Top Ten Tips!
1. Don’t overdo it: Far too often, I see triathletes (and this is a classic newbie mistake) overusing the engineered nutrition that is so readily available. Those products are fantastic for training and racing but they are not necessary all the time. In general, if your training or racing session is going to last less than 60-90 minutes, you don’t need any of it!
2. Less is Often More: When it comes to training and racing, take only what you need. Many studies have shown that we are all incapable of replacing what we lose. So, plan your calories on what you need, not what you have lost.
3. Sugar is Your Friend: To keep moving, you need glucose, plain and simple. You can get this from any source but some are easier to digest than others. Generally, the more fat content, the slower something will digest. This is why most of the engineered nutrition is composed of simple sugars; they burn quick and easy. But, always keep #1 in mind when deciding what (if anything) you need to eat!
4. But, Water Matters Most: Again, while all the nutrition products are great, water is what you need the most. During training, but even more so when racing, your ability to perform is directly related to your ability to control your core body temperature. If it gets too high, your brain will shut you down no matter how badly you want to “tough it out”. To control your core temperature, your body needs water so ensure you are properly hydrating!
5. Skip the Pepper but Pass the Salt: While water allows your body to keep functioning and cooling, electrolytes (or salt) act like oil in the car: they keep the whole system running smoothly. You start each session with stored electrolytes but, as you sweat, those reserves are depleted. Some sports drinks have electrolytes in them but not all. So, if you are using one that doesn’t, consider using some salt tablets as well.
6. Practice in Training What You Plan to do on Race Day: They call it training for a reason: you are training. If you plan on using some gel packet on the bike, eat that same product on some bike rides before race day. Never, ever try something new on race day; that’s a recipe for disaster.
7. Don’t Be Rigid: In racing, you must be able to roll with the punches. This also includes nutrition. If you have a plan and ardently stick to it, you might be sabotaging your entire day. If you are looking at that gel pack while hungry but it just doesn’t look tasty, that is your mind telling you NOT to eat it! Listen to those vibes and know when to ditch the plan and find something new. Don’t eat yourself into an upset tummy! Sometimes, what worked great during training just doesn’t work the same on race day. That’s normal and, sadly, far too common. But, it is also no big deal. Just move on to another source of what you need. Aid stations are like your own personal convenience stores!
8. Variety is the Spice of (Your Racing) Life: Just like in the kitchen, variety in your nutrition is great! Our stomachs are designed to handle a wide range of food choices and often work best when presented with just that. Continually ingesting the same drink and gels may upset your stomach (probably out of just food boredom!) So, mix it up. If you want to have that cola, do it. If a banana looks good, chomp it down!
9. Fixing a Bonk Can Take Five Minutes: I frequently call triathlon racing (or any endurance activity) an eating contest wrapped around exercising. What this means is that you, the athlete, are walking a thin line between avoiding the mythically dreaded “BONK” or getting an upset stomach. Having experienced both in my life, trust me, you are much better off bonking. Fixing a bonk can literally take five minutes of eating chocolate chip cookies at the next aid station (and who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies???) while fixing a shut-down digestion system can take hours. When erring, err on the side of the bonk for sure.
10. Get advice: Given the massive world of products, marketing, and more in the endurance world, it can easily be overwhelming. Head to your local shop, like Triple Sports, and get some quality advice. Triathletes are generally pretty friendly and helpful individuals. Ask questions and get help if you feel lost!
(Ok, I lied… 11. Cola and Chicken Broth For Your Soul: If you find yourself at the end of your physical rope and someone offers you cola or chicken broth, take it and down it! You will generally only see these things in long-course racing (half or full Ironmans) but they can be life savers! So, ignore #6 above and grab that cola! Both are water-based but cola has caffeine and tons of easily digested sugars while Chicken Broth is loaded with sodium. Everything you need in one small, little cup, so drink up and you will feel better soon!)