When it comes to preparing for an endurance event an athlete’s focus is dominated by training. Every athlete wants to ensure he arrives at race day in peak fitness. More and more the triathlon community discussions revolve around cycling, running and swimming stats, however the biggest lagging factor though is the amount of time and consideration put into proper nutrition.
Proper nutrition training is important to ensure that the athlete’s energy system is optimal, the body recovers properly between training sessions and gets stronger over time and that the athlete arrives at his event with a strong immune system and a proper fuelling plan to maximize his potential for a strong finish.
A daily nutrition program and a fuelling strategy for an ultra-distance triathlon should be well thought out. The fuelling strategy should be tested and documented for the big day. There is no point in arriving at an endurance event in top physical condition only to succumb to the forgotten ills of digestive issues such as cramping and nausea and also lack of energy and fatigue. Fitness is one thing but proper fuelling is another and on race day the time on the body is far more than you have done in any single training session. Below are some useful nutrition tips on ensuring that your nutrition is down packed and ready for race day.
Breaking Down Nutrition in Terms of Time
1. Daily nutrition
2. Taper Nutrition Considerations
3. Race week Nutrition
4. 48-72hr prior to race day
5. Race Day
6. During the Race
7. 32Gi Guide
Daily Nutrition Considerations
Proper nutrition plays one of the most crucial roles when it comes to sports performance. What you put into your system consistently through the day will influence your ability to perform. I does not matter how fit, fast or strong you are, if you do not eat correctly you will never reach your full potential.
With this in mind the question often asked is what should you eat before, during or after raining or racing session? However a step needs to be taken back here, because how you eat from the time you wake up in the morning until you go to sleep at night plays the most critical factor. It does not help to eat well only before a training or racing session when most of the time you are not eating well at all.
Here are a few guidelines to eating healthily in order to benefit properly from pre, during and post training nutrition.
Eat Foods that Agree with you
A lot of people indulge in foods purely because they enjoy them even though in the back of their minds they know it impacts them negatively. Examples of this are foods which cause digestive discomfort such as dairy, wheat or gluten foods which can cause intolerance in a variety of forms. If you do suffer from digestive discomfort or allergies you need to analyse your nutrition first and cut out certain types of foods until you discover what is causing the issue. Listen carefully to the messages your body gives you as any food intolerance will be shown in the form of various symptoms which you need to take note of and eliminate the source that is impacting you negatively.
Eat Timeous Meals for Energy
Eating too few meals, skipping meals and eating the wrong foods at the incorrect times can cause a negative impact on the body. Weight issues can occur as well as energy levels compromised which can lead to periods of fatigue or ill health. Eating the appropriate foods at the correct time will enable you to have balanced energy levels, better mental focus and a stronger immune system allowing you to perform at your best.
Avoid excessive Indulgence and Stimulant foods.
Eating & drinking too many indulgent foods sends your body into a spiral. Stimulants such as caffeine can have a benefit but excessive consumption will be detrimental. You should try to limit coffee or tea to a cup a day preferably in the morning, after or before workout. Alcohol actually impacts the body’s ability to recover properly and at the same time it will impair performance if consumed anywhere from 48-72hrs before an event. Sugar loaded foods such as chocolates, pastries and breads also cause blood glucose issues and can affect your energy cycles negatively as well as contributing to unwanted weight gain.
The Percentages Game
Eating healthily is a percentages game. As an example if you consume 60 healthy meals a week and 5 of the 60 meals are considered to be indulgence or treat meals, it still means that over 90% of your diet is very healthy. However if an athlete only eats 20 meals a week and 5 of them are indulgent meals it means that 25% of the diet is out the window. Monitor your eating on a weekly basis in order to get a good snapshot of where your percentage level of healthy nutrition lies. Try to get it as high as possible.
It is recommended drinking at least 30-40ml per kilogram of bodyweight a day preferably in the form of water. Add training and stimulants such as coffee or other drinks which have a diuretic effect into this equation and fluid requirements climb. When you train you need to replace lost fluid, always drink to thirst when exercising it’s a very accurate measure of fluid need.
Mix it Up
Vary your foods in order to give yourself a wide range of nutrients. Depending what type of eating plan you follow whether low carb high fat or a higher carb diet try to get in plenty of fruits and vegetables daily. Preferably vegetables on the higher end. When selecting carbohydrates rather aim for complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, wild rice and unprocessed oats which provide more blood glucose stability meaning healthier energy levels. Ensure you consume healthy fats with easily digested proteins such as lean meat or vegetable proteins.
People tend to put a focus on dinners or breakfasts being the meal of the day. As an athlete your recovery meal should be your meal of the day. Post exercise meal is critical in aiding the body’s recovery process. The type and size of meal will be dependent on the duration and intensity of the exercise session. Depending on your diet take note of how you are feeling when completing the session and fuel yourself accordingly. As an example if you have done a very high intensity session for a long period of time, you might want to consider a higher carbohydrate intake post exercise to assist with glycogen replenishment and blood glucose stabilization. However if you have done a short fairly light training session you could opt for a lower carb meal and put the emphasis on protein and fat. Each person is unique in what they require and you need to experiment to find out what works best for you.
Eating fast and processed foods is a sure way to move closer towards health issues. This should be limited as much as possible if not avoided at all costs. Try to eat foods that are more natural and require as little cooking as possible. When cooking food it’s always better to cook on lower temperatures for longer periods of time, this will maximize nutrient volume in the food and reduce the risk of burning which in itself also has health issues.
The Taper Period
One of the most critical periods prior to a race is what’s known as the taper period. In longer distance events such as marathons, ultra-distance races and stage racing eventually a peak in training volume is reached. Then comes the time to reduce volume, recover, sharpen and tweak the body to arrive at race day fit and fresh. This is known as the taper period. Many athletes put a lot of focus on the actual training and recovery aspects during this time but completely miss the most fundamental aspect of the tapering period and that is nutrition. Another misunderstanding is the type of quality training that needs to be maintained until race day. Many athletes drop volume but then tend to neglect proper sharpening which involves speed and strength work.
The kind of nutrition you take in the 2-3 weeks before a big event can make or break your big day. There are a few areas that nutrition play a very critical role in when it comes to the taper period and very often these can get the better of an athlete. These are:
- Immune System Strength
- Weight Management
- Muscle Recovery
- Race fuel preparation
Immune System Strength
An athlete’s biggest fear is falling ill prior to race day. Let’s face it when we hit peak training volumes 3 weeks out from a big event our bodies are fatigued, immune system is low and we are very susceptible to infection. Even more so when we are exposed to children or closed work spaces on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief athletes are quite weak at fighting illness during volume periods of training.
Heavy volume training periods only mean one thing, cravings. An athlete requires food to fuel the body not just from an energy point of view but also from a recovery perspective. Many athletes also feel the need to eat because they deserve it after long hard sessions. Sugar highs and sugar lows causes appetite triggers and as disciplined as athletes are when it comes to training, they often fail when it comes to eating. Once training volume is reduced one of the toughest things to be able to do is reduce the eating volume accordingly. Many athletes arrive at race day a lot heavier than they were during training and this is a common athlete mistake.
A taper period is there for one thing. Muscle recovery and strength gains. It’s time to repair, recover and build. Remember training breaks you down, proper rest and recovery builds you up and makes you stronger. How you recover physically has a large dependency on nutrition not just reduced training and rest.
Race Fuel Preparation
The way you prepare your body from a nutrition perspective in the weeks and days leading up to an event will either make or break your fuelling strategy on the day. What you eat can either make your race fuel strategy very effective or completely the opposite and this is something you need to constantly have in mind as you approach the big day.
Where your focus should be on a training perspective should be pretty well understood in terms of quality sessions leading up to the race. If you are not sure how to properly taper from a physical point of view towards your big race its best to consult a knowledgeable coach.
With a few weeks out of the big day, it is not easy to focus on nutrition. You have to make a conscious effort to make the right decisions when it comes to eating and drinking, because whether you like to believe it or not, you can make a big difference on the actual day by taking the best nutritional approach.
Where to start is quite easy try to adhere to these few simple rules as a start.
Don’t Eat Out
Eating out firstly is not necessarily eating healthy unless you are completely sure of exactly what is on your plate. Just because it’s a grilled chicken breast or a fillet doesn’t mean it is basting free, not loaded with trans-fats and has the correct nutrients. The risk of falling ill is one aspect as well as the issue of irritating digestive symptoms and then risking weight gain. Rather know what you are ingesting, keep it clean, keep it lean and prepare your own meals that you can ensure the nutrients you are taking in have a benefit and not a detriment.
Reduce or Cut Sugar Intake
Cutting sugar intake is one of the smartest things you could possibly do in leading up to a big event. By sugar I don’t just mean physical sugar. I am speaking about the large anti-nutritious carbohydrate portions that most people are so emotionally attached to in the form of instant cereals, noodles and grains. Rather take in carbohydrates which have excellent properties not just from an energy point of view, but those that also provide immunity strengthening. The better your carb selection the stronger you will arrive at race day. Opt for carbohydrates which are nutrient dense, so your vegetables such as the greens, spinach broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard and the likes. Reduce fruit intake to reduce sugar intake and stick to the immune boosting fruits such as the berries.
Sugar just plays with blood glucose unnecessarily, and during the taper weeks it can only assist with contracting illness (the bad guys love to feed off sugar) and of course unnecessary weight gain due to the bouncing ball effect, not to mention emotional highs and lows which play on pre-race nerves as well as sleep. Cutting it will certainly benefit you. If you are a high sugar eater best is to taper yourself and not cut it immediately as this will lead to more emotional turmoil and irritation.
The Protein Factor
Depending on the type of nutrition plan you are on whether LCHF, or HCLF, Beach, Paleo and the likes ensure that your protein intake is of quality and not quantity based. By this I mean don’t overdo the protein, eat according to your requirements. Opt for proteins which are easily digestible and measurable with fat intake. Protein such as chicken, turkey, fish and eggs and lean red meats generally keep the digestive system happier. Vegetable proteins such as pea and hemp are also excellent protein sources. Red meat is 100% fine as long as you are used to this type of eating. Keep the preparation clean and preferably keep dressings to an unprocessed form. Simple things like lemon juice are good enough to cook chicken in to give it a nice flavour and texture.
Fats are so critical to any diet. They are an incredible source of fuel, and the only reason to keep fat intake very low is if your carb intake is very high. Try to get some good fats into the diet, Omega-3’s such as salmon, tuna, sardines, pilchards as well as the vegetable forms of flax and chia seeds make for nutrient dense good foods. One of the things we advocate in taper weeks is to up the MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) intake. They are fats that are not stored but more utilized as a source of energy and these are the types of fats you want in your system during a long endurance event to help assist in increasing the energy expenditure coming from fat. Coconut oil is a firm favorite or any MCT extract you can find.
I cannot stress enough the amount of fluid you should be consuming on a daily basis especially in the taper period. Try to aim for 30ml’s – 40ml’s per a kg of bodyweight, it might sound like a lot of fluid but it’s not at all. If you want to ensure you arrive at race day properly hydrated, in good health, topped energy levels and on top of the world then put some focus onto your fluid intake. Whether in the form of water or herbal teas both are perfectly fine. If you are thinking in the form of fruit juice and coffee then reconsider. If you are wanting a flavoured water, take a ¼ grapefruit and squeeze it into a liter of water, or a lime would be perfect. Sugar in fruit is very high and a fruit juice is just loaded with sugar. As for coffee check out the next section.
The Caffeine Effect
Caffeine can be a benefit or drawback. Caffeine is a mild stimulant that occurs naturally in a variety of plant species. There are people who view caffeine as a useful stimulant that increases ones concentration and awareness as well as many other physical traits. The important thing to remember is that caffeine affects each and every individual very differently depending on the amount consumed, the frequency of consumption, and a person’s individual tolerance levels.
Let’s get to the facts. Scientific proof of caffeine and sports performance is actually inconclusive and it’s not shown to improve performance. In actual fact no health claims to this extent are allowed in European Health Claims for food legislation. However there are some advantages that caffeine has which I will go into a little bit of detail shortly. One thing to remember though and this is from a health perspective. Caffeine is a stimulant and it does have addictive properties. In a healthy diet your consumption should be limited and health professionals will recommend around 0-7 cups of coffee a week as a limit. Unfortunately the majority of people consume a much larger amount. One thing is certain caffeine does stimulate and it plays with one’s emotional and energy stability. Stimulant drinks such as coffee are also known to be one of the biggest role players in a person gaining weight and affecting emotional stability. Another important consideration is that caffeine impacts the ability to sleep properly and this is a critical element of endurance recovery. Caffeine also causes a rise in acidity in the digestive system, and from a health perspective one should try to consume a diet that is more alkaline, acid of course can lead to issues especially in sport. Finally caffeine has diuretic properties causing loss of fluid, and the last thing you want to be is dehydrated during a sporting event. An athlete that consumes caffeine consistently is actually doing himself a complete disservice.
So with all this negativity in mind, how can caffeine really help you as an athlete? Well there are two major benefits that caffeine has, the first is that consumed on its own without sugar has shown to raise the amount of free fatty acids available for use as a source of fuel. Fat of course is an incredibly powerful form of fuel and the more free fatty acids you have available for use in an endurance event the more you are able to benefit from it. There is one slight consideration though? That in order for this to work well, a person should be caffeine intolerant, meaning at least no caffeine 7-10 days or more before and event, my recommendation is to cut it for longer. The second thing is the timing of consumption before an event. In scientific testing it’s been shown a consumption of around 1-2mg of caffeine per a kilogram of bodyweight around 3-4hrs before an event is best. It gives the body time to mobilise free fatty acids for use as well as being long enough before the event to remove the acid from the system, reduce the diuretic effect and of course negate the risk of dehydration.
The second major benefit is caffeine for recovery. Yes, believe it. It’s been shown that having caffeine with a complex carbohydrate after exercise has shown to speed up the time taken for glycogen replenishment. Under testing it’s been shown to speed up the process by as much as 60%. As an example a rolled oats meal and a very strong espresso or two as a recovery. Thought you would like that one. Just remember to hydrate yourself consistently afterwards. Whenever consuming a cup of coffee add two glasses of additional water intake to keep you properly hydrated.
Finally, there is another slight benefit, and this is the wake up effect. If you are feeling tired or fatigued caffeine has the ability to wake up the brain a little. Of course it’s a temporary effect, but during a sporting event this slight feeling of euphoria can give you a lift. The downside though is that an athlete who consistently takes in caffeine will not feel this affect as much as an athlete who stays away from caffeine. Caffeine also plays with your acid levels and can affect your fuel intake by affecting digestion and absorption rates of nutrient intake possibly minimizing those benefits, and even potentially causing stomach distress. If during a race you are wanting a caffeine boost, please play with it during training you need to know how your body is going to respond to the amount of intake before and during a session.
Caffeine is mostly abused, reduce and treat it as a luxury more than a necessity and let it work for you not against you.
Race Day Nutrition
This is a very important mention. During your taper weeks you have a last few chances to check out your race day nutrition strategy. It will keep you confident and in check with what you are going to do on race day. The two aspects to look at are the pre-race meal, and this can easily be checked by getting up early eating a pre training meal and going out on a training session at tempo pace to gauge how you feel. The second type of testing is to fuel during a training session. This is also quite simple to do as all you need is at least 120min or longer and go out fairly fast (tempo) pace to test how your stomach and palate will cope with intake during the session. The other aspect’s to look out for are convenience from a carry and consumption point of view. Once you have your nutrition strategy planned, bank it and stick to it on race day.
The Week Before the Race
The week before the race is actually quite a critical week in terms of nutrition.
A lot of athletes put focus on eating a lot more carbohydrates in this week in order to maximize their glycogen levels (natural carbohydrate stores in the body) however this should not be the case. By tapering your training and eating properly and normally you will naturally top up your glycogen stores before an endurance event.
Why shouldn't you carbo-load?
We are constantly hearing about pasta parties, carbo-loading supplements and high carb meals before an event whether short or ultra-distance. It seems most people understand that this will fuel them up energizing them for their event. The majority of athletes will think that failing to carbo-load before an event will set them back severely.
In short this simply is not the case. Before I explain let’s look at the science behind carbo-loading.
During physical exercise our bodies deplete our glycogen stores which are our natural carbohydrate energy stores. Glycogen is actually our body’s tissues harbouring carbohydrates which can be quickly converted to glucose and used as fuel. Glycogen is predominantly stored in the muscles and liver.
What most people don’t realize is that glycogen is our high intensity hard effort fuel but at a controlled pace our primary source of fuel should be fat.
When is glycogen mainly used during physical exercise?
Glycogen is utilized at a high rate of intensity in simple terms when your breathing is constricted. Fat is harder to utilize at this level as it requires oxygen for the conversion process and when you are puffing and panting barely able to breathe, you are definitely not getting enough oxygen into your system to aid this process.
Glycogen stores on their own will provide sufficient energy for around 90minutes, even up to 120 minutes in a well-trained athlete. Most athletes will use a percentage combination of fat and glycogen as fuel during a session. The more efficient you become at using your fat stores the longer you can spare your glycogen for use later on in an event when things really start to heat up. This can easily be achieved with proper nutrition and training.
Where does the glycogen loading or more commonly known as carbo-loading come into play? In order to get the full benefit out of those "90-120 glycogen minutes" athletes want to arrive at the start line of their races with topped up glycogen stores. This is where carbo-loading comes into play, athletes cram in carbohydrates in the days leading up the event to ensure they achieve exactly that.
Why shouldn't a person carbo-load in this manner?
Firstly if an athlete is eating correctly and recovering properly after each training session with appropriate nutrition intake and rest then he should not be too concerned about his glycogen levels as they are pretty stable.
Secondly the week before an event a person tapers off his training significantly meaning he is not using up anywhere near as much glycogen if any during that time and by eating normally through the week he will naturally top up his glycogen stores.
Finally you really have no-idea of measuring how much glycogen you have actually depleted during a workout. Many athletes over consume carbohydrates post exercise causing the body to become carbohydrate or sugar dependent and even mitigate the much wanted fat burn post exercise. This leads to weight gain.
There are many athletes who use a long training session as a triple latte, muffins and pizza session excuse afterwards. You are doing yourself an injustice.
Based on the above if an athlete throws a stringent carbo-loading regime into his pre-race routine I can guarantee they will start their race overweight and uncomfortable impacting their performance negatively. Focus on eating normally and healthily in the days leading up to an event and you will surely arrive there rested, fuelled at race weight and ready to perform.
Below are some ideas of foods you should select as healthier options towards your big day.
- Complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, amaranth, oats, sweet potatoes
- Easily digestible and lighter proteins, hemp protein, pea protein, soya, fish, chicken, eggs
- Healthy fats such as flaxseeds, coconut oil, chia, avocado, salmon etc.
- Nuts and Seeds such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, chia seeds, sunflower and sesame
- Fruit and Vegetables higher% on the vegetable side so 2-3 fruit max preferably such as apples, mango, berries, peaches and 3-4 vegetables in the good carb protein range such as the greens, spinach, broccoli, rocket, chives, cauliflower.
Appropriate protein intake for an endurance athlete is around 1.4-1.7 grams protein per kg of body weight depending on individual needs of course it could be on a lower or higher end. We are of course all unique so don’t drastically change your diet but focus more on the type of calories you are consuming as that’s truly what counts from an energy and immune system perspective.
What to avoid the week leading up to your race?
- Processed foods such as instant microwave or quick meals such as take out.
- Deep fried foods completely
- Sugar and sugar laden foods, meaning sweets, chocolates, instant cereals, tinned fruits, honey very product states the amount of sugars contained in it on the label.
- Heavy milk products and bad fats such as yellow cheeses and your more problematic saturated fats like margarine's etc.
- Excessively high fiber food which can cause bowel discomfort
- Excessive stimulants like numerous cups of coffee and tea limit to one a day if possible
One of the most important factors in leading up to the event is to focus on proper hydration. Ensure you take in at least 2 liters of water a day. If you consume a cup of coffee increase that amount by 2 cups of water for every cup of coffee consumed. Caffeine has a diuretic effect and you land up losing liquid. You want to arrive at your event properly hydrated, so ensure you drink consistently through the day.
The 48-72 Hours Before Your Race
From a nutrition point of view ensure you are eating and hydrating consistently, and not skipping meals. At this point in the week you need to put even more focus on clean eating. You don’t want to land up with any stomach issues due to bad food which could leave you feeling terrible on the day. Avoid heavy red meats, they take a long time to digest and eating it too close to the event could leave you feeling lethargic on the day unless this is something you are used to. Put some focus on keeping your feet elevated and getting much needed rest, you want to maximize your energy levels for the big day. Many athletes wonder around expos for hours forgetting to hydrate, not eating or eating useless calories. Don’t fall into this trap you have worked hard focus on the big day.
The day before you race you want to be extremely careful of what you eat, stick to the plan above and you won’t have any digestive issues. If you have a higher carbohydrate diet then make your lunch time meal your carb meal, but do not plan on eating excessive carbohydrates the night before. Your night time meal before the race should be small and simple. Make it a nice combination of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Do not overload on this meal as it will leave you feeling uncomfortable and unable to sleep, especially with pre-race nerves thrown into the mix. You need to try and sleep well the night before the event. Sleep is far more important than a meal as the next day your pre-race meal will be most critical.
I generally advise people to eat something simple, like a vegetable omelette on low GI bread or scrambled eggs on toast with a side salad. A chicken or fish dinner with salad and or vegetables is perfect. There is no need to overdo it. The pre-race meal will be more critical to focus on.
The morning meal of race day is vital. The food you consume prior to your race will be an important part of your actual race fuel It’s best to consume a meal which will provide you stability and give you the energy requirements you need during the event. This meal should be a sustainable meal carbs, protein and fat in the mix. It should be a meal that does not spike your blood glucose levels but provides balance. If you are caffeine intolerant you will be able to benefit from taking in caffeine at this point.
Your meal should be consumed at least 2 hours before the event and have a volume of around +-400 Calories. It’s recommended to look at the following types of meals as a pre-endurance event meal of course it’s a matter of preference and taste.
- Rolled Oats, Peanut or Almond butter, Half Banana (aim for +-400 calories)
- Low GI bread such as Rye, Oats or Seed Load, Peanut or Almond Butter, Honey Banana
- Low GI cereal or porridge with some fruit and nut butter.
- Sweet Potato, Brown rice or Quinoa with peanut butter, soya milk banana and some honey
- Oatmeal Pancakes
- Eggs on toast
When heading off to transition always carry a little snack with you and a drink to ensure you keep your levels topped up before the event. Don’t take in too much fluid as the bladder becomes loaded. It’s recommend to have some light snacking with little sips of fluid in between.
One should not consume anything heavy within 60 minutes of the race start as swimming with food in the stomach can cause digestive discomfort.
There is a lot of advocating by some companies to consume heavy or blood glucose spiking products just before the event starts to maximize liver glycogen levels.
We are against this, as it’s NOT a sprint or Olympic distant event where you will hit a high level of pace closer to anaerobic threshold.
The best way to spare glycogen in an endurance event is proper carb consumption and to use your fat stores as energy and this is done by correct pacing and consuming the correct foods to insure your insulin spike is not excessive. Fat will be your main natural fuel for the day, never forget that in an endurance event.
Secondly, consuming a high GI concentrated solution requires a minimum amount of liquid to ensure a proper dilution ratio to minimize the risk of GI distress on the stomach. This is not really appropriate before the swim as it can fill the bladder up making it uncomfortable.
Endurance Fuelling During the Event
Endurance fuelling is one of those aspects of racing that many athletes get wrong. Many athletes fail to be able to consume proper food consistently through an event which leaves them falling short.
Would you go without food and only consume fluid from the time you wake up until you go to sleep?
The answer is of course not as you will starve the body of much needed nutrients. Now throw an endurance event into the day where you are burning off far more calories and you will experience a chronic lack of energy and emotional instability from fuel depletion. The key to a decent endurance event such as an ultra-distance triathlon is proper feeding and this is where most people go completely wrong.
Hydration vs Energy Requirements
Let’s for example say that you are relying on liquid calories for you race. The big day arrives, the temperatures are lower and fluid consumption is far less as you are not sweating out that amount of fluid. Now you are taking in fewer calories which will lead to under fuelling which will ultimately lead to energy depletion. Always keep your hydration and energy requirements completely separate.
ONLY drink to thirst. Forget how many carbs or calories are in the bottle unless it’s very hot the percentage of calories from fluid early on is minimal it increases with time as temperatures ride, so early on focus on food solid or identifiable calories. The bottle does ultimately help with faster fluid absorption. But don’t depend on it solely for energy when temperatures are low. Make sure you are able to measure your nutrition intake easily. If you are not able to eat food solids and are reliant on a liquid feed then it’s best to make a concentrate of your carbohydrate drink and mark the bottle so that you know how much to consume per an hour in order to reach your desired hourly caloric intake.
Eat small and frequently (measure your food intake by time)
Frequent consumption is the key to a decent endurance event. Your bike is your kitchen. This is the time to feed and fuel up so that you can hit the run with energy levels stable and rearing to go. Once you are on the bike and you are in a comfort zone, meaning a point of equilibrium where aerobic engine is stable, breathing is regulated and you are in a rhythm, it’s time to feed.
In an endurance event such as Ironman there are many theories around +-60 - 90 grams of carbs per an hour, maximizing absorption rate with the right combination of carbohydrates and even trying to go beyond that. It’s certainly not about how many carbs you can fit in your mouth, is about what your body is capable of absorbing and utilising do not fall into the category of an overeater it can ruin your day. Plan this properly.
Many people forget you have a huge amount of fat which is available as an incredible source of energy, and most nutrition experts forget to take that into account. A combination of correct carbs, fat and glycogen will see you through the event.
Secondly trying to consume 70g or more of carbs per an hour will most likely only lead to digestive issues if you haven’t trained your gut to adapt to it. Keep it simple. Ultra distance triathlon for most is a controlled paced event not something that you are racing at a high speed anywhere near your anaerobic threshold unless you are an elite level athlete.
How do you use fat as a source of fuel?
Simple keep those insulin spikes lower so that the brain taps the fat stores and not just keeps trying to use the readily available glucose in the blood stream. Excessive glucose in the blood stream mitigates fat usage as the body will utilise it first. Overloading on glucose leads to what’s known as the roller coaster ride. Feel good, feel bad, feel good, feel bad an eventually feel nausea, fatigued and flat. You need to understand that the rate or effort at which you are performing at needs to be in line with what you are consuming. If you are racing at an extremely high intensity, by all means flood the system with glucose. If you are racing at a controlled pace take in carbohydrates which provide a little more stability and weigh in the option of taking in some protein through the event. Save those sugar rushes for the last part of the race when needed.
The carbohydrate volume we suggest aiming for is around +-60 grams of carbohydrates per an hour during the event. There are some athletes who go higher and some who go much lower. Again make sure you test this in training.
The best way to test ultra-distance triathlon fuelling is to go out hard for 3-4 hour ride eat as u would pre-race and then fuel during the ride as you would during the race. Run off the bike for at least 5km’s at a hard effort with no fuel just what you used on the bike and if you finish strong and stable at the finish that nutrition should be pretty spot on. Make sure when testing the nutrition, you look out for digestive comfort, energy level stability, and of course brain comfort so no nausea or dizziness and ensure you are feeling in a good head space from beginning to end.
When fuelling through food ensure not to overload the digestive system. It’s far better to eat more frequently as opposed to everything at once. Rather eat 2-3 times in an hour and not every hour. This is called drip feeding and is extremely effective in keeping your energy levels very stable. If you have a 50gram food bar split it into 2-3 pieces and eat a piece every 20-30 minutes rather. If you have a gel ensure to hydrate with it and don’t overdo the gels as they can cause GI distress with excessive consumption rather split the feed or save the gels for the second half of the bike leg or run leg.
Keep your eating consistent at all times, do not miss a feed and keep drinking to thirst only. If you stick to this on the bike you can be assured your energy levels for the run will be really awesome. Once heading back into transition, try and consume a final snack before the run. If on the bike in the form of food try 5-10km’s before transition so the stomach is settled.
Once on the run, you don’t really want to carry much with you. Generally we will advise on taking something small to be able to carry in the form of food and combining that with what is offered on route. Try to hold off the major spiking products until you are in a comfortable run space.
The Protein Factor
Should you be consuming protein during your ultra-event? Our answer to this is most definitely. A protein / carbohydrate combination has been shown scientifically to delay the onset of muscle fatigue by quite a nice percentage. 32Gi Recover uses a 1:3 ratio of protein to carbs. We advocate a concentrate of 2 x 75gram servings in a bottle, and when drinking the standard hydration energy drink we suggest a rotation of 2-3 sips from the carb drink to 1 sip from the protein bottle. This will give you an excellent hourly ratio of protein % intake to carb intake which will assist in keeping you feeling stable, full and comfortable on the bike leg. It also diversifies taste.