Training for the Triathlon: Get off the rollercoaster and you could eat yourself fitter

Helen Barklam, far right, with some of the Triathlon Training team at UCLan Sports Arena

Helen Barklam, far right, with some of the Triathlon Training team at UCLan Sports Arena

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So, if I’m running, cycling and swimming six days a week I can pretty much eat what I want, right? Well, not exactly!

If I’m going to have any chance of getting around the tortuous 140-mile Ironman in a few months time, I know I’m going to have to get the right sort of fuel in the tank – and unless that’s burgers and chocolate bars, I might have to make a few tweaks.

But finding the right advice in a minefield of pseudo-scientific sports products and faddy diets is no easy feat.

So I decided to get some expert advice from someone who really knows, top sports nutritionist and triathlete Helen Barklam, right, who runs her Sports Lounge clinic from Footprints in Kirkham.

Helen has experience advising athletes in a whole range of sports working with the likes of Sunderland and Wigan Athletic Football Clubs to Paralympian David Weir’s Academy in London.

Plus, she is training for the Ironman too, so she knows exactly what I’m going through.

“There’s more to sports nutrition than just bananas and carbs and you don’t have to be a pro to benefit,” she explains.

“But many athletes haven’t even got the basics right when they walk through my door.

“Most are not taking on board the right food at the right time to give the average person enough energy for day to day life, never mind for someone who is training several times a week as well as holding down a full-time job, relationships and kids.”

That’ll be me then.

After an initial consultation, it turns out my blood sugars – like most people – are all over the place caused by a rollercoaster diet of quick-release, simple carbs, from things like breakfast cereals, pasta, potatoes and caffeine, from the dozen or so coffees I drink every day.

The consequence is the quick release carbs cause my blood sugars to spike signalling tiny glands that sit on the tops of my kidneys called adrenal glands to dumpsugar and fat into my blood. While it gives an initial burst of energy, it is quickly followed by plunging lows starting the body on a dangerous rollercoaster.

This effect produces elevated levels of insulin, which causes excess glucose to be stored as fat – usually around the waist – and ultimately can cause serious health problems like diabetes.

Before I do anything, I need to get off the rollercoaster and balance my blood sugars. To do that, Helen explains, I need to introduce good quality protein to every meal and good quality protein snacks throughout the day to stop my blood sugars from spiking and putting me on a healthier, more even plane.

The trick is not to get rid of the carbs, which I need to fuel my extra training, but to eat good, slow-release carbs – like whole grains in porridge and quinoa instead of things like white rice and cereals – alongside quality protein from meat, fish and nuts to make sure my meals are balanced with all the right kinds of nutrients needed to fuel my training and recovery.

Helen says: “This regime of eating will ensure your metabolism is working efficiently and the additional protein will also help with muscle repair.”

Once I learn how to balance my blood sugar, I can start to focus on sports specific nutrition to really power my performance.

To learn more or book a consultation with Helen visit www.sportsloungeuk.com or email Helen@sportsloungeuk.com

Breakfast

Porridge with ground nuts and blueberries

Mid-morning

Handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Lunch

Tomato, feta and rocket omelette with salad

Mid-afternoon

Fruit salad with probiotic natural yoghurt and chopped nuts

Evening meal

Grilled salmon with roasted vegetables

SUPPER

Rice crackers with cottage cheese