Before I go any farther I need to make it clear that the title of this article is a complete lie and is very misleading. The fact will forever remain that Brussels Sprouts and Kale will never taste good. However, spend one day eating race food and your appreciation for real food (I’m talking cheeseburgers, not veggies) will increase exponentially. Often times, nutrition is overlooked by newer or younger endurance athletes. But most experienced competitors will tell you nutrition is every bit as important as physical training. So what do you eat?
For starters, a lot of calories. Calories are your best friend when training. Along with calories, you need to try and include sodium, potassium, and sugar. Depending on the length of your race your body will burn anywhere from 1,000 calories to 12,000 calories. That being said, it is very important to be giving your body more than just water. One of the most commonly used sources of nutrition by endurance athletes is gels and chews. Gels, also referred to as GU’s (name brand), is just what it sounds like, a gel like substance that is packed with high amounts of sugar, sodium, and potassium to create a quick and easy source of calories without filling you up. Chews act much like gels but have a consistency that is closer to a gummy bear. One issue many athletes struggle with is food upsetting their stomach while they workout. That being said, it is very important to practice with the food you plan to race with to ensure your stomach can handle what you are feeding it. Another great source of calories can be found in plethora of sport drinks out there. Fluid based nutrition is typically much easier on your stomach and can be a great source of nutrition. The next question is when and how much should I eat?
Disclaimer: This is going to be different for everyone. For a starting point, most people create their training nutrition plan based on calories per hour and then divide it between cycling and running. On the bike, typical caloric consumption ranges from 200 calories an hour to 450 calories an hour. Personally, I aim for 350 calories per hour and it looks like this…
When I get on the bike:
- One gel (100 calories)
- Immediately followed by 8oz of sports drink (100 calories)
- Followed by 8oz of water
30 minutes later:
- One gel (100 Calories)
- Immediately followed by 4oz of sports drink (50 calories)
- Followed by 8oz of water
Then I repeat this process until I finish my ride.
Like I said before, every person is going to have a different system and different amounts of calories that work for their body. In whatever you choose, the key is to do it consistently, take notes on how it went, and try different techniques and times to determine what works best for you.
Running is much like cycling, but the amount of calories consumed is far less. For me its very simple. I take one gel every 45 minutes to an hour followed by 8oz of water to dilute it in my stomach and that’s it. Others will do chews, sport drinks only, fruit, chips, cookies… you’ll see a lot of odd foods being eaten at races. Again, like the bike, try different times intervals of eating, different sources of food, and different amounts. I recommend taking notes on everything during this period to help better remember what you did on various days.
The last step is recovery, which for me is pretty simple. Some people like to do certain foods at certain time increments, combined with different tribal dances to optimize recovery, and if that works for you, great! For me, I just make sure to get a decent amount of protein in me within 30 minutes of finishing my workout and try to sip on electrolytes and lots of water for the rest of the day.
I’ll leave you with this: try not to get frustrated if you don’t find a system that works the first time. For many people it takes years to perfect a nutrition plan for training. And when you do find a system that works, don’t be afraid to try mixing it up every once and a while to see if something else works better. Like I said before, the best way to find what works is simply trying different plans and being consistent in all of them. And I promise, if you try that enough you’ll start justifying bringing breakfast tacos and beef jerky with you as a source of nutrition. A good coach might tell you to not waste your time because that won’t work, but I’m all about a good story. So by all means, carry on… and happy eating.