Essential Sports Nutrition


Training in the heat - nutrition tips

Triathletes and endurance athletes are very susceptible to dehydration and even more so, a heat-related injury at this time of the year. Whereas in the cold/cooler months of the year, athletes can get away with haphazard fueling and hydration strategies and poor pacing, now is the time in the year when a poorly planned fueling/hydration regime and pushing too-hard or too-far will negatively affect workouts, adaptations and health.

Let it be known that training in the heat is incredibly stressful for the body. Seeing that training (in any environment) already creates difficulty for the body to adequately digest and absorb nutrients and fluids, you can imagine why so many athletes experience harmful health issues, GI struggles, extreme fatigue, heat stress, dehydration and so many more issues during the summer months when training for an event.

As an example, exercise increases body temperature. The harder and longer you train, the higher your resting temperature. Your body compensates by moving the extra heat to the skin via the blood - it then dissipates into the air through sweat (so long as humidity levels allow for evaporation). But when you exercise, your blood serves another important role - it carries oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Blood is shared between the muscles and the skin. The higher your core temperature, the more blood is used for cooling and less for the working muscles. In other words, your body will always sacrifice muscle function for temperature control. This is why an athlete's body will begin to "shut down" when overheating as this state is life threatening.

Every athlete has his/her own threshold for when the body begins to experience a decline in health and performance as a result of heat stress, dehydration and glycogen depletion.

To keep your body functioning well (in training and on a daily basis), it's extremely important to care for your body with proper fueling and hydration strategies before/during/after workouts and to respect the conditions by pacing appropriately.

Don't be the athlete who......

  • Does not stay well-hydrated on a daily basis (before/after workouts and during the day)
  • Does not bring along fluids/nutrition when running (especially when running off the bike)
  • Is not comfortable drinking while running/riding
  • Rations fluids to avoid stopping (or does not have enough places to refill bottles)
  • Does not have enough hydration bottle cages on the bike (or if they are on, they are not easily accessible)
  • Does not use sport nutrition products properly (not enough or too much carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes)
  • Does not use sport nutrition products or does not plan ahead and relyies only on water (or nothing at all)
  • Feels it's only a  "short" workout - so you don't need to fuel/drink

There are dozens of excuses and reasons why fluid/electrolyte/calorie needs are not being met during training and racing and not only is it holding you back from training consistently and executing well during workouts, it is also extremely damaging to the body - placing you at risk for injury, sickness, burnout and other serious health complications. Remember - you are not just fueling/hydrating for one workout but for the next series of workouts. If you struggle during one workout, it will affect your future workouts.

Common side-effects of dehydration and heat stress:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • loss of focus
  • chills
  • high heart rate that won't drop even when you reduce the effort or stop
  • no appetite post workout
  • excessive sleepiness
  • extreme weakness
  • low blood pressure
  • stop sweating
  • dry mouth
  • dark urine
  • dry skin
  • no/little urination
  • extreme cramping
  • bloating/puffiness
  • excessive thirst/lost of thirst
  • rapid, elevated pulse (despite effort slowing down)
  • muscle spasms (during and post workout)

Are you currently experiencing any of the above?
If yes, your current fueling/hydration and pacing strategy is NOT working for you.

Every human body is different so you must pay very close attention to your body signs/symptoms/signals when it comes to training and racing in endurance events. If you do not make the effort to keep yourself in good with proper fueling and hydration (and pacing), you will be forced to spend a lot of time getting your body healthy again before you start even thinking about training again.

To help you out, here are a few very simple tips to help you adapt during hot-weather workouts

  • Sip frequently in small amounts, don't gulp fluids. Gulping (especially from a straw) causes you to swallow air, which can cause bloating and belching. This also may disturb the function of the stomach and slows down absorption.
  • Be sure to have a sport drink with you for all workouts lasting more than one-hour - this should contain a mixture of electrolytes, carbohydrates and fluids in an appropriate concentration to digest well and to be efficiently absorbed. I suggest a hypo or isotonic solution with ~20-25g carbohydrates per every ~12-16 ounces and at least 250mg of sodium to optimize gastric emptying.
  • Aim for 24-32 ounces of fluid on the bike per hour and at least 10-12 ounce fluid for every 30 minutes while running (this should be in a sport drink - not plain water in the heat!).
  • Aim to sip your bottle on the bike every 10-15 minutes (you need at least 3-4 gulps to ensure that you are getting in around 3-4 ounces of fluid) and 1-2 sips every 5-8 minutes while running. Frequent drinking on a schedule will not only help to delay fatigue and prevent dehydration but will prevent overdrinking on fluids (particularly ice cold water), which often causes a sloshy stomach.
  • While keeping your insides hydrated is critical, consider ways to keep your body cool on the outside. Suggestions include exercising early morning or in the evening and avoiding workouts in the heat of the day (10-5pm). Choosing indoor workouts over outdoor when health may be compromised (extreme heat). Using water/ice to cool yourself while exercising. Wear a cooling towel/cooling sleeves. Use a visor over a hat. Choose shady areas over direct sunlight. Wear sunscreen to prevent burning. Wear protective clothing.
  • Always plan ahead with your bottle refill stops. Be sure to STOP before you really need to stop so you are never rationing your fluids or going without.
  • Be sure you are setting yourself up for good hydration actions. Cages/hydration systems on the bike should be accessible and easy to use in ALL conditions (ex. bumpy roads, rain, technical courses, rain, etc.). Your run courses in training should allow you to refill bottles that you bring with you OR set up bottles on your course. Everything you do in training should be practice for race day.
  • Wear a hydration belt/pack so you can drink what you drink, when you want to drink it. There are many types on the market - find one that works for you and never run outside without it.
  • Do not wait for thirst to kick in during endurance workouts/racing to start drinking. Start drinking/fueling early. An athlete who waits to drink until he/she is thirsty is already behind on fluid requirements and many times, this will cause an athlete to drink an excessive amount of water. This may cause hyponatremia (very serious health condition) or may cause a sloshy stomach/bloating/stomach cramping. When you fall behind on your fluids, you will likely drink too much at once to play catch up (often a hypertonic/concentrated amount from guzzling a lot of drinks at aid stations or stops at gas stations in training).
  • Make your fueling/hydration strategy during workouts as simple as possible. You should not be using several different methods of consuming electrolytes, calories/carbohydrates/sugars and fluids. But ok to use 2-3 different products/flavors to help with taste bud fatigue. Also, DO NOT overconcentrate your flasks/bottles.
  • Pace yourself and be OK with slower paces that will elicit a higher RPE. Even mild dehydration can negatively affect performance and can cause drowsiness, irritability, loss of concentration and headaches - none of which are performance enhancing or healthy. When dehydration worsen, serious issues occur which affect the heart, brain, muscles and organs (ex. kidneys).
  • If you overwork your body, it is not possible to overfuel/hydrate the body to meet your training/racing demands.
  • Be respectful of your body in the heat. If you are feeling any changes with your body that concern you, first slow down. Don't be a hero and push through - stop! Remind yourself that when your body starts to shut down or gives you signals/signs that something is wrong (ex. headache, chills, vision changes, etc.), your body is no longer adapting to training stress but it's trying to protect you. Never get upset at your body for a bad workout or race if it is simply trying to protect you from a serious heat or other-related injury.

There are far too many athletes failing with workouts and experiencing negative health issues due to poor fueling/hydration strategies before/during/after training and improper pacing. Sport nutrition is a complicated area with many misguided tips and suggestions that are not always practical or healthy. If you know someone who can benefit from this blog, please share.


Training for race day success

Training is easy. You feel great when you get your endorphin boost, you can control your environment (or select your terrain), there is no pressure because no one is watching or tracking you and you know that if a workout doesn't go as planned, you always have tomorrow to try again.

On the other hand, race day is stressful! Feeling pressure to perform - especially in an unfamiliar and/or uncontrolled environment - brings anxiety, nerves and expectations. It's easy to compare yourself to other athletes and experience a heightened fear of failure. Never in training do you feel what you feel on race day. Far too many athletes complain that they can train better than they race - finishing a race feeling like they underperformed, relating back to all the amazingly great workouts that they crushed, yet feel defeated as to why they were unable to perform on race day, despite feeling so prepared. 

One of the great challenges for triathletes is translating training into a great race day result. Despite feeling overly confident in training, it's important to master the necessary confidence, physical skills, nutrition readiness and mental strength for race day.

Competing like you train seems like an obvious strategy but a better approach is to train like you want to compete.

If you think about all that you (try to) do on race week/day in order to set yourself up for success, why not put that same focus, energy and attention to detail into training? 
  • Restful sleep
  • Organized and planned diet
  • Good mobility
  • Planning, focus,, oganization and time-management 
  • Relaxation and visualization/meditation
  • Good warm-ups
  • Proper fueling
  • Great daily hydration 
  • Reviewing the course maps
  • Staying in the moment 
  • Rehearsing pacing/strategy/execution
  • Ensuring gear/equipment is in great condition
  • Fine-tuning sport nutrition 
It seems obvious that if you are going to do something on race day, you should repeatedly do it in training - far too often is this not the case. Rushed and busy schedules, poor planning and lack of application causes athletes to lack confidence for race day. 

If you want to perform well on race day (who doesn't?) it is important that you nail the small (yet very important) components in training. 

For example, this means practicing your pre race and race day nutrition many times in training to ensure confidence for race day. The purpose of training is to build physical and mental skills, habits and strategies that will translate into an optimal performance by your body on race day. Sadly, many athlete get really good at performing workouts underfueled and undernourished and expect to put together a fail-proof pre-race and race day fueling and hydration strategy. I think of this like riding a bike - if you are always riding with poor bike handling skills, you can't expect to master bike handling skills on race day, just because it's race day. The same is true for nutrition. If you are putting together a complex, detailed and precise diet and fueling/hydration strategy for the 48 hours before a race and for race day, but you never practice this approach in training (repeatedly), you've been training half prepared but you are expected to compete 100% prepared. Unfortunately, success doesn't happen this way. You must give 100% to your training if you want to compete well on race day.

The more you treat your training decisions like it's race week/race day, the easier you will find it to perform at your highest level when it counts. Simply put, don't do anything drastic on race week/day that you didn't practice in training. 


Mentally cope with your taper

Taper is an uncomfortable time for most athletes but it can also be one of the most confusing times for an endurance athlete. 

Physically, tapering ensures that the body is rejuvinated and recovered from previous training. Although training volume is greatly reduced, intensity is sprinkled into training in order to wake-­up the body for race day. The endurance athlete who has invested many months to training can now "cash-­out" from previous training investments.

For the first time in a very long time, the body is under little physical stress as it enters race day with a healthy, fit, resilient and responsive body.  

The tapering approach will differ among athletes, depending on fitness ability, prior taper experience and any recent history with setbacks.    

While taper can be physically easy, many athletes mentally struggle with taper. A drastic change in your training schedule can make you feel a little "off." This sudden, yet expected, time in the season can bring question, doubt and uncertainty, alongside an intense fear of athletic readiness.    

Regardless of the type and length of taper, it's important to embrace your taper. As much as you love to train, if you don't taper adequately, you will arrive to race day sore, exhausted, mentally checked ­out and physically unable to perform. But rest too much, and you will arrive to race day flat, exhausted and feeling unfit.    

During taper, most athletes struggle with the change in appetite, sleepiness, random aches/phantom pains, fatigue, mood changes, uncontrollable nerves and extra time that come with the reduction in training volume.   

If you love taper, you likely embrace all of the free time that you have on your hands, not to mention the nervous energy that means your race is quickly approaching.    

Here are a few of my tips to help you mentally cope with taper: 

Enjoy your new (temporary) normal - There is absolutely no reason to be inactive during taper and certainly you don't want to see taper as a time to be sedentary.  When you officially start your taper, enjoy a few days of a very light training (or complete days off). Use this time to enjoy a new normal by doing very little with your body. Sleep in, sit on the patio while sipping your morning coffee or relax on the couch after work and watch a movie. Take advantage of this time after your last big block of training, because then you will gradually bring back structure to your training and spice it up with a little intensity.    

Be smart with your new normal - You should avoid fear based training during taper. In the 2 weeks before a race, you can not gain fitness. Therefore, testing yourself to see if you can run x-­miles or swim at x­-pace or hold x­watts will bring you no physical benefits for race day. Although mentally you may feel more confident going into the race, you want your best effort to be on race day and not in training. Save your energy for when it counts! Additionally, even though your training routine is reduced, this is not the time to pick up a new sport like soccer, basketball, rock climbing or water skiing. Be smart with how you use your time/energy. 

Work on mental strength - With reduced training volume, you now have more time in your life to work on your mental skills (Don't use this extra time for house projects). It's recommend to dedicate at least 20 minutes a day to meditation and visualization in the 2 weeks before your race. This can be done anytime so long as it is done without distractions and in a calm, comfortable place. Although you have the physical skills for race day, you can only compete at the level you are capable of if you remove the fears, anxieties and stressors preventing you from performing at your best. Instead of "hoping" that you will do well, you must believe in yourself, with the abilities to stay calm under pressure and focused on only the controllables.    

Maintain a healthy relationship with your body - In the 4 weeks before a race, you should not be obsessing about your "race weight". Your body may feel different and it may feel tired but changing your diet to try to change how you look will be disastrous for your race. For many athletes, a drop in volume and a change in routine may cause a heightened sense of awareness of body image. Self imposed pressure and anxiety may bring feelings of unworthiness, leading to self defeating thoughts about the body. Change this thought process immediately. A vulnerable athlete who feels uncomfortable with body image is likely to look for coping strategies, like dieting and over-exercising in order to gain control in the weeks before a race. Never is underfueling, intentional dehydrating (or fasting/detoxing) or overexercising performance enhancing. This can severely sabotage performance and health.  If you struggle in this area, you must focus on what your body is capable of doing on race day. When was the last time you thanked your body for allowing you to train for your race? 

Your taper is the culmination of many months of training. It is a very critical time in your training plan where you intentionally change up your normal training regime. Although taper can be an uncomfortable time, athletes who embrace taper are destined to experience race day success.

No matter how you feel your training during taper, trust that you will be just fine on race day.  Yes, even if you feel absolutely horrible in the 24 hours before your race, you WILL be able to perform amazingly well on race day.