Friday, June 12, 2009

Training Tips for First Timer Triathletes: Doing the Daily Practice

Since I've been racing for 20 years now, some of what I have to recommend may seem “old school.” My personal philosophy for triathlon success is less "purchase" and more "practice". It's based on a daily practice of training one's body within the rhythms of one's daily life that includes work and family. It's about doing what I call the Daily Practice of Triathlon Training. By "daily" I mean that each day is either training day for a particular sport or a recovery (non-training) day for a particular sport. I train in one of the three sports six days a week. The seventh day is a recovery day for all three of the triathlon sports.

These tips are geared towards those who live in Ojai and Ventura, California but if you replace the triathlon store name and local triathlon club or running club name with one in your town, I think this list can be helpful for most people. Also, there are many excellent online resources for information and athletic inspiration for beginners, too.

For this posting I did not cite secondary sources. However, if you are interested in a detail or learning more about particular sports nutrition or training assertions, please checkout or Both of those sites have links to training schedules and performance tips for running road or trail races and racing triathlons.

My advice for training one's first triathlon this summer:

1. Find a local triathlete who can give you advise.

Ask around your friend network for anyone with triathlon experience or aspirations. Checkout your local running, cycling and/or multisport shop or YMCA (Inside Track Multisports here in Ventura or Hazard Cycle Sport in Santa Barbara, or the YMCA pool in Camarillo (new one) or the Ventura Aquatics Center) and ask about beginner triathletes in the area and (if at a pool, ask about Masters swim workouts). There may be experienced or beginner triathletes there who can help you with gear and training tips.

2. Research the sport.

• Talk to Triathletes. The best information I ever got about doing triathlons was from people I met while training, buying gear and racing. Also, unless you are talking to a sales or marketing rep of a certain product, you generally get un-biased information, too.
• Go online. and search "#triathletes" is a good way to find triathletes, most are regular people just like you, online. Websites such as and feature free tips and triathlon training schedules (some must be purchased). I found online training schedules on these training social media web sites:, , and (you can embed your training schedule in your blog--I haven't tried this yet) and I use

• Get a good triathlon training book to get an overview of the basics the sport and time managing the multi-sport workouts. Here's a good one that a friend found for me at a garage sale: Triathlete's Training Bible. but, I'm sure there are others, too.
• Checkout Triathlete Magazine. There’s great training and nutrition articles and the race and athlete profiles inspire. Be aware that this magazine is product advertising-supported.
• Learn by doing. Training for a triathlon is a daily practice and you will learn how to do it best by trial and error. There are core principals about physiology and nutrition but every body is unique. It’s necessary to get to know what your body needs and how it performs by doing the Practice and listening to it. Go for a run. Go for a bike ride on borrowed bike to test it out. Do a mini-triathlon on your own from your local pool. Do a Brick workout (bike ride followed by a run). Just do it.

3. Daily Practice of Triathlon Training.

Consistency is key. Each day will be a workout day, usually 6-days a week or a recovery day (one or two days a week). The Daily Practice includes working out, practicing good pre-workout and post-workout nutrition and getting enough sleep. It’s a Practice.
Periodization (hard days followed by recovery days, hard weeks followed by easy weeks and, looking at the entire year, hard training quarters followed by an off season) is a good way to train. Also, always, taper before a race (do shorter workouts the week before a race and no workout the day before the race) is another good thing to do to keep you motivated, progressing & healthy (that means injury free).

4. Become a member of a local triathlon, running or athletic club.

This is a great way find out about local road rides/open water swims and have better access to find other tri newbies. Also, training clubs are good to get club discounts on gear and local race entries. Yeah, some of the Rincon Triathlon Club members here in Ventura can get a little too 'core for beginners. But I think this is because many are training for IM distances and that's a whole different mindset as they strive to increase their mileage & refine their training/racing performances with specific workouts. In my experience, this is a supportive group that welcomes members of all levels and experience.

5. Swimming.

• Training. If you are new-ish to swimming, try to get in the water (lap pool, lake or ocean) at least 2-3x/week (30 minutes each) to build up your form & confidence. Do intervals if you can when in the pool. (I have some beginner swim workouts you can do to break up the monotony, too] Check out and look up swim stroke technique web videos and tips there or on Sometimes having a few pointers & practicing some swim drills can really make a difference in swim efficiency.
• Swim Suit: For women, the two-piece swim suites with the draw string bottoms are good and one-piece suites are fine, too but can get hot when your running.
• Swim Wet Suit. If you don't have a swim wetsuit check out the ones they have at Inside Track and Hazard Cycle Sports for new ones. I've heard that PlayItAgain Sports in Ventura has had great deals on good almost new wetsuits and Craigs List/Ebay have been used successfully by friends for used wet suits and gear, also. Wetsuits are not cheap but a good one that fits can transform open water swimming in cold water from cold misery to comfortable fun. If you live in a tropical place (lucky) then don't worry about the wetsuit (double lucky) unless you plan on racing where the water is colder than you are used to. Plus, swim wetsuites add buoyancy & speed--always a plus. Good brands I've used: blue seventy & QuintanaRoo.

6. Cycling

• The bike, for non-road cyclists, can be tough hurdle for a beginner or cash-strapped triathlete. My best advice is to go to your local multisport or bike shop and ask if they have anyone experienced in racing triathlons or knows about triathlon bikes. Triathlete bike geometry is slightly different (more severe angles for time trial efficiency) and a "traditional" road bike shop may not have the expertise. However, if you just need a bike, almost any bike that is safe to ride can help you achieve your goal of doing "a triathlon" this summer: Ride your mountain bike (if you have one) or get a used bike from your local bike depot. Who cares what it looks like? As long as you bought it from a reputable bike dealer such as Inside Track Multisports, Avery's Open Air Bike Shop, or Trek Bicycles in Ventura or Hazard Cycle Shop, or had it safety-checked by them. it should fine for racing a Sprint Triathlon. The point is to have fun and to finish, right?

• Bike Helmet. You need a certified-for-safety bicyle helmet or you can't participate in an organized triathlon race. Check out your local bike dealer or multisport shop for this. Your brain is the only one you got, so protect it with the best helmet you can afford. I've been in a bike crash before and my helmet (which hit the pavement--hard) probably saved my life.

Bike accessories. If you buy a new road bike you will need two water bottle cages, a seat pack with spare tube, allen tool & patch kit, frame pump, clipless pedals and shoes. You can wait on the clipless pedals and shoes but they allow you to make a more efficient (e.g. faster/more power) pedal stroke when riding. You can buy water bottles or re-use Gatorade bottles or small water bottles in an earth-friendly fashion.

7. Running

Triathlons, at the elite level, are won and lost during the run. It’s during the last portion of the race, during the run, that hours of daily training and preparation comes together. This is when “real” part of the race begins. The cardiovascular conditioning benefits you get from running will transfer to swimming and cycling. However, your swimming and cycling muscular training won't transfer to running. If your time is tight, I recommend focusing on your running and swimming. You can’t really fake either.

Local Running Club: Inside Track Running Club has daily groups running workouts for all levels of runners in Ventura and Santa Barbara Athletic Club is resource for local workouts in Santa Barbara. If you live in or near Ventura, check out the Inside Track Saturday morning runs at 7:30am. They depart from Inside Track Multisport, Ventura All levels are welcome and there are several groups based on running pace that run a certain out and back distance each Saturday. These runs are casual, feature all shapes, sizes, speeds and ages of runners and they provide free water/gatorade/bananas/bagels at the start and finish with an aid stop or two along the course.

8. Training for your first Triathlong: Sprint Triathlon

If you are doing a Sprint Triathlon with a 5K run distance, I recommend going online to checkout a few 5K race training plans and modify them to your triathlon schedule. There’s a cardio-crossover benefit from cycling and swimming, so your running workouts should focus on building speed and endurance by doing intervals—but only after building up your base. Your “base” in reference to running, is how far you can run or jog comfortably for your longest run and run each week in total. Rule of thumb: do at least one speed or interval workout for running each week.

9. Weekly Triathlon Training Schedule for Sprint Triathlon

You can train for a triathlon in as little as 1 to 1 1/2 hours per day. Just make each day’s workout a quality workout and abide by the periodization principal (hard days followed by easy days, hard weeks followed by easy weeks, etc.)

• Sample Week. Here's a sample week from my own standard training schedule from when I was racing regularly BC (“Before Children”).
  • Monday (Swim or Nothing--Recovery Day)
  • Tuesday (Run & Bike)
  • Wednesday (Swim)
  • Thursday (Run & Bike)
  • Friday (Swim or Run)
  • Saturday (Swim & Long Bike)
  • Sunday (Swim and Long Run, a triathlon or running race or Brick Workout (bike followed immediately after with a run, usually 10-24-mile bike/3-6-mile run)

• Notice I that I don't do a tough workout of the same type of activity two days in a row. Also, I took Mondays off if I raced or did a tough Brick on Sunday. If I raced Saturday, I planned for Sunday being a recovery day, etc.

The Brick Workout. A Brick Workout (or just Brick for short) is when you combine a bike ride with a run afterwards in one long continuous work out with a few minute break just to change your shoes. Basically, you go for a bike ride, stop to change into your your running shoes (and drink water) and then start running down the road like you got rocks in your quadriceps. This sadistic workout prepares your body for race day both physically and mentally. It's a tough workout and I recommend doing a recovery day/rest day after you do a Brick Workout.

10. Train with others if you can.

It's safer and you will usually be able to get a better workout when you train with others. This is especially true when open water swimming, trail running or road riding. And, it makes the workout time go by more quickly. In my experience, triathletes are usually just busier people in general (many run their businesses, have families, etc.) and training is their way of socializing, too. I've learned more over the years about training and racing from other triathletes while chatting in between workouts, than I ever have from a book, video, or web site. Word of mouth is best. And, it's more fun, anyway.

Keep a Training Log or Schedule. Keep a training log. It keeps you on track when training towards a goal and it also gives one a sense of achievement. Even if it’s just jotting down “Run, 3 miles, hilly” or "Tuesday: Run- 5 miles, hilly, felt tired." on your calendar, planner or Facebook profile or it’s worth the trouble. (You can also refer to your old training logs to track improvement progression or to help you remember how to train for a certain distance or weight loss or PR years later.) Good stuff.

11. Food & Beverages

Nutrition & fluid/electrolyte replacement: Don't forget to drink enough water & always bring some source of carbohydrate for workouts longer than an hour (banana, bar, energy gel, cookies, orange, gummy bears, etc.). When it's hot, make sure you replace electrolytes lost during perspiration (banana, a few saltines, Gatorade, PowerFul, enduro caps, Hammer HEED, etc) during rides or runs over an hour, too.

Sports nutrition is a practice: What and when you eat really does affect your training and can help or hinder your improvement. Triathlon is an endurance sport that requires a specific type of energy replenishment for your muscles while working out and for recovering from a workout. The most efficient form of energy for your body to process is carbohydrates. Triathletes, like runners, are known to eat lots of carbohydrate rich foods & food supplements that digest quickly: energy drinks, bagels, pasta, rice, energy gels, bananas, fig newtons, potatoes, etc. Monique Ryan and Liz Applegate are excellent sources of information of performance optimizing sports nutrition for endurance athletes. Check out for their books.

Before training/racing: Try to eat a easily digestible source of carbohydrate, about 200 calories for most folks, about 1-2 hours before working out. Give yourself about 16 oz. of water with your food to aid hydration and digestion. For long slow workouts, I can eat a banana or PowerBar while I'm running or riding. However, some people can't eat when they run or bike. Trial and error is helpful here. Get to know what works for you.

After training/racing: You will recover faster and feel better if you get eat or drink a source of carbohydrates 30-45" after a long (1 hour plus) workout or race. Just remember you have a 30"-45" window after a tough workout to replenish with carbohydrates. Research shows that long distance (over 1 1/2 hours) training should be followed by carbohydrates and some protein) Even a food as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great recovery food to have after a long bike ride or run or swim. Cold pizza is good, too. Especially on hot days when you need to replace electrolytes lost through perspiration.

Avoid drinking any alcoholic beverages right after you work out. Consuming alcoholic beverages after working out retards your body’s ability to rehydrate and recover from the workout. Replenish with water and nutritious foods first. Be kind to your body. It needs to recover from the stresses of training and racing with good stuff. Not beer.

12. Sleep more

Yes, you will need more sleep. Your body will require more of it for new tissue growth to deal with the physical stresses of training and the mental stresses of managing workouts and racing. If you don't get enough sleep your immune system will weaken and you will be more likely to catch something and get sick. You won't recover as well from your workouts, either. And, you will be tired and grumpy which messes up relationships. So, try to get to bed at least an hour earlier this summer while you are training for your first triathlon. That means usually 8 hours of beautiful, healing sleep. (Maybe more if you can get away with it.) Naps are good, too.

13. Some Triathlon Terms:

PR: "Personal Record" (Your fastest race time.)

WR: "World Record" (I'm glad they invented the term PR for the rest of us!)

PW: "Personal Worst" (Your slowest race time.)

Bonk: to run out of energy while exercising; to have an over whelming desire to stop moving and lay on the couch. Symptoms include feeling exhausted, dizziness, confusion, sleepiness, an over-whelming desire to sit under a tree and take a nap, grumpiness and sometimes, even tears. This is what happens when your body runs out of accessible blood sugar called glycogen that it needs to powers your muscles and to think clearly. You can avoid this awful state by making sure you have a source of easily digestible energy and water handy when working out such as bananas, energy gels and water or an energy drink. A good pre-race practice that helps me is to consume a banana or energy gel with a 16-oz. bottle of water about 30 minutes before race start.

Carbo Load: This is a pre-race rite of commensality (ritual meal sharing) that features a large meal of mostly carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, potatos or rice. It is generally shared with family members, loved ones or with other triathletes. It’s stated purpose is to increase your body’s glycogen stores so you don’t bonk in the following day’s race. It also reinforces the social solidarity and specialness of the triathlete as he or she prepares to athletically test his or herself at publicly during the race the following day.

Trigeek: a triathlete or wannabe triathlete who takes their athletic training and race performances bit too seriously for his friends and believes that upgrading to newer and more expensive triathlon gear and racing is more important than anything else.

14: Triathlon Race Distances (USA):

  • Sprint: 0.5k-swim/15k-bike/5k-run
  • Olympic: 1.5k-swim/40k-bike/10k-run
  • Long Course Santa Barbara Triathlon: 1mi-swim, 34mi-bike, 10mi-run
  • 70.3 or Half Ironman: 1.2mi-swim,/56mi-bike/13.1mi-run
  • 140.6 or Full Ironman: 2.4mi-swim/112-bike/26.2mi-run
  • Double Ironman (a multi-day stage race of double the Ironman triathlon distances): 5.4-m swim, 224-m bike, 52.4-m run

15: Upcoming Local Triathlons and Multiport Races

The best way to find local races online is which has an online database of just about every "all comers" triathlon, road race and other sports competitions in the United States. Printed race entries and flyers can be found on the "race table" at Inside Track Multisports in Ventura, CA.

You can find my daily workouts & multisport musings at: and .
:) A

Sunday, June 7, 2009

An anthropological look at energy gels for endurance athletes

An energy gel is semi-liquid or pudding-like, sweet and easily digestible source of 25-30 grams of complex carbohydrates that are sold usually in single-serving disposable sachets containing about 2 Tablespoons (36 grams) of gel. The purpose of energy gels is to supply energy to an endurance athlete. Endurance athletes ingest energy gels in order to replace depleted liver and muscle glycogen stores used up while racing or training.

Professional coaches, sports nutritionists and exercise physiologists for endurance athletes recommend carbohydrate replacement for continuous physical exertion that exceeds 60-90 minutes in duration. After that time, muscle glycogen stores become depleted and to maintain optimal performance, the energy must be replaced in a quickly metabolized and digestible form. (Muaghan) Ingesting about 25 grams of carbohydrates just before endurance athletic activity is also recommended to maintain an optimal level of blood glucose for athletic performance. (Ryan)

Most energy gels are made of a type of polymer for the gel-like substance with complex or long-chain carbohydrate energy from maltodextrin, grain dextrins and contain a preservative and flavorings such as vanilla, fruit puree, cocoa or sugar (fructose or sucrose).
Some energy gels include caffeine or ginseng that works as a muscle stimulant and relaxant. Some energy gels also include a blend of salts called electrolytes that are lost through perspiration. Electrolytes lost in perspiration include sodium chloride (table salt), sodium citrate and potassium chloride. Replacing electrolytes lost during sweating is important because the body needs electrolytes in order to process glucose energy and to maintain physical and mental bodily functions at an optimal level. (Ryan)

You can make your own energy gel with electrolytes with natural ingredients such as honey, blackstrap molasses and table salt. See the recipe "Homemade Power Goop" in Appendix A. (Nolek)

When and where energy gels are eaten:
Energy gels are usually eaten from small disposable sachets carried by the endurance athlete herself while training or racing. They are eaten while the athlete is moving—for example while he is running, cycling, climbing, skate-skiing or other endurance activity. The athlete either hand carries an energy gel, but more often wears special athletic clothing with small pockets to accommodate the sachets. Or, as with cyclists, mountain bikers and triathletes, the athlete tapes the gel sachets to their bike’s top tube or has a special food pouch strapped to the bike frame for rides.
Sports nutritionists recommend that athletes ingest about 25 grams of carbohydrate one hour before competition so energy gels are also ingested as a “snack” just before racing. However, a banana also works just as well. They often eat these foods alone or together with other athletes while they are exercising. They are running, sitting on a bike seat cycling, or in their car driving to a place to workout.. They are not mindfully enjoying their food for its taste but are using food as fuel to optimize their bodily performance—thinking of their body as a athletic machine.

Semiotics of energy gels:
The highest authority for sports nutrition and consuming energy gels seems to be science. To make an analogy with Mosaic dietary laws, where Hebrew kashrut dietary authority is written testimony in Hebrew Bible, and following these laws is both an identity and a practice for gaining spiritual perfection. (Soler) Following the scientific sports nutritionist prescriptions can be both an identity for an athlete and is also practice. (Maughan) However, instead of pursing spiritual perfection, it is for gaining optimal athletic performance and self-perfection. According to Jean Soler, the ancient Hebrews believed that the first food given to man was vegetarian and pure in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time. During the Exodus, the Hebrews survived for 40 days in the desert solely on a sacred food from heaven called manna. Manna was believed to be the most pure food and tasted “like wafer made with honey”. (Soler) Using the scientific bio-medical or mechanistic epistemology of athletic performance, Western medicine, Olympic Training Center (OTC) certified coaches and exercise physiologists consider “food as fuel” and “food as chemistry” that the human body needs for normal function. (Maughan) Coincidentally, the energy gel manufacturers claim that their products offer the most pure and most effective form of complex carbohydrates in a gel form that has the consistency of honey, often looks like honey and can be made at home with honey. Endurance athlete manna. (Nolek)

Food packaging and its meaning:
Energy gel manufacturers foster the belief that their products are a superior science-based source of energy for endurance athletes with the words and image symbols present on their packaging. Below is a review of some carbohydrate-only energy gel packaging’s meaning laden-branding in words and images:
Hammer Gel: “Hammer” connotes a hard steel tool for pounding nail, “Rapid Energy Fuel” emphasizes the mechanistic bio-medical view of the human body with power and speed; packaging artwork is of a bike crank stylized to look light electricity (power) shooting from it. Using cyclist lingo, “to hammer on the bike” means to go very fast with extreme effort. The word chosen to describe the viscious syrupy food is “gel”(from the word “gelatin” that is made from beef) and not “honey” or “pudding” or “custard” which has less forceful connotations.
Cliff Shot: “Shot” connotes a fast bullet projectile shooting from a weapon; Cliff (the company founder’s dog’s name is similar to the word “cliff” which means a dangerous perapice and opportunity for a wall climb by an climber, the packagine also includes the words “90% organic entirely natural” to emphasize it’s purity.
PowerBar Gel: “Power” means energy obviously, but it also means "strength" and social dominance as in "political power" The word choice of “gel” sounds more athletic than “pudding’; however this company goes a step further towards emphasizing it’s science-based authority with “C2 Max higher octane carb blend.” “C2 Max” is a play on the term “VO2” max which is popular test that elite endurance athletes take to determine the upper limit of their performance. (Maughan)
Gu Roctane: “Gu” is similar to “gel” as a descriptor and doesn’t have the sweet leisurely connotations as “pudding” or “honey”. “Roctane” seems to be a made up word that connotes “rock”—a very hard and inert substance that doesn’t deteriorate with time. The package emphases this symbolism with the words “Race with the Roc”.

The science of sports nutrition is a both a belief system and a practice with that what an athlete ingests as important as when, where and in what form. (Maughan 140) Conceptualizing the body as a bio-machine, carbohydrates (CHO) are the fuel that the body can metabolize most quickly into energy or blood glucose. By replacing energy burned during exertion, the gels maintain a constant supply of energy available to the athlete thereby increasing the athlete’s endurance and optimum performance. (Ryan)

A very short history of sports nutrition for endurance athletes:
A company based in Berkeley, California called GU Energy in 1991 invented the first energy gels. (GU Energy) PowerBars were invented in 1986 and PowerGel came out in 1996. (PowerBar).
Before energy gels, bars and beverages became readily available in the 1990s, American endurance athletes used easy-to digest and relatively inexpensive natural foods and beverages to maintain their energy levels from word of mouth and trial-and-error.
Dave Scott, a five-time winner of the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships explains what he used to eat to maintain his energy while training for hours on the bike and while running. He said:

Nutritionally speaking, we didn't know a whole lot in the early 1980s. Each athlete would seemingly load their water bottles with a unique, home-brewed concoction. The drinks were usually extraordinarily sludge-like with a slight brownish tint. I had heard that these "loaded caloric bombs" often exceeded 1500 calories per water bottle.
The common recipe for optimal nutrition was a combination of ground or pureed candy bars, honey and dextrose tablets blended with the chef's favorite beverage. Its not that I was smarter, I just didn't like candy bars, and I thought honey and Coca-Cola didn't sound terribly appetizing.
I took a simplified track and drank water plus Exceed, one of the first fuel-replacement drinks tailored to endurance athletes. In the 1980 Kona Ironman, athletes were required to have an endurance support vehicle, which upon a simple hand gesture, provided whatever fuel or fluid you desired. I loaded up my team and station wagon with a few baked potatoes, several bunches of bananas and lots of water. Bars, gels, sodium intake, and protein—we didn't know a thing about those topics, nor were they available. (Scott)

A cross-cultural example of sports nutrition for endurance athletes:
Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico are known for their corn-based diet, longevity and running culture. Tarahumara Indians are known to be the best ultra distance (over marathon length) runners in the world. It is not uncommon for an Indian to cover 100, 200 or even 300 miles over the course of 48 hours. They are known to hunt game like deer by running the animals to exhaustion. (Lutz) Their dietary staples are foods and beverages made from corn, a native grain that is a high carbohydrate starchy food. Because their lives revolve around running they eat mostly small easily digestible snacks of 80% carbohydrates from corn. (McDougal) They have learned that the most efficient way to fuel their bodies without deprecating their running performance is through snacking throughout the day on small portions of a high-carbohydrate food. The Tarahumara Indians moderate their calorie intake so as to not impact their running. Essentially they graze all day. Their traditional diet is similar to the high carbohydrate Pritikin Diet. (Lutz 31-32). Also, the composition of their mostly vegetarian and starch based diet is similar to modern-day elite and world-class ultra runners such as Scott Jurak eats a similar diet of 80% carbohydrates and is a vegan.

Appendix A (a recipe to make your own energy gel)

Homemade Power Goop
By Derek Nolek, Dirt Rag Magazine

7 and 1/3 tablespoons of honey
3/4 teaspoons of blackstrap molasses
1/10 teaspoons (just shy of 1/8 tsp) of table salt

Be sure to mix everything together well. It should make enough to fill a five-serving GU Energy flask. [A travel size container for shampoo or hand lotion thoroughly cleaned out would work, too. Multisport Mama]
This recipe works nicely. You may see some bubbles on the surface, but that is just a natural occurrence of the molasses. Neither honey nor molasses needs to be refrigerated, so you can keep it in your pocket all day and even use it the following week. I probably wouldn't go much past a week, but it should still be good.
The nutritional content approximates: 25g carbs, 45mg sodium, 35mg potassium--with plenty of vitamins and minerals that you wouldn't get with the store-bought stuff. Another nice thing about the honey recipe is that it is all natural. Honey comes from bees that get nectar from flowers. Molasses is refined from sugar cane. (Nolek)


Applegate, Liz, (September 6, 2006), “The Best Food For Runners”, Runner’s World, retrieved on Septermber 24, 2008, from,7120,s6-242-301--10200-2-1X2X3X4X6X7-7,00.html

Burke, Louise M., Millet, Gregoire and Mark A. Tarnopolsky. (Dec. 15, 2007), “Nutrition for distance events, “ Journal of Sports Sciences, 25, p. S29(10)

Jenkins, N.T. et al, (June 2008), “Ergogenic Effects of Low Doses of Caffeine on Cycling Performance,” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, [Int. J. Sport Nutr. Ex. Metab.]. Vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 328-342.

Lutz Dick (1989), The Running Indians: The Tarahumara of Mexico, Salem, OR: DIMI Press, pp. 25-32.

Maughan, Ronald J., and Louise M. Burke (2002), Sports Nutrition: Handbook of Sports
Medicine and Science, Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, Inc.

Morris, Gen C., (Summer 1992) “The Army Food Service Program: Then and Now”,
Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, retrieved on September 24, 2008, from

Nalek, Derek, (2008) “Make Your Own Homemade Energy Gel,” Dirt Rag Magazine, retrieved on September 24, 2008, from

Ryan, Monique, (2007), Sports Nutrition For Endurance Athletes, Boulder, CO: Velo Press, pp. 115-153

PowerBar (2008), “PowerBar through the years,”, retrieved September 25, 208, from

Scott, Dave, (2008), “Nutritional Fueling for an Ironman, “, retrieved on September 25, 2008, from

Shea, Sarah B. (August 14, 2008), “Carbs on the Run,” Runner’s World, retrieved on September 25, 2008, from,7120,s6-242-301--12826-0,00.html

Soler, Jean (1979), “The Semiotics of Food in the Bible,” Food and Drink in History, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp.126-138.

USDA (2008), “USDA Food Composition Data,” USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, United States Department of Agriculture, retrieved on October 27, 2008, from

Monday, June 1, 2009

Foodways of Runners & Triathletes Fall'08 survey results

Last fall I wanted to find out about the cultures of triathetes and marathon runners for a course I was taking that studied the anthropology of food from a multiple perspectives: functional, economic, materialist and semiotics or structuralist view points. I've always been interested in how triathletes and long-distance runners seem to have different ways of viewing the world and doing things than the average person since I started racing in the late Eighties. Things have changed since then, but much of what I experienced as an old school triathlete and marathoner– such as modifying my diet to feature more easily digestible carbs and staying hydrated (e.g. the dietary primacy of bananas, bagels, pasta and water) and eating on the run (literally)– are much the same.

The result was a 35-page research paper summarizing my findings from secondary and primary research sources.

Here's a few high lights:

• Each of the triathletes I interviewed told me they often ate alone and shared a meal only in the evening
• About 81% of surveyed marathon and ultra runners ate more often than three times a day (Appendix B: 18)
• When asked how they choose what to eat, “health and athletic performance benefits” was the most common response for both triathletes (70%) and marathon (34%) (Appendix A: 14; Appendix B:14).
• The categories of good foods and bad foods seem to get temporarily reversed once many of the athletes finished their race. What is normally a “bad food” is now a “reward” or a “treat” and consumed with gusto (Appendix A: 26; Appendix B: 26) after the race.
• Energy gels are consumed by 45.8% of the surveyed marathon runners “frequently”
• Of the triathlete respondents, 71% are professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, environmental engineers, computer engineers, teachers, college professors, scientists, etc.
• Of the triathlete respondents, 42% have the leisure time to train 10 hours or more a week
• Of the marathon runner respondents, 81% are professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, environmental engineers, computer engineers, teachers, college professors, scientists, etc.

To access the PDF form of my research paper titled Ideas, Beliefs and Rituals Regarding the Foodways of American Triathletes and Marathon Runners please click here >

This summer I hope to delve deeper into the sport sub-cultures of triathlon and running by looking at the bio-cultural processes at work just before an athlete competes in a race and just after he or she finishes. New runner- and triathlete-specific online surveys for this research will be posted at this blog soon.

By looking at the food ways of American triathletes and marathon runners—what they eat, when they eat, who they eat with, how they eat and their food-related rituals and beliefs—I hoped to explain some of commonalities and differences of each of these sport sub-cultures and how these sub-cultures supported the conservative norms of mass culture and its health and fitness trend by, in some ways, subverting them.

I utilized a materialist theoretical model using the social sciences concept of one’s unconscious habits, known as habitus, as developed by Pierre Bourdieu in order to describe the significance of their food ways as being influenced by their socio-economic class and ideals of the dominant American culture. Though one’s cultural habitus is unconscious it presupposes one's beliefs, identity and daily practice. Or, in the words of Pierre Bourdieu, “The habitus is necessity internalized and converted into a disposition that generates meaningful practices and meaning-giving perceptions” (Bourdieu 1984:170).


For this research project I incorporated both primary and secondary research. I interviewed triathletes and marathon runners about their food ways during two episodes of participant-observation at a sprint distance triathlon and a Half-Marathon utilizing a semi-structured approach that included questions about their eating habits (where, when, how much, and to define good foods and bad foods) and their demographic profiles. I sent out an online survey for marathon and ultra runners to the memberships of two running clubs and a survey geared towards triathletes to one triathlon club where I live. My choice of respondents of my un-structured interviews of triathletes and marathon runners was based on their availability and their typicality from the demographic information from the online media kits for Triathlete and Runner’s World magazines (Triathlete 2008; Runners World 2008).

My participant-observations were at the Carpinteria Triathlon on September 28, 2008 and at the Santa Clarita Half-Marathon and Marathon on November 2, 2008. I documented the material culture of those two events through photography, detailed written descriptions of the race events and interviews of race participants immediately before and after they raced at the race venues. Also, as a part of my primary research on their material cultures, I reviewed food packaging of endurance athlete food supplements, online and printed articles in Triathlete, Runner’s World and Marathon and Beyond magazines and blog postings, and nutrition articles on

I received 141 responses from my online surveys posted on Of my online “Food Ways of Triathletes” survey that I sent out, I received 33 complete responses. Of my “Food ways of Marathon Runners” survey, I received 108 complete responses. I found the data from my surveys informative but, because they include only responses voluntarily given and a convenience sample, they may not be entirely representative of the two sport cultures. Please see Appendix A of the PDF file linked to this blog posting (pages 19-24) for my survey questions and summaries of responses from triathletes and Appendix B from the same PDF file (pages 25-31) for my survey questions and summaries of responses from surveyed marathon and ultra runners.

I found that the demographic and habitus information that I found in my online survey responses were in sync with the practices and beliefs of my interviewed athletes and their food practices from what I observed at the races and in their emails and blog postings. The printed online sources included athlete blog postings. Other printed sources included books, food manufacturers’ sports nutrition articles in newsletters and sports nutrition articles in both peer-reviewed research journals and popular triathlon and running magazines (Triathlete, Runner’s World and Marathon and Beyond).

To illustrate the semiotics of training and racing supplements and the influence of food marketing on the triathlon and running sport sub-cultures, I reviewed the food packaging of several popular energy gels consumed by triathletes and marathon runners.

For my research results, surveys I used and list of references Please click here for my research paper PDF titled Ideas, Beliefs and Rituals Regarding the Foodways of American Triathletes and Marathon Runners >


Bourdieu, Pierre
1984 Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp.200-230

Runner’s World
2008 “Media Kit: Demographic Profile, Runner’s World, retrieved on November 26, 2008, from

Triathlete Magazine
2008 “Print Media Kit”, Triathlete Magazine, retrieved on September 25, 2008, from