Tales of a Triathlete #6 – Foodie-athlete/Nutrition

Benjamin Ooi – So, one of the perks of athleticism is that I can eat anything I want, and as much as I want. Right? Well, (technically) yes, but not quite!

A snapshot of a typical meal before my Ironman World Championships race in Kona, Hawaii

When it comes to nutrition, there are various competing schools of thought. Most athletes follow strict and professionally-administered meal plans. Some avoid certain types of foods perceived as unhealthy, while others invest heavily in daily nutritional supplements.

As for me, I’m too much of a foodie to do any of that. I do have two principles that sum up quite aptly my outlook on eating as an athlete. While I hope they don’t sound trite to you, these simple concepts have genuinely taken me through a swimming/water polo childhood, and continue to be relevant as a long-distance triathlete.

  1. Calorie intake
  2. Balanced diet

Calorie in, Calorie out. I’m a firm believer in this – how much food one takes in vs. how much energy one expends forms the basis of every weight-loss/gain scenario, athletes and non-athletes alike. By this logic, I don’t consider avoiding delicious fatty or fried food as critical to keeping in good shape, but I would indulge in lesser quantities to compensate for the relatively denser caloric content in these ‘sinful’ food. This is also probably how I manage to shock many fellow athletes by continuing to eat my favorite foods right up to race-day. A close parallel would loosely be the late Mr Lee’s philosophy of ‘eat(ing) till you’re 70% full’. Also, try not to eat too close to bed time.

Balanced Diet. Having said the above, a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for the body to cope with a heavy training workload. Many hawker dishes here contain very little protein or greens, and this needs to be actively managed. It is also important to take in some food soon after a workout. Personally, I would have 4 (or more) eggs at the food-court nearby and a healthy amount of soy milk if I am not able to have a meal immediately after my workouts.

Coffee is surely part of any (sane) athlete’s diet!

Finally, a learned self-awareness and discipline is an overarching factor when speaking about how diet impacts athlete (and athletic) performance. Google may provide simple easy answers to questions of what to eat, how much to eat, but what really matters is when you internalise these habits. While not the easiest thing to do, truth to be told, this self-control comes quite naturally with self-awareness and understanding of what is necessary for your goals.

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

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