In-Race Nutrition Is Not The Same For Everybody

In-Race Nutrition Is Not The Same For Everybody

 In-Race nutrition is a topic that seems to live a life of its own when it comes to endurance sports and I think it is because everybody is looking for the simple answer. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to in-race nutrition. This process is a set of trials and errors while you are training and then again during competition. We have all read about testing out products during training but based on the number of posts on social media that I see regarding in-race nutrition it seems that nobody is taking that to heart. This blog post is not going to give you all the answers because what I do will be and should be different from what you do. What this blog post will do is give you an idea of how my in-race nutrition has changed over the years as I have tested and tested and tested some more. When I started training for endurance events back in 2006 I had zero idea as to what was right, wrong, better, worse or even how or if I should do it. I ran my first half-marathon on nothing and by the time I reached mile 8 I was cooked. Legs were not operating properly and I was dehydrated. What were those tables along the course for anyway? Now I know. Once in-race nutrition became a part of the process I started where everybody else does. GUs. I was ripping those packages apart with my teeth and squeezing this molasses like liquid down my throat because……well because everybody else was doing it. I was consuming gels at a rate of 200 calories (2 packets) per hour. It seemed to work but always inquisitive I started researching how to be better, especially as I entered the world of triathlon. Having to fuel for 3 sports certainly would be different from 1 sport. Considering that one of the three sports takes place in the water where you do not have the chance to take in calories this certainly would require a different approach. Similar to how I started with running I followed what other people were doing. I was consuming GUs and then adding in solids in the form of Honey Stingers. On the bike I was taking in close to 300 calories per hour since I was worried that I would bonk on the run had I not had all these calories. As I entered the world of Ironman I was even more nervous about bonking and when you throw in the fact that my first Ironman was taking place in Texas where the temperature would be in the 90s and the Heat Index over 100* then it was imperative that I have a ton of calories in my system……or so I thought. I was so concerned about taking in enough calories that I wound up throwing up on the bike because my stomach was so bloated and I could not take in any more calories or liquids. After that first Ironman was behind me I knew I had to make a change. I started by getting rid of the solids. I would take in all my calories from liquids. This made life easier as there were no packages to mess with while riding and that wound up making my bike lighter as well. I would pour the powder into my water bottles until I had 250 calories per hour. This was the status quo and I followed it. Again, my fear of bonking gave me the idea that I would need this many calories. Everything seemed to be on the right track because I was not bonking and having some success at the longer races. Enter the idea of a 50 mile trail race and then even bigger with a 100 mile trail race. Training was going to be different. Nutrition was going to be different. I had to test new methods for calorie intake because I was going from a 12 hour race to a 24 hour race. Two completely different worlds. Along the way I started reading about fat adaptation and how to use fat for fuel. We have 2,000 calories in our livers from glycogen that we have grown to rely upon but there are vastly more amount of fat that we have stored that we can use for fuel. The problem is that it takes more energy to convert that fat into fuel UNLESS you have trained for it. As I embarked on these long runs I began to carry less and fewer calories in my hydration pack. On runs shorter than 1.5 hours I carried nothing but water if I carried anything at all. I was going into fat utilizing mode and it was working. I have managed to become an internal combustion machine to the point that I am now filling my hydration pack or water bottles with approximately 180 calories per hour but my intake is approximately 150-180 cal/hr. I say approximately because during long runs I am filling the hydration pack before it is empty with nothing but water and when I get back to my destination there is still liquid, and thus calories, in the pack. Long rides are no different in that I will have liquid/calories left over when the ride is over. It has taken me a number of years to get to this point but I believe that is the point. You cannot pull up an article on the internet and follow it blindly. You have to test and then re-test because each season brings different conditions. In Texas where the summer temps easily reach into triple digits the need for liquids is higher than in the winter where the temps hover around the high-30s. To give you an example of this, yesterday I ran what was supposed to be a 20k trail race. Due to inclement weather it was changed to a road race and the distance wound up at 11.35 miles. Two hours prior to the race I had a normal pre-race meal of toast with peanut butter and bananas with coffee. At the event I took two sips of water with Nuun and then the gun went off. I did not carry a water bottle as there would be aid stations on the course and if I needed something I would grab water. I would have no need for calories as my body had enough stored to last what I was predicting to be a 1 hour and 40 minute race. I wound up not taking in a single drop of water or a single calorie and finished the 11.35 miles in 1:25:12 to finish first overall (thanks to the athlete who finished third because he took a wrong turn.) Prior to working on burning fat I probably would have carried a hand-held with 150 calories in it and drank it all. Today, that is just not necessary. When I see people asking questions about in-race nutrition I tend to give them a general answer as everybody is different but unfortunately that is not what they are looking for. It is no different when somebody posts that anybody, and everybody, should be taking in 250 cal/hr minimum. Today, if I tried that method I would not only throw-up but I would be so bloated and uncomfortable. I am not saying that you should not take in any nutrition or keep it minimal but what I am saying is that you should test yourself, routinely, to see what it is you need and be precise about it. Know your sweat rate for all different conditions and be prepared to test again and again when the new season approaches. Try different nutritional products and not for just one ride or one run, but for an extended period of time to see if it does or does not work for you. There will be some guess-work on in-race nutrition but the more you test and identify needs and wants the better you will become and the less you will be guessing as to what you need or how much you need. Going from one sport to the other, or one distance to another, should not be a problem as you will know what the in-race nutrition needs of your body are. You will be able to make adjustments and successfully navigate training and competition with as little guess-work as necessary.

If You Have Any Questions About My In-Race Nutrition Feel Free To Leave A Comment.

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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.