A successful triathlete and accomplished photographer, Noel Mulkey tells the story of his athletic and nutrition journey through his camera lens. A 22 year old from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Noel did not always view himself as a beacon of health and fitness. After an ah-ha moment in college, Noel was inspired to get fit and began training and competing. A long-time friend of PowerBar, Noel discovered his passion for triathlon from his parents, both successful endurance athletes.
Now, Noel shares with us how he got healthier and happier through proper nutrition and discovering a love for the sport that has transformed him physically and mentally.
You initially got started in triathlons to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, how has sport and proper nutrition changed your lifestyle?
In short, this sport has put me on the best path I’ve ever been on. Throughout high school and the first years of college, I was not making healthy life choices. I was completely out of shape and continuing to gain weight. It’s amazing how triathlon has been able to change my mindset. Focusing each day on making healthy nutritional choices and training has made all the difference in my lifestyle. It feels as though everything I have learned from this sport, from training to racing, has affected all aspects of my life. Before I was exercising regularly and eating properly, I was constantly lethargic. I had no energy and overall was not a very happy person. As cliché as it sounds, this sport saved me.
Did you love training and competing in triathlon right away or did it take time to develop your passion for it?
I absolutely loved training immediately. Having a purpose and passion to motivate me to train day after day was a complete 180 for me. Getting up, going for a swim, going for a bike ride, running new routes , exploring new places, was thrilling for me.
Every day felt like it was its own adventure and I was excited to work on something new each day. In order to be great in the three sports, I put a lot of time into each discipline. The first year I enjoyed training more than racing to be honest. The racing aspect took more time for my passion to develop. I am still working on the competitive side of the sport. When I first began racing, I got frustrated by my rookie mistakes and that took some of the joy out of it for me. I expect a lot of out myself in the sport but I always try to remember and embrace the fact that racing is supposed to be fun. While my competitiveness has taken time to develop, as I have gotten more experience, I enjoy it more.
You saw success in triathlon rather quickly considering it is such a high endurance sport, why do you think you were able to see success in the sport so quickly?
I want to preface that I have been extremely fortunate in how things unfolded for me in the last few years. The people I have met and had the opportunity to work with, along with my family’s support has made all the difference. My mom and dad in particular have both competed at an elite-level and have a wealth of knowledge about endurance sports. At the beginning of this journey, I never wanted to be a casual competitor. I’m still years away from my ultimate goal in the sport and I know it will take patience. However, I am doing my best to enjoy every step of this journey.
You’re also a successful photographer. How do you balance your success in both sport and art? How do the two complement each other?
I think the two complement each other very well. Social media developed my passion for photography. I actually never considered myself to be a photographer. However, when I started taking photography more seriously (I put more effort into my shots and learned to edit), I was amazed how much I enjoyed it. From a social media standpoint, Instagram specifically, people responded. When I started trying to capture shots of my own triathlon endeavors, sport and photography came together seamlessly. It has been very helpful to showcase my action shots to market myself and the sport.
What do you look forward to most when you’re competing?
Having the time and effort I dedicate to the sport result in a successful race gives me a feeling of accomplishment. It is indescribable and something I’ve been missing during the offseason.
In terms of the race itself, I enjoy the swim. Being able to swim fast in the open water is invigorating and a great way to get into the race mentally. I enjoy the competitive aspect of the races. Seeing someone in front of you on the bike or run and working hard to pass them is a great adrenaline rush.
How important is proper nutrition and food preparation when training or preparing for a race?
I’ve heard nutrition in triathlon is the ‘fourth discipline’, and that could not be more true. It is everything in endurance sports. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with PowerBar was because PowerBar has always been a part of our family. It keeps me fueled properly, not only before, during, and after an event but when I need a mid-day pick-me-up.
What do you look for when selecting products to use for in-training or recovery use?
Nutrition can make or break you in training and in racing. If I’ve found something that works with me, and does what I need it do, I’ll stick with success. PowerBar in particular, not only does it taste great, but it’s also easy to digest and consume on a nervous stomach, like before a race.
How has your knowledge of proper nutrition/ fuel been a key to your athletic success?
I am still very much in the process of figuring that out. And I haven’t even begun long distance racing yet! However, I do have a pretty good understanding of what doesn’t work. I know I can always improve. It was very stressful when I was not educated on proper nutrition and made mistakes with my eating choices that affected my health and energy.
What is your routine the night before a big race?
My pre-race routine has stayed fairly consistent, it gives me confidence going into the next day, the race day. I feel that everything is taken care of, and there is nothing else I need to do.
Typically, we are in a hotel room the night before. We always make sure it has a microwave because I will need that for my pre-race meal. It’s very simple and I never change it. It’s a little bit of whole wheat pasta, a grilled chicken breast, and 2 potatoes (I like to put an avocado on the potato). I don’t eat a very big portion, because I typically prefer to make lunch my main meal. I also make sure I am drinking water consistently the few days leading into a race, and especially the day before. I get all my gear ready and prep my bottles the night before, so in the morning we can go straight to the transition area. I don’t like feeling rushed, that’s the last stressor I need the morning of a race. After that, I put my feet up and try to relax. To get my mind off the race, I try to watch a few tv shows and then lights out by 8:00 pm normally, sometimes even 7:30.
What is your own personal food philosophy?
When I was little my dad always used to say, “Eat food, not much, mostly plants.” This saying has stuck with me and I’ve kind of just rolled with that. Obviously the “not much” phrase has changed with full time training, I always want to make sure I have enough energy to get the best out of myself. I really enjoy eating as close to the earth as I can. I try now to focus on wholesome, simple ingredients. Back when I was overweight, I craved junk food. Salt and sugar were my go- to’s. I worked very hard, and it wasn’t easy, to change my taste buds, and rewire my brain to not crave any of that, and look forward to a big salad and grilled meat instead of fried. That’s pretty much what I live by now. The last thing I ever would want is to go back to eating poorly. I will say though, I might make an exception to that after a race.
What is your Clean Start for 2017 and how do you plan on achieving it?
My #PowerBarCleanStart Pledge for 2017 was to gain more awareness of my body. The human body is one big mystery and I want to focus more on how what I choose to eat affects my performance. I plan on achieving it by being more aware and taking it day by day. However, I do allow myself one day a week to ‘cheat’ a little.
Is there something else that would surprise us about you that we don’t already know?
There’s actually two things that came to mind with this question. One, I’m a twin, I have a twin sister, and we both were born on my mom’s birthday! So all three of us share a birthday. I think that’s pretty special. And two, beyond photography, I actually am a pretty good artist. I use different medians, primarily colored fine point markers. I have a few pieces shown in galleries. I run a full Etsy shop to sell my creations! It’s definitely not a job by any means, but a terrific hobby.