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Race-Day -Fueling For Olympic & Ironman

eat while racing

by Jesse Kropelnicki

Race-day fueling—or what to eat during an IRONMAN—is a common source of confusion for many new athletes. Put the control into your own hands by treating your nutrition strategy with respect. This 10-point fueling plan provides a beginner’s road map to success when tackling your first 140.6-mile event.*

energygel1. Carb-load like a pro

Begin your carbohydrate load at lunchtime, two days prior to the race. Start by incorporating grains that you wouldn’t typically consume (i.e. white bread), being careful not to finish meals feeling uncomfortably full. Your main carbohydrate load, however, will take place at breakfast the day before the event. Finish eating by 9 a.m. at the latest, after which you’ll begin tapering off food for the remainder of the day.

Thereafter, choose frequent carbohydrate-rich snacks (i.e. pretzels), and finish the day with an early, light dinner. Eat foods very low in fat and fiber (this means few fruits and vegetables, if any). Aim to consume approximately 10 times your body weight (in kilograms) as grams of carbohydrate.

2. Cut the caffeine

Avoid caffeine during race week and early on the day of your race. This fast will help keep your sensitivity to caffeine high so that you can maximize its effect come go-time. Don’t consume caffeine until at least two to three hours into your race (since it may wear off and make you fatigued when you need energy most); it’s your friend later in the day, helping you maintain a high heart rate and drive proper pacing. (And as a general rule of thumb, try to keep caffeine intake below 200 milligrams per day/1,000 milligrams per week.)

3. Fill your bottles

Use at least 0.6 grams of carbohydrate, per hour, per pound of body weight, on the bike—and half of that on the run. The sodium content of these fuels should be at least 8 milligrams per gram of carbohydrate. Fat and protein content should be absolutely minimal, and fiber even less.

4. Race morning breakfast

Consume a meal three and a half hours before the start of your IRONMAN—yes that’s 3:30 a.m. This meal should contain between 110 and 180 grams of carbohydrate, depending upon your size, and contain very little fat or fiber. A good option would be two-and-a-half cups of unsweetened apple sauce, one scoop of whey protein, one bottle of sports drink and a banana.

5. Sodium wars

Most athletes underestimate their race-day sodium needs. I recommend tallying your planned hourly race day sodium intake, and measuring it against the fact that most athletes lose between 800 and 4,000 milligrams of sodium per hour. To get a reasonable estimate of your specific needs, assume a loss of approximately 500 to 800mg of sodium per 16oz of sweat lost. (If you have experienced muscle cramping in the past, err to the higher side of this range.) Using this sodium concentration and your estimated fluid losses, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your actual sodium needs.

6. Salty insurance

Always carry extra sodium with you on race day. Whether you have your fueling plan set in stone or have no idea what you’re doing, it’s foolish to not have this insurance. Your sodium supplement should contain at least 200 milligrams per capsule. (Some brands on the market do not.) If at any point you feel a muscle twinge or stomach bloating, no matter how slight, take one.

7. Easy on the H2O

I encourage my athletes to avoid water during an IRONMAN. We’ve found that water only increases the probability of developing a sloshy stomach, due to a lack of sodium, and tends to put a hole in your steady blood sugar response. We stick to sports drinks, with the appropriate sodium concentration, as discussed above.

8. Put the “P” in pedal

You should aim to pee at least twice during the bike portion of an IRONMAN. Athletes who fail to do this will not typically run to their potential. A good rule of thumb for 70.3 races is to pee at least once during the bike.

9. Pacing panacea

Even your best-laid nutrition plans can backfire if you mispace the race. Start with a steady pace—no harder than you are able finish with. Too much stress too early can shut down the gut and render your fueling plan useless. Bloating and sloshing generally occur for one of two reasons: not enough sodium or too much stress. If gut issues creep up, slow down and back off of your pace, allowing things to clear up. Few athletes have the courage to do this before it’s too late.

10. Listen to your heart (rate)

At the end of the day, IRONMAN fueling and pacing is all about being able to keep your heart rate elevated during the later portions of the run. If you’re a geek about one thing, make it this. Any mistakes made with your fueling and pacing will be illustrated by a lower heart rate toward the end of the run.

Put these 10 points into practice and execute them to the letter. As a coach who’s worked with countless athletes on race fueling, from beginners to seasoned professionals, one thing has always stood out: Nailing IRONMAN race fueling goes a long way in defining your day.

*Note: This is a basic, general plan, containing the opinions of one coaching company. For more advanced trouble-shooting, consult your own coach or a qualified sports nutritionist.

Jesse Kropelnicki is the founder of QT2 Systems, LLC; a leading provider of personal triathlon and run coaching, and, a leading provider of Ironman nutrition.


Triathlons – Avoid Panic Attacks…5 Tips for Open Water Swimming

avoid panic attacks in the water, breathing is important

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Triathlon Race Tips …

  1. 0892_000008Be consistent: If you do not come from a swimming background, then one of the most vital ways to improve your swim is to get into the pool more often. Creating a routine of going to pool on set days will also help you later on in the year when volume begins to increase.
  2. Time Trial: Doing a monthly or bi monthly time trial will make it easier to track progress. Do one this week to set a base line and then do on each training cycle (usually every 3 to 4 weeks). I find that 1000 meters or yards is a good distance.
  3. Swim analysis: Videotaping your swim stroke with either a GoPro or iPhone with a waterproof case like the life-proof then having it analyzed by a professional will help you figure out your weaknesses and which drills to do.IMG_0170
  1. “Drill, baby, drill:” Drills are not glamorous but they help you get a better feel for the water and more importantly how your body is moving in the water. 
  2. Embrace your weakness: Like number 3 and 4, you need to address your weaknesses to turn them into strengths. Maybe you are a sprinter but die after 200m, so you need to focus on endurance sets. Or maybe you can cruise for hours on end at the same pace but have no upper gear, so need to do some sprints. Either way you need to address those with specific training. 
  3. Intensity: You are not going to get faster through drills alone, but need intervals, at and above race pace. You will not only burn more calories, but you are getting the most out of your pool time. 
  4. Join a team: A swim community like the Tri Swim Pro Team or a Masters team will help motivate you, push your speed, and hold you accountable. A team also makes swimming more “fun.” 
  5. Use toys wisely and sparingly: Pool toys can help energize your swim and if they make swimming more enjoyable, definitely use them, but do not become reliant upon them and allow them to hide flaws in your stroke. Keep in mind that come race day, you will not be able to use them. 
  6. Practice open water: Get to the open water as much as possible to help you become more comfortable with not seeing the bottom of the pool and dealing with imperfect conditions like currents. IMG_0068
  7. Visualization: since you cannot always get to the ocean or lake to swim (or its just too cold, visualization can help step you through your fears and how to deal with them. 
  8. New gear: investing in a new swim watch, wetsuit, or goggles can reinvigorate your motivation. 
  9. Sign up for a race: there is nothing more motivating than putting a deadline on when you have to be ready by. 
  10. Dry land strength: Hitting the gym will help you look faster but also improve any imbalances, flexibility, and mobility so that when heavy training comes, your body will be prepared. 
  11. Practice those flip turns: if you want to get faster, practicing your flip turns can shave off a chunk of time from your next TT. 10 turns, where you start from the middle of the pool and sprint to the end, flip turn, and push off, at the end of each workout can do wonders. 
  12. eat breakfastNutrition: A better workout stems from fuel. Start by adding 0in more vegetables, lean meats, fish, and healthy fats from avocado, coconuts, and chia seeds. By focusing on what you can have, you forget about what you can’t.
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