Monday, July 09, 2007

Five Common Race Nutrition Mistakes

by Dave Scott
Avoiding these five common race nutrition mistakes could mean the difference between a DNF and a PR in your next triathlon.

Mistake #1 - No plan
Perhaps the most common race nutrition mistake triathletes make is to come into races without a plan. This oversight leads to costly errors such as drinking too little and becoming dehydrated and eating too much and becoming nauseated. In order to avoid making such errors, you need to come into each race knowing what, when, and how much you're going to drink and eat from the time you wake up race morning until you cross the finish line. This plan should be based on 1) a basic knowledge of the principles of race nutrition, 2) knowledge of your body's specific fluid, electrolyte, and carbohydrate needs and tolerances, 3) the length and conditions of the race, and 4) your fitness level upon entering the race.
Mistake #2 - Overloading
During a triathlon, it's tempting to really pack in the carbs, knowing that it's impossible to consume enough to offset depletion. However, it's rather easy to consume more carbohydrate than your body can process during a race, and this is something that triathletes commonly do, with disastrous consequences. The average triathlete can absorb between 60 and 100 grams of carbohydrate per hour. You can easily achieve this range by using a sports drink alone. However, most triathletes racing in a half or full Ironman will use a combination of sports drink and gels or bars. A sensible ratio of liquid to solid calories is about 3:1 in long triathlons. Again, you may find that using a sports drink only throughout the bike and run will suffice. When an excessive amount of carbohydrates is consumed, quite often there is a backlog in the stomach which eventually may cause nausea, bloating and diarrhea.
Mistake #3 - Too much water
When you continuously sweat and drink water during a race, the electrolyte concentration of your blood becomes progressively lower. Hyponatremia is a condition that is characterized by dangerously low blood sodium concentration. Early symptoms include nausea, muscle cramps, and diarrhea. As it becomes more serious, dizziness, disorientation, and inappropriate behavior often manifest. Serious cases can entail seizure, coma, and death. You can easily avoid hyponatremia by taking in adequate quantities of sodium during races. A well-formulated sports drink contains enough sodium to maintain healthy sodium levels in the blood despite heavy sweating. For this reason, you should always drink a sports drink instead of water during races unless you combine the use of water with the use of gels or bars that contain sodium.
Mistake #4 - Bad breakfast
Often triathletes eat the wrong foods, eat too much or too little, or eat at the wrong time on race morning. Doing any of these things could completely ruin your race, or at least make your performance less than optimal. Here's what you should do. Try to eat two to three hours before your wave start. Eat as large a breakfast as you are comfortable eating. You should have some sense of this from your training. The meal should be high in low- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrates that digest slowly and should also contain some protein. It should be low in fiber and fat. Drink plenty of water, and be sure to take in some sodium and potassium (this can be accomplished with 1 or 2 pieces of fruit). Following up breakfast by consuming 4 to 8 ounces of A sports drink or an energy gel and water within about 30 minutes of the race start will ensure that your blood glucose level is as high as possible at race time.
Mistake #5 - Not consuming protein
Triathletes are slowly catching on to the now proven fact that consuming protein with carbohydrate during a race can improve performance and recovery, but a majority of triathletes still consume carbohydrate alone. New research shows a sports drink containing carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 ratio (Accelerade®) significantly outperforms a conventional carbohydrate-only sports drink. Studies have shown that Accelerade, when compared to a carbohydrate-only sports drink, increases endurance by 29%, increases hydration by 15%, reduces muscle damage by 83%, and even improves performance in a subsequent exercise bout by 40%. It appears that the added protein speeds the delivery of carbohydrate to working muscles. This provides energy faster and allows the muscles to conserve their stored carbohydrate fuel. Other research suggests that using a sports drink containing protein during exercise also accelerates post-exercise muscle tissue repair, and it may even reduce the amount of muscle damage that occurs during workouts and competitions.
Dave Scott is a 6-time winner of the Hawaiian Ironman and triathlon coach.