Saturday, January 19, 2013

Race Day Nutrition

As promised, here are my thoughts about race day nutrition. This critical element can ruin your race, no matter how well prepared you are. Under eating will lead to a lack of energy required to fuel you to the finish. Over eating can result in bloating, stomach issues, and potentially a DNF. Then, for longer distance races, you need to take into consideration electrolyte replacement and understand your rate of salt loss. It seems that the more you learn about nutrition, the more questions you have and more there is to understand.

WARNING: I’m going to try to keep this relatively basic and light, but it might get a little wordy in spots because there is so much to this topic.

In shorter distance races (those that will take you approximately 90 minutes to two hours to complete) most people can get away without needing much in terms of nutrition during the race. Your body has enough energy stored in it to get you through a race of that duration. As long as you maintain a good level of hydration, you will be fine. Anything longer than that, you definitely need to fuel yourself or you will see a decline in performance. With that being said, I generally choose to use some nutrition products during an Olympic distance race, which takes me just over two hours. It comes down to getting to know your body and what works. Part of it might be mental as well. I feel more energized going into the run if I had a couple hundred calories on the bike and what that does for my mindset is helpful.

In longer distance racing (anything that is going to take you over two hours), you should consume somewhere between 250 and 400 calories per hour. The exact number is dependent on many factors, such as your body weight, the intensity level at which you are racing, and the type of calories you are consuming. A 120 pound woman is probably not going to need as many calories as me (a 170 pound man) because she will probably not burn as many as me when working at the same intensity level, so it balances. Personally, I aim to take in around 350 calories per hour when racing at the half ironman distance. Where do these calories come from? Let’s break it down.

The harder you are working, the slower your stomach will digest food. The blood in your body is busy, so it will not go to your stomach as quickly. If you are racing with the goal of completing the race and not trying to finish on the podium, your intensity level (and heart rate) will likely be lower, allowing you to consume more solid types of food because your body will be able to process them.

There are so many nutrition products to use during competition and training. To make it as simple as possible, I have made this chart with some types of nutrition that you would find in each category.

Solid food
Semi-solid food (chews)
Soft/liquid food (gels)
Clif Bars
Clif Mojo Bars
Bonk Breakers
Clif Shot Bloks
 PowerBar Energy Blasts
Honey Stingers
GU Chomps
Clif Shot Energy Gel PowerBar Energy Gel
Hammer Gel
Gu Energy Gel
PowerBar Ironman Perform
HEED Sports Drink
Perpetuem Sports Drink

Like I said, there are tons of products out there and these are but a few, but you get the idea. Basically, the lower your heart rate and intensity level, the further to the left you can eat and process. As your intensity level and heart rate increase, you should start to shift toward the right of the chart as those foods are more soluble and easier to digest. Keep in mind that sports drinks do contain calories and need to be accounted for when tallying your total calorie intake.

Another thing to consider is whether or not the product has caffeine. Some people like using caffeinated products and others do not. It is really personal preference. I tend to use products without it toward the beginning of the race and, as it gets toward the end of the bike and into the run, I switch and start using products with caffeine, including flat Coke. It is like a magical potion that immediately gives you an energy boost (albeit a short lived one).

Another important race day nutrition factor comes before you toe the start line, and that is your breakfast. You could ask 50 triathletes what their breakfast routine is and I would bet that you’d come up with nearly 50 different ways to do it. Personally, I like to keep the meal pretty light so I’m not racing with heavy food sitting in my stomach. I want something that can be easily burned. I am also somewhat superstitious, so my prerace meal is always the same. I will start drinking a Gatorade when I wake up to ensure my electrolyte levels are topped off. About 90 minutes before the race I will eat a banana. Then, about 45-60 minutes before the race, I eat a big blueberry muffin. It is high in calories and easy for my body to use because of the simple sugars. Throughout the morning I also sip on water to make sure I am hydrated (Be careful not to overdo it with the water and sports drink though. You can drink too much and your stomach will not like you for it).

I think we will leave the electrolyte and salt talk for another day, as this seems like it is probably plenty for now. To help others develop their own nutrition plan, I have provided my general outline with products I use (and these companies don’t even pay me for these shout outs… geez). Remember, this is what I have come to find through trial and error and by using different products while training. You need to try your nutrition strategy while training at the intensity level you expect to race at to see how your body responds to them. My Olympic distance bike time is approximately one hour and my half Ironman distance bike time ranges from 2:20 to 2:30.

Olympic Distance Race

1 sleeve of Clif Shot Bloks (200 calories)
1 bottle of Gatorade (125 calories)

1 caffeinated gel (I may or may not use this. If I feel like I need a boost I will eat it early in the run.)

Half Ironman Distance

2 sleeves of Clif Shot Bloks (400 calories)
2-3 Hammer Gels (200-300 calories)
2 bottles of Gatorade (250 calories)
Water as necessary depending on temperature

2 caffeinated gels
Coke and water at every aid station

Monday, January 14, 2013

Everyday Nutrition

Happy New Year! Here is a little bit about nutrition at the request of my friend, Megan Moody. Nutrition is a part of triathlon that many find extremely difficult to manage. It plays a very important role in your training and preparation and it can completely derail your performance if it is neglected on race day. There is so much information about nutrition that I could probably write about it all day, but to make this a bit more digestible (pun intended) I’m going to break down general nutrition and race day nutrition into separate installments. I will start with general nutrition.

Let me also preface the rest of this by saying I am not a sports scientist or nutritionist and all my thoughts come from what I have read in publications or what I have learned through trial and error. Here we go…

Food is fuel for our bodies. You can’t drive your car if the tank is empty. The same goes for your body. Also, you can’t put diesel fuel into a car that is designed to run on unleaded fuel. You could try, but the result would be an expensive fix. Similarly, your body will run best when you give it the proper fuel. Our bodies need a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fats because each has its own purpose and function. Some people get into triathlon because they want to lose weight and a part of their plan to lose weight is a strict diet. In that diet they sometimes remove carbohydrates because of what they have read about how carbohydrates get stored as fat. This mistake can be detrimental to your performance as an endurance athlete. However, just because you are training does not give you a free pass to eat whatever you want in whatever quantities you want. To illustrate, one more analogy… I have a fire pit in my yard. On a nice summer night I may decide to go out and have a bonfire. During the course of the night I monitor how much wood (fuel) I put on the fire keeping it an appropriate size. However, if there is no fire burning and I continue to throw wood on it, I’m going to end up with a large pile of unused fuel. The same can happen with your body if you are feeding it more fuel than you are burning. Essentially, you need to know how much fuel you are burning so you know how much to feed the fire.

Carbohydrates are the most readily available fuel source for your body when exercising; they are what “top off” your fuel tank. They are also the most important food you can eat after a stressful workout. When you train hard you deplete your glycogen stores because that is where your body drew the energy from to complete your session. The quickest way to recover and help your body bounce back post hard training session is to replenish those glycogen stores. This should be done by providing your body with carbohydrates and the quicker you can get it in your body the better. Ideally you would do this within 30 minutes of finishing your session. I realize that is not always possible, but you definitely need to eat something within two hours. By doing this you will bounce back quicker and be ready to hit that next training session hard. This is especially important if you are doing multiple sessions per day.

Protein is essential for rebuilding muscle when you have broken it down. When you have a hard strength building ride or run, make sure you include some protein in your post workout meal. Remember though, that your body can only process about 20 grams of protein per two hours, so if you eat more than that it is either going to pass through you or get stored as fat. This is especially important for people who use supplements for their recovery food because so many supplements boast the amount of protein it offers in each serving. You’re wasting your money…

Another little bit about protein is its ability to fill you up. Try to eat some protein in the morning if you are trying to lose weight. A couple of eggs or some peanut butter toast in the morning should help keep you feeling full longer in the morning, which will hopefully keep you from snacking (where we usually pick less healthy foods) throughout the day.

Fats need to be a part of your diet, but be selective about the types of fats you choose. They help regulate your metabolism and provide a reserve energy source. Stay away from saturated fats and try to eat healthier fats found in nuts and lean meat.

A general rule of thumb to help you plan your diet should be: 20 percent fats, 30 percent protein, and 50 percent carbohydrates. If you are training extremely hard and burning a lot of fuel, you may need to adjust this and increase the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming.

Healthy carbohydrate ideas: sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta

Healthy protein ideas: lean meat (turkey meat is usually the leanest), poultry, fish (which is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acid with mountains of evidence supporting its general health benefits. It will also help give your skin a beautiful shine for your race photos. Who doesn’t want that?), or lean red meat (include this at least once a week for the iron)

Healthy fat ideas: avocados, olive oil, nuts, or lean meat

Hopefully this is information is helpful and can be used to help you adjust your everyday nutrition so that you can work towards peak performance. What you put in your body plays a major role in what you get out of it. It is an area that many, if not most, of us could use a little help with. The saying about everything in moderation is so true. Do not completely deny yourself the things you love because you will only desire them more and eventually succumb to those urges and overdo it. Allow yourself the occasional reward of the treats you like the most. Happy eating.