Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The 4th Discipline

Swim, Bike, Run. That's what we triathletes spend the majority of our time thinking about. It is what occupies our daily thoughts, our dreams at night and (much to our families' chagrin) dinner conversations on one too many occasions.

But there is a fourth discipline to triathlon: Nutrition. Ask any seasoned athlete and he or she will tell you that nutrition and hydration is key to successful performance. We've all see athletes meltdown due to dehydration or make a mad dash for the porta-potty at inopportune times during the race to relieve the products of an upset GI system. Proper fueling can mean the difference between a triumph and a catastrophe.

Being a Registered Dietitian, I am quizzed frequently by fellow triathletes about race nutrition. The questions posed could easily make Letterman's Top 10 list, as they've probably been the punchline of every triathlete's dramatic tale of race-day horror at some point:
  • "What gel do you recommend?"
  • "Which electrolyte replacement is best?" 
  • "How do I manage GI upset?" 
  • "What's your favorite pre-race meal?"
  • "What do you think about drinking beer for recovery?"
10 Barrel brews hold a special
place in my nutrition plan. :-)

And so on. The tricky thing is, everyBODY is different and will respond to nutrition differently. Everyone has different taste buds, different amounts of enzymes and digestive compounds running through their system, and will be working at varied intensities. It is impossible to examine all of these aspects of race nutrition in a blanket statement that will fit every athlete.

Through my blog posts I look forward to sharing some of my insight, as well as learning from others, as to what strategies compose a winning nutrition plan. For now, I'll share my race day nutrition plan for a long course race such as Boise 70.3. Remember, this is what works for me...your body could be totally different.

  • First and foremost: a hearty breakfast. My daily nutrition is of utmost importance to me, and pre-race is no difference. My favorite go-to breakfast is a huge bowl of fruit with plain, fat free Greek yogurt (Chobani Plain is my fave) and a crunchy cereal like Kashi GoLean or granola. Paired w/ my standard cuppa joe and I'm ready to rock. 

  • Pre-race snack. Most races require athletes to get up and get moving early in the morning, but if you think about it you probably have a few hours between the time you finish breakkie and when the gun goes off. I prefer to take half of a peanut butter and banana sandwich with me and eat while I'm setting up T1. Boise 70.3 had a unique "lunchtime" start, so I had my sando on the way out, then nibbled on carrots and yogurt while setting up my bike. And drink water!
  • On the bike: Usually my tummy is a little temperamental after jacking my HR in the swim and with the adrenaline coursing through me as I roll out of T1 I can't really get anything down my throat but water until I calm down. Since I've done such a good job of fueling up to this point, I will allow myself about 30 min of "settling" into the bike before I touch any food. I'll sip water during this time. People joke that I ride with a "buffet" of food...and maybe by some standards I do. My Bento Box is jam-packed with boiled, salted Idaho potatoes, an oatmeal power cookie made by our local Wildflour Bakery, a couple Nuun tablets and some raspberry Powerbar Gel Blasts. I'll also take about 16-20 fl oz of Powerbar Restore (approximately 2 scoops) for sipping throughout. A few notes about my bike nutrition choices:

    • I like to EAT on the bike. I have trained my body to handle this and to expect solid food. That said, semi-liquid and liquid nutrition is absorbed more quickly, thus the sports drink.
    • The salted potatoes are money when you're so sick of sweet, sugary stuff that you'd give anything for something "real". A word of caution- I have had trouble chewing and swallowing these down if I neglect my hydration and get cotton mouth. So this actually helps me remember to drink water to wash 'em down.
    • Powerbar Restore is not designed or marketed for use during the event- it is intended for recovery. However, years back I had latched on to Perpetuem, which is a carb/protein mixture. I used this for a season until it didn't seem to work for me any longer. In the process of seeking out a replacement product that still had some protein and carbs I came across Restore. Now, the research on consuming protein during endurance exercise is mixed...but if it ain't broken...
    • I always have a little more food than I think I'll need on the bike. The Powerbar Gel Blasts are good insurance for me, in case I just don't feel like eating anything else, or need some quick sugar in the system. You never know when you'll get a mechanical, drop some goodies on the ground mid-bite, or simply just need more fuel than you originally estimated. I figure if I roll into T2 with a little fuel leftover I'm in a good position nutritionally.
    • Sometimes the Nuun gets used, sometimes it doesn't. My bike food supplies fantastic electrolytes so it is rare that I need more. On very hot days, or days where I don't need as much fuel, but more hydration I'll pop one of these puppies into my Speedfil to ensure proper hydration.
  • On the run: By this time I know I have loaded my system with about all the calories, carbs and electrolytes it can possibly handle while working at this intensity. Things are about to get even harder on the run and solid food is not an option for me. My solution: suck on Gu Chomps the entirety of the run. Rolling one around in my mouth will last about 2-3 miles, then if there's anything left, the Chomp gets chomped down. Aid stations are water for the first 6 miles or so, then supplementing with cola each aid station after. 

Now, to go back to my initial point: that every individual's physiology and taste preferences vary. What I have described is my plan, and will hopefully give you some new ideas to try. I also welcome comments, sharing strategies, or questions regarding this topic. The fourth discipline is, for many, the trickiest of all.

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