We touched on nutrition briefly in the last blog in starting to figure out how best to handle the time demands of training for an Ironman with still managing work and family obligations.
Now is a great time to figure out how you can make sure you are meeting your nutrition needs in your day-to-day life as well as for your training. Meeting your daily nutrition requirements helps fuel your day-to-day training as well as the recovery from that training and helps you be ready for the next day’s training.
Let’s say that again: Meeting your daily nutrition requirements helps fuel your day-to-day training as well as the recovery from that training and helps you be ready for the next day’s training.
There are a lot of areas which deserve your attention when meeting your nutrition needs. We know that it can get time consuming to constantly be planning, shopping, cutting and cooking. So, either we all need to hire a personal chef (ha!) or we might need to make fueling well a little less time consuming. A few ideas:
EATING IS YOUR SECRET TRAINING SUPERPOWER
Swim, bike, EAT, run. Don’t eat = Don’t run.
Eating is considered the fourth sport of Ironman and those who do it well reap the rewards. Gastrointestinal distress and underfueling are two of the biggest reasons someone may not finish any endurance activity and especially Ironman.
Think back to the last blog which outlined that you can expect 12-14 hours of training a week for peak training. In a week, you are moving and powering your body for 12-14 hours a week. What will you do to fill it up?
Getting in enough nutrition helps your body adapt and learn to efficiently learn to use fuel and thus you will feel better during your workouts. Consistently fueling will allow you to push those harder workouts harder, let your body recover, build muscle, help with quality sleep, keep stress hormones in balance and ultimately will help you make it to the start line in great shape and uninjured. It’s pretty important!
Some signs that you may not be eating enough:
Quite often you may not feel all that hungry. For many, this is especially true after longer or harder workouts. You may not feel like eating. Realize that to properly fuel your training efforts, you need to eat!
In the last blog, we mentioned that dieting isn’t a great option when training for an Ironman. This is not the time in the season to try and lose weight. Your body is under a lot of stress from training and we need the fuel now to allow it to repair. We also need to fuel now to give you energy to really hit those workouts and build to get stronger. Restricting now will lead to low energy in workouts, not making the fitness gains you hope and maybe even injury. Concentrate on getting a solid breakfast, lunch and dinner and small planned snacks during the day. After any workout, have at least a planned snack with protein and carbs. It may feel that all you do is eat and it can be a chore. But it is worth it!
YOUR RACE DAY NUTRITION PLAN
Hopefully, we’ve helped you see that your day-to-day nutrition is a critical component to your success when training for an Ironman. Now we get down to the nitty gritty of your race day fuel plan. You will need to put your problem solving skills to work to figure out what works for you during workouts. The only way to understand what works for you on race day is to test during training.
Remember: Swim, bike, EAT, run. If you don’t eat, you don’t run.
On race day, you’ll need to aim to take in enough carbs, other fuel and hydration to support all the way to that finish line. How do you know what to eat and when?
Keep it simple.
Most agree that during exercise we primarily want to take in carbohydrate as this is what our muscles use to keep going. There is conflicting information regarding protein and fat intake during endurance events. It works for some but not others, so each person needs to test out various fuels to see what works best for them.
This is the time to start testing when you are on your longer swims, bike rides and runs. What will work for you?
Experiment with various fuels even if you think you know what works. Sports fuels (blocks, gels, powders) as well as real foods such as good ol’ PB and J, rice balls, fig newtons and even pizza slices or boiled small potatoes. Keep trying new things even if you think you know what works. Race day can be fickle and for many reasons (stress, anxiety, heat) your body may suddenly not be able to handle the fuel you have practiced with and think works best. It’s best to have other options that you know will also work or definitely NOT work.
How much you need will depend some on how fit you are, how well your body is trained to use fuel as well as your body size and the intensity of exercise. Specific numbers may vary depending on what source you are looking at but in general most recommend around 40-60 grams of carbs per hour and then each person will have to experiment if they need more. Some high end athletes use 80+ grams of carbohydrate an hour! It is very important to practice during training not only to see how your gut does with the fuel but also to teach your body how to use the fuel you are taking in to give you more energy to keep going longer.
Fluids are also important to consider in this equation as well as electrolytes and sodium. Some find liquid fuel works well along with plain water to meet carb needs and hydration. Others may find that it is better to eat most of their fuel and take in water or dilute sports drinks for hydration. Hydration plays a role in how your gut will feel. Too many carbohydrates with too little water often can give someone a sour gut. Too little or too much sodium can also compound the problem. How much fluid a person needs also depends on a person’s size, fitness level and how much sodium they lose via sweat.
So, we get there is a lot of information here and the more you read the more confusing it can get. We have found the best success with our athletes if they actually write down - good old fashioned pen and paper - what they are going to eat on race day. Write out EXACTLY what they plan to do.
BREAK IT DOWN
Get out your pen and here is your homework:
Figure out how many grams of carbohydrate you are aiming for, ounces of fluid and mg of sodium. As you are training, note what worked and didn't work. Over time this will allow you to dial in exactly what you need.
The next part of the homework is to figure out what to do when your main plan falls apart. That’s right. What happens when your stomach feels awful and you cannot stand to eat your normal go-to foods? It’s important to test options. Make sure you know what fuel your given event will have available and know how this may play into the race plan.
We know experimenting on a long training day is not always appealing as none of us want our long ride or run cut short due to a gastrointestinal issue, but we would rather have a training day go poorly than race day. We would rather you have to cut a workout short to learn what works or maybe does not. This also gives you the opportunity to test what to do if the plan is not working and maybe test out various strategies to make it through. That training fail becomes a training opportunity.
Take the time now (especially as many have a little extra time) to build your plan and figure out how you can practice it. We know it might seem tedious to write it all out but trust us, in the moment with your glycogen depleted brain, you will not be able to calculate or make decisions easily. We want this plan so tried and true you don’t have to think about it. And remember: keep it simple!
One tip or trick is to eat different fuel on the bike than you plan to eat on the run. Palate fatigue where you get tired of what you planned to eat is real. After so many hours on the bike it is much easier to take in something with different taste and texture. Also, be aware that sports fuels tend to be sweet tasting. Even if you love sweets you may find that you want something savory or at least not super sweet. Experiment in training and find what works for you.
We all think a ton of variety would be great but remember you have to be able to carry it and then keep track of what you are taking in. Trust us on this one too. There are so many decisions you have to make during an Ironman, don’t make this one you have to figure out as well.
I SIGNED UP FOR AN IRONMAN
What is this craziness with all this eating?!
Successful training is full of figuring out what works for you and that applies to nutrition and fueling as well. Use the time over the next months to work on day-to-day nutrition and to work on that race day nutrition plan.
If all of this feels a bit overwhelming remember it is okay to ask for help! Now is a great time to do a virtual nutrition or race plan consultation with Coach Lesley. She can help you think through race day from start to finish. She can help you develop that race day nutrition plan, provide you with more ideas of things to try or just talk through the tips and tricks of how to put it together. Consultations are also available for your day-to-day nutrition if you are finding you don’t know what to eat, how much to eat, have questions about currently trendy diets or how to make it less time consuming. Contact her today!