Iron Girl pre-race clinic - helpful tips
This has been a heck of a week. Good thing I work well under pressure, like a challenge and like to keep myself busy. I have a great blog to write but that will come in a day or two.
After my 3 1/2 hr drive to my parents, I finished up some work on the computer from 3-5pm and jumped back in the car at 5:20 (PB&J w/ nuts, raisins and banana for the road) w/ my mom to head to International Mall (Tampa) for the Iron Girl pre race clinic.
The clinic was at Fit 2 Run and it was packed! Judy said over 1000 people picked up their race packet (2700 women are registered for the race) and a good 70-80 people stayed for the talks.
Before my talk was the Polar HR monitor talk. This is my 4th time speaking at an Iron Girl event so it's always great speaking after a HR talk. In my opinion, your HR is the basis of how you eat, what you eat and how much you eat before, during and after training/racing. No matter how many times I speak at Iron Girl, the Polar reps always provide information which I use in my talk so I think we work really well together. Thanks Judy for letting me speak (and write) on behalf of Iron Girl...the best all-women's event series EVER!!
As you know, I don't always have the same philosophy's as other "sport nutritionists". I believe in listening to your body and finding out what you need rather than giving your body what you think you need. Just like with commercials on TV there is a lot of information out there in magazines and on the internet, regarding training/racing nutrition and it can be really hard to create a nutrition plan that works for you because the information is too specific. Training and racing nutrition should be simple. You have enough stuff to worry about before and during a race (say...an Ironman or marathon) that it can feel extremely stressful to focus on x-amount of calories, x-amount of sodium/electrolytes, x-amount of amino's, x-amount of liquids, etc. When was the last time you ever measure your fluids at an aid station to make sure you sipped on 4 ounces to give you 20 ounces per hour?
Here are some tips from my talk regarding running nutrition:
-Racing nutrition (and training) is all about experimentation. Every athlete will have at least 1 nutrition-related problem in their lifestyle (ha-you'd be lucky if you only had 1). The most successful athletes (regardless of finishing time) not only know how to prevent nutrition related problems BUT know how to deal with them when a problem arises. Just because you have a nutrition-related problem in a race, it doesn't mean your day is over!
-Daily nutrition, training nutrition and racing nutrition is individualized. You are the only subject in your personal experiment. Don't worry about your friends, don't worry about your teammates and don't worry about what the Pro's/Elite's are doing. Listen to yourself.
-Work your way up in nutrition rather than down. In the early part of your season, start with a low range of hourly calories (liquid calories) and as you work up in volume and intensity for your long training sessions, listen to your body to see what it is you need to focus on during your training. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you lightheaded? Are you fatigued? When are these things happening and what can you do to minimized these performance limiters?
-Always work backwards with your training. If you are feeling lightheaded at 3 hours in a 4 hour ride, what did you consume in the last hour? If you are feeling hungry at 2 hours during a workout, what did you consume before the workout? If you have an upset/crampy stomach at 1 hour into a workout, what did you have before or during the workout?
-You must always work on your training nutrition. The more efficient you become with your workouts, the less you will need to fuel your workouts. The harder you push during the workout, the more difficult it is to consume, digest and absorb nutrition products to maintain energy levels.
-We all react differently to the fuels we put in our body. Some fuels are more beneficial and useful than others, especially at longer distances. Depending on age, fitness, body composition, height, intensity, duration, environment and terrain, the nutrition consumed by a top age-grouper running a 3:30 marathon will be completely different than the person who is running their first marathon at a 12 min/mile pace, 70% HR.
-Do not carbo AND calorie-load the night before a race. Sure, you can have more carbohydrates than normal (Ex. rather than have 2 servings of vegetables, have 2 slices of bread w/ your veggies) but you aren't aiming to eat everything in site...especially if it is a carb. Maintain a normal diet as if you were training normally, as you taper for a race (reduce training volume). Rather than eating a high calorie, heavy carbohydrate meal the night before a race, focus on a portioned controlled balanced meal rich in complex carbs and a little protein and fat.
-Plan to eat a pre-race meal around 5-6:30pm the night before a race (at least 4-5 hrs before bed). You can have a small protein snack in the evening (100-150 calories) after your meal but give yourself plenty of time to digest your meal before laying down for bed.
-Do not go into your pre-race dinner meal starving (or any meal for that matter). Considering most races start early in the morning, you don't want to feel stuffed after dinner and without an appetite to eat a pre-race meal/snack. Eat a pre-meal snack around 50-80 calories of protein or fiber (nuts, string cheese, yogurt, apple, carrots, milk) around 20-30 min before your pre-race dinner is served.
-Drink plenty of water the days leading up to a race. However, you should never neglect water on a daily basis. While your performance may be enhanced by going into a race well-hydrated, your body needs water every day, all day..not just the 2-3 days leading up to a race.
-Pass on carbonated beverages, soda's, energy drinks and alcoholic beverages before a race which may mask the feeling of hunger. Especially with calorie-free drinks, you may find yourself missing opportunities to eat (Ex. snacks) because you are drinking a drink w/ carbonation or sugar alcohols.
-Do not overeat the morning of a race...even if it is a marathon or Ironman. You are simply topping off your fuel tank. Whether it is 100-150 calories before a 5K or sprint triathlon or 400-550/600 calories before a marathon or Ironman (Respectively) you have plenty of stored carbs (glycogen) in your muscles to fuel your race.
-Focus on a complex carbs as the main component of your pre-race meal, with protein and fat. Adding protein or fat to your carbohydrate pre-race meal/snack (ex. 1/2 bagel w/ PB and banana rather than 1 bagel w/ banana) will stabilize blood sugar, slow down digestion and keep you satisfied throughout the race.
-Practice your pre-race meal (at racing intensity) so that you know your meal will sit well and digest well before the race.
-Sip on a maltodextrin-based drink before race start (races lasting more than an hour) and if needed, consume an energy gel 15-20 min before the race start (90+ min races). Avoid solid food after your pre-race snack/meal. The later you wait to eat solid food, the more likely your stomach will not agree with what you are putting in your body.
-If you feel hungry before a race, ask yourself if you are truly hungry? With your taper, carb dinner and pre-race snack, you have PLENTY of fuel for the race. You are likely nervous, anxious or excited.
-You know my feelings of fructose, glucose drinks. I recommend maltodextrin based drinks and gels during races/training.
-Avoid solid food during races lasting less than 2-3 hrs. If you do get hungry (and you feel you ate enough in the morning) have a small piece of a bar or your choice of "food".
-As far as chomps, beans and blocks, I call these things "stomach satisfiers" and not "energy givers". If you want to break up the monotony of your liquid calories (which is your primary way of fueling training/racing in order to maintain energy and hydration levels) plan for 30-50 calories per hour (after 2 hrs), in addition to your liquid calories, to enjoy a block, a few beans or your choice of "chewy" treat (I like Twizzler Cherry bites during my Ironman races).
-If you find yourself racing at an intensity that you did not train for and can not sustain, be prepared for nutrition-related problems. If you are running 7 min/miles for the first 3 miles of a half marathon but your long runs are typically around 8:20 min/miles, energy gels, sport beans and high calorie drinks probably won't give you the energy you need to keep up your unsustainable/untrained effort. Expect problems due to your body working harder than you have trained it to work. Sadly, we can't blame everything on nutrition.
-When planning your racing/training nutrition, consider your HR and distance-covered. The more efficient you are, the faster you can perform at a lower HR. While taking in nutrition may be easy at a tolerable HR your body may not require an excess amount of calories. The harder you push out of your comfort zone, the higher the HR, quicker you deplete your energy stores and the more difficult it is to consume, digest and absorb calories.
-Improve performance by using the best fuels possible (I recommend Hammer but if choose otherwise, look for a maltodextrin-based drink) however be realistic on race day. Know what will be on your race course and if you can tolerate it, use it if you need it. For the longer races, you can usually bring along most of your favorite nutrition products, which may sit better in your body. While Gatorade may not be your primary fuel source, it is typically out on the course. Be mindful that you are going to perform at your best due to your training and not just by what you drink at the aid stations (unless your body does not work well with what is offered at aid stations).
-Avoid negative self-talk before a race. Develop a healthy relationship with food so that you can use food to fuel your workouts and your lifestyle. While you certainly shouldn't avoid food for fear of gaining weight on the days leading up to a race, you shouldn't eat anything and everything "just because" you have a race.
-Your fitness is not defined by a number on a scale. You will always live a healthy and active life to work towards personal weight/fitness goals (yes-you will always need to work hard to live a healthy and active life..but hopefully you are loving it while you are doinging it!). One or two races, not at your goal weight, will not be the deciding factor of whether or not you perform at your best.