John started his sporting life as a swimmer but soon found his love for triathlon and Ironman racing. He tells us what he eats in a day to fuel his intense training.
What I have for breakfast depends on what time of day I am waking up. If I'm in the pool for 6am then I'm often not particularly hungry and a banana and/or a cereal bar does the job to start the day.
If I'm coaching for 7am then I will have a bowl of granola or porridge – something a bit more nutrient- and calorie-dense that can fill me up until lunchtime. If I don't have morning clients then a real treat for me is to make scrambled eggs and maybe some smoked salmon.
The snacks that I eat throughout the day could be anything from biscuits to cereal bars to recovery shakes or bars post-training.
This tends to be bagels, sandwiches, or leftover dinner. I like to have something simple and easy and hopefully, something that I can carry around or pick up on the fly.
This depends on how busy I am. On busy weeks, I might batch-cook a big chilli con carne, chicken casserole, or baked salmon – something that I can box up and heat up for lunches or dinner.
If I have a little more time then I enjoy taking that time to cook something a little nicer. My favourites are risotto or curry (my grandparents are Indian); my view is that food is a social thing just as much as fuel!
As an endurance athlete, my diet is mixed, balanced, but overall fairly high in energy. Personally, I never really worry too much about my intake because I enjoy my fruit and vegetables and they tend to bulk out any meal.
I'm one of those people who prefers healthy food to junk. I will buy an apple as a treat to eat on the way home from the supermarket. I'll say no to a packet of crisps or sweets 9 out of 10 times because I don't fancy them. So, unsurprisingly, I find it quite easy to eat healthily.
I run, swim, cycle (separately and as part of triathlon), play hockey, snowboard and recently I've started climbing. Each day is variable so I don't have a set routine, but I am good at preparing my food and drink to make sure I have everything I need.
I’ve been vegetarian for 23 years, so I’m usually quite careful with my food. My protein intake is my main concern and I can drop weight during a busy season of events if I don’t stay on the ball. It’s more due to not liking meat than an ethical choice and I am not a fan of fish or eggs so it can be quite a struggle sometimes. I’m sure I eat far too much cheese as I have a good excuse!
I work full-time and am often away from home, which means restrictions on what I get to eat. But that's real life and I'm not going to stress too much if I have a day of, let's call it, 'less virtuous' eating. My husband is not vegetarian and is a fan of a takeaway so I do join in with that. I use energy drinks when training, but I've struggled to find recovery products that I enjoy so I generally eat real food. My hockey team laugh when I get my lunchbox out post-match on a Saturday!
I know most people say this, but I eat porridge for breakfast. Often I’ll add a banana but my favourite topping is Greek yogurt and honey. If it’s a race day or a weekend then that is a definite but on a week day, I’m eating breakfast at 6 am before dashing to work so I usually don’t have time to let it cool down enough. Then I’ll have a cereal combo of wholegrain oat biscuits, muesli, and granola with skimmed milk. I'm not a coffee drinker but I have to have two cups of green tea before I can face heading out of the door.
If I have run or cycled to work, I'll eat a second breakfast when I arrive which is usually toast with marmite or peanut butter. Most days I'll also grab some fruit – an apple, banana, orange or whatever we have in. I'm lucky that we have a kitchen at work so I can make anything I fancy. I'm not a lover of chocolate (yes that is possible) but I do like a biscuit with a cup of tea.
My lunch can be quite varied thanks to the work kitchen. I'll have anything from leftovers to soup or baked beans but more often than not I'll have a cheese sandwich. If it's the weekend, my husband and I might make homemade bread as a treat.
For dinner I'll eat various vegetarian dishes, which are always made from scratch. I'll make sure there are at least five different vegetables and if possible, also beans, pulses and lentils. Mostly my dinner will be pasta, stir fry, fajitas, scrambled eggs, cottage pie, curry or pizza.
I try to eat dinner before evening training sessions as I'm really distracted if I'm hungry. Dessert is usually Greek yogurt with honey and blueberries to bump up my protein intake. If I have an evening session, I'll save this to eat afterwards as a recovery snack.
I'd be lying if I tried to claim teetotal status. Life is all about moderation. If I'm doing a big event, I'll have very little alcohol in the run up, but over the years I've realised that one beer or one glass of wine on a Saturday night is not going to derail all of my training plans. If there's a wedding or a birthday party, I'm going to join in! But often I'll just opt to be the designated driver so everyone is happy.
Favourite post-event food
This has got to be salt and vinegar crisps and a shop bought cheese and onion sandwich with mayonnaise.
Life as a financially-challenged medical student, Team GB multi-sport athlete, London commuter and worker of two part-time jobs that involve being on my feet all shift brings several challenges to ensuring my dietary intake matches my energy expenditure and daily nutritional needs. I have tried low carb, gluten free, low dairy and reduced meat ‘healthy diets’ but all have left me tired, grumpy, food-obsessive and broke.
My current diet is carbohydrate-rich and full of meat, dairy, fruit and veg. My meals are planned generally based on what meat or fish are being sold at a reduced price or on a good offer. I then pair this with whatever vegetables and carbohydrate accompaniments I have to hand. I have a very sweet tooth but instead of depriving myself of cakes, biscuits, puddings etc for the sake of ‘health’, I fit these foods around fuelling for and recovering from training. For example, a few sweets before a running speed work session, a cake stop in the middle of a long training ride or chocolate custard and a banana post evening swim. Finally, I am a serial snacker. My bag is always full of cereal bars, boxes of grapes, almond snack packs and oatcakes. I don’t like to have huge meals and therefore the best way to get enough calories in the day for me is to snack regularly. Additionally, there is nothing worse than a rumbling tummy on ward round, in lectures or before cycling home.
Below is an example of what I would eat on a typical day with two training sessions and 9-5 at university.
Morning pre-swim- 1 banana and a coffee (instant with a splash of milk)
Morning post-swim- Porridge made with skimmed milk, one egg, frozen berries and chia seeds.
Morning Snack- Cereal Bar (whatever brand is currently on offer)
Lunch- Chicken marinated in tandoori paste, spinach, chickpea and lentil mix (bought pre-made) and peas. Followed by a yoghurt (Again I get whatever is on offer) and grapes.
Afternoon Snack- Dark Chocolate rice cakes
Late afternoon/Pre training Snack- 1 pack of gluten free cheese oatcakes
Post Training- Tandoori marinated Chicken, brown rice and veg. Followed by strawberries and yoghurt.
When tapering for a race, offseason or when it’s been raining/icy/snowy and I’ve got the tube instead of cycling, my energy demands are obviously much lower. Therefore, on these days I would cut the number of snacks and lower my volume of carbohydrates throughout the day.
I am currently away in Asia on a winter break to train and compete. My husband and I base ourselves in Phuket, Thailand so I can train with a local triathlon group and compete in some of the many competitions that are in Asia these days. There are many big differences and changes to living and training here compared to England, and one of the biggest is food. As athletes, we all know how important food is – I'm not the only triathlete that is constantly hungry, am I?
Back in England, almost everything I eat is cooked at home, however out here you can pretty much reverse that as we mostly eat out. We only have a studio apartment here which doesn't have a proper kitchen, just basic fridge and kettle. Plus, it's a lot cheaper to eat out here in Asia!
For me, the most important thing is being able to make our usual breakfast which seems to have become a standard athlete's breakfast....porridge! I am blessed to have a husband who does so much for me to support my sport. He makes all my food so that I can walk in the door from training and have it ready to go.
Most days I have morning and afternoon training sessions, usually starting at 6.40am. I rarely eat before as that suits me, but occasionally when we do long rides (over 150km) I will have a banana or very small bowl of oats first. I also take gels and energy bars with me just in case I need the energy. But whatever happens, I get woken up by a homemade masala chai being put down next to me. I can't function without my morning tea and I've come to love chai before training (maybe because of the little bit of sugar that is in that which I don't have in normal tea!) It gets me out of bed and into training.
As soon as I walk in the door after training, I have my protein drink followed by breakfast. I don't like to leave it long after training to get those down and am usually too hungry to wait anyway!
If my afternoon session is around 4 or 5pm, I will have lunch first, usually at a local vegetarian restaurant. My favourite place is amazing with so many choices and great fresh vegetables. I'm always sure to eat a lot of green leafy vegetables to keep my iron levels up, as well as a good mix of other vegetables to get all the nutrients I need.
I do miss my vegetarian food at home as, apart from tofu (which I don't like), they don't really have many other substitutes here. Although, more and more ‘western’ foods are becoming available and vegetarian/vegan products are growing quickly here.
I eat a lot more rice here than at home, but it is a good carbohydrate as I don't eat potatoes here like I do at home. I love potatoes in any form!
The diet out here suits me fine. I train very hard, race a lot, and have never seemed to struggle or feel like I'm lacking in anything. I do make sure I take a vegetarian supplement every day as I do at home.
I go through a lot of electrolytes here due to the humidity – the sweating is on another level here when you train! If I am about to race, I am careful with my food but not to the point where I deny myself anything, I am just a little more careful.
On a Sunday bakery ride, you can't not have banana bread at the halfway point can you! It's all about balance, that's for sure.
So this is a daily snapshot of what I'm eating out here in Thailand; a world away from my UK day. One of the biggest bonuses.... hardly any washing up!
In triathlon, with all the long or intensive sessions every day (or sometimes both), it can be a challenge to give the body everything it needs. I've been on a plant-based diet for over a year now and it works perfectly for me. At the moment, with 20 to 35 hours of training every week, I need more than 4,000 calories every day.
Here's what a full day of eating looks like for me.
I start the day with a workout before breakfast. I live by the slogan "earn your breakfast". At the moment, as it's cold and dark until 9am or even 10am here in Germany, I like to go for an early swim with an Espresso and nothing else.
What I use for fuel during my workout depends on the type of session. If it's endurance or technique-based, I'll take a bottle of BCAA drink to the pool in order to protect my muscles. If it's a hard workout, for example speed work, I'll go with a carb-loaded drink and use that from halfway through the session and sip on it on the way home in the car.
Once I'm back home, I'll usually go for porridge, made with almond milk and a banana. It has everything I need: carbs, protein, calories and it's warm which is nice after a swim on a cold day.
Usually, a bike session will be next on the agenda. So, after my porridge, I'll take a break of an hour or two before I get on the bike. Again, nutrition depends: if it's a long endurance ride, I'll go with mostly water and electrolytes. If it's a hard workout, I'll take my race drink on the bike in order to be able to keep pushing hard watts.
After the ride, I always have the same: banana, crushed ice, peanut butter, vegan protein powder, almond milk, sprouted seeds, maybe some frozen berries, and some more fruit if I feel the need. This is the perfect fuel as it helps my immune system to stabilize again and it boosts my protein for the day.
I'll take another break then it's time for a run. If the run is slow for recovery and/or technique, I'll not eat anything and will have some water about 45 minutes before I go.
If it's a hard run, such as intervals, I'll try to get some carbs in. This might be in the form of (yet another) ripe banana with waffles and chocolate cream. I eat what I feel my body needs at the time.
After my run, I'll drink some water and maybe take some Gluatmin or BCAA again until it's time for dinner. Dinner is mainly vegetables - anything you can imagine, heated in whatever way is easiest. I'll have a base of carbs, such as rice, quinoa or wholewheat pasta. Added to that, I'll have fat such as an avocado, nuts, or seeds.
1 or 2 hours after that, I sometimes feel the need to eat before going to bed. This could be some sort of soy yogurt with a few nuts and cacao nibs. I've found that for myself, if my body is crying out for something, I get it and have it!