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The rigors of long course endurance racing are such that you can’t just get out there with a bottle of water and hope for the best. There’s a very good reason why there are hundreds of sports supplements out there for you to sample and use.
Let’s dive right into my own race nutrition plan (and a little either side of race day) for Port Mac Ironman in a little over a week away. And while I’m at it, I’ll do my best to throw in a few why’s behind my madness methods (that are by no means mad BTW).
There’s the old school thoughts of carb loading… which I don’t prescribe to. Why? Because smashing down extra starchy carbs like pasta all week is going to lead to a feeling of bloat and heaviness, even some water retention and weight gain. With sensible eating and a big decrease in volume and intensity, there’s no real need to be overloading, your muscles will be well and truly ready.
My advice here: keep things simple. Go for quality (real food), stick to your normal routine and if anything you may even need to eat slightly less than normal due to your decreased training and subsequent appetite. Above all, get organised early in the week and sketch out a rough plan for the week. Race week is hectic enough without worrying about what you’re going to eat on a whim.
For me, and this starts at about 6 weeks out, I get a little stricter with my eating. Wholefoods become the sole focus of my eating (not that aren’t normally) and treats...not so much if any at all. Think of your body like a race car… the better and more nutrient dense the fuel… the better the performance.
What does this look like you ask? Here’s a rough example of what my week might look like (ideally).
Breakkie: scrambled eggs with spinach and avo washed down with a banana smoothie (banana, peanut butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, ice and milk of choice- for me- coconut milk).
Lunch: generally leftovers from the night before. Maybe a basic rice bowl (eg. rice, teriyaki chicken thighs, broccoli, carrots, capsicum)
Dinner: Kitchari- lentils/dhal with roasted veg. (basically it’s an indian/ayurvedic lentil and rice dish). I throw roasted potatoes and any other roast veg on top and squirt some lemon juice over it and voila… sooo good.
Thnacks: go to’s for me. Fruit (apples, mandarins, bananas… the usual), rice cakes with avo + lemon + pepper- so good, a boiled egg, a carrot with peanut butter. Something real food based.
Breakkie: Usually at race venue now so this can vary. But likely avo and eggs on sourdough with lemon. Keeping things simple.
Lunch: again simple Simon: a starchy carb dish perhaps like a potato bake or potato salad (homemade if possible so I know what’s in it).
Dinner: Burger time: a simple Grill’d chicken burger and a handful of sweet potatoe fries.
Thnacks: Bananas, rice cakes w avo or peanut butter.
Saturday (the day before the race):
Today I’m keeping things nice and simple (seems I like simple things). For my own and my competitors well being… I’m staying away from gas producing foods like onions and beans/lentils etc. And sticking to simple, wholefoods like spuds, rice and protein like eggs, and chicken. If you know some foods trigger gas or porr digestion then avoid these today perhaps.
Breakkie: Veggie omelette + small smoothie
Lunch: Rice bowl / fried rice (preferably homemade) or sushi
Dinner: Either a burger or stir fry with simple veg and egg noodles or rice.
Thnacks: banana, apple, rice cakes with avo or peanut butter (pics is my fav FYI)
During all of the above eating I’m also making sure I’m drinking a glass of water with meals and have a bottle of water and/or electrolytes with me at all times to make sure I’m drinking to thirst. It’s common to be out getting bikes sorted, registering, catching up with friends etc and leave yourself short on the hydration side of things. Prep a couple of bottles each morning and take em with you in a bag. Be mindful of not letting yourself get thirsty or short of food. It’s stressful enough without getting hangry.
There’s a couple of options here for a pre race meal. Basically, the closer you are eating to race start the smaller the meal should be. It’s a tough one… ideally you’d have a proper brekkie or meal no closer than 3-4 hours prior to race start so your body has time to move it out of the stomach but it’s still going to be making it’s way through for the usual 6-8 hours of digestion time.
My advice here: have something a bit smaller and then have snacks leading into race start. You don’t want to be hungry but you don’t want to have a belly and digestion system full of food either. The other option is to get up at midnight and have a bigger meal giving it plenty of time to pass through… but that’s not advisible in my opinion.
So, here’s what my brekkie pre race will likely be:
Pre race brekkie (roughly 2-3 hours pre race)
Sourdough toast x 1 with 1-2 eggs and avo- likely pre boiled eggs so I’m not cooking. Or a simple bircher muesli with banana (pre made the night before). Not a massive portion size… just enough. I’m going to keep a banana and energy bar with me to nibble on as I duck in and out of porta-loos and cues for racking bikes etc. Plus I’ll have a bottle of electrolytes to sip on as I’m getting ready.
Race time (finally- we can breathe now):
As I mentioned first up, you can’t get out there and expect your system to go all day and be putting nothing in there. Like any engine… it needs fuel. Now, the amount of energy going in you can get away with depends on a heap of variables which we won’t go into today. But for most of us, we need to be getting in a source of carbs in the vicinity of 40-70 grams per hour on the bike and 30-50 grams per hour on the run. We focus on carbs, as this is predominantly what your body fuels off during an Ironman. And carbs, as you may well know, come in many different forms for racing. From gels, bloks, chews, carb drinks, bars, fruit, sandwiches, spuds etc. The more liquid form the carbohydrate like a high carb drink solution, the easier the processing down below. The more wholefood in nature, the harder your system has to work to break it down. It’s for this reason, I tend to recommend more liquid form for race day. Keep in mind as well, this is something that you really should have been practicing for months leading into your big day.
Anyhoo, check what my race day will likely look like. And I say likely, because in all my races, I’ve had a couple that have gone exactly to plan. Especially once you’re off the bike.
Pre swim start
As I mentioned earlier, I’ll have with me a banana, some sort of snack/energy bar like a clif bar or muesli bar and a bottle of electrolytes to sip to thirst. I’ll make sure I’m nibbling on this and stop eating with 15 mins to race start to let things settle and get my zen on.
Swim swim swim…
As soon as I’m on the bike, I’m wanting to settle things down by getting outta town, finding my flow and maybe sipping some electrolyte to start with. Once settled, roughly 10-15mins in, my day of smorgasbord starts… roughly every 15-20 mins, I’m going to drip feed the fuel in. Little bits and more often. Why? Because it’s far more gentle on the stomach to be putting little bits in more often than one or two bigger lumps of energy every 40-60 mins and once you start your body on all the refined sugars you’ll be pumping in all day, you need to keep the fuel flowing or you’ll risk having a sugar crash… make sense!? (I hope so).
For me: the first two hours on the bike will be a mixture of a high carb solution fluid mix in my bottle and small bits of clif bar, maybe even a banana. In the next few hours I’m keeping everything in liquid form. Mainly from the bottle and I’ll have back up bloks and gels onboard in case I lose a bottle or get sick of the drink (it happens occasionally). I’m aiming for 60-70g of carbs per hour and I’ll hydrate to thirst based on the weather conditions. Because it’s Port, I anticipate it being a bit cooler 20-25 degrees celsius and no humidity so I won’t be over doing my hydration (just staying on top of it within reason).
Once on the run, for me it’s all about bloks, gels and coke. My carb intake decreases as my HR climbs so I’m aiming or 40-50g per hour mainly from bloks. I’ll have a blok every 15 mins and top up with a caffeinated gel every hour or so. Once I’m sick to death of gels and bloks, I’ll move to coke for the last part of the race… as late as I can hold out.
If I get any distress in my gut throughout the race, I back off the fluids for a bit, especially water and back my effort off as well, but keep moving forward. Then slowly ease back into it.
As much as you want to get stuck into all the treats… think about fuelling your body with as many nutrients as possible as well. Post race for me is still very healthy on the whole with my meals based around lots of veg and protein to rebuild all that damage from the day before. And keep eating and drinking well for a few days before you hang up the boots. And be nice to yourself, sleep as much as you can, eat well and catch up on all those little jobs you’ve been neglecting to get the big race done.
It’s important to remember and prep yourself, that rarely does everything go to plan during an Ironman, especially in regards to your nutrition. But going in without a plan is a sure fire way to leave one of those things you can control, to chance. So get on it if you haven’t.
Enjoy the ride, have fun and crush it!
Feel free to chuck any questions on the FB post in the collective too, I’ll be happy to answer them as best I can.
Head Coach Scotty Farrell is a qualified nutritionist and age group Ironman Champion - learn more about him here!