Racing an Ironman can be one of the most exhilarating and incredible experiences of your life. It can also be a totally awful day and a lot of this comes down to your nutrition choices. If you’ve watched or raced an Ironman you’ve seen it before; athletes blowing up on the bike, vomiting on the run, cramping, collapsing at the finish line and being carted off into the medical tent. Ironman racing can get messy at best and dangerous at worst. This can happen to a lesser degree in other sports, but Ironman is a day when you can’t hide from your nutritional decisions.
Make your Plan Early
By 4-6 weeks out from race day it is time to start really dialling in your race day nutrition plan. The aim is to have a day without digestion issues such as nausea, bloating, diarrhoea, and vomiting. You need to race without any flat spots or major dips in energy. There are so many uncontrollables in Ironman racing, but nutrition is one thing you CAN control and it gives you a lot of confidence that you are going to finish the race if you get the plan right.
5 Tips for your Race Day Plan
1. Use what works in training
Use what is working in training. Find out which foods and hydration you can digest easily and stick to it. Once you know what works, use this to create your plan. Aim for 60-90g of carbs per hour with a combination of carbohydrate sources such as sports hydration, solid foods and gels.
It doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy, but something you know you can rely on and that you have practiced a lot.
2. Write it down
Write the plan down and then discuss it with your coach and nutrition advisor. Try to avoid discussing it with anyone and everyone, because what works for them probably won’t work for you anyway. And everyone has an opinion on nutrition!
You can even stick the plan to your bike for race day, so you don’t forget! It’s amazing how your mind can play tricks with you, and it can be hard to remember if you had that gel or not.
3. Be flexible if things go wrong
Be prepared for variations on the day – like dropping a gel – have a spare or know when you can replace one from an aid station.
4. Follow YOUR plan closely
Don’t deviate. Your mind is VERY powerful during a long day of racing, so don’t allow thoughts like “I’m sick of gels I might just skip this one” or “it’s not so hot it’s OK if I don’t have all my Bindi”. This can be a fast track to nutritional disaster on race day.
5. Use nutrition to get you out of trouble
If things are going badly, it is OK to deviate from the plan if it means getting you out of a tricky spot. If you are following your plan but find you are cramping early on the bike, think through your options like having that vegemite sandwich earlier or taking your salt tablets.
Feeling nauseous after the swim? Let your gut settle for 20 minutes, then start slowly with small sips of water before easing back into your plan. Nutrition can be the answer to so many race day issues.
6. It’s OK to eat solid food
Try starting with solids and move to gels later – because eating is not cheating. It is a long day of racing so starting with solid food on the bike such as an energy bar or vegemite sandwich each hour for at least four hours will keep the gut open and digesting well. Move onto gels towards the end of the bike and then use them for the run.
Plan to finish strong
It’s time to let all that hard work you’ve put into training shine through on race day by nailing your nutrition. Nutrition is a race day ‘controllable’ and failing to plan is planning to fail. Write out a personalised race day plan based on what works for you in training. This will give you confidence that you will have plenty of energy to get through the challenge of Ironman race day.
For more information on training nutrition, download our 3 Step Nutrition Guide Here