When you start training for an Ironman triathlon, one of the first things you will read and hear about is the importance of nutrition. Former Ironman finishers have cautioned, “No matter what kind of shape you’re in, nutrition can make or break your Ironman success.”
When I began training for Ironman Wisconsin last February, I paid close attention to my own nutrition plan; I read blogs from previous Ironman finishers, I tried a variety of brands and different products during workouts well in advance to find what I liked and I centered a lot of my training on what my body was going to consume for 140.6 miles. Despite the amount of time spent on *calorie consumption, I failed in some ways when it came to race day nutrition. Here’s how:
- I didn’t learn from my mistakes
One month before the race I decided to do a “mock race” of sorts. I biked 112 miles and ran 10. I packed 2400 calories (8 hours of riding, 300 calories per hour) of food with me on my bike. All was going well, until I realized I was getting an upset stomach. I knew I was eating and drinking too many sugary items. By the end of the ride I had consumed eight GU Energy Gels, one peanut butter and Nutella banana sandwich, two Clif Bars, two Nature Valley bars, three Gatorades and two waters. It was a lot of food and I could tell my body wasn’t digesting everything properly. Rather than go home and look at what didn’t work, I decided to stick with the same plan with the thought, “I’ll just eat less GU.”
- I used a new product on race day
Five days before the race I decided to address my nutrition plan again. I knew I needed to eat less GU Energy Gels to keep my digestion in check, but I wasn’t sure what I would replace them with. I began panicking and purchased GU Roctane Energy Gels that have more sodium and more branched-chain amino acids than original GU Gels. Although I was going to eat a fewer number of GUs, I didn’t take into account the effect the increased amino acids, caffeine and sodium would have on my digestion.
- I made race day changes
On race day morning I was so nervous about not being able to go to the bathroom before the swim, I decided to take two fiber tablets with my bowl of oatmeal. What I didn’t think about was that my oatmeal had flaxseed in it and I was consuming it with a peach and peanut butter. On top of that I ate a GU and a PowerBar before the swim. I had so much fiber my body didn’t know what was going on. By mile seven of the bike I had an upset stomach that never subsided.
- I ‘winged’ marathon nutrition
By the time the run came around, I knew my nutrition plan was shot. I had trained for the run with GU Energy Gels, but I couldn’t stomach another one after 112 miles on the bike. I was left thinking about what was offered on the course. Anything that I ate or drank was immediately digested and I found myself using every portable restroom in sight. I hadn’t trained with cola, chicken broth, grapes, potato chips or pretzels, but that’s what I found myself eating.
- I obsessed over quantity
Leading up to and on race day, I was obsessed with what I would eat and drink during the triathlon. I counted all of my calories and focused on quantity rather than quality. While I knew I should be consuming a high amount of calories, I did not listen to what my body was telling me. I continued adding sugary substances for the calories, despite my stomach responding negatively.
Each athlete is different when it comes to exercise and food — what didn’t work for me might work great for someone else. As an Ironman newbie, I am not sure if I have figured out the “right” nutrition plan yet, but while my plan ultimately derailed, I refused to let it break my Ironman success. Here’s to more trial and error to find that right combination for me.
*My race day menu:
Breakfast— Two packets of oatmeal with flaxseed and peanut butter, a peach, a PowerBar, one Gatorade, two fiber tablets
Pre-swim—Bottle of water, one GU
Bike—Six GUs, Base salt every five miles, two waters, three Gatorades, one banana, one Uncrustable, one PowerBar, two Clif Bars, one Nature Valley Bar
Run—GU Hydration Drink Mix, Base salt every mile, handful of potato chips, two cups of coca cola, two cups of chicken broth, handful of pretzels, two handfuls of grapes