You put months of training into your race, spending infinite hours on the bike, early mornings in the pool and endless running sessions, that’s on top of rest days, cross training, going to work and just living. But what is the one thing most people neglect, and which has a profound effect on your race outcome, particularly at half and Ironman distance? Nutrition.
Take two people of the same sex, age and ability, give them the same training and lifestyle but give one proper, tailored nutrition and leave the other to their own devices; it doesn’t take much sense to work out who will achieve a faster, more comfortably gained, race time. The one who has fuelled correctly and worked on their body composition to reduce fat.
Endurance athletes commonly overestimate the amount they need to eat, and the amount of carbs they need. Existing on cereals, bread, pasta, energy bars, sweet food and drinks and using training as an excuse to overeat and to eat junk. Look around at any race and you’ll see over-fat participants; they’ve done hours and hours of training but have remained over-fat or even gained fat. Now they have to haul that dead weight around for up to 15 hours, even beyond. On top of that, all that training reduces immunity so the less well nourished will suffer more setbacks in the form of colds, chest infections and other viruses, which is a detriment to their training.
So how does one tackle triathlon nutrition? And how much more food do people need? Well, that’s a tricky question as it’s quite individual and no everyone trains the same. In general the main bulk of carbs should be timed either side of training sessions; so an hour or so before and immediately afterwards is the time to use carbs to fuel and refuel without the danger of raised blood sugar and fat storage. Ideally you’d time your training to finish at a main meal time so you can use that meal to refuel and not have to take on extra calories. That’s not to say you can’t eat carbs at other times but they shouldn’t be the focus and portion size should be tightly controlled. Type of carb comes into it too, your carbs should be of the highest nutritional value, which means whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, veggies, fruit rather than beige and processed carbs such as white mass-produced bread. After a hard sesh you need quality protein as well as carb, to help with muscle repair. You also need plenty of colourful vegetables to provide fibre for gut health and much needed antioxidants to protect cells and raise immunity. This is not a time to be cutting major food groups from the diet or practising any sort of fad. You simply need wholesome natural food in the right quantity at the right time. No supplements required!
Your race day nutrition should be well practised during training. That usually means a pre-feed of carbs that won’t upset your stomach, could be oats, non-fibrous cereal, peanut butter on toast or a combination. If it;s a particularly long session early morning you can have a carb feed the night before so you just need a small top up in the morning. Throughout the session you should practise with whatever you intend to eat or drink on race day. Normally, for longer distance events, you can plan to have solid food on the bike, such as peanut butter sandwiches, energy bars such as our own fitjacks and even salty foods such as peanuts and crisps. This is the one the time to be worrying about white bread and crisps etc, it’ll just get incinerated immediately and used as fuel. Race day and long practise sesh’s are the best time to milk having a little bit of controlled junk in the diet! Think about what is provided at the race and if you can’t see yourself carrying all your own nutrition then practise with whatever will be given out. Think about raceday weather conditions; will it be hot or cold? Plan and practise accordingly. If it’s going to be hot it’s worth doing some of your bike training inside in a hot environment and practising your fluids, or go out at the hottest part of the day and do the same. The main aim is keep consistent energy without upsetting the gut and having to have pitstops and risk further dehydration from diarrhoea or sickness.
And it doesn’t end on race day. The week after an endurance event leaves your immunity seriously lowered, this is the time you’re likely to pick up stomach bugs or colds. You need to use the first couple of days to refuel with top quality foods and the rest of the time to focus on getting back to non-IM-training eating, with plenty of colourful veggies and some fruit to keep that immunity boosted right up. It’s so easy to carry on eating as if you’re doing 20+ hours of training a week, and that’s when people pick up the fat pounds and have to lose them again for their next race.
fitnaturally specialises in triathlete nutrition and we have worked with elite athletes and pros through to first timers. We always have triathletes on our books and have seen most worst case scenarios acted out! We can help you to hone your body composition and training/racing nutrition to help you towards the best race experience possible. Not just Ironman distance but sprint, Oly and middle distance too.