Wednesday, Oct 19

Intra-Race Nutrition

One of the hardest things to get right when it comes to endurance events is intra-race nutrition.  All of the training and proper nutrition leading up to the event can all go to waste if you don’t properly hydrate, regulate electrolytes, and feed simple carbs during the race.

Three years ago I competed in my first true endurance event, an Olympic Triathalon.  The Olympic Tri is a step down from a 1/3 Ironman and begins with a 1500m swim, right into a 24 mile bike ride and ends with a 10k run.  I trained hard for the event and was in great shape, but I had no concept of how important it was to take in electrolytes during the race, let alone having a set intake schedule and strategy.  By the time I had finished the swim and bike, my body was totally depleted.  I started the 10k run and suffered excruciating cramps and muscle spasms – my quads were basically inoperable.  Somehow I finished the race, but I was definitely not pleased with my performance or how I crashed and burned.

Luckily, I learned from my mistakes.  When I decided last minute to run a full marathon, I enlisted the help of an elite Ironman competitor to help me dial in my short 3 week preparation.  From the beginning he stressed that no matter how tough or in shape I was, if I “missed” on my intra-race nutrition I would pay the price.

I’m happy to say that unlike the olympic triathlon, I was able to meet my expectations and reach my goals for the full marathon, and the nutrition strategy was a big part of it. I ran an 8:51 average pace over the 26.2 miles and was even able to run a 7 minute mile at the end while I passed other competitors who had been ahead of me all morning. While some were crawling to the finish line, I surged. Let me walk you through what worked for me and allowed me to run a 3:54 marathon without walking or any major cramping along the way.

Race Week:

Even though this article is about intra-race nutrition, I should at least touch on my general strategy the few days leading up to the race.

-Increase complex carbohydrates – typically I eat complex carbs (brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, etc.) one meal per day, and then for the other 1-2 meals I rely on fruits and vegetables for simple carbs.  Starting on Monday before the race I added complex carbs to all meals.

-Lower fat intake – I typically eat a relatively high fat diet, but towards the end of the week I started cutting back on fats and also red meat, anything that is harder to break down.

Morning of Race:

2.5 Hours before Race – 1/2 cup oats, blueberries, 2T Maple Syrup.  Drank 20oz water, 6oz black Coffee

1 Hour before race – 16oz Beet Juice

30minutes before race – 12oz water, 1 scoop Max Effort Muscle Unflavored Amino Recovery, 1 LMNT salt pack

During the Marathon:

1. Salt Stick Electrolyte Fast Chews – 2 tablets (100mg Sodium, 10mg Ca, 30mg K, 6mg Mg)

Starting at mile 3, I took 2 tablets every 3 miles until mile 24.  Let them partially dissolve in your mouth.

2. Honey Stinger Energy Chews – 1/2 pack every 4 miles beginning at mile 8

3. Cliff Energy Gels – mile 15 and 20

4. Gatorade or Water- hydration stations were set up basically every mile.  Starting at mile 5, I would jog (do not stop or walk) thru a recovery station and down a cup (probably 4-6oz) gatorade roughly every 4 miles (mile 4, 9, 13, 17) until I got to mile 20.  Mile 20,21,22,23 and 24 was when I started doing one cup of gatorade plus one cup (basically 4-6oz with some of it spilled of course) of water.  The last two miles I turned up the pace and just focused on finishing.

Obviously there’s more to running a good race than just taking in salt and knowing when to drink water, but I know that this strategy is what allowed my conditioning and toughness to shine thru.  If you are thinking about trying a marathon or other endurance event, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to start training like I did, but regardless I do recommend following this intra-race nutrition strategy.  Try it out on your longer training sessions – it takes some practice to get used to eating and opening packages mid stride, but it pays off big time in the end!

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