IRONMAN is a long day for everyone, regardless of whether it takes under 9 hours or more than 16 hours to finish. Most athletes experience highs and lows throughout the day. In order to minimize the low points and maximize the high points, a significant amount of time is spent preparing both physically and mentally for a race of this length. Unfortunately, the best training program and training season will not be enough to get you successfully through an IRONMAN distance event without a carefully designed and executed nutrition plan. Sweat rate, gender, exercise intensity, genetics, experience and fitness are all variables that affect your race day nutrition choices. The race environment will also need to be carefully considered because humidity, ambient temperature, and altitude will affect the amounts of nutrients and fluid required.
Remember that your training sessions in hot environments will likely be derailed by gastric distress, cramping or vomiting before it’s derailed by a nutrition bonk. Despite this, athletes are still notorious for first asking, “how many calories should I consume?”. These same athletes focus heavily on calories and will consume gels, gummies or bars to help reach their caloric target. They then consume water arbitrarily with no real thought to concentration, percentage, or osmolality. Nutrition absorption is highly compromised if it doesn’t occur with the appropriate amount of hydration. It is therefore paramount to focus on hydration before calories. First, determin your hydration limit and then add in the calories. Ask yourself, ‘how much fluid can I consume per hour?’. To test what your maximum fluid intake is, on your weekly long training rides start to systematically increase the total fluid consumption each week and note how your stomach feels. When gurgling starts to become evident you know you are near your limit. Use this total fluid consumption level to then determine how many calories are appropriate and absorbable. In hot environments, do not consume more than 100 calories per 12oz of fluid. This is extremely critical to the success of your plan. Calorie concentrations greater than 100 calories to 12oz will hinder the absorption of fluid unless you have a drink that has a super low osmolality, such as EFS-PRO, which can be used at a higher concentration.
Using this method, instead of trying to determine your caloric needs, you are determining what is your hydration limit and corresponding amount of calories you are able to absorb.
This is a far better system to ensure success on race day. It does not make sense for a large athlete to try and push 500 calories per hour if those calories will not get absorbed, as this will only result in frequent stops to the port-a-potty. That athlete is better served and will have more success by consuming fewer calories per hour at a proper concentration.
During the course of the day your nutrition should change to match ambient temperatures or more specifically, your rate of sweat. If you are sweating a lot, then your body is requiring a lot of fluids and a lot of electrolytes. In cool and cold situations where you don’t sweat a lot, do not try and push electrolytes and fluids as this will cause you to have to urinate frequently. EFS Liquid Shot contains the least amount of electrolytes, then EFS, and EFSPRO has the highest levels. Pick the appropriate products to match your sweat rate so you can remain well fueled and hydrated without concern for gut issues.
Recommendations for Race Day:
- For the 24-48 hours prior to the start of the race, remove all foods that are inflammatory to your gut. Remove red meat, dairy and gluten. This allows your gut to be free of inflammation on race day. Consume foods you typically eat and don’t feel a large carb-loading meal is necessary. The act of resting/tapering already allows for more glycogen to be driven to these rested muscles. Stick to eating how you normally eat so on race day your gut is happy.
- On race morning, consume a breakfast that you typically eat but try and make sure it’s free of gluten.
- On a hot race day, consume one serving of EFS or EFSPRO between breakfast and the start of the swim. On a cold race day, use EFS Liquid Shot.
- On the bike, consume only liquid calories made up of EFSPRO (hot conditions), EFS (warm conditions) or EFS Liquids Shot (cool/cold conditions). We do not recommend any solid foods or gummies be used for race day fuel. Use the proper amount of water to keep your nutrition at 100 calories for each 12oz. This may mean picking up on-course water.
- On the run, carry a flask and consume ½ to 2/3 the calories per hour that you consumed on the bike. Chase each sip of the flask with ample water. The hotter the conditions the more water you should consume. If very hot, consider consuming additional electrolytes.