Eat Like an Ironman Champ: Q & A with Hillary Biscay
There are few athletes who enjoy training and competing as much as Ironman champion Hillary Biscay. Hillary's peers, some of the toughest athletes in the world, will even admit that Hillary eats better, trains harder, and takes care of her body like no one else.
Hillary loves, in her own words — "a smashfest" — an intense training day where she tests herself physically and mentally to new limits. She's racing 8 Ironman distances this year and set a precedent by becoming the first athlete to record six top-five Ironman finishes in one season in 2006.
Racing at this intensity and at this caliber requires a serious focus on nutrition and healthy living, which Hillary shares with everyone in her life. I can personally vouch for this since Hillary's wedding gifts to my husband and I included K-Swiss trainers and John Robbin's The Food Revolution. She even introduced us to Kombucha three years ago.
I had the chance to chat with my lifelong friend, Ironman champion, Hillary Biscay, about the staples of her diet, her philosophy on food, and her favorite training and racing fuel. Still opting for the pre-race pasta dinner? Find out why Hillary favors coconut ice-cream or a chocolate bar the night before a race.
MindBodyGreen: You start training early in the morning. What do you eat for breakfast before your first workout?
Hillary Biscay: It depends how long this workout will last, and what sort of intensity it demands. I can eat anything before jumping on the bike, and if I'm going out for four hours or more, I will definitely have a bowl of oatmeal or mixed cereals — like puffed kamut with some type of granola or muesli — made with almond milk. I add rice protein powder and chia seeds to either bowl. If I have a more intense or shorter session to start the day, I will just have a PowerBar Protein Plus bar with my coffee; I don't get out the door without coffee, by the way! And then my post-workout "second breakfast" would be the big breakfast bowl.
MBG: What are the staples of your lunches and dinners?
HB: Lot of fresh veggies, quinoa (pictured, right), tempeh, garbanzo beans.
MBG: I know from your blog that you're a big fan of salads. What are your favorite toppings for salads? Favorite type of lettuce?
HB: Romaine is definitely my lettuce of choice; I'll even put it in my protein shakes! We eat so much salad that we are always switching up our toppings, but some of our favorites are: avocado, steamed broccoli, sauteed leeks, red bell peppers, and garlic.
MBG: When you are out on a long ride or a long run, what are your favorite forms of nutrition and hydration?
HB: I've always got a banana or two and a Fruit Smoothie PowerBar in my jersey pocket! But I also like to treat myself during a long ride with something that I wouldn't eat otherwise; so often when we stop to refill our waterbottles, I will buy a chocolate bar or a cookie and enjoy a little treat.
During long runs, I rely on PowerGel Energy Blasts for my fuel; they are like gummy candy but with all of the essential electrolytes and carbohydrates that we need while exercising. I also carry a handheld waterbottle or CamelBak with water; hydrating well during long runs is essential for me not only to have a great last hour or thirty minutes, but to recover quickly from the training session.
MBG: There are so many different philosophies out there about diet, nutrition, vegetarianism, veganism, and more. What have you found works best for your body?
HB: I try to stick with a mostly vegan diet. That is, I no longer buy any animal products for our kitchen or cooking at home. I've never been a huge meat-eater, so previously, I used dairy products as a big protein source. As much as I love all forms of dairy — cottage cheese, yogurt, etc -- I find that I miss it less and less, as I have become very conscious of how much better I feel without it. I have asthma, and eliminating dairy from my diet has really helped my breathing. It has also helped my stomach; I suffer from a bloated stomach while running much less frequently now.
MBG: From the United Arab Emirates, to Brazil, to Spain, to Denmark, to your home base in Tuscon, you compete and train all over the world. Does your nutrition change as you travel the globe?
HB: It does change based on what is available wherever I am. But if my trip is a month or less, and I anticipate not being able to acquire many of my staples for that time, I will carry a fair amount of food with me. For my trip to Lanzarote and Brazil this month, I brought a whole bag of food with me, including things like vegan protein powder, quinoa, natural peanut butter, and all of my PowerBar products. However, I have also learned that the less my diet relies on processed foods, the easier it is to find what I need while traveling; one can find fresh fruit and veggies of some variety most anywhere!
MBG: You are competing this weekend in Ironman Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. What do you eat the night before the race? Morning of the race? During the race?
HB: Most of my eating is done by the night before the race. That night I am just looking to put some fat and sugar into my bloodstream for the next day — almost in "liquid calorie" form. So in the States, I will go for some soy or coconut milk ice cream, or if I am abroad and don't have access to this, I will go for a big bar of dark chocolate.
My pre-race breakfast is always some form of plain white bread — like a baguette — with natural peanut butter and honey.
During the race, I generally do not eat any solid food. I have a hard time chewing and breathing at the same time! So, on the bike I get all of my calories (about 380-400 per hour, or at least 2000 over the course of the 112 miles) from two very concentrated bottles of sports drink, which I sip on throughout. During the marathon, I am all about the double-caffeinated, double latte-flavored PowerGel. I take one every 30 minutes. And of course I am drinking heaps of water throughout the ride and run!
MBG: Favorite healthy snack?
HB: Bananas — perfect and portable. I seem to take one everywhere I go.
MBG: Any guilty food indulgences?
HB: I am a coffee addict!
You can find Hillary online at HillaryBiscay.com.