What works for me may not work for you. You are an experiment of one!
Ultra-distance events can be particularly hard to fuel for because hormones over long distance act to suppress the appetite, increased caloric needs over multiple hours put us at higher risk for bonking and/or GI issues and there is generally less room for error. Add in an overwhelming variety of sports nutrition products, a variety of fueling "philosophies" and conflicting internet articles, no wonder people are confused! So the question becomes: How do you overcome these obstacles nutritional obstacles for peak performance?
One thing I cannot stress enough is the importance of practicing what you will put into your stomach before and during an extended training session or race, i.e. "training the gut." It's important to first formulate a tentative race day nutrition plan, then practice that plan repeatedly to make tweaks and learn what works best for YOU. Why? Our tastes preferences and metabolisms each are very unique, and while general sports nutrition concepts may provide great guidelines, applying those recommendations for optimal fueling and performance is very much specific and individualized. You are an experiment of N=1, meaning YOU are your own subject matter in this ultimate experiment of finding the magic nutritional formula for race day (and training) success!
One thing that I was SUPER excited about from my ironman last October was my fueling success over a LONG day of racing. In preparing for that race, I knew that successfully fueling for 10+ hours of racing would be no easy task. As a result, I formulated my race day nutrition plan as early as May and spent the entire summer testing & tweaking it. By the time race day rolled around, I knew generally what to expect, how to effectively execute it, and my body (gut) was well trained to tolerate the large quantities of calories I needed over the course of the day. While it was not a "perfect" day of fueling and I made a few mistakes, overall I was comfortable with utilizing the plan and rolling with the challenges to literally eat and drink my way to the finish. This year, though I'm utilizing different fuel sources than last, but the process has been very much the same: I know what my body needs, I have a plan and have been testing and tweaking it throughout my training.
So what are the take away lessons here?
A) If you're preparing for a long endurance event, it's important to invest not only in your training but also your specific fueling needs. If this is an area you're struggling in, then consult a sports dietitian to formulate a fueling plan that will work specifically for you and your goals.
B) When out there training and racing, listen to your body! Problems more likely when we try to outsmart ourselves or "tune out" rather than drinking to thirst or pushing certain fuels because we have "heard" it's the best.
In summary, find reliable fuel sources, apply them in training, listen to your body’s feedback and take notes. Make adjustments accordingly. Practice, practice and practice some more!
Fuel up, train happy!
p.s. Be sure to check back on Friday for a *NEW* athlete spotlight, couple's edition!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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