Just recently our new member Tom B asked the question below in the forum! Unfortunately as I just found out, I am limited in the amount of characters for my response. So will do via this blog post.
Q: Kristian just read your article – got me thinking, especially as i really bonked in IM last year at the 21km of the run (and I’m a 2.40 marathon runner so it was a bummer). I tend to have brekkie – oats and protein shake made in water with berries every mornign inc. pre long rides/ sessions and then very little for a few hrs with maybe a powwerbar every hour there after. In IM or 1/2 IMs I have the same brekkie a few hrs pre race and then usually use H5 gels throughout but in recent years seem to not get it right even using the 1g/kg/hr formula. I’m keen to practice nutrition in my prep pre Port IM, do you suggest skipping brekkie for training workouts and getting used to fueling with gels throughout sessions ? tom
A: Ok first up and after reading my answer below, then go and read Steve Borns article “How to Fuel Prior to Workouts & Races“.
We will start with your race strategy first as that is easiest before looking at the day-to-day fueling requirements. The one thing you are doing somewhat right is the three hours before eating. Even your normal breakfast of oats, protein shake and berries should work (becuase your system is used to this) From there on in its having a fueling plan that has been practiced pretty much from now through to Port. 15 weeks right?
Before working on the fueling requirements the basic strategy I advise to all is this:
- Breakfast MUST be consumed three hours prior to your race and 200-300 calories IS enough.
- You’ll want complex carbs, starches and a little protein.
- No calories between breakfast and race start. If you must and feel you need some fuel. A gel 5 minutes prior with about 200ml of water is fine.
- You only need to drink 1 liter of water between breakfast and cease 20′ prior to race start. That way you won’t dilute your blood sodium levels.
- After exiting the swim, take in water only for the first 15-20′ of the race to let blood get to the working muscles and your heart rate to settle. No want or need to shut your stomach down early!
- After this time start to drip, drip, drip in your nutrition. Sucking down huge amounts at a time is tough on the system and absorption becomes stressed. SO small amounts often. Liquid fuel is so much easier for the body to absorb then solids. With solids the body has to use energy to break them down to convert to energy. So you’re not getting the full amount from them.
- Keep fluid intake (hydration) to around 600ml mark and increase with hot/humid conditions but electrolytes intake also needs to increase.
- Your bike fueling needs and run fueling needs will differ. By the time you hit the run the race has been going a long time.. even for the fast guys and gals. This means your ability to absorb fuel is slowed even further. So you’ll need to reduce the amount of calories but always have some on-hand if you need a top up. You can always add.. subtraction is impossible without slowing down, stopping an/or vomiting.
- Race stuff out of the way, lets discuss the day-to-day fueling.
Breakfast: Weekdays as they are typically your shorter sessions <90′, you can afford to eat within the three hour window that it takes to fully absorb that food. This will cause an insulin/blood sugar response and you’ll burn your stored glycogen first. For the short stuff that is OK as you can use that fuel to your advantage (but you need to hit your post session recovery fuel in less than 30′).
For the long sessions its the last thing you want to do. We want to hold onto that muscle glycogen for as long as possible, so it’s a big mistake to eat in the hour or so before heading out on your long ride. For you specifically Tom, you’d eat your breakfast and then consume very little for a few hours essentially setting yourself up to bonk ie run the motor dry. You used up the stored muscle glycogen early and didn’t replenish and then had 200 odd calories per hour after that! Then in the race you changed products and went to a much higher fueling amount your body just can’t keep up with. See the problem?
So we want to spare that glycogen in the muscles on our long days. That means foregoing breakfast, or literally eating a banana or piece of toast as your heading out the door. Bike ok, running makes it tougher to digest. What I suggest is first and foremost dropping the breakfast or having the little something to kill the likely hunger pangs those these do disappear after a while, just having a big glass of water, I am partial to a black (no sugar) coffee (it helps stimulate fat burning) and then a quick TP Roll / Movement Prep warm up and out the door.
Once out the door, I start my fueling strategy within 20 minutes and start dripping it in thereafter. All the way to session completion and then get that recovery fuel in pronto. My long session fueling mimics what I’m am going to run with on Ironman day.
So how much fuel do you need. I wholeheartedly agree with Steve Born on the less is more when it comes to caloric intake. Even though companies like H5 will say you can get up to 600 calories/hr because of there super carbs (high fructose) formula – the studies in Australia they report on are flawed as I personally know some of the athletes in the testing pool broke protocol, further to that I have extensively used that product and could not push over the 260 cals/hr mark without getting sick.
Try this: Start with less calories an hour, have some ‘back up’ nutrition on hand and add more if you need to. The recommendations here are worth reading.
For what to use. Personally I like the Hammer Perpetuem made as a concentrate for my bike fueling. Shorter races ie Olympic I’d use Heed but anything longer I use Pertetuem. Running, I use the Hammer Gels. Now this is only quite recent for me ie within 12 months. Prior to that I have been a High 5 person for numerous years and did race fast on it. But I’d always have left overs in my concentrate bottles becuase it became too sickly sweet. On the runs, I’d end up shunning the gels because I couldn’t deal with it any longer. So I started experimenting with different products but kept coming back to Hammer becuase of their knowledge base and how the product made me feel. My first race using Hammer and on limited training resulted in a personal best of 4:13 for a Half Ironman, we did get perfect conditions and its a flat bike course but I drank all my concentrate and my stomach had never felt better.
Do your research, test, test, test and ask me questions.