When I’m racing an IRONMAN and going through aid stations on the run, I usually grab whatever food is available because I feel like I need the calories to make it through the day. That said, I usually end up racing with stomach cramps and have to stop and walk during the race. How can I fix this to actually RUN the run, and finish stronger?
Time and time again I see athletes who think more is better when it comes to race day nutrition. Believe me: it’s not! When you’re working hard and feeling tired, it’s easy to be tempted by the amazing spread some aid stations offer, from waffles and gummy bears to pretzels and soft drinks. Don’t use aid stations as buffet tables… that’s a recipe for disaster!
My observation is that most athletes overeat and over-drink during the event. Maybe it’s due to nervousness; maybe it’s simply because there’s an aid station every mile. Whatever the reason, in most cases athletes are consuming substantially more per hour than they ever train with so, naturally, there will be problems!
Keep that commonly heard mantra in mind: Nothing New On Race Day!
When you’re training it’s absolutely critical to use the same nutrition that you plan to use in the race. Stay away from the junk food unless it’s been a staple in your workouts (and I certainly hope that it hasn’t!) Combining foods that your system is not familiar with on race day usually leads to a host of GI problems and can ruin what should be a great day.
Most athletes are surprised to learn just how few calories they need to during an event to perform well. For athletes who are following a low carb, high healthy fat diet, they can typically reduce their event consumption to just 150 calories per hour! If you want to read more about this, check out my various posts on race day nutrition strategies and LCHF diets for endurance athletes.
Regardless of your diet, Paul, my advice is to determine and fine-tune your event nutrition plan during training days of “race-like intensity”.
By replicating the conditions you expect in your triathlon, you’ll dial-in exactly what works for you, and then you’ll enter the event with confidence because you have a well-tested plan. Your total calories, total fluid volume and electrolyte replacement should be the same — and taken at the same intervals — as during your training.
So, find out in advance what the race will be offering at aid stations and either train with those foods and drinks, or carry your own. Be confident in what worked during training and replicate it on race day.
Finally, when in doubt, err on the side of fewer calories per hour. You can always eat or drink a little more if your body truly needs more, but once you’ve overindulged you’ve set yourself up for race day nutritional problems that can’t be quickly undone.
See you at the races,