So I promised some of you that I would talk a little more about my race nutrition for Ironman Texas. I will start with a little background as to how I got started on this track.
Towards the end of last year I adopted the Maffetone Method way of training along with a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. To sum it up I do my best to only eat whole, real food avoiding any processed, high-carbohydrate or sugary foods. My diet places an emphasis on healthy fats (NOT processed oils like canola or corn oil or things like margarine). I add plenty of grass-fed butter, avocados, coconut oil, coconut milk or cream, nuts and seeds, whole fat dairy like heavy cream and sour cream, olive oil and animal fat to my diet which helps to satiate me and prevent me from overeating or needing to snack. I have talked a little about my views on nutrition in previous blogs which you can find here, here and here.
I have found that eating this way prevents me from constantly crashing or bonking during the day. I am often not that hungry and now trust my body to tell me when it needs to eat. This has crossed over into my training and racing as well. I do most of my workouts fasted or I fuel with fats with the exception of longer or more intense workouts where I will drip feed carbohydrates to fuel myself. When you stop eating carbohydrates all of the time, your body becomes much more insulin sensitive (vs inulin resistant which is what occurs with diabetes) which means carbohydrates can be very powerful in terms of providing energy for racing. So, carbs are limited and again only used for long or intense workouts so that come race day they can be used (still minimally compared to what most competitors are using) as a great weapon in terms of providing energy. They become my "super-fuel". (Let me follow this up by saying that I am human and just like most, I do have days where I slip up or I allow myself the occasional cheat, but I do my best to keep that to a minimum and to make choices that I know will keep my health at an optimal level).
For those of you interested in this approach (and I can attest it has been a game changer for me), I would recommend reading "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance" by Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD and Steven D. Phinney, MD, PhD. Another great resource is Peter Defty who produces a product called Vespa (something I used in the race and will explain below). You can find his website for Vespa here as well as several articles he has written on OFM or what he refers to as "Optimized Fat Metabolism". You will find great, detailed explanations of how to employ this method of nutrition and fueling for optimal health and wellness in both your everyday life as well as in your training and racing. Another blog that I find useful is that of Zach Bitter, an ultra runner and the 100 mile American Record holder as well as the 12 Hour World Record holder who I believe has worked with Peter Defty, as well as Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek. Zach's blog has been useful to me in helping me to understand how someone who has been very successful with this approach eats on a daily basis and fuels during racing.
Okay, on to how I fueled during race day. I woke up at about 3 am the morning of the race. At about 3:30 I started to sip on a buttered coffee. At about 4:45 am I ate one hard-boiled egg and about half a strip of bacon. I did not eat a single thing more than this race morning. Most days I actually don't even eat breakfast with the exception of my buttered coffee as I am usually not hungry (from following a high-fat diet in general) so race morning I probably didn't really need to eat at all.
About 45 min before the race start I took 1 Vespa Junior. In a nutshell, Vespa helps to optimize your body's ability to burn fat as fuel (as opposed to carbohydrate). Remember that your body only has the ability to store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen. Once that is depleted you must restore it by continuing to eat more carbohydrates, which for many causes GI distress. When you are training and racing, your body is pumping blood to your working muscles NOT to your gut to digest food. Exercising turns on your sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" response) whereas eating should be done with your parasympathetic nervous system turned on (or your "rest and digest" system). So, this is one reason why it can be difficult to eat and expect your body to digest that food during exercise. The blood supply is competing with either going to your working muscles or your gut where food is sitting and waiting to be digested. Reducing the need to constantly be eating by turning on your body's ability to tap into its own fat stores, minimizes the need for this competition and thus the GI distress. The beauty of switching your body back to it's natural fat-burning state is that even the leanest of individuals have thousands upon thousands of calories worth of fat stored. By getting back to this fat-burning state your body has a constant flow of energy and is not dependent on the need for constant fueling. This means no more bonking or energy lulls in training and racing as well as weight loss and a leaner body.
Onto the bike... I waited until about 30 minutes-1 hr into the ride to start fueling. I hydrated with water mixed with a diluted amount of Skratch and salt tabs (each 24 oz bottle I used had about 1/2 scoop of Skratch (~ 40 cal) and 1 salt tab). I then basically just drip fed carbohydrates by eating 1-2 Honeystinger blocks at a time. In addition to this, I had made myself some homemade bars which were made of puffed rice cereal, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sunflower butter, dark chocolate, rice syrup and honey. I have to admit, while I had been training this way, this was the first time I had raced using the concepts of fat adaptation so I was eating almost more out of concern that I might later find myself hungry or bonking, than actual hunger. But, as mentioned before, the carbs can almost become like a super-fuel so being insulin sensitive and drip-feeding carbs on race-day can be a powerful tool. After the race I counted how many Honeystinger blocks I had left in my bento box so I could calculate how many I actually ate. I ended up eating 16 blocks total or a total of 256 calories. If I counted the calories from the few bites of my bars that I made I would estimate that I took in about 300 calories total in a ride of about 4 hrs and 25 minutes. If you added in the calories from the Skratch in my water I probably had another 100 calories. I also took in another Vespa Jr at about 2 hrs into the bike.
T2- About hour 5:35 into the race I took another Vespa Jr before heading out onto the run.
Onto the run... I started the run with several gels in the pockets of my top along with one more Vespa, but running out of transition I realized very quickly that was not going to work. The weight of everything in my back pockets was causing my top to bounce and smack me in the back or should I say kick me in the butt!
I was afraid of leaving behind any of the nutrition since I'd hardly eaten on the bike; I was still a little nervous that the inevitable bonk would be coming. So, I started to stuff everything down my bra. A little enhancement in the boob region is always welcome.
At about mile 2 of the run my left hamstring started to cramp and I panicked a little. My plan 'A' on the run if things were going according to plan and I wasn't feeling like eating gels or solid food was to take small licks of Skratch mixed with salt tabs. How did I do this you ask?? I took an old Mentos gum container (like that seen in the pic below) and filled it with Skratch mixed with a few opened capsules of Salt tabs. I remembered hearing that sometimes just placing carbohydrate or salt on the tongue can help with cramping so that's just what I did. One lick and my cramp went away almost immediately never to return.
For the remainder of the run I continued to do small licks of this mixture. As explained in my previous blog about the race it was very hot so I stopped to get water at every aid station. I did not drink any of the gatorade on course. At a few of the aid stations I had a little bit of coke. I continued mile by mile still not feeling the need for any food. Hunger never hit and that inevitable bonk never happened either. In the later miles I ate 2 orange wedges and about 3 bites of a slice of watermelon (given at the aid stations). At about 2 hours into the race I took my 4th and final Vespa Jr.
And that was it!!! I would estimate that I maybe took in 150 calories total on the run and that's probably being generous. As said before, I didn't feel any energy lulls or bonking which I think made it a little easier to keep my head in the game. As also stated in my last blog, I had no GI distress and didn't have to deal with that inevitable feeling of being so sick of stuffing myself with calories to the point of wanting to vomit.
Because of the lack of food in my gut, I had no GI distress. Absolutely no farting, no burping, no diarrhea, no need for bathroom pitstops by me folks. In fact, I am happy to say that the lack of flatulence from my body means an overall decrease in the emission of methane gases and thus a happier, healthier planet. Yes, I'd like to think that my way of eating will help us in the climate change department too :)
If I had to add up my total calories for the day I would estimate them to be around 675 total calories for a little under 10 hours (that includes the calories from the Vespa not previously counted at 31 calories a pop). I used to be told to aim for 200-300 calories per hour which would have come out to a whopping 2,000-3,000 calories for the day. What a difference!!!
And when I finished the race, I felt GREAT. My energy level was great and I actually never hit a post-race bonk either. I was also able to consume a normal meal right away with no problems what-so-ever. I met several other competitors who even a day later were still struggling to get food down because their GI systems were so messed up.
So, there you have it. "That's all she wrote" folks. Hope you will all find this useful and best of luck to you,