Well if the race is longer than an Olympic distance I have no idea! For a sprint distance, a breakfast of a couple of eggs and bacon about three hours before the race and I feel great and finish strong, I have even done sprints without eating breakfast (because of early start times and not wanting to get up three hours before the race just to eat breakfast) and again felt fine and finished strong. The same nutrition strategy applies to an Olympic distance race. However maybe a slighter bigger breakfast and a gel or two (don’t really like eating these) on the bike ride. With the exception of one race (that is another story) I have always felt fine finishing the race (nutritionally speaking).
I have done over 25 Sprint and Olympic distance races and I am not too worried about my race day nutrition, however I am always experimenting because I still feel it can be better. But this year I am attempting my first 70.3 and the race day nutrition is much more involved. So I have done some research as to what the pros eat during these much longer races. What I found horrified me! Now remember this is the Primal Triathlete and my goal is to be a competitive triathlete while eating more natural foods, not muffins,bagels, gels, and Gatorade. I am also on a mission to teach my body to burn fat for energy and thus become more efficient. So lets go back to what I found that horrified me so much. The first article I found was by Andy Potts in December 2010 issue of Triathlete Magazine. The article was called ask a pro and the question was “What’s your nutrition plan for a half-iron race? What and how often do you eat and drink during the event? Andy’s answer is:
- Pre-race – Bowl of cereal, sports drink (20-ounce), and a muffin
- Bike – Three sports drinks (20-ounces each) and one gel flask (holds three gels)
- Run – One gel flask (three gels) and lots of water
Andy goes on to say that his total calorie consumption (not counting breakfast) during the race is approximately 1000 calories and he estimates he burns 4000 calories during the race. Given that he probably burns much more then he consumes, his calorie intake looks good and does not concern me. But what does horrify me is the type of calories consumed, mostly coming from sugar. I have talked about the dangers and how addictive sugar is here. Lets run the number to figure out how much sugar he consumed.
- Breakfast Wheaties – 3/4 cup has 14-grams of sugar (he probably ate more than 3/4 cup but we will go with that)
- Pumpkin muffin – approximately 18-grams of sugar
- Gatorade endurance 14-grams of sugar per 8-ounces. 80 ounces total = 140-grams ( I am not including the 14-grams of carbohydrates per 8-ounces which is really just a simple sugar mix, it really is around 280-grams of sugar)
- Powerbar gels – 10-grams per pack 6 total = 60-grams
- Total sugar consumption = 232-grams of sugar. That is the equivalent to drinking a 6-pack cokes. That is a lot of sugar!
Now I have nothing against Andy Potts, he is a former 70.3 world champion, he obviously knows what he is doing when it comes to performing well in races, however their has to be another way then to drink the sugar equivalent of a 6-pack cokes. Andy Potts is not the only one, this years 70.3 world champ Michael Raelert has similar pre-race nutrition. Here is what he says he eats before a 70.3, “Three days before a race I eat a lot carbohydrates, such as noodles, rice, pizza. On race morning, mostly gummy bears (seriously), Power Gels and a lot of water, coffee and energy drinks. During the race four to eight gels and during the run if it is getting really ugly I look for a coke”. Does anyone else think this is crazy? Drinking a coke to be able to finish the race?
Again sugar is an addictive substance and if you were successful in cutting it out of your diet talk about a binge that could send you right off the wagon. I’m sure you burn most of it off but your brain still is receiving the signals that you are eating sweets and lots of them. Can you use this same logic with drugs? “I know I haven’t done heroine in awhile but I binge like crazy before and during my race, but it’s OK I will burn most of it off during the race”. I know it is somewhat of a stretch relating sugar to heroine but both are addictive substances and people always have relapses after quitting. Let’s not make our sugar relapse any easier by going on a complete sugar binge. If we work together I know we can revolutionize the way endurance athletes look at nutrition. I am asking for your help and lessons learned when it comes to race day nutrition.