but I am brand-new here :) Would dates be considered Paleo? I have found medjool dates to feel and 'behave' similarly to sugary gels/gus. I don't really care for those little packets in my diet so I tried a few dates on a long run a few weeks back. They worked!
Hope your big swim/ride goes great :)

Mandi with an "i" Runs said...

You should try putting your homemade "gels" in a snack size zip lock... then you can tear the bottom corner and shoot it like a gel! :)

Robin said...

Dates would technically be paleo, since they are a naturally occurring fruit. However, some paleo folks are extremely averse to carbs and eating much fructose at all (even in natural fruit state). For myself, being an athlete, I think we need to find ways to keep that glycogen supply going at times, so I would think they'd be a good gel alternative. Great idea, I'll have to try them!

Robin said...

Mandi, the small ziplocks are a great idea. I will have to try that out!

kara t. said...

Great post. I am an endurance runner and go back and forth with using natural food and using the gels/blocks because of convenience. Sometimes I use chopped up Lara Bars, honey stix, or clementines. There are a handful of recipes floating around online for "protein balls" that might be able to be paleo modified, though they might be hard to chew.

TSnyder said...

While a ziploc would technically work it's a drain on the environment. We do use them but very sparingly. Especially since you can now even get great reusable bags in the same sizes.

Anyhow, we started using GoToobs in from Human Gear a while back (http://humangear.com/GoToob.html). They come in various sizes that could meet your needs. We've used them in a range of conditions & they haven't leaked yet. I'd strongly recommend them.

kara t. said...

http://www.clearbags.com/catalog/product/view/id/176

I saw these just now and thought they might work for your homemade gels.

Robin said...

Terrific idea on the GoTubes. I tend to not like to use disposable items (we wash and re-use all Ziplocs around here until they fall apart, so this might be a good option. I was thinking of something like a pastry tube that you could cap. I will check out the GoTubes, thanks for the recommendation!

hlmcconnell said...

I'm getting ready to train for my first 1/2 iron man and I just started the Paleo diet a week ago. Good to see there are others out there who love the sport and are eating healthy.

Caratunk Girl said...

Hey Robin,

I was wondering where you are with this? I am eating basically paleo (No sugar, no grains) and am training for IMLP. So I am trying to figure out fueling. I know this post is a little older so anyway, I was wondering what you figured out.