STRUCTURED FUELLING – FAILING TO PREPARE IS PREPARING TO FAIL

by Mark Wolff

When it comes down to race preparation athletes are all about the training never the nutrition around it. It is often an after thought. However its not just nutrition in and around the training an athlete should be focussed on its also the daily nutritional intake from waking up all the way to bed time. It plays a vital roll in maintaining an energy balance, supporting the recovery process, and keeping that immune system in check.

A few weeks ago, I participated in my first race after many years in hibernation due to ongoing commitments which never afforded me the time to put in the proper preparation. But when I decide to race it’s really a test of my consistent training and I don’t race for fun. I set a goal and stick to it. This time I went for Ironman 70.3 Tiberius with the single goal of getting a category podium to qualify for world champs. I knew what I needed to do from a numbers perspective to hit the target. But aside from training numbers the nutrition had to be spot on to support the effort. Over and above the actual training my age being a tender 51 meant recovery between sessions is more challenging and so dietary changes were needed to support the increases in volume and intensity. I wont dive into the daily nutrition in this blog as its quite detailed. I will leave that for another day. The purpose of this blog is to explain the approach to race day nutrition and how I properly prepared for it. Hopefully you can take away something and use it towards your big day.

WHEN DO YOU START?
Kicking off a race day nutrition plan needs to be tried and tested in training as much as you can. This needs to start many months before the actual race. In my case it was 10 months prior to race day. A fuelling plan needs to be properly structured, and tried, tested and stuck to like glue on race day.

FIRST STEPS
The first step you need to make is to think about the disciplines of swim bike and run and in your mind put a picture together of how you want to fuel each of those three.



-SWIM

Swimming being the first discipline means a pre-race meal and possible top ups on route to the start. In my case I decided to use 32Gi Pre-Race Meal as my pre-race fuel and because it such an important part of race day I consumed it prior to all my long and hard sessions. I also ensured I consumed it prior to most of my swims to ensure my digestive system was comfortable throughout. The serving sizes varied depending on how long before a training session I consumed it.

– BIKE
Generally this is the longest leg of a triathlon and the fuelling required to hold an effort for hours means a good fuelling plan that is simple and convenient while on the go.

Often cyclists complicate bike feeding, and this is something I like to keep as simple as possible. The way to determine intake on the bike is to understand a few very important things.

1.First is how long are you planning on riding for?

2.How many calories you are wanting to take in hourly (carbs only or carbs + protein)

3.How much fluid are you planning on consuming hourly for hydration purposes (this is weather and temperature dependant with heat and or humidity which can increase fluid loss)

In my case I pegged the bike to 2h30 as a pretty good estimate based on testing and in my case I went with around 280Kcals per an hour which equates to 70gram carbohydrates per an hour. Race weight is +-66kg placing me at over 1gram carbs per kg of body weight. However, I opted to go with 32Gi Race Pro which is a carbohydrate rich drink with a protein portion. I find protein intake during a long event keeps me stable and it can mitigate the onset of gluconeogenesis which can trigger muscle fatigue. 32Gi Race Pro is a single source feed so for me it was a simple uncomplicated feed and nothing else was needed from an energy perspective. I went with the mocha flavour due to it containing caffeine. I enjoy racing on caffeine. I decided to use a 600ml bottle and test the concentrate. This meant 10 scoops of Race Pro in the bottle for a 2.5hr ride. Aside from energy we need to also think about fluid intake to remain hydrated. By placing 10 scoops of Race Pro in a 600ml bottle that has turned the drink into a hypertonic solution which will provide energy, but it is not possible to hydrate. So, to manage this I placed an 800ml bottle of 32Gi Hydrate on the bike for hydration purposes. Optimal hydration is around 80% of lost fluid in the form of sweat. How do I know this number? I weigh myself before and after training sessions to determin weight loss which equates to fluid loss. During testing all went very well and I found my digestive system tolerated everything very well. The way I fed was alternating sips of energy and hydration spaced around 10min apart meaning Race Pro intake 3 times per an hour with fluid intake in between as needed. As we moved towards much hotter weather I realised that my fluid intake was not sufficient and that my sodium intake needed to be upped a little more. This led to a slight modification. Instead of 10 scoops in the 600ml bottle I placed 4 scoops in there to keep the solution isotonic (hydrates and provides energy with a more even pull through) and then I used a soft 300ml squeeze bottle which I placed the concentrate in, and carried that in my suite pocket for easy access. I then increased my Hydrate intake to 1.5 tablets in the hydration bottle so that I could get in around +-750mg sodium per an hour.
This worked amazingly well and on all training rides energy levels as well digestive comfort was spot on. I just needed to do one more test and this was on a 90km simulation which I did around 6 weeks out from race day. I woke up ate my 32Gi Pre-Race Meal as planned, pre-hydrated a little and then went out for a hard effort on the bike with my set fuelling strategy. I completed the course in 2h27 and the fuelling was perfect. These kind of tests demonstrate not just the level of fitness you at but more importantly the fuel required to achieve that effort was correct. It takes the stress off having to worry about any changes or adjustments. When it works bank it and take it to race day with a smile.

Run
The run leg is often where athletes can make or break their race, and this is determined by how well they fuelled on the bike leg and then how they continue to fuel through the run leg. A lot of triathletes test their fuelling on the bike and that is all then very often decide to rely on the course fuel for the rest of their race. I advocate never to rely on race course nutrition. You just do not know what you are getting from a dilution factor and that everything will go smoothly on the day. At Ironman Tiberius which was also Middle Eastern Championships 32Gi was the official nutrition partner. I remember going down the run course and being offered 32Gi products at the aid station by an athlete volunteering who knew me well. I refused the feed and kept going. He was a little in shock that I didn’t take my own fuel off the course. I explained to him afterwards when you go to battle take your own weapons that way you know they will work. The run course fuel was not my chosen fuel in training. My Run fuel was simple another soft squeeze bottles this time a 250ml hydra pack with a 32Gi Race Pro concentrate. All I needed in addition was water on the course and nothing else. Again, during training, I would run with the pack in my tri suite to get used to the feel and to ensure it worked well for me. I also did testers using longer harder efforts or brick sessions to test the nutrition worked well. Once I had tested dozens of times and was confident in the fuelling, I banked it.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
The one thing I have not spoke about which is vital in any triathlon is always to be prepared for anything. In this case often full distances allow special need bags for those that want some insurance. In my case the transition zone becomes very important.
On race morning I place two extra bottles in the bike and run bags one is a hydration bottle which is just water and 32Gi Hydrate and the other is a 250ml bottle of Race Pro with some 32Gi G-Shot’s (caffeine shots). These bottles are there in case I need to top up on energy or hydrate between the different legs of the race. The caffeine is something I take in prior to the race start and a just in case between legs.  

In my case our event started way over an hour after transition closed and I needed to use the time wisely to keep myself topped up. I sipped on Race Pro prior to the start of the event.

PLANNED NUTRITION
Below is exactly what went to the race course

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
As they say if you fail to prepare then prepare to fail. As much as we watched the weather and had an idea of conditions, race day threw us a nice curve ball. At 4am the rain came down and a hard the wind picked up. This was going to be a tough day out for most of the field. The cooler conditions and the rain made for slight changes in my nutritional strategy. What happens when temps drop is fluid loss is not as high and so I dropped my sodium down to +-500mg an hour instead of the 750mg planned. I also decided to start the feed from the concentrated squeeze bottle in order to allow the body to hit peak temperatures to keep fluid intake nominal and not over do it early on. Later when my fluid loss was slightly higher I would switch to more fluid with the small Race Pro bottle in the bottle cage. Minor adjustments to an already tried and tested plan.

THE END RESULT
Physically it wasn’t my best day out due to a number of reasons but I am never one for excuses and regardless we soldier on. Regardless of how I felt my race times were in line for a tough day out. The nutrition was perfect down to the red carpet and I never felt any discomfort or lack of energy.

Although I wanted the top step I had to settle for second place. My podium goal achieved and that is what I set out to do from the day I decided to enter the race.

The point of this blog is really to stress the importance of proper structure not just in training but in the nutrition in and around the training. There is no ways you can reach your true potential or push any hard efforts without a tried and tested nutrition and hydration strategy.

Below is a how I structured my race day nutrition. I know some of you have never truly given the nutrition much in-depth thought and many just thumb suck their way through. But you ask any professional or elite athlete about their intake during an event they will break it down into the finest of details because they know it’s the difference between a win a loss and a hard or smoother day out.

Hopefully you learned something from this approach above and will give your nutrition some proper thought before your big day.

Yours in health always

M

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