Fill your tank like a frugal caveman

Three cheap, easy ways to eat smarter before and after workouts

Banksy's caveman

Is eating healthy stressing you out?

Are you spending as much money on protein bars every month as you do on your mobile phone?

Do you load up on energy gels, sports drinks and recovery shakes only to have them collect dust in the pantry because you don’t know when to eat them? Or maybe they’re so expensive, you’re just waiting for a gel-worthy event – which isn’t for another six months.

At the grocery store, do you get overwhelmed by all the options, confused by the conflicting advice and end up running away (screaming) to the nearest Chipotle for refuge lunch?

Don’t worry. It gets better.

Despite the fire hose of information, diets and expert advice out there, eating healthy doesn’t have to be so intimidating.

With nutrition contributing so much to your triathlon performance – not to mention your general health and wellbeing – it’s sad to see people discouraged, confused or scared off by a deluge of suggestions and restrictions.

A while ago, my sister Cecily gave you the beginner’s guide to endurance grubbin’ after she read “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.”

I finally got around to reading the book and learned a ton about the paleo philosophy and how to formulate my nutrition strategy both in my day-to-day training, and also on race days.

Cecily’s post gives a great overview. So, I’m going to give you the three simple tips from the book that I immediately worked into my routine with very little hassle.

We’ll focus on the pre- and post-workout time periods, and talk about ways you can healthify (that’s a word now) your fueling strategy, conveniently, inexpensively and pretty quickly.

Here are my three easy tips to start fueling smarter, today.

1. Rehydrate, first thing in the morning

Drink a tall glass of water right when you wake up. Your body gets dehydrated as you sleep through the night, so it’s important to replace those precious bodily fluids right away, well before you start warming up or even think about exercising.

It’s so easy, a caveman could do it,* but if you need a reminder, try this: before you go to bed, when you’re prepping your gear for the next morning’s workout, pour yourself a tall glass of water and leave it on the kitchen counter, so you don’t forget. Then, when you wake up and stumble down the stairs to zombie through your morning routine, start the day off right by pounding that beverage and winning your own personal chugging contest. Or, if you’re not into drinking games, just keep a full glass of water by your nightstand and drink it after you roll your too-cool-for-school-self out of bed.

2. Eat protein and fruit, an hour before exercise


You need fuel in the tank to power through your training program. But consuming the right fuel, at the right time will help you perform better and, dare I say, dominate. Ideally you should have some protein, plus a low-fiber carbohydrate as an energizing snack at least an hour before your workout.

You have a few menu options, but I’ve found it pretty easy to eat about six tablespoons of unsweetened applesauce mixed with a couple tablespoons of whey protein powder. Another route I like: a hardboiled egg (or two) with some cantaloupe. No, it’s not as simple as chugging a glass of water in zombie mode, but still pretty convenient. See more options in this chart, courtesy of my sister and the book, “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.”

3. The Red Zone: recovery drink 30 minutes post-workout

Third and Goal -- Fairmont State (WV, in white) vs. Shepherd University at Ram Stadium Shepherdstown (WV) Saturday November 10, 2012

Don’t procrastinate, delay or forget to eat within 30 minutes after you finish an intense exercise. This short, but crucial window is when your body is most receptive to receiving the nutrients it needs to replenish all the fuel (and specifically the glycogen stores) it burned up in training.

You could do a something search for “sports recovery drinks” and buy the cheapest best one. Or you could go rogue and make your own homebrew. It’s pretty easy and will taste better because you are saving money made it yourself. Here’s the recipe I’ve been concocting lately:

  • Orange juice (16 oz.)
  • Glucose (4 tbsp.)
  • Banana (1)
  • Whey Protein Isolate (3 tbsp.)
  • Table salt (3 pinches)

I particularly like this recipe because it’s mobile-friendly, with no blender required. You can bring all the ingredients to the gym, mix easily, and consume immediately post workout. This is also taken from “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” (see Cecily’s table for more info and options).

Also, keep in mind this “Red Zone Refueling” practice only applies for intense workouts or sessions of 60 to 90 minutes (or longer). I used to make the mistake of drinking unnecessary protein shakes even after light physical-therapy and mobility sessions while I worked to recover from my foot injury. Not only did I gain a few pounds, but I also wasted a bunch of protein powder.

Got your own homebrew recipes or fueling strategy?

Or maybe you got beef (grass-fed beef) with this advice?

Share in the comments!

– Live every day –


*You see what I did there, with the paleo and pop-culture references woven together in witty harmony?

Photo credits: Clay Irving, Lord Jim, Ron Cogswell