Ten Tips for Ironman Nutrition


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Ironman Lake Placid is right around the corner and now is the time when athletes are putting the finishing touches on training, bike tune-ups and nutrition plans. One of my athletes, Alexa just finished a gutsy race over in Cour D’Alene, yet nutrition prevented her from reaching what we considered to be her optimal performance. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the plan….. she didn’t execute the nutrition plan (and she does not mind being used as an example, her story is helping many others….. and she’s got another chance at Ironman Wisconsin!)

The thing about nutrition is this; you ca fake it in short distance races. You can’t fake it in Ironman. You miss your nutrition and I don’t care if you are Chrissie Wellington….. you won’t perform to your potential.

Much of what I have learned in the nutrition department I have learned over he past 10 years through trial and error. My work through the past 2 years with QT2 has hit the nail on the head. They’ve written over 500 Ironman nutrition plans, these guys know their stuff.

Here is a great video of Jesse outlining Ironman nutrition, I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.

In addition here are ten tips for Ironman Nutrition that may help you in your next 140.6!

1. Practice makes perfect: I learned with QT2 that nutrition is practiced all the time. In January, on 30 minute recovery runs, all of the time. We never ever skimp on nutrition. This season I have not had any GI issues in races because I practiced EVERY.SINGLE.WORKOUT.

2. Do the sweat test: Click here for a good sweat rate calculator , but perform a sweat test and do it often. I weigh before and after every single workout, there is never harm in doing so. I have an athlete who didn’t truly understand the importance of nutrition / hydration until he lost eight pounds ona  long ride. I asked him how he thought he would run a marathon on that….. he made the changes and he’s now the athlete he’s been training to be. SIMPLE!

3. Understand the difference between I can’t and I won’t. I have had athletes tell me that they can’t take in XX ounces per hour of their drink. 99.9% of the time it translates into they won’t. Ironman is a day long picnic, you spend the entire day feeding yourself. It might mean you drink every 5 minutes, 10 minutes, doesn’t matter. It goes back to #1. Practice this in training and it won’t be an issue on race day.

4. Use the same products daily. Back when i began Ironman there was Gatorade and salt tablets. Now there are a plethora of products that take care of hydration, fueling and sodium needs. Once you find your product, stick with it. It again, goes back to number one. Never change anything, especially products this close to a race.

5. Choose a product with several sugar sources: If you watch the above mentioned video, Jesse walks through why this is important. The cliff notes version is this: you want your body to be able to draw from long acting, medium acting and short acting sources. Products like PowerBar Perform meet this needs, as do several others. Relying on a product made of only one sugar source: maltodextrin… is great for shorter events but in an Ironman it will act as a plug to your GI system.

6. It begins before race day. The two days before an Ironman are just as important as the day itself. On QT2 we joke that this is where everything good for you becomes bad for you. Jesse has taught us that during these two days we want to eliminate anything that might irritate the gut on race day. This means we cut out vegetables, we cut down on fiber, We load up on clean carbohydrates such as pretzels, plain pasta. We eat smaller meals at more frequent intervals to give the body a chance to digest properly and top off our glycogen stores. What most people don’t realize on race day is that GI upset often comes from what you ate in these previous 2 days, not race day.

7. Don’t base your plan on someone else’s. When I worked with Coach T he had a funny saying about IM athletes. To paraphrase him “You have trained almost a year for this event. Then as you are walking into Mirror Lake you change your entire race plan because the guy next to you has qualified for Kona and what works for him must be right.” How many times have I seen this? Alexa does this…. what about me? It’s natural, we get nervous. The past several months you have worked on what works for you. You have practiced it. You know it. You have it written down. Don’t change it because of what someone else does. Know your body.

8. Follow the plan: I have my athletes complete a spreadsheet of their Ironman nutrition. Alexa did it and she did a beautiful job of it. If she had executed it her day on Sunday would have been different. But the thing of it is this: if she does a 12:42 on that nutrition plan……  then if she properly fuels…… what can she do? That’s exciting! That’s a good problem to have! Her fitness is GREAT, all we have to do is EAT????? AMAZING! So…. follow the plan, do what you need to do to follow that plan (and adjust accordingly). 4 bottles of fluid, even with extra gels and blocks is simply not enough for a 6 and 1/2 hour ride. If you need to set your watch to beep every 5 min, then that’s what we need to do. If you didn’t look at her nutrition….. then you’d think something was lacking in her fitness and send her out with more run volume, and get her injured. All she needs to do is follow the plan she created. See how exciting that is???????

9. Learn to troubleshoot. Have problems bloating? What did you eat in the two previous days? Drop your bottles? How can you adjust? Ironman is one big day of figuring out problems. What can you do in the next 5 seconds, by the next light pole…. don’t even allow yourself to think 20 miles ahead. Stomach problems? SLOW DOWN. Sip instead of gulp. Maybe take water for 10 minutes and let things calm down.

10. Have confidence in the work you have done. I make this promise to my athletes the moment we begin working together: I will not put you on the starting line of a race I don’t believe you acre capable of finishing. EVER. They are 110% prepared to show up and execute. So you do the same.

All that’s left are the finishing touches on your day. The bikes are tuned up, the gear is set to go…. just don’t forget to eat!!!!!!