[096] Nutrition

Swim: 0 m/90,745 m

Bike: 47.4/783.3 miles

Run: 16.4/244.4 miles

I recently wrote a post about going longer in my workouts. A critical part of that, and the thing that has always scared me about long workouts in general, is nutrition.

For some reason, I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in when it came to exercise and nutrition. Other runners on my marathon training teams were outfitted with various waistbelts and electrolyte beverages and gels, and I figured I missed class on the day when all of this was explained. I tried a gel once or twice but never liked them and never felt a real benefit, so I’ve avoided them since then.

In fact, my general plan for long training runs over the past few years has simply been to choose a route where I encounter a water fountain at least once. I try to eat well before exercise – peanut butter toast, a banana, oatmeal or a Clif bar – and I have no trouble eating afterward. But eating during a workout has always been foreign to me.

It’s important to note that, after my last marathon in the fall of 2007, I haven’t run anything longer than a half-marathon. My running workouts have seldom stretched over 90 minutes, and that’s a time frame where I’m comfortable exercising without supplemental nutrition. But now that I’m looking to go longer, it’s time to figure out the nutrition that works for me.

During a triathlon, the majority of this is going to happen on the bike. Obviously there’s not much I can do during a swim, but 30 minutes of swimming alone can make me very hungry. And it’s going to be key on race day to enter the 10k run with plenty of energy. That leaves the bike, which also happens to be the only leg of the triathlon where I can maintain forward momentum while briefly resting my legs and attempting to eat or drink.

Also, since my half-marathon training is overlapping my triathlon season, I’ll be scheduling longer and harder runs every week. I’ll need to come up with a nutrition plan for these, as well.

This past weekend I ran a hard 8 miles on Saturday and then biked 32 on Sunday (my longest ride ever). On both outings I carried water – on the run I carried a CamelBak for the first time and really liked it. Despite having plenty of water,  I could tell that I was starting to lose steam near the end of both workouts. Would I have felt a big difference in my energy level if I had consumed something solid like a gel or even an enhanced sports drink instead of plain water?

This post will not be like a sitcom and end with a perfect solution and a pithy one-liner. The fact is that I’m not entirely sure what approach I’m going to take. I have so many questions – how do I even carry solid foods on my bike when I’m wearing tri clothes with no pockets and my tiny bike bag is filled with flat-repair supplies? I have a water bottle on the bike and the CamelBak, but what do I put in them? I learned in my most recent race that full-test Gatorade is not the answer. If I do choose an enhanced sport drink like Nuun, should I also use solids or will the sports beverage be enough?

It occurs to me that this is part of triathlon training. Not only am I training to make myself physically stronger for race day, but I’m also learning how to maximize my performance through attention to other details, such as clothing and nutrition. Now’s the time to experiment with drinks and other energy boosters – and maybe even give gels another chance – to come up with a nutrition strategy that works for me.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you eat before or during a long exercise session? (And how do you carry it?)

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4 Responses to [096] Nutrition

  1. Ann says:

    Jeremy, I became a true believer after spending a week with a bunch of Ironman triathletes in Austria a few years back. Many of them talked about taking a gel every 15 minutes. I could never do that without making my stomach angry but during long distances (anything between 10 miles and 26.2 miles) I take a gel every 45 minutes. Anything over 26.2 miles or 4 hours if I am cycling and I take a gel every 30 minutes. I carry them in a fuel belt. They aren’t comfortable but it is nice to be able to carry the gels, my music and some ibuprofen for longer distances. Hope this helps.

  2. Currently I use water only for running 10 miles or less. When running 12 miles or more I take 8 oz of water every 4th mile starting at mile 4 and 100 calories worth of a raw revolution super food bar every 4th mile starting at mile 6. I developed this strategy with very little research and I probably should tweak it. It will be interesting to see what other comments this generates. I should do a nutrition blog entry myself.

  3. David H. says:

    I’ve read various things online about taking dates or raisins on a run — the more natural way to get key nutrition. Once I pass 10 miles on a run, I take a Gu; once I get beyond 14 miles or so, I’ll take two. My plan this summer is to repeat staging my car so I don’t have to carry stuff with me. I take my car to the local middle school, run about 4 miles with my dog back home to grab some water and Gu, run another 4-5 miles and go by a water fountain, then eventually run by my car again for more water and/or a Gu. I imagine with long bike rides you could do the same.

    Gels can be tough to stomach — I’d suggest trying different brands to see what you like.

  4. Steena says:

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this when I read it a couple days ago, because I had a post last fall about safety pinning nylon socks to the outside of my pants pocket and throwing a banana in there as a make-shift pocket. It works well in a low budget marathon.
    Can you down maybe half a banana during T1?
    As for the not having pockets thing, there’s a brand called Nathan that sells a belt/fannypack–it’s not pouchy like a fannypack, it lies flat on your stomach, but it’s a belt that you can put stuff in. I use mine even during a short run to carry my phone incase of an emergency. I got one at a local run shop, I’ve seen them at Dick’s Sporting goods, they cost $15-20.
    For my long run/workouts my stomach seems to handle HammerGel or shotblox just fine.

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