Chef's Choice: Tracy Higgs 

in the Kitchen before Ironman

click to enlarge Balls of Energy Nutritionist Tracy Higgs advises athletes to eat their nuts and veggies before this weekend's Ironman.
  • Balls of Energy Nutritionist Tracy Higgs advises athletes to eat their nuts and veggies before this weekend's Ironman.

When it comes to putting it all on the line, giving every ounce of energy to make it to the finish line, athletes often worry about what they should eat the night before their big race.

A big plate of pasta? Steak and potatoes? A veggie burger? Anything that will calm the nerves, satisfy the tummy?

"To be honest with you, it doesn't really matter," said nutritionist Tracy Higgs, sitting in the sun outside Nesters Market where she is one of the registered nutritionists on staff.

"It's all the days leading up to it that are the most important."

With 10 days left to one of the world's biggest endurance races — Ironman Canada — where competitors start off their day in Whistler with a 3.8-kilometre swim, followed by a 180-kilometre bike ride, topped off with a 42-kilometre marathon run, nutrition should be top of mind right now as the countdown begins.

Athletes will be tapering off their training right now, said Higgs, who has a degree in kinesiology and worked as a personal trainer before studying nutrition.

With that in mind, they need to be thinking about how much they are putting into their bodies compared to what they were eating during peak training mode.

Often athletes will try to lean up and cut back on caloric intake so that when race day comes they're in a deficit.

"You want to keep the body as topped up as possible," said Higgs.

Athletes need to think about getting enough adequate fats at this time. Higgs suggests flaxseed oil, fish oil — essential fats like Omega 3's.

"If you don't have fat stores to draw from, you usually don't have the sustained energy," explained Higgs.

She also recommends nuts and seeds at this time.

"They give you the fats. They give you the protein. And they give you the carbohydrates. A really balanced food."

Even now, as the training winds down in preparation of the big day, Higgs said it's important to think about recovery after working out.

"It's probably one of the most neglected parts of sports medicine," she said.

The window of opportunity is about half an hour to 45 minutes after a workout to replenish the stored glycogen in the muscles. A lot of people focus on protein for recovery.

But Higgs said there are two kinds of recovery — energy and muscle.

"More people are focused on the muscle recovery rather than the energy recovery," she said. "The energy recovery is stored glycogen so you have to have a high glycemic response in order for your body to take that sugar out of the blood and deposit it where it's wanted and needed by this stored glycogen."

The cheapest way to do it she said is through juice. Best to do it in liquid form rather than food to bypass digestion.

"We want the spike (in blood sugar) so that your body will trigger insulin and pull it out of the blood and out into the muscles as glycogen."

Nutrition at this time is also critical for inflammation of the body. Training, by its nature, means tearing the muscles fibres and rebuilding over and over in order to build muscle.

Exercise too makes the body more acidic.

"If you're eating more acidic, the body is in a really acidic, stressful state," explained Higgs. "It's not recovering properly."

Eating more foods that are alkaline in nature helps the body counter this acid state.

"So it helps reduce inflammation, joint soreness, injury recovery, energy and muscle recovering," she said.

That can be done by eating lots of fruits and vegetables and sprouted beans and grains.

"I think people underestimate how amazing vegetables can be for you," said Higgs.

On race day it's also critical to keep the energy up. After that initial 45 minutes it's important to keep feeding your body, replacing that stored glycogen with a supplement or by eating and drinking.

Higgs said: "You want to be giving it your all but you want to giving it your all until the end."

An enduro recipe:

Chocolate Energy Balls


20 dates, soaked in hot water

½ cup pumpkin seeds (or a mixture of nuts such as cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup ground flax

¼ cup coconut oil

2 tbsp raw cocao powder


Add any two of the following superfoods: 1 tbsp of either camu camu (vitamin C powder), maca, kelp flakes or ground goji berries.

Put all ingredients in food processor and mix up. If you want a smoother texture, ground up nuts and/or seeds first before mixing with dates etc...

Form into bit size balls and roll in coconut and hemp seeds. Place on a cookie sheet and cool in the refrigerator. Consume and enjoy!


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