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Equally Inspiring – did you say food?

Week three of the Equally Inspiring coaching and looks like my lovely coach took advantage of me being French because she started talking about food. No, not baguettes and croissants but proper nutrition. So besides training and taking part in the Darth Mannion Beach and Swamp run, my objective this week was to think about my nutrition strategy for the Cardiff Olympic distance triathlon in June.

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She gave me a link to a really useful and recent article entitled “why carbohydrate is the king for endurance performance”. First I was intrigued that the title has “carbohydrate” in singular but I really liked the emphasis on carbohydrates in an endurance world that seems very much obsessed with the role of fat in nutrition at longer events. You guess right, I’m not a fat fan, I’ve never felt good from eating it. Also, since I overhauled the way I eat last year, I’ve cut down fat in most of its forms, aiming for as low an intake as possible. I can’t say I miss it. I also cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates and feel great for it.

First, I read the “carbohydrate” article then went back to my memories of racing Olympic distance triathlons and to all the various attempts at finding what works for me. In case you’re wondering completing an Olympic distance triathlon doesn’t necessarily make you an Olympian. All you need to do is swim 1500 m then cycle 40 km and finish with a 10 km run. Of course if you’re fast enough you might make it to the Olympics as it’s the current length of the race there. To give you an idea, I take about 2:50 to finish one, Gwen Jorgensen, the female winner in Rio did that distance in just over 1:56.

Back to race day nutrition… I’d started out following’s Mr Tiger’s strategy. He likes to have his nutrition in liquid form, think “big gel bottle”. After one very sticky and thirsty triathlon I realised I really hate liquid sugar. I had another try at liquid energy for my first 70.3 and then again for the Alpe d’Huez long and both times ended up not drinking it as I found the sugar was burning my throat. Lesson learnt, I will not try this again. I now either put very diluted energy or just electrolytes in my bottles. Trial and error has demonstrated that, for me, getting enough electrolytes is a big thing.

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Drinks-wise, I’ve tried High5 Zero, Osmo Active Hydration, SIS Go Electrolyte and Ryno Power Capsules. All these are either in fizzy tablets or powder form that is mixed with water and drunk. Ryno Power are the exception as they are small tablets which are swallowed. I find these tablets very handy on runs and other events where carrying a pre-mixed electrolyte drink is not so practical, I also like that they don’t contain any funny-weird ingredients. Of the more conventional products that are diluted in water, SIS are my favourite at the moment but I really liked Osmo, which unfortunately hasn’t been available in the UK for a while. I find that High5 has got the most artificial flavour so it’s the one I like the least but it’s still very good value and is common at races so definitely one to keep in mind.

Food! My Garmin tells me I burnt a bit over 1500 calories in my last Olympic distance triathlon (in 2015!). I can’t say with much precision how many calories I ingested but on an Olympic distance, my routine is usually as follows:

  • just before the swim: I have a bar that I know I can digest easily or a gel and a drink
  • for the bike, I have two 500 ml bottles of electrolytes to drink as I’m usually really thirsty after swimming in the sea. Generally I won’t eat on the bike as I find it hard enough to drink!
  • In T2 or just at the end of the bike I’ll have a gel and a finish one of my bottles as I pull on my running shoes.
  • while running, I will usually not drink all that much, maybe a couple of sips if there’s a water station but will often have another gel at the halfway point through the run.

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The bars I’ve used and liked include Nked bars, 9 Bars (the Peanut supersedes are just perfect), Powerbars (the cookies and cream flavour never disappoints!), Mule bars (delicious but also are very sticky and with an awful packaging so they’re absolutely not suitable for using on the bike on longer distances) and 32GI bars, I discovered these at Challenge Roth and they’re so tasty they’ve become my latest obsession! Gel-wise, I’ve tried High5, SIS, Powerbar, Wiggle’s own and Gu. My favourites are SIS and Powerbar, followed by Wiggle’s gels. I found the Gu to taste nice but a bit too thick for my liking and didn’t really get on well with any of the High5 flavours.

That’s about as complex as it gets. I’ve never bonked or had issues on an OD, I even never had to pee, even with all that drinking.

Of course race day nutrition isn’t everything! Daily food choices and enjoyment are key too. And of course, there’s the art of post race nutrition…

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