Ironwoman Wednesday: Nutrition

Welcome back to another Ironwoman Wednesday with Jamie at From Couch to Ironwoman, Michelle at IronwomanStrong and me! We’re all training for Ironman Louisville and are coming together every Wednesday to share our journeys and talk triathlon with all you other half and full Ironwomen (and men). IronwomanWednesday2_LU This week we’re talking nutrition. If you’ve read my Raleigh 70.3 run review, you know that I struggled a little with nausea and some cramping on the run of my first half ironman. While there are various things that contributed, the main problem was: nutrition. Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 6.42.49 AM

You can be perfectly trained for an endurance event like an ironman, half ironman, marathon or ultra, but if your nutrition is off, your race is likely to be off too, especially if you’re like me and spend a lot of time out on the course.

Just like your car requires gasoline and oil changes, your body requires certain nutrients. No gasoline and your car won’t run, no oil change and your car will get problems. Put water where gasoline goes and your car won’t run. Fill half a tank of gas and expect it to run for 8 hours and you’ll probably find yourself stranded on the side of the road.

Your body is a machine and, like any other machine, it requires specific things to function properly.

A deficit in carbohydrates and fats is frequently recommended for people who are dieting, but cutting out an entire food group is not a good thing for an athlete (Note, I’m not talking about vegans, vegetarians or people with food intolerances here). Some diets and apps recommend a specific percentage of each food group. That’s a good place to start, but I think the most important thing is to understand WHAT each of these food groups contribute to your body, so that you can start thinking about why you need each, what quantities you might need and when it’s good to eat each.

Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight is really a great book and I highly recommend it for any athlete trying to get leaner or to get a better understanding of nutrition.

Here are some of the guidelines I use:

  • Macronutrients: Carbohydrates are your main fuel source and increase training capacity. You need anywhere from 2-5 grams/lb of body weight (based on training load). Protein helps with muscle building and recovery and building and you need 0.5-0.8 grams/lb of body weight. You don’t need a lot of fats, because your body can produce it, but we can’t produce omega-3 and omega-6.
  • Micronutrients: A few to be aware of include electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Electrolytes help your cells function properly, stay balanced and avoid things like hyponatremia (too much water, not enough sodium). You also want to make sure you are getting enough iron, which helps transport oxygen to your muscles, and calcium and vitamin D, which keep your bones strong.
  • Hydration: Hydrate lots every day, balancing out between water and electrolyte-rich drinks (sports drinks and coconut water, which is lower in sugar, but high in electrolytes) on very hot days or days where you work out for more than an hour.

Woah, that’s a lot of calories!

So now it’s time to plan your nutrition…where do you start? And how do you make sure you get it right?

The answer is the same as physical and mental training: practice, practice, practice. Create a race nutrition plan and practice it, modifying it as needed until you find what works for you.

Here’s the Race Nutrition Plan I’m fine-tuning for Louisville:

General Diet
While there are definitely days where I eat unhealthy, the majority of my diet consists of whole, fresh and nutrient dense foods and I drink a lot of water. [Check out some of my diet staples]

IMG_5879I’m an oatmeal kind of girl. While I’ll vary how I eat it, on race day I stick to oatmeal with a spoonful of peanut butter and some blueberries, a cup of coffee and I top of with a Zico and a snack if I have a long wait before my wave. [My snack is currently a Powerbar Performance Energy Blend Banana Blueberry, but I’m going to be playing around with that].


The Bento that holds my Bike Buffet

Long Workouts/Race Day
I consume about 250 calories/hr on the bike and 120/hr on the run. During the bike I fuel with sports drink, peanut butter stuffed pretzels, Honey Stinger waffles and bonk breakers, but I’m exploring some new options like PB&J sandwiches and homemade portables (from The Feed Zone). Everything is in bite size pieces in my handy Bento. During the run I fuel with sports drink, water GU and SaltStix…and for Louisville I’ll add some chicken broth too (and yes, I will do some training runs with chicken broth).


Some of my Bike Buffet items

My lessons learned from Raleigh, tell me sodium (400-600mg per hour) will be key as I’m a heavy sweater and the weather should be hot in Louisville. I should also keep in mind that it takes the body time to digest food, so I probably want to ease up on the solids in the last 30-60 minutes of my ride. You want to fuel enough to have energy left for the run, but not too much that your stomach is competing with your muscles for oxygen and energy.

You want to eat both carbs and protein for recovery. For someone who’s 150 lbs it’s about 75 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein. My favorite recovery nutrition includes hydrating with coconut water (17gr of carbs), drinking chocolate milk (hot or cold), eating yogurt with granola, eating a protein bar (25-30g carbs, 15-20g protein), drinking a greek yogurt fruit (banana, berries, apple) and/or veggie (kale, spinach, beets, carrots) smoothie.

Do you have a Race Nutrition Plan? What is some of your favorite, pre-, during and recovery nutrition?

Join us next week when we tackle the 5th discipline of triathlon (yes, you read that right 5th, after 1.swim,, and 4.nutrition of course)!

Disclaimer: Any information offered in this blog is personal and based on my own experiences. When I provide health & fitness coaching, I provide clients with basic nutrition guidelines and as needed consult with, refer to or recommend clients to see a physician, nutritionist and/or dietician. 
Sources: Racing Weight, The Feed Zone, American College of Sports Medicine, Coach AJ and Rebecca from Expert Nutrition.

  1. Nutrition is, in my mind, absolutely and utterly critical. You need not only to get calories in, but to get them in so that they will be properly absorbed and will contribute to your training. Further, good nutrition will save you from needing to find a tree, or doubling over, or hitting the wall. Plus, you just want to feel good and happy and healthy, not bloated etc. It helps your body repair and also gives you something to look forward to after you are done/distraction during those long ass workouts. Plus, the more creatively you figure out how to deal with it, the more awesome you feel (winning!).

    • Yes, I once heard someone say something along the lines of, the wall is always there, but having a proper nutrition plan helps you delay your encounter with that wall. And yes to feeling good, happy and healthy!

  2. Nutrition is such a huge thing. I am still working on perfecting my nutrition plan (I’m assuming it will always be changing) and trying to make sure I get in enough calories, especially on the run. I do well until the run and then I just don’t feel like chewing anymore, haha.

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