Over the past decade there has been a shift developing over how to fuel the body in the final days before an Ironman Triathlon or Marathon.
Since the trail-blazing Ironman triathletes took up the challenge some thirty-five years ago there have been many innovations in bikes, triathlon gear, training, and most importantly perhaps, diet and nutritional choices.
After all, you can train like a gladiator for a year, but messing up in that final week and going into an Ironman or marathon lacking in proper nutrition is like going into the race with half a tank of fuel.
You will most likely run out of gas well before the finish line and that story is played out in every single Ironman race in the world.
MORE THAN CARBOHYDRATES
There is no doubt that topping up your glycogen stores in the days leading up to the Ironman by consuming complex carbohydrates is important, but there is a misconception by many people new to endurance sports that more carbohydrates is better.
Actually, the body can only store so much glycogen and once glycogen stores are topped up, you can’t add to it.
Like it or not, the average endurance athlete who over-extends himself is good for perhaps a few hours of intense effort before they drain their glycogen stores and hit the invisible wall.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to eat early on in the bike portion(and at regular intervals) during the Ironman Triathlon. Basically the body is being refueled as fuel is burned. However, it does take the body time to assimilate that food in order to do some good.
This is where a nutritional balance comes into play and is key to helping endurance athletes perform at their best over a long period of time while conserving fuel.
BURNING FAT FOR FUEL
Contrary to popular belief, eating quality fat is just as important as eating quality complex carbohydrates.
The average endurance athlete may run out of glycogen before the end of the race, but it does not have to be a major factor if they race within their aerobic capacity and burn fat for fuel as an alternative.
There is no better endurance athlete training tool in the world than a heart-rate monitor to help teach your body how to burn fat for fuel. It will change the way you look at competing in a marathon or Ironman Triathlon.
Burning fat for fuel helps conserve limited supplies of glycogen and makes the invisible “wall” a non-factor.
Consider adding quality fats like virgin coconut oil or virgin olive oil to your training diet. Also add some foods that include high quality fats in your pre-race food choices.
BALANCING CARBOHYDRATES, FAT, AND PROTEIN
If almost all the food endurance athlete eats during training or before the big race is carbohydrates and food high in fiber they have a good chance of coming away with that boated feeling.
As was just mentioned, more carbohydrates are not necessarily a good thing in the days before an Ironman Triathlon or Marathon once you have topped up your glycogen stores. In effect, it becomes counter-productive.
Consuming too much fat may result in bouts of stomach cramps or even diarrhea.
By the same token if all an athlete concentrates on is consuming high amounts of protein, they may fall short of topping up their glycogen stores.
Ultimately, choosing a diet that balances macro-nutrients in carbohydrates, protein, and fat seems to be the answer.
PRO TRIATHLETE FOOD CHOICES
Pro triathletes have come a long way in understanding how best to fuel the body for the rigors of an Ironman Triathlon.
It is a far cry from the days of Dave Scott consuming plate after plate of pasta and salads in his long and illustrious career.
Although it served him well, today’s pro triathletes are racing faster and faster and certainly better equipment and training are major factors, but there is no doubt that a better understanding of diet plays a big part in the super-fast Ironman times we have seen over the last few years.