Nutrition query

I have a query about the adequacy of my nutrition for triathlon - relevant to both Olympic distance and 70.3. I live and race in Singapore and early on struggled to adapt to the heat and humidity (been here for 2.5yrs now). I can cope ok now but probably sweat more than most in general terms (not specific to training). I'm approx 87kg, 6'3" with general tri splits of around 22-24mins swim, 1.00-1.04 bike and a run that can be anywhere from 45-50mins+.

Running is not a strength but I've been progressing ok, training at around a race pace of 4.30mins per km (45min run target - this includes brick simulations etc).

However, on race day my energy levels are depleted coming off the bike, leading to poor run relative to target.

I raced an Olympic distance over the weekend and came unstuck on the run - thought it might be due to failed nutritional plan.

Plan was:

  • Gel 15mins before swim

  • Half powerbar on bike

  • Gel coming off bike

  • Gel at 5km on run

  • Electrolye mix and water on bike

  • Water/isotonic and aid stations on run

However, swim was delayed 45mins and I didn’t take an additional gel. Got through the half powerbar, missed both gels (i.e. didn’t take them). Ran the first 5km under powered and blew to bits in last 4km. Just looking for a diagnosis - suspect I didn't take on board enough fuel relative to my size.

Would be keen to get your opinion.

Intelligent Triathlon Training replies:

It does sound like you ran out of energy due to your nutrition plan not being quite right.
First of all you want to make sure you have taken on plenty of carbohydrates in the day or two before the race, and before the race, - although making sure the amount and timing is such that it is well digested before you start the race itself.

Your plan for the race looks like you were going to be leaving your gels a bit too late in the race to get the most benefit from them – and then not taking them at all will have made matters worse!

Here’s a suggestion of how to tweak your triathlon race nutrition plan to enhance energy availability. The timing as well as quantities is important.

  • Take a gel as soon as you can on the bike. This enhances the carbohydrates available to your working muscles so you’re not waiting until you’re starting to run low to take it on board.

  • Then take a large gel 10 minutes before the end of the bike.

  • Towards the start of the bike have 500ml of a carbohydrate drink to regularly top up your carbohydrate supplies. Also take up to 750ml of an electrolyte drink to maintain hydration during the bike.

  • During the run you shouldn’t need to take on much energy. If you have taken the right amount on the bike, you should be able to keep going off that for the 45 – 50 minutes of the run.

  • Take water if you need to moisten your mouth, and to pour over your head to help with cooling. Don’t drink too much as you would risk getting stomach problems.

  • You can also take a gel near the start of the run, but any later and it won’t be effective, unless you want energy for your trip home! Any fluid taken in during the last 20 – 30 minutes isn’t going to have an impact on the race other than to make you feel better.

Another thing you should consider if you sweat a lot is sodium loading.

This is basically taking on a high concentration sodium drink before the race. This expands your plasma volume and helps with absorption of fluid, so you will not suffer so much from the effects of the heat and sweating. The sodium will also help reduce risk of cramps.

To do this, you need to find some sodium citrate (possibly from a pharmacy), and then mix 7g of this with 4g of table salt and 750ml of water with some squash to improve the flavour. Drink this before the race – so you’ve finished it at least an hour before the race.

Try this in training before a race just to make sure you feel OK with it. We’ve not had any problems and most athletes who have suffered in the heat swear by it!

Hopefully if you can stick to this nutrition plan your next triathlon will be much more successful and enjoyable!

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