Taking on a gel every 14 minutes for just under 8 hours is a good recipe for a crook gut at the best of times let alone after also trying to race for close to 8 hrs as fast you can across swim, bike and run. Getting nutrition right for an Ironman is most people’s biggest challenge. No matter how much scientific information you read or other people’s reviews and blogs, there is no real certainty that things will go smooth on race day.
95% of the time I have been lucky and my gut has played ball. I can rely on the fact that it will hold up. But why?
My wife is a naturopath and has a degree in sports science. Back in the early days, she drilled me into eating well. Our few arguments in life were around my nutrition when I chose to not care.
Deep down, or maybe shallow down I am a sucker for fish and chips, bacon and eggs burgers, beer and I love gluten too. But I can also reluctantly confirm that healthy whole foods and fewer grains make me feel better and I perform better day in and day out on this type of nutrition. So these days I conform 95% of the time to good nutrition with a few blowouts here and there to keep the balance in life just right.
So in answer to the why…The reason why my gut probably holds up to the onslaught of race nutrition is that it’s in pretty good shape before the day and maybe a few of the things I also do post-race to help it repair and recover.
Here’s a bit of background on my race lead-in and recovery week nutrition-wise:
Pre-race – Sally gets on my back and tells me to go off gluten for at least 2 weeks leading into the race. We also only eat at home during this time and tend to eat really simple foods – salads, roast veggies and protein (mostly meat proteins). The two days before the race I opt for either chicken, salmon or tofu sometimes. I don’t eat red meat the two days prior just in case it takes too long to digest in my system.
Carbs a couple of days before the race come from a good quality gluten-free bread, roast vegetables and smoothies with the True Protein post workout blend. I go for 5 meals a day (2 meals are often smoothies) instead of 3 that are all normal size, rather than overeating and I make sure that I get my carb intake about 10% higher during these days so I can ensure my muscle glycogen is up to spec before the race starts.
I also up my magnesium intake. I use the ZMA from True Protein and make sure I get about 900mg of magnesium for the two days prior to the race.
I also use the True Protein Gut Health powder for at least a few weeks pre-race and a few weeks after the race as it’s a good way to get the balance back to the gut in terms of bacteria, which after a massive sugar onslaught is pretty hard to get right otherwise.
After the race, I also take probiotics and True Protein Glutamine as this helps the gut wall to repair. I imagine a lot of athletes end up with leaky gut due to the high intake of sugar/carbs that are generally required to keep up with the volume of training you need to absorb. It’s a hard road to keeping the gut healthy under these circumstances but I personally believe carbs are important. In the past when I went low carb with a paleo-type diet my high-intensity key sessions were affected. I would try to do them first thing in the morning, but I think the lack of carbs in the 2 meals prior to the day before couldn’t even restock yesterday’s sessions let alone prep me for the high intensity I was trying to achieve in training.
The other strange thing that happened to me, was that I put weight on and felt like I lost muscle.
I have never been someone who jumps on every bandwagon anyway, but I defiantly gave the paleo diet some time and although I like eating this way, I now make a conscious effort to make sure I have the right amount of healthy carbs in my diet, and I also train on gels in key sessions so that my gut gets some training on how to handle gels on race day.
My son Tarn has been tracking my intake of all food and fluid for the last 4 days. He will keep going with this for another 10 days and maybe I can give you an insight next round onto what we learnt from this process.