Book Review – Triathlon Nutrition Foundations
Years ago, I stood in front of a small group of industry leading cattle breeders: men and women who were passionate about the cattle they owned. Actually, it seems like a lifetime ago. Back then, I gave many presentations to cattle breeders, and this particular time, I posed a simple question:
How is it that McDonald’s can make millions of dollars by selling tasteless, mediocre-at-best beef patties while you struggle to turn a profit by selling some of the highest quality beef?
No one in the room dared to venture a guess even though I believe the answer is simple. A system. McDonald’s has a system. It’s true that the famous burger chain has incredible wealth in real estate, but people do line up for their burgers which were created using a unique (at the time) system.
If you haven’t seen the movie, The Founder, you really should. Michael Keaton does a great job playing the famous founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc.
Now where was I? Oh yes… A system.
And that brings me to Triathlon Taren Gesell’s newest book, Triathlon Nutrition Foundations. In 135 pages, Taren attempts to help endurance athletes of any level fuel for races of any distance.
I’ve read instruction manuals with more pages.
Monique Ryan’s 432 page Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes just begins to cover the subject.
When Triathlon Nutrition Foundations came in the mail, it fit nice and neatly into my mailbox while other books had to be dropped on my porch.
Don’t judge a book by its size.
What The Book Is
I was expecting detailed descriptions of ATP generation, carbohydrate breakdown and cis versus trans poly… blah blah blah. And what I got was something completely different and very useful, a system.
Don’t get me wrong. I do love the academic stuff, but with my history of poor race nutrition, what I need is more of a system than an education.
Written in an easy to read casual style, this book outlines some of the major things to do and not do when it comes to a race based on a combination of the author’s experiences, research articles that he has found and knowledge from other athletes and researchers. I guess there’s not much else you can get information from, so my point is that he’s giving us his perspective. He’s pointing us in a direction that he believes will help us achieve good results.
Very early and throughout the book, he recognizes that all athletes are individuals and that answers to nutrition questions do not apply equally to everyone. In fact, he states quite clearly that his system is a starting point and that each athlete must experiment to find what works best. Not only do I agree completely, but it is refreshing to read that, especially when so much information on endurance nutrition is marketed to us as absolute solutions.
The system outlined in this book is based on four key principles that are actually quite simple and somewhat intuitive if you’ve ever had to deal with fueling for a race. Just like the system itself, these principles are a starting point that beg the athlete to experiment.
Sometimes cultural beliefs and practices regarding nutrition are so strong that they border on superstition. Even when evidence is available to refute a belief, the practices based on that belief can persist. Some of these practices, like carb loading, are addressed in this book, but they are neither thoroughly disputed nor staunchly supported. Instead we get the author’s insight on them which amounts to a realistic explanation of when these beliefs might or might not be useful to us athletes.
And then there’s the low carb gorilla in the room. Anyone who has followed Triathlon Taren knows about his success at the 2019 Challenge Roth race and his reduced carbohydrate nutritional strategy for that race. He makes it very clear that this approach has worked well for him. There are quite a few examples in the book from that experience but, here again, he’s not pushing any fad diets on the reader. Instead, he restricts much of the low carb discussion to a talk about periodization: altering nutritional intake to match changing levels of training.
This book gives us just enough information, as the old saying goes, to be dangerous (in a good way). It gives the reader a starting point to find what works best. Reading about triathlon does not make one a triathlete. If we want to use the information that Taren is giving us, then we need to get out there and try different nutritional strategies and this book gives us a great starting point. There appears to be no other agenda than to help athletes understand this system that seems to have worked well for the author and many others.
What The Book Is Not
I’m not a complete skeptic, but I do like to know sources of information. As a student of science, I would be remiss if I did not point out the one thing I believe is lacking from this book: citations. Unfortunately for me, most people reading this kind of book will not want the pages to be full of sterile phrases followed by citations…
... a recent meta analysis concluded that polarized training has a greater effect on improving time trial performance compared to traditional threshold training models (Rosenblat, et. al, 2018) ...
I couldn’t think of a good nutrition example, but you get the idea. For some readers that can be very difficult to read which makes the subject seem inaccessible.
To be fair, Taren does give three citations in footnotes, however I found myself wanting to know more about the sources of many of his statements. For example, we are told that only 25% of calories burned in a race need to be replaced during the race. It would be nice to know where that number came from, even if it were sourced from personal experience, peer reviewed research or cultural belief. I have the feeling that many of you will say, “Well duh! Everyone knows that 25% rule.”
I don’t. Well, I guess I do now, but why 25% and not 40%?
Certainly I can dig through the research on my own and the author does not demand that we blindly believe his words. However, a list of references would be nice.
OK. So the book has some statements with no citations, but this concern of mine is very very minor, because the book is not a scientific treatment of the subject. It is a guide to finding your own methods for fueling the body and mind during endurance training and racing.
Wrap It Up
It may seem that I am mindlessly gushing with enthusiasm over Triathlon Taren and his latest book, but that’s not the case here. Taren has always stated that he wants to help people achieve their endurance sport goals and I think this book can do just that with respect to nutrition.
Triathlon Nutrition Foundations is easy to read, easy to understand and has references to web links for downloading a spreadsheet to help estimate caloric needs during a race. The spreadsheet is a little wonky, but it certainly does what the book says it will do. If you really want to get wild, you can play with some of the parameters of the spreadsheet formulas to see how they affect your estimated caloric requirements.
I highly recommend this book. While it is not going to solve all your race nutrition problems, it is a great starting point to get you thinking about how to solve them. For most of us, that’s what we need.
Until next time…