This is something that I have spent a lot of time working on for myself. It was the cause of some tough training and way too many emergency pit-stops in the bushes! After struggling with pit-stops, especially on long rides and runs, I knew something had to change. First, I asked other people about their nutrition strategies and tried to copy that – without any positive results. I went through years of this until I found out what was right for me versus what “they” used or what the current fad was that I “should” try. I’m not going to tell you what YOU should be eating or drinking, either. Hopefully I can give you some tools to find your own plan that works for you.
What is fueling? I consider it not only what you’re going to put in your body during your race, but what you’re going to eat the week before and the morning of your race. All of this can influence how your day goes and needs to be thought out and practiced.
First of all, I’ve had a lot of athletes who put off working on their fueling program until they are a month away from their goal race. I’ve even talked to athletes where I’ve asked them what their plan was a week ahead of time and they didn’t have a plan yet… ooof! As a coach, I make sure that my athletes are working on their nutrition strategies from the beginning so that it’s completely nailed down by the time they get into their long workouts.
This was part of the puzzle for me. I had to find out what kind of foods were helping my body versus irritating my digestive tract. There are many ways to do this, and there is no one right way for anyone. You can start out by trying different foods leading up to your big training days, or you can try eliminating certain foods pre-race, or you can go to a doctor and get tested for your food sensitivities. I ended working through a combination of these things. I found that dairy can irritate my stomach, so I generally try to avoid it before big training days and races. I’ve also discovered that alcohol, or foods high in fiber, aren’t great for me the night before a big race. The first marathon I did, I ate a big salad as my pre-race dinner thinking that would be “healthy” fuel…oops! Now, I reduce my fiber 2-3 days leading into big races.
Additionally, do not try to reduce calories while in heavy training to try to lose weight. This can be very damaging! Your body needs all those powerful nutrients to keep you going through the hard workouts. Not eating enough is a big mistake, and it can turn training into a struggle. So please, please, please EAT.
Training & Racing Nutrition
There are a LOT of different options and opinions on this topic. The most important thing is to figure out what works for you, then repeat it diligently. From my experience, fueling with solids or semi-solids is what works best. On the bike, I use fluids for hydration and I get all of my calories from solid food. On the run, I switch over to semi-solids like chews which works well. The bottom line is you need to practice what you’re going to use. My rule of thumb for my athletes is: as soon as you’re going out for longer than 60 minutes, you need to be fueling and/or hydrating during your workout. Make sure to pack exactly what you think you want to use during your race and time it just as you would during a race. Use these workouts to figure out the best ways to carry your nutrition – bento box or bike jersey, waist pack or run shorts… there are a lot of possibilities.
For this blog post, I really want to emphasize the importance of practicing your fueling plan. It’s definitely the fourth discipline in triathlon and can be just as important, if not more important than fitness in any sport. If you do not get your nutrition dialed in, it can negate all of the hard work you’ve put into your training. So please, talk to your coach and make this a priority in your training.