Race Execution – Nutrition
Nutrition is perhaps triathlon’s fourth discipline. We have previously discussed general, life nutrition in Ironman Nutrition and touched on race nutrition in Ironman Blueprint Recently I have had several inquiries regarding race day nutrition so that will be the focus of this article.
Race day nutrition certainly is not “one-size-fits-all all” so it must be practiced and rehearsed many times so that it can be executed with precision on race day. Perhaps this is the most important lesson – practice, practice, practice; then execute, execute, execute. I can’t believe all of the horror stories I hear regarding race day nutrition. I ask, “Didn’t you have a plan?” Then comes the excuses – “I didn’t feel hungry,” “I was thirstier than I thought,” “I don’t know why I drank (ate) twice as much as I ever did in training,” etc. What were you thinking!?
Remember, practice and then execute. It isn’t that complicated. Just figure out a plan and then practice and execute. So, before every long workout and every race (short, long, just running, anything) I practice the exact same pre-race nutrition. Certainly you can experiment and tweak until you find what is optimal for you. There are internet articles and opinions galore – Be careful! Some are good, and some are not. However, if you properly practice and rehearse you should be able to figure this out following basic principles.
My personal belief is that you, or someone my size (170 lbs) should take in somewhere between 800 and 1000 cal approximately three hours pre-race. I stick to mostly carbohydrates but do include a bar with a bit higher protein percentage. By the way, I do this when I get up to go to the bathroom, and then go back to bed for a quick nap before it is time to get up to go to the race.
I then sip on one quart of Gatorade/sports drink finishing up 45 minutes pre-race (that gives time for the excess fluids to pass through). I then take one gel, or two gels for long races, approximately 10 minutes before the race start with a shot of water. This protocol is easy to practice in training and before any race/event of any type.
During the event itself, I always tend to believe that the simpler, the better. So, I do a bit of reconnaissance to learn what will be served on the course and then order those products to train on in the months leading up to the target race of the year. That way I can “live off the course” and don’t need to worry about special needs bags or other logistical issues regarding nutrition.
Remember that the ability to process calories goes down as intensity goes up. So, this must be _________ . . . you got it, PRACTICED! For a full Ironman I typically take 300 to 350 cal per hour on the bike. In a half Ironman I go harder and bring the calorie intake down to about 200 to 225 cal per hour. On events over 90 minutes or so in duration fluid replacement becomes vital. I know I can process one liter of fluids per hour. This will vary bit based on conditions and temperature. Further, you may need to adjust these numbers up or down based on your size, intensity, and what you learn by experiment.
During performance liquid calories or gels tend to be simpler, easier, and sit better. That being said, I usually eat half a bar or so during the last hour on the bike just to give my stomach a little “ballast” going into the run. Again, all of this is very well practiced and rehearsed at race intensity during training so that I am able to execute with confidence on race day.
On the run I mostly switch to only fluids. I am a big fan of cola on the run and usually grab a sports drink and cola at each aid station, and sometimes a water too. Keep rough track of calories and volume. Particularly with aid stations each mile it can be easy to overdo it. Practice it in advance and you’ll be prepared for a successful day.