In Which I Try to Figure Out How to Feed Myself

Ever since I went back to training with TAG, I’ve had a tough time figuring out how to eat on our weekend workout days. I don’t remember this being a particular problem last year, but I didn’t have a plan for anything last year, so it’s probably not surprising that my lack of food routine didn’t stand out.

But now that I know where our Sunday workout pool is, and where the best parking spots are at Aquatic Park, and just how many times I can snooze before I really have to start putting the bike rack on the car, I’m starting to put a bit more mental energy into figuring out what and how and when to eat. It’s not so much an issue for Olympic-distance training — last year I was perpetually underfueled/underhydrated because I couldn’t confidently eat or drink on the bike until April, so anything I take in feels this year like an improvement — but with a 70.3 and many longer, hotter training days coming up, I want to get some kind of handle on what I like (and don’t like) now.

I’m not struggling with what to eat, necessarily; that’s a process of experimentation, but it’s at least one I enjoy, because if something is good I have a new fun thing to eat during workouts and if something is bad, well, I get a hilarious story to tell the internet. A few weeks ago I bought one of every packet and powder and bar and gummy thing Sports Basement sells — only slight exaggeration — and have been trying them in a semi-methodical rotation. (Should I round these up? The short story is that every “recovery drink” I’ve tried tastes like spoiled artificial milk; Cytomax was winning the war of “citrus-flavored drink powders” until I saw they reformulated at least some of their line with Stevia, which, no; and my favorite drink mix so far has been the “red fruits” PowerBar powder that was a freebie from the Berlin Marathon expo, which sucks because I think it might only be available in Germany.) I also have big plans to make some of my own portable energy treats, like Kristine’s pumpkin spice bars or Victoria’s brownie batter balls (hee, balls) (balls) and see how those hold up.

So, that part’s fine. It’s more about when and how much to eat, especially when I’m spending a lot of time prepping for/driving to/searching for parking after workouts. To wit, here’s how last Sunday played out:

7:15 — wake up; curse awakeness; hear cats start yelling for food
7:25-8 — feed cats; sunscreen self; fill water bottles, make breakfast, assorted other prep
8-8:15 — carry backpack and bike rack to car; drive car to house; illegally park in front of house; load bike on car
8:20-8:55 — drive; eat breakfast
9-1 — group workout, consisting of: 15 minutes of core; 1900-something yards/60 minutes of swimming; 24 miles/an hour and 45 minutes of biking; 10 minutes of running; and transitions, racking bike, bathroom stop at bike turnaround, etc.
1-1:30 — stretch; chat with teammates; text with friends about plans for the afternoon
1:30-2:10 — drive back to San Francisco
2:11 — have genius idea to drive to favorite sandwich shop, which Yelp promises is open
2:25 — arrive at favorite sandwich shop, which is closed
2:40 — arrive in neighborhood
2:40-2:55 — look for parking; drive in circles
2:56 — give up and settle for a spot a few blocks away
2:56-3:05 — unrack bike; take bike and backpack to garage; walk back to car; remove bike rack; stash bike rack in garage; see parking spot open up directly in front of house; curse life
3:10 — walk to sandwich shop; order sandwich
3:11 — realize it’s going to be a long wait for a sandwich
3:25 — obtain sandwich; stuff into face

And here’s what I ate during that, before the sandwich:

8:20 — one hard-boiled egg; two pieces of sourdough toast from the bakery co-op around the corner (<– I was trying to come up with the most "San Francisco" food item possible; how'd I do?) topped with a little peanut butter and Brummel & Brown spread; one water bottle with a Nuun tab. ~400 calories.

10:45, post-swim and pre-bike — 1 Roctane. 100 calories.

Between 10:45 and 1, on the bike and run — 1/2 Picky Bar, split into chunks; 2 (maybe 3, can't remember) Shot Bloks; 1 water bottle with PowerBar powdery stuff. ~300 calories.

1:30ish, while driving home — other half of the Picky Bar, gross Hammer vanilla protein powder drink. 170 calories.

So, that's roughly 1,000 calories, with "real meals" still to come. I say that without judgment, because frankly, I'm not sure how to judge it — if it's a lot, too much, poorly timed, not enough, etc.

The protein drink on the drive home is my current concession to needing to eat SOMETHING after the workout — it was 2.5 hours of stretching, driving, parking, and unpacking between workout-end and sandwich-start — without taking away the chance to eat a real meal later. One of my teammates has started packing peanut butter sandwiches for the drive home, which sounded delicious, but I wonder if that would seem too lunch-y to me. I occasionally stay and eat with people after the workout, but not always; sometimes I need to get the car back or just have other plans in the city. So right now, I’m trying drinks, but they’re all so nasty. I can choke them down, but I really prefer to ENJOY my food.

And I guess, overall, that’s my biggest struggle. I’ve never been a “food is fuel” type; I’m way more the “food is delicious” type. But when I’m doing a 3-hour workout, within a 6-hour block that also involves getting to and from said workout, it is fuel. The first two weeks, sans protein drink, I stumbled in the door hangry after every workout (twice I almost cried looking for parking!); now I feel a bit more stable, but I also don’t want to go too far to the other side, where I gain unnecessary weight or eat a ton of things I hate that are more chemical than food anyway.

It’s a tough balance, and I know everyone’s stomach and system is different, but if you’ve got an awesome story about locking in your fueling plan — or just recommendations for protein drinks that don’t taste bitter and weird — I’ll take them!

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4 thoughts on “In Which I Try to Figure Out How to Feed Myself

  1. Karyn says:

    Chocolate Milk post workout is my personal favourite ~ a good mix of protein and carbs, tastes great and is generally cheaper than all the other protein drinks on the market too.
    It’s like win, win, win 🙂

    • Layla says:

      Yep, chocolate milk is a cheaper alternative to the recovery drinks. If you don’t have a way of keeping it cold enough, get the individually boxed chocolate soymilks that are sold in the non-cold grocery store section.
      On Saturday, I felt weird and delirious and in desperate need of something immediately after a 10-mile run and 15-minute gym workout, so I found a Luna chocolate protein mix and added it to almond milk. The almond milk made it taste amaaaaaazing.

      • Kimra says:

        I had not even considered the shelf-stable chocolate milk/soymilk/substitute milks. Brilliant! I might also be able to get away with an ice pack in a bag in my car — I should try it. I’d been doing mix-with-water just because I can keep those big jugs of water in the trunk, but if there’s a non-refrigerated milk/”milk” that I don’t have to keep super-cold, that could work just as well!

  2. Kristina says:

    Yeah, the bump to 70.3 does seem to present more fuel issues. I discovered Pocketfuels – which worked, especially when I combined them with a banana. They are natural enough, something I needed after eating all of the processed energy “food” products on the bike or after a brick, and they pack a caloric punch but don’t replace a real meal.

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