When it comes to racing an Iron distance event, nutrition is sometimes referred to as the 4th discipline. If you don’t have a tried and true nutrition plan going into race day, you are setting yourself up for failure.
When it comes to race day, keep in mind the following:
Start your morning off with a good breakfast. Your mother wasn’t lying when she told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In the case of a race, it is going to provide you with your initial fuel for the day. You want to make sure that your breakfast is something you have had before. I usually plan to eat my intended race morning breakfast before any big training days to make sure it properly fuels me and settles sufficiently.
After breakfast, you will probably have a couple of hours before the race actually starts. This is a good time to hydrate. Carry a bottle with you during transition setup and pre-race so that you have something to continuously sip from.
While you can’t easily take in nutrition, some racers will put a gel in the sleeve of their wetsuit to take as they start the 2nd loop. Otherwise, some athletes will simply take a gel before getting in the water.
Just keep in mind that when you get out of the water, you will have been doing 1 – 1.5 hours of exercise with no fluids. Plan on putting a water/Gatorade bottle in your T1 bag so that you can start drinking in T1 and carry the bottle with you onto the bike. You’ll want to get that first bottle of fluid in you as soon as possible to make up for the fluids you lost on the swim.
Nutrition on the bike is arguably the most important of the three events. Why? Because you are going to be spending the most time on the bike, and failure to get the proper nutrients on the bike is going to make the bike even longer and the run a long sufferfest.
Getting your calories on the bike should be your primary focus. How many calories? Well, that is going to entirely depend upon your personal needs. A good starting point is to double your body weight: 150 lbs = 300 calories per hour. However, this is something that you should work on during your training to figure out your exact needs.
On course, Michigan Titanium will be offering Gatorade and water along with Hammer gels. While you can rely on the aid provided by the aid stations, you will want to practice with both Gatorade and Hammer gels to make sure that they work for you.
If you are anything like me, it can be easy to get distracted on the bike and forget about your nutrition. One thing that has helped me in the past is to wear a simple sports watch with a timer function. I set the timer to beep every 15 minutes. Every time the watch beeped (every 15 minutes), I would drink water and/or Gatorade, and every other time the watched beeped (every 30 minutes), I would consume a gel.
On the bike course and run course, you will have pre-packed special needs bags that you will get to access halfway through each event. You can pack whatever you want in each bag from spare bikes tubes/CO2 cartridges to extra nutrition.
This is a good place to put a treat for yourself. You are going to be halfway through the bike and most likely craving something other than the Gatorade and gels you have been consuming thus far. Freeze a bottle of your favorite flavor of Gatorade and put it in your bike special needs bag on race morning. Halfway through the race, it will have melted (or even better, it will still be slushy), and it will be the most refreshing thing you have ever tasted. Pack yourself some “real” food, too. Some ideas include: a PB&J, mini Snickers, Fig Newtons– something to reward yourself.
You have now made it to the run. Or, as I like to think of it, a 26.2 mile victory lap. You still have a few more hours of racing to do, and now is not the time to forget about your nutrition. With aid stations every mile or so, you will need to make sure that you continue to get your fluids and calories. Despite the number of aid stations, you may still find running with a fuel belt or handheld water bottle beneficial so that you are not constrained to the placement of the aid stations.
As you make your way through the aid stations, getting nutrition should be your primary focus. If this means slowing down and even walking through each aid station, you may find this an easier way to eat and drink.
Aid stations on the run course will have Gatorade, Hammer gel, Pepsi, fruit, and some salty snacks like chips or pretzels. Now, all that sounds pretty normal… except for maybe the Pepsi, right? So, why Pepsi? Well, the Pepsi is usually pretty flat from sitting out all day, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the carbonation. But the Pepsi will provide a quick way to give yourself a boost of sugar and energy. However, be aware of the fact that once you start drinking the pop, your body is going to start craving it. Personally, I like to hold off on taking pop until after the halfway point as a treat for making it so far.
Time to go crazy!!! You just finished a 140.6 mile journey, so eat whatever you want. Just whatever you do, eat something because you need to replenish all of those calories that you burned on your epic journey.
I hope that this gives you a good idea of what you need to think about when it comes to race day nutrition. If there are any Iron distance veterans out there, what is your favorite race day nutrition tip? Share it in the comments!