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Race Nutrition Summary

The time to dial in your nutrition plan is well in advance of your key race. There is a lot of information out there, some of it conflicting, and you don’t want to make it up as you go along. A few guidelines that most of us should follow:

For races under two hours and on a cool day you might be OK just drinking water and can rely on your stored muscle glycogen for energy, but you will certainly finish dehydrated (and hungry!). We recommend you at least consider a sports drink for races under two hours.

For races lasting longer than two hours, virtually everyone will require some amount of fluid and calorie intake during the race itself. Read on for specific suggestions.

For races lasting longer than four hours, a lot of folks will need to take in supplemental electrolytes in addition to fluids and calories. Hot conditions amplify the need for fluids and electrolytes as an increased sweat rate will more rapidly deplete your stores.

For Ironman and Iron-distance events, everyone needs to have a plan for fluid, calories, and electrolytes.

Don’t try something new on race day. A new breakfast, a new drink, a new supplement, (a new wetsuit) - none of it.

Practice your race plan on your long training days. Don’t forget to drink for 2 hours just because it is cool out on your practice day.

Don’t rely on the race to supply what you need, even if they advertise that they will provide X Y and Z. Even the most well organized events run out of nutrition, water, and sports drink, or forget to get supplement Y to race point 2, and so on.

You need a plan that accounts for total calorie intake, hydration, and electrolytes. Your odds of needing supplemental electrolytes (extra salt) increase during longer events,. Everyone is different.

My experience is that a higher number of athletes experience GI issues when supplementing with protein during an event, so if you plan to use a drink or supplement that contains protein, you must run this plan through a long distance training day more than once.

If you are a regular caffeine user, you will want to consume some before and during your event. There are many products that include caffeine – gels, bloks, and specifically formulated drinks.

On average, athletes should target 4-5 calories per kilogram of bodyweight per hour on the bike, and 2-3 calories per kilogram per hour on the run. For example, a 60kg athlete would intake 240-300 calories per hour on the bike and 120-180 calories per hour on the run. Your specific needs may be more or less than this but use this as your starting point in practice and adjust from there.

Electrolyte needs are dependent on how heavily you sweat, and how quickly you excrete sodium, potassium, and chloride (the salts). You can get a general idea of this by seeing how caked with salt you are after a long, hot workout, but a lab test will give you a definitive answer.

During hotter events, your fluid requirements will be higher than during cooler events. Go figure. Your starting point is about 20oz per hour. Smaller athletes might start at 16oz per hour and larger athletes at 24oz per hour.

A few product recommendations to get you started:

Gatorade Endurance
Carbo Pro (you add this to any drink for extra carbohydrates)
Gu chomps
Clif Shot bloks
Infinit Nutrition – adjustable
Skratchlabs – all natural
Sustained Energy (contains protein)

Coach Marty Gaal is a USA Triathlon Coach and NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. He has been coaching endurance athletes since 2002.

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