Nutrition is a key component to Ironman training that is often not given the attention it needs. As a coach and one of the top amateur triathletes in the country, I field many questions on “my training plan”. I can count on both hands the number of athletes that have asked me about nutrition over the past 20 years. This is not a complete nutrition plan but a few of my favorite tips on the subject.
Recognize that you are burning 800 plus calories per hour during the race but your body can only process between 250-350 calories per hour at a race effort. Make sure you are consuming calories in this range. Too little and you’ll bonk. Too much and you could have digestive tract issues.
Pictured above in my bottles:
2 Scoops of Power Bar Perform + 1 Scoop of Carbo Pro = 300 Calories per bottle/hour
1. Sodium is oh so important. Generally speaking women need 800mg. and males need 1000 mg. per hour. This isn’t a perfect science though. Race conditions and effort contribute to a wide variance on our needs. Even in a controlled environment our individual biology can affect what we need. At the Timex Camp in New York we did an actual Sweat Rate Loss Study by the Korey Stringer Institute which told us how much fluid loss due to perspiring per hour. I was surprised at the differences between my team mates. Make sure you are counting the sodium content of everything you are consuming. I’ve seen athletes overlook the details at times, which has cost them dearly. If, for example the sports drink on course isn’t going down like you planned and you’ve had to switch to water, you may need to make up this sodium in salt tabs. My stomach prefers a buffered salt tabs while my training partners don’t. I recommend Thermotabs or MetaSalt.
2. Have a plan. I have a very specific race plan with every food I will consume and when to consume it. Included are calories, salt and electrolyte content, as well as, the proper mix of solids and liquids my body is accustomed to digesting. You need to be doing this and adjusting it months before the race.
3. Consume immediately after the swim. We tend to forget that we sweat and burn a ton of calories in the swim because it’s a cool and more comfortable environment than the rest of the race. The transition from swim to bike is a great place to start making up for the calories burned in the last 2.4 miles.
4. Write the key pieces of your plan with specific times and put it on the stem of your bike. This will help you remember what the plan is in the heat of the moment. Don’t forget to put some tape over it or your sweat will make your plan disappear!
5. Ye old Timex watch. In additional to my TIMEX Global Trainer on my bike you may get a glimpse of my old school TIMEX 50 Lap watch or Run Trainer on my wrist. I’ll set a timer with a recurring count down to remind me of key intervals of when I’m supposed to consume the most important pieces of my nutrition plan. It’s a fail safe as in a race I can get distracted.
6. Your training in the swim, bike and run are done with specific race goals in mind. You should also eat in training like you will in the race. Make sure you know what’s provided on course and EXACTLY where it is. I consider everything. The best athletes will make sure the products on course have been in their system long before the race. Is it hard food or soft? What brand? I even train with the same flavors. PowerBar Harvest Energy Bars in Mixed Nut and Toffee Chocolate Chips are my favorites.
7. Make sure your bike is properly packed with all your favorite racing and training foods. Even if you know where you are to pick up food on course, I’ve seen races that have run out of the type of food I’ve expected. I rely heavily on myself and try to leave as little to chance as possible. I always tape an extra gel on the top tube of my Quintana Roo bike in case a bar seems hard to chew at some section of the race. 100 calories missed early on will affect your race later.
8. Wear a fuel belt on the run. I love my Nathan Speed 2 belt, which can be loaded with 2 flasks for fluid to sip between stations and whatever I want to eat whenever I want it. I like to start the run with a 2x Caffeine PowerBar Double Latte Gel then take Vanilla Gels with No Caffeine until the last 10k I go back to the Double Latte!
9. Plan B. Even if you train on the same products as the race provides, the big day always brings surprises. Plan for the unexpected. Have a variety of foods in your special needs bag that you can go to in case your stomach just isn’t right during the race. I’ve gone to my back up plan and it’s saved the day. Snickers, fig newtons, pretzels and even some extra solid food choices should be in the bag along with extra salt tabs in case you drop a few on course.
10. Recovery Drinks are key to recovering for the next days training and from any race. I drink 16 oz of PowerBar Recovery drink while I’m blending up a smoothie with fresh fruits, yogurt and protein powder. This gives me electrolytes, fluid and yummy calories in a quick fashion!