Without fail this is the question that I am asked the most from people on my plans and with good reason – get it wrong on the day and you could be in trouble – either by bonking from under fueling (running out of energy) or suffering stomach problems from over fueling
So spoiler alert – there is no magic formula that if you take 3 jelly beans every hour on your bike – you will catch & overtake Lionel Sanders on the run portion of your race – as finding the right nutrition is very individualistic.
However, with some clear guidance/tips with some deliberate testing and practice you can develop a personalized plan that works for you on race day.
So what should I eat and how much of it?
Ok no surprise here on race day – you will need to consume Carbohydrates as your primary source on race day.
Your fueling will start a few days before the race – as you should “carbo load” i.e. attempt to let your body build up excess stores of carbs/fuel that it can dip into on the day.
Warning: Carbo loading does not mean eat every piece of candy/pasta in front of you for the three days prior to race – mumbling something to shocked onlookers about “loading” with your mouth full of muffin! This will only make you ill or bloated/sluggish for race day
For 2 days out from your A race – try to consume 10-15% than your usual portion of normal food – that should be fine.
On race day itself – you should have a clear race strategy mapped out and practiced a number of times in your long bike/run training sessions.
The things you should have attempted and learnt from trial and error in your training are the following
(A) What works for you (and your gut): Dont blindly listen to the marketing guys/gals that you simply have to use this Gel/Bar on your endurance races. Somethings will simply not agree with your taste buds/stomach.
But the good news is what you eat is up to you – personally on different races I have fueled with the following – nutrigrain bars, jaffa cakes, power bars, small boiled/salted potatoes, dried dates – all worked!
Top tip: Check what nutrition will be provided on your chosen IRONMAN racecourse as you evaluate your fueling options. Usually Enervitt but this changes – try to get your hands on before hand to see if it works for you.
(B) How much should I eat: As a general rule of thumb, endurance athletes should aim to eat 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour during IRONMAN events, with athletes typically able to consume more calories and fluids during the bike leg and fewer calories during the run portion of the event.
So in your training ride – do your sums and load up with your fuel of choice & see what works for you.
(C) When/how often should I eat: Couple of options here – either by time or distance. Either works just fine as long as you get into the habit of sticking to your system.
For me I like to stick with distance – as that will not change based on weather conditions etc
Top tip: On race day – set up your bike computer/watch to send you a reminder on your predtermined time/distance you need to eat – as with adreneline on race day – easy to “forget” to stick to the system at the start.
Again trial different things in training – you will soon learn when your body is happy to take on board the next moutful or starts to resist – adjust accordingly (and accept a couple of your training rides will suck as you find the balance)
(D) How do I eat: Whilst every IRONMAN course will have aid stations (check out race briefing for details on location/foods supplied on course) best to be as self sufficient as possible.
Again part of your trial and error is how much are you likely to need to consume on the bike (carbs per hour/expected distance or time) and where you are going to store it
Whilst cycling or tri suits offer some options to store items in the back pocket – this may be limited and uncomfortable if overloaded – so consider a bento box storage system for the bike or a race belt for the run
And try it out in training – I learnt very quickly it was easier to unwrap my bars and leave them in the bento box cut up into bite sized squares rather than attempt the unwrapping whilst cycling
(E) What and how much should you drink?: Getting and keeping the right amount of fluids on board during an IRONMAN race is also a delicate art – especially when this can be strongly influenced by environmental factors on the day
Essentially as you are going to be training/racing – you will be sweating/absorbing water and more importantly electrolytes. Both of which you need to keep topped up to prevent cramping and/or dehydration
Rule of thumb: Most athletes will need to take in between 600ml and one litre per hour during a long distance ride
As per the food consumption advice/principles – try out various options for you to take on board, the right amount of fluids per hour/distance, your hydration system (especially how this will work with your bike/aero set up) – dial these things in before race day
Top tip: Do not solely rely on water for replacing fluids on the day – as this will continue to flush out electrolytes/sodium without replacing any- you will cramp. Mix in some isotonic balanced drink as part of your race day strategy
So yes nutrition/hydration for long distance races is like a 4th discipline – hence why we train for it.
And as long as you have worked out and practiced your best nutrition/hydration strategy long before race day – you will have a good day!