Triathletes love to talk. We talk about training. About how ridiculously far we biked last weekend. About how dang hot it was outside on that last run. About wine and beer even though we really don’t drink that much. We talk about how hungry and tired we are. About how our spouses are ready for IRONMAN Texas to be over with. And how we swear this is the last IRONMAN. Ha. Yup, we triathletes can chat forever about a lot of things.
But what’s often missing from our thoughts, conversations and plans? And what is it that, ironically, is THE biggest issue that limits folks on race day at IRONMAN Texas?
RACE DAY HYDRATION AND NUTRITION.
Fluids, salt, carbs, potassium, protein…Getting the balance right and knowing how to correct nutrition errors.
Race Day Hydration and Nutrition should be top on the list of what we focus on on race day (with pacing and the mental game as very very close seconds). If your cells don’t continually get hydrated and fed properly, it doesn’t matter how much training you’ve done or how rock-solid you are mentally as an athlete! The human body cannot run on fumes. At least not for long.
Since this write-up is 9 days before IMTX, you should already have a Perfect Plan for your race day nutrition. And you should have already practiced that plan and know it to a tee. But if you still have some doubts, we definitely have some general guidelines that have worked well for athletes over the years. Several variables play into a race day nutrition plan, and obviously, make it impossible to prescribe One Perfect Plan for everyone. These variables include an individual’s sweat rate and caloric needs, how much an athlete has conditioned the body to process and assimilate nutrition while training, how each athlete will actually respond physiologically to stressors on race day, and the race day weather conditions.
Here are some General Guidelines we have developed after helping over 400 athletes successfully cross the IRONMAN Texas finish line the last 6 years:
- Drink between 30-50 oz/hour of fluids on the bike. That’s a little more than 1-2 bottles on the course.
- Consume somewhere in the range of 600-1800mg of sodium per hour depending on individual sweat rate/conditions. This can come from all sources of intake. MOST PEOPLE DO NOT CONSUME ENOUGH SODIUM.
- Consume somewhere in the range of 60-120 grams of carbs (240-480 calories) on the bike. Target about two-thirds of your individual rate on the run since run assimilation rates are lower than bike.
- Use a carbohydrate drink that has 40-50 grams carbs/24 oz bottle. [Gatorade Endurance is 44g]
- Use a drink that has approximately 450-600 mg sodium per 24 oz bottle. [Gatorade Endurance 600mg. Regular Gatorade 320mg]
- Consume mostly liquid carbs plus 5-10% of your calories from protein on the bike. It’s almost possible to assimilate protein on the run unless you are walking. Powerbar or Clif Bar are good options.
- Mostly use drinks, gels, bars, chews and chomps. IRONMAN is the day to consume “processed” foods. Processed foods process better.
- You should need to pee at least every 2.5 hours. (2-3 x on the bike and once on the run). Just do it.
- Consume potassium in the 1/3 to 1/2 range that you consume sodium so to keep a good hydrating balance between these two KEY electrolytes. A banana on the run is a great way to keep potassium stores up.
- Use multiple sources of carbohydrates: dextrose, fructose, maltodextrin, brown rice syrup…
- Avoid too much water and replace that with sport drink. Too much water flushes out electrolytes and can lead to hyponatremia (bloated gut, swelling extremities, mental confusion).’
- If your stomach or body are shutting down, try Coke! However, once you feel a bit more normal again, switch back to your Nutrition Plan of slower burning carbs. Don’t just drink Coke the entire marathon.
- Avoid what you don’t need like lots of solid foods, vitamins, fiber, lots of fat/protein, unneeded medications, pizza. This will only send you to the porta-can.
STABLE BLOOD SUGARS AND LESS IS NOT MORE!
Keep your Nutrition Plan relatively simple and try to memorize it and/or write it down so that you don’t forget it when the going gets tough! We recommend using (or at least knowing) the products on the course for a few reasons: (1) they are decent products, (2) it keeps things simpler, and (3) it comes with cold drinks! If you don’t plan to use the course products, we recommend you practice using them a few times just in case you have to switch to them for some unforeseen reason. Use the “Trickle-In” consumption method for all products, including electrolytes. For example, don’t take 800mg of sodium “at the top of the hour” but rather drink, eat and consume extra electrolytes on an ongoing basis.
Avoid the less is more mentality. You are burning upwards of 800 calories per hour! The human body struggles to assimilate even half that much while working hard. So the body is naturally trending toward depletion. Muscles like fuel, the stomach not as much. But we want to do everything we can to keep glycogen levels up and blood sugar levels stable. The more fluids and fuel you can push in, the happier your muscles and brain will be. So push stuff in! You know you’re hitting your limits when your stomach starts speaking to you, so if you start to feel a bit of indigestion (or even burping or things coming back up the pike), then back off a bit. Also, if you do burp up or even full-on puke, don’t let it freak you out. This is IRONMAN, not a steak dinner. Things don’t always go down all that smoothly. Constantly ask yourself what do I need? Do I need fluids, do I need carbs, do I need sodium… do I need nothing other than to keep keep on keepin’ on!? When glycogen levels get low, the brain quits thinking clearly and then can forget to eat and drink. Then a snowball sets in and glycogen levels stay low and you forget to eat and drink… Avoid the snowball all the way until the very end of the race.
Some of the common symptoms we see on race day like nausea, bloated gut, stomach and muscular cramping, and tingling fingers mostly pertain to nutrition and hydration problems. We will address those in a bit on the “Trouble-Shooting Plan” Tip and how to fix several of these issues and get you back on track.
Author: Coach Michelle LeBlanc, IRONMAN Texas finisher (9:53), a certified ISSA Sport Nutritionist, and owner of the Official Coaching business of IRONMAN Texas 2011-2014.