by Brett Nichols, pro triathlete
Brett Nichols has been working at Landry's Boston store. During his time with us, he earned his elite triathlon license and has competed as a professional ever since. In these Landry's Triathlete Tips, Brett shares what he has learned.
"The most common mistake during a race is not eating and drinking enough."
“Nutrition” in the endurance world specifically refers to what you put in your body before, during, and after workouts and races. It’s not really about turning down that piece of cake or second round of drinks; it’s about maintaining fuel for performance. Truly, your day-of-race nutrition can affect your results as much as, if not more than, months of rigorous physical training.
Hydration + fluids
BEFORE: You'll already need to be fully hydrated going into a race or workout, and sipping water prior to your effort improves your body’s ability to regulate. Sports drinks also help top off your sodium stores to slow the loss of electrolytes during your performance. When you’re browsing the shelves in preparation for the race, check out Osmo Preload Hydration and Nuun Hydration tablets, they are excellent drink mixes for ensuring minimal electrolyte depletion.
DURING: There are two general approaches to what you put in your water bottle for mid-race consumption. One is to let your bottle provide both hydration and carbohydrates/calories. The other tactic is to use the fluids in your bottle strictly for hydration — i.e., a low-calorie, electrolyte-rich sports drink or even just water. You may be asking “Why wouldn’t you put all your nutrition in your bottle and save time fiddling with food packaging?” Well, let's skip the science-talk and look at some pictures:
Osmo Nutrition explains the basic concept of the hydration formula: sugars and sodium in sport drinks do speed up the absorption of fluids into your body’s blood stream, but too much can create an imbalance and end up blocking your fluid intake.
For example, putting a GU packet into your already mixed bottle of Skratch will save some time on consuming calories, but it can also slow your body's ability to hydrate over the course of the workout. Still, it's not a bad plan if your race is short enough that dehydration isn't a major concern. But if you’re looking to do a Half Ironman or a three-hour bike ride, you might want to reserve your bottles purely for hydration and stick to solid bars and gels for calories.
Whatever your strategy, there are drink mixes that are designed strictly for hydration, and there are drink mixes designed to supplement your caloric intake during an effort. The basic metric is how many calories each mix has per serving.
AFTER: Immediately following a race or workout, your body needs proteins for muscular repair as well as carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. Replenishing both within 30 minutes of finishing will maximize your body’s ability to recover. Moreover, common experience shows that athletes who wait longer than 30 minutes to provide the necessary nutrients end up straining their immune system and are significantly more likely to become sick. PowerBar Recovery, Osmo Acute Recovery, and Endurox R4 Muscle Recovery Drink are a few drink mixes out there with formulas designed to provide optimal combinations of protein and carbohydrate for recovery.
Solid foods + gels
How much to eat and drink before racing? People generally have different tricks to eating before workouts and races, but the principle is pretty simple: Load up on carbs and proteins for a few days before, while maintaining a healthy nutritional balance. On the day of, just eat normally until about 30 to 60 minutes before the race, being sure to give yourself plenty of time to let your food settle. Closer to race time, switch to whatever you’re planning to eat during the workout.
During the race — the real trick to choosing what to eat comes down to knowing your own stomach. Some people can't hold down solids at very high intensity, so they consume only gels. Other people find they lose focus because they feel hungry unless they consume an actual solid. I recommend testing out your limits by trying a selection, and in the end stick to whatever bar or gel you prefer — just make sure that you’re getting enough calories. Landry’s has several rather tasty options to choose from. (Tasty enough that many of our staff often snack on these bars during the work day!)
Keeping enough fuel in your tank
The most common mistake during a race is not eating and drinking enough. Once your body tells your brain it needs energy, you’re already dehydrated and you’ve significantly depleted your glycogen stores – a circumstance you cannot recover from while continuing to exert yourself. If you’re waiting to refuel until you feel empty, then you’re going to hurt.
Think of it like the gas light coming on in your car, but what you need to do is fill your tank before it even gets half-empty. If you’re doing an Ironman, your “tank” will deplete down to empty by the end of the day regardless, since your body simply can’t process carbohydrates as quickly as you burn them. However, continually adding to the “tank” with 300–350 calories roughly every hour will maximize the amount of time you have until you run out. My rule of thumb is 100 calories from fluids plus 200–300 calories of solid food per hour. I’ve found this maximizes the amount of time I can be out there straining myself in a race or workout.
In the end, it’s important to listen to your body before, during, and after each strenuous workout — to make sure you can endure and recover without doing damage to your system. Take notes, compare results, and you’ll learn what works best for you.