During a long endurance event such as an Ironman race there is no question that you will need to fuel yourself well throughout the day. You body has limited stores of energy, and we know that consuming carbohydrates during exercise can improve your performance. We also know that not all carbs are created equal, and so when planning a race day strategy you may use a combination of drinks, gels, and solid food to get the nutrition you need. No one wants to run out of energy or have gut discomfort, so here are some solutions to keep these problems from affecting you on race day.
No one size fits all
What suits your training partner, or your coach is unlikely to work for you. There is no one size fits all approach to endurance nutrition, but training your gut is as important as training your body and mind for race day.
Practice consuming high carbohydrate content up to 90g per hour to improve your gut’s ability to absorb it and your blood’s glucose availability will also improve. This translates into improved performance. Practice fuelling yourself in training and find what suits you, then practice some more.
Use a range of carbohydrate sources
Some carbohydrates are used more rapidly than others, and some will have more performance benefit than others. Using a carbohydrate drink with multiple transportable carbohydrates will provide 7.6% more power over using a single source alone. This is huge!!
Check your labels to make sure you’re not using a product where the first ingredient is sucrose, glucose, or dextrose, otherwise you will be missing out on this performance benefit.
The most effective approach is to use a range of carbohydrates, such as using a sports drink with maltodextrin/fructose combination which can be found in Bindi Natural Sports Hydration plus gels and bars for example.
It’s important to note that no single source of carbohydrate can be used at more than 60g per hour, so if you are aiming for higher intake you will need to vary your carbohydrate sources to achieve this.
Eating is not cheating
Some brands will claim that using one product all day long will provide all the fuel you need. However, we know that a range of carbohydrate sources will give the best performance benefits.
Using a carefully selecting a solid food source such as a low protein and low fibre energy bar or a banana can be a convenient and satisfying way to consume alternative carbohydrates during an endurance race.
Consuming protein during exercise can result in substantially more gut discomfort, as can foods high in fibre so avoid these and practice eating in training.
Small, frequent carbohydrate feeding
Small amounts of carbohydrates consumed regularly can help you digest it better and can also keep your gut more comfortable.
Have regular sips of your hydration product with multiple carbohydrate sources to essentially drip feed your system throughout the day.
Keep your gut open
Gut comfort is vital on race day if you are going to be able absorb enough carbohydrates to fuel you all day. This is where solid food can come in handy as it keeps the gut open and working, especially in the early stages of the bike ride. Try using solid food such as a low fibre, low protein energy bar or a banana for up to four hours on the bike to keep your gut moving effectively. By tapering it off towards the end, you won’t be carrying it all out on the run on your stomach.
AVOID Flavour fatigue
Choosing a single source of carbohydrate, with a single flavour which is common with ‘custom blends’ made for an athlete can come with a high risk of flavour fatigue. Ironman events can take anywhere from 7-17 hours, and if an athlete tires of the flavour, taste, or sweetness of a product they risk decreasing their intake – even if only subconsciously.
LOOK AFTER YOUR GUT: Keep cool and well hydrated
Gut comfort is so important on race day to avoid bloating and nausea and which can interfere with overall intake. Overheating can increase gut complications, so sip on cold fluids and use external cooling strategies such as icing and water sprays.
Dehydration can have a significant impact on your gut’s ability to absorb fluid and nutrients, so maintaining hydration is critical too.
Beware of using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen on race day as they can also increase gut irritation.
The key takeaway here is that finding a combination of products that suit you is vital for a successful race day. Maintaining gut comfort, adequate hydration and providing your body with a combination of carbohydrate sources will give you the best chance of a great race day performance.