7/6/17

I'm racing my first off-road triathlon—how do I fuel?


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In the August 2017 "off-road" issue of Triathlete Magazine, I wrote an article on how to fuel for an off-road triathlon. This was an exciting article to write as I often imagine what it would be like to participate in a triathlon that occurred off-road. Oh the thrill to ride and run through nature! Although my cycling and running skills are not yet ready to trade the pavement for the dirt, I saw this as a great opportunity to educate triathletes on some of the nutritional differences between off-road and road triathlon racing.

Note: In the print issue Pg 55, there were some formating issues with the staff at Triathlete Magazine that affected my article (in the 2nd column - the print words are not my words) so I wanted to take the opportunity to share my entire article with you. Sometimes these things happen in print so it's no fault to the dedicated staff at Triathlete Magazine. 

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Rock hopping, puddle dodging, log jumping, white-knuckle descending. Unlike your typical triathlon experience, an off-road triathlon provides the perfect environment for the triathlete who lives an adventurous lifestyle, with a strong love for nature. 

Racing off-road brings a variety of challenges, specific to the unique terrain variations at each venue. The unpredictability of race day can be intimidating, especially if your skills are still a work in progress. But ask any Xterra athlete and he/she will tell you that the thrill and accomplishment of off-road racing, alongside the easygoing atmosphere, will keep you craving for more.
If you are ready to trade the pavement for the trails, here are three nutritional differences to remind you that off-road racing is no ordinary triathlon.

Road triathlon – Fuel/hydrate on a schedule.
Off-road triathlon – Fuel/hydrate when you can.
While your body will perform at its best if you aim to meet your hourly carbohydrate (30-60g), electrolyte (400-1000mg) and fluid needs (20-28 ounce), don’t rely on sticking to a schedule. Off-road bike/run courses are difficult, requiring great skill and focus as you manage the terrain. When you get a chance to fuel/hydrate, take it! Although liquid calories are recommended, as they provide a one-stop-shop for meeting energy needs, stuff your pockets with extra gels, chews and bars for those “just in case” scenarios.
Road triathlon – Rely on the aid stations.
Off-road triathlon – Bring your nutrition with you.
Practice fueling/hydrating during training with your preferred sport nutrition products. You need experience drinking (and possibly eating) while dodging rocks and roots. Unlike smooth asphalt, off-road racing is anything but smooth. A hydration pack on the bike and hydration belt on the run will make fueling/hydrating an uncomplicated task as you navigate the terrain with little aid station support.
Road triathlon – Push your limits
Off-road triathlon – Be conservative

On the trails, your off-road adventure will take significantly longer than the same completed distance on controlled terrain. Thus, your intensity and nutrition will play a big part in your ability to manage the obstacles you overcome on race day. Knowing that no amount of nutrition can help you race like a pro, pacing is critical to your racing success. Because the course dictates your effort and energy expenditure, be sure to preview the course ahead of time. Instead of setting a goal/time pace, focus on small segments of the course that you can execute to the best of your ability.

The technical demands of the trails make it challenging to meet energy needs. But this doesn’t mean that nutrition should be an after-thought. Consider off-road racing a constant work in progress. With continued skill and physical development, you’ll become more prepared for the unpredictable “fun” moments of racing off-road.