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TriCoachGeorgia

My Approach to Race Nutrition for Triathletes & Runners

This week’s blog comes from a simple but brilliant post written on the Georgia forum of www.BeginnerTriathlete.com by one of my best triathlon buddies, the elusive Brown Dog, Doug Bachman. Actually, his wife, the less elusive but still wonderful Mrs. Brown Dog, Stephanie made a couple of good points too (i.e., you must fuel well before and after an event to have the best day and drink to thirst per one of my faves Dr. Tim Noakes). We are a very active, not always agreeable but friendly, bunch on the forum and I like to throw questions out there to stimulate discussion and flesh out opinions.

Is There Such Thing as a “Secret Sauce”

This particular topic had to do with “secret sauce” or tricks of the trade we had learned this year. Somehow my secret sauce question led back to the topic of “the best” nutritional plan. I get lots of back channel questions because of my weight loss and success with a lower calorie approach to racing. After some thoughtful discussion about how each plan has merits, it generally ended up with coaches and triathletes chiming in that there is no one method that works for everyone and, thusly, we must all find out what works for ourselves through trial and error, Doug wrote there is no “secret sauce”.

According to him, “you have to work hard and smart in training to figure out what works for you. The people who struggle with nutrition are the ones who listen to anything published by Gatorade or just do what one of their fast friends do.” Here he is absolutely right. Too many of us take the plan that was passed down from coach to coach, without properly considering the full effect on the body.

Doug stated that he “used to give detailed nutritional advice, but (he) realized that wasn’t really helping the athlete. Now (he) tell(s) them this:

Learn to train on less.

You need to know exactly what it feels like when you start to run out of fuel. Most people think they are low on nutrition when they are actually just low on energy/fitness. Eventually you will know how it feels when you need salt, fuel, or a blood sugar boost.

Learn to pace yourself.

An overwhelming number of GI problems on race day are caused by going harder than your stomach can handle.

Learn to perform well on a variety of fuels.

Train with Gatorade sometimes.  Use UCan for a month.  Eat nothing but salted boiled potatoes and drink water on a long ride.  Take in nothing but flat coca cola and salt tabs for your next 20 miler.  Use infinit.

From my experience this year, racing several HIMs on less than 200 cals and, in fact having a breakthrough race of a 4:26 on 140 calories in April, I will not dispute that we can train and race on many less calories than you might have heard or would expect. Prior to my breakout season, I personally have had solid races up to Ironman on 300+ calories per hour post swim (but I woke up in the middle of the night before race day to pound down 1000 calories) and many pros take in many more calories than I do so its not always best to do the less is more approach unless it works for you.

Personally, I hated gaining weight on big races and big training days, not to mention the horrible toll on your system so this approach works for me.  Many of us former heavy people don’t just do triathlon for podiums, but for healthy living and weight loss/management.  Not even mentioning the physical toll on your teeth and systems, even the ordinary person sees the problem with excessive sugar intake.

Pacing is also crucial. You overshoot the swim or the early bike and the later bike and/or the run could get ugly for you in many respects, especially from a GI perspective. If you want to push the pace on race day you have to push the training stress (e.g., volume and intensity) in training. You have to do your job preparing and not buy into a less is more training approach unless you are very gifted and talented.

Finally, you have to learn what fuels work best for you. Like Stephanie said, learn that race day nutrition starts the days before and ends after the race. Eat well as a rule and periodize your nutrition to your nutritional training needs.

I love the products like natural foods (e.g., bananas, raisins, dates, smoothies, etc.) and  Generation Ucan that work hand-in-hand with my general nutritional program that I share with my athletes and friends. Obviously, I am not a big fan of sugar based products, which have no nutritional value and can lead to bonking because of the insulin spikes, but some have/had success so we know the protocols and how to refine them for you. Slower burning fuels like Ucan seem to me to be the way to go, but I respect others that choose the traditional sugar-based paths of gels, blocks, and the liquid mixes (if they work in training and they don’t mind the physical toll).

One exception for me is for the elixir, coca cola, on the back half of the runs on long course triathlons. Short course triathlon is another animal and requires a separate discussion altogether, but I see far too many age groupers with a cornucopia of gel packs for a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon. Not only is that unnecessary, it slows you down and is bad for your body. You have 2-3 hours of glycogen stores for training or racing in you at any one time if you fuel well normally.

Here at www.tricoachGeorgia.com we systematically work with athletes to refine their particular nutritional plans for a variety of triathlon distances and other endurance events. Though not Dieticians, both coaches have had extra coursework and study in the area of athletic fueling, healthy eating, weight loss, and weight gain. We are familiar with Seebohar‘s caffeine and sodium loading protocols and a variety of fueling strategies. We can help you along those lines as part of our comprehensive coaching package. Give us a shout and see what we can do to help you score a personal best while finding your happy weight in and out of sport!