Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Your Nutrition For Your First Ironman - Don't let it be the missing link!

I remember my first Ironman. I was in great shape and felt really strong going into the race. I had followed the plan and completed my assigned training.  I felt like I was going to have a great race.  The one thing I underestimated the importance of was my nutrition during the race.  I had never had any problems in any of the Half Ironman events with my nutrition. I figured I would do what I did for the few Half Ironman events that I did.  I had a wake up call when I got to the run. I had not taken in nearly enough calories and was suffering......lesson learned.  My total race time was OK at 12:11 but if my nutrition was better during the race I am sure I could have done much better.  Completing an Ironman can be as much about what you eat as it can be about how well trained you are going into the race.
As a coach now I try to tell my clients the importance of nutrition in training.  You can be 100% physically fit and ready for your Ironman and if your nutrition is not dialed in you will have a really tough day.  It will seem like you have never ran a mile in your life! It can be a huge let down.  There is nothing worse then knowing you are fit enough to complete the race and having your body revolt because you did not fuel it properly. 
So you might ask what is the right nutrition for an Ironman?  The answer is not easy and its not the same for everyone.  Everybody will find that something works best for them.  That is why it is so important to practice your nutrition during your training workouts.  I was listening to a video of elite marathon runners the other day. They were asked what they eat before their race.  It was so simple for almost all of them.  Most of them said they eat bread or toast and a banana two hours before the race.  There were a few that had some special drink but most of them kept it pretty simple.  I eat a power bagel (I get them at Trader Joes) with peanut butter and honey on it before a race.  I also drink a muscle milk 100 calorie ready to drink shake. 
A few years ago I was a big fan of Hammer Nutrition products and that was what I used during races.  I used the Heed and gels for my shorter rides.  I used the Sustained Energy Drink for my longer rides.  It worked like a charm.  Then suddenly.....out of the blue it started to upset my stomach.  Why?? I have no idea!  I had used it for several years and through several Ironman races.  Now I had to start over with something new.  So I tried Carbo Pro.  It is doesn't have any flavor and is just maltodextrin (complex carbohydrates).  I mix G2 by Gatorade in the Carbo Pro to flavor it and I also add Endurolytes powder by Hammer Nutrition to get some electrolytes.  This is what I use for longer rides and runs. Here are some important things to remember when trying to find the right nutrition for your  Ironman training:
  •  Make sure you begin testing products and food early on in your training to see what you will be able to tolerate.
  • When completing your Ironman it is really important to take in the majority of your calories on the bike. 
  • Make sure you go into your race well hydrated.  This does not mean increasing your fluid intake a few days before the race.  This means being more aware of your fluid intake at least a week leading up to the event. I add Hammer Fizz electrolytes to my water in the week leading up to the event.
  • Think about taking electrolytes during your race.  You can take electrolyte tablets or capsules or you can do the powder like I do. 
  • The morning of the race eat at least 2 hours before the race.  I  also take a bar and a bottle of water with me to the race start.  You will be waiting around for a while so you may want something to nibble on. 
  • Use the special needs bag drop.  Even if you don't think you will need it!  It is better to be safe then sorry.  Put an extra container of whatever you are drinking or eating just in case!  It is good to always have a backup plan because sometimes your original plan may not be working. 
Here is my race day nutrition plan.  Keep in mind this is what has worked for me.  It may not be what would work for you because everyone is different. 
  • The night before a race I usually will have my favorite food which is pizza.  I am pretty plain Jane when I get pizza. I don't eat meat so I usually just get cheese, olives, and mushrooms.  I don't eat more than I normally would. I usually just have a few slices.
  • The morning of the race I have my power bagel with peanut butter and honey on it. I also drink a ready to drink muscle milk shake.
  • I always carry water with an electrolyte fizz in it on my way to the race. 
  • On the bike I have my profile aero bottle which has 300 calories of carbopro mixed with G2 and endurolytes.  I also have two water bottles on my bike with the extra concentrated carbopro mixture.  These bottles will be added to my aero bottle throughout the ride. I will add the extra concentrated mixture and dilute it with water that I get at the aid stations.  Usually 2 bottles will get me through the race but I always put an extra one in my special needs bag on the bike.  My special needs bag will also have a muscle milk which I will drink at mile 56.  I also take in gels (I use either Hammer or GU) on the bike.  I usually will take in about 4 gels.  Two of the four will contain caffeine.  Caffeine is good and can be an effective tool but be careful not to overdo it.  There are many gels and drinks that contain caffeine.  I try not to do all my gels with caffeine.  I don't think its good to over stimulate your system with too much caffeine.
  • On the run I have a small ultra concentrated hand bottle of my carbopro mixture.  I also carry cliffblocks on the run.  At this point I find it hard to take gels so the cliffblocks seem to work better.  Later in the run I will also drink coke at the aid stations. 

Some products that are worth trying are:
  • Hammer Nutrition makes some great products. They have a variety of products for different types of training.  The three that I have used are Heed (for shorter training), Perpetuem, and Sustained Energy Drink. The Endurolytes are also a great product to add electrolytes.
  • CaroPro is a maltodextrin based product which is a complex carbohydrate. 
  • Accelerade and Endurox work great for some people.  They both have too much simple sugars for me but work well for some people.
  • Gatorade has a variety of products.  Most of these products have too much simple sugars for me to tolerate for a long event.
  • Ironman Perform by Power Bar is what they serve at Ironman events.  If you want to use what the course is serving it might be worth trying this product. 
There are many more products out there. I have just named a few popular brands. The most important thing is to find what will work for you.  Remember an Ironman is a totally different ballgame when it comes to nutrition compared to a Half Ironman or Marathon!

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