Lessons from a Triathlete: Fuel Yourself
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in a 10 part series on how an elite athlete applies the lessons she’s learned from Triathalon training to her role as a Fortune 100 marketing executive. Read the rest of this series here.
Before I started racing Ironmans, I was an avid cyclist and participated in several charity bike rides. Thanks to the AIDSRide charity bicycle ride (330 miles over 4 days), I learned a few fundamentals of endurance events – training, pacing, and eating. One of the most notable mantras on our training rides and throughout the long distance event was:
“Eat before you’re hungry. Drink before you’re thirsty.”
Getting the right amount of nutrition, at the right time, is as likely to impact your performance as your training does. In fact, if you read my earlier post “Make Preparation a Habit,” you’ll see how essential food prep was to my training routine. Fueling your body before, during, and after a workout or race is essential to strong performance and recovery.
You might be wondering how eating applies to work life or completing a significant step in your business, like launching a new product. Think of it more from the perspective of how you’ll fuel yourself and your team – to keep creativity at its best, focus sharp, and ideas at the forefront.
In November, my team at IBM launched the next generation of our IBM Watson Data Platform and released a new website for IBM Cloud. Just like training for an Ironman, these launches required months of preparation – and some very long days around the actual launches. During our preparation, did we consume the right amount of audience research to hone in on the best messaging and tactics? Did we seek the best creative inputs? How did we keep on track during the launch? Had we planned for recovery? When and how would the team inspect our results? Would we be hungry to begin tweaking content to optimize the results?
Let’s take a look at what I ate in preparation for an Ironman and on race day itself (because, I know you’re very curious). Then, let’s think about how we apply that concept of “eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty” to business life.
How I fueled myself during Ironman training:
- Not only is breakfast a very important meal, it is one that you should likely have twice and with protein. Before a morning workout, I usually have a small yogurt, half a banana, and some granola. Post-workout, it’s time for breakfast #2 – and protein should be king here – hard boiled eggs were my on-the-go choice or an english muffin with nut butter, along with fruit and coffee.
- Rice is perfect any time of the day – as race day approached, I would find myself having rice and eggs for breakfast!
- Stock up your desk drawers or old school file cabinets with snacks – almonds, dried apricots, granola bars, tortilla chips and hummus.
- For recovery after a long run, chocolate milk was a staple.
Tips for fueling your work team throughout the year:
- Go to an industry conference together: In my role leading a global marketing team, we work closely with a few creative/media/ad agencies. We’re looking at going to a marketing conference together (Hubspot’s Inbound or a DMA event) to explore new content and vendors.
- Participate in a training together: At IBM, my team of marketers took part in internal programs like “e.School” and “Making the Marketer” where they learned fundamentals of engagement, wrote and edited articles, and created new content in small teams. We also sent several team members to courses at General Assembly, WeWork, Code Academy, and more.
My Ironman Race Day Menu:
- Race morning: Yogurt with fruit and granola, a banana, and oatmeal.
- During the race: The bike portion of an Ironman is all about eating! It’s the longest portion of the race and 112 miles in aero position (resting on your handlebars) makes it easiest to eat. Aid stations are every 20 miles too – full of water, gatorade, and snacks. My favorites: peanut butter sandwiches cut into quarters, peanut butter crackers, Clif shot blocks, Gu energy gel in Vanilla or espresso, and potatoes (little red roasted potatoes cut into halves or quarters), 1-2 energy bars (Love the Clif Mojo bars or Builder bars).
- During the run: You likely need to keep eating a little something during the marathon – and frankly, sometimes chewing is a nice distraction. The aid stations along the race course (1 every mile) typically offer pretzels, grapes, oranges, bananas, and energy gels. Even better, this is your time to use other liquids to refuel your body. The Ironman races offer coca cola and chicken broth. The sugar and caffeine in the soda is a great pick me up and the sodium in the chicken broth helps replace what you’ve lost from sweating.
- Immediately Post-race: Pringles, pringles, pringles…light, cripsy & SALTY. And, because, I owe it to myself.
Tips to keep your team going during a product or business launch:
- Plan a pre-launch gathering: Take an afternoon off. Go out for a team lunch. Taking a short break (ideally with food) will re-energize the team.
- Feed the team and make it a habit: Office rituals like “Bagel Tuesdays” or “Pizza Fridays” encourage team members to take a break, chat with others – and that’s a great way to fuel new ideas or find solutions for problems. It’s also important to know when to expect these breaks – similar to an Ironman where the aid stations are every 20 miles on the bike and every mile on the run – it’s good to know when to expect a break/snack.
- Communicate regularly: A weekly or daily email or slack message that outlines what’s been accomplished and gives recognition to individual team members is a great way to keep people engaged.
On a personal note, I think it’s important to think of small ways to fuel yourself at work too. You can opt to eat lunch outside the office as much as possible, make a lunch or coffee plan with a friend/mentor/outside peer on a monthly basis, go to an industry meet-up once a month, or even check out an art opening on occasion.
Whether you’re trying to feed creativity or efficiency, taking a break to ingest new content and actual sustenance is likely to improve your performance and help you reach your goals.