Fueling the Sprint to Iron Distance Race

Especially with longer triathlons, it’s common to hear about poor runs, usually blamed on a great bike leg. Before you blame the bike, consider your fueling strategy.

  • Sprint distance: Sports drink is usually enough. If you’re in the front of the pack, you can just rely on the first aid station on the run. If you’re in the middle or back of the pack, bring a bottle on the bike. Do overdo it; 8 – 16 oz is good before you get to T2.
  • Olympic distance: A bit more planning. Faster athletes should have a gel once settled in on the bike and finish a 16 – 20 oz bottle of sports drink before T2. Eat another gel as soon as running race-pace and take in fluids as your belly allows. Middle or back of the pack athletes should add another gel roughly 30-45 minutes into the bike and run.
  • Half or full Ironman: Fueling is critical! Hydration needs vary so much between athletes, but 16– 24 oz sports drink per hour should be good. Also shoot for a couple hundred calories of solid food every hour on the bike. A favorite of mine is banana, honey, PB, and crushed pretzels wrapped in a tortilla. After T2, bars, pretzels, and gels are all good options. At this point I tend to gravitate towards salty, rather than sweet, foods, but that’s up to your taste buds. Keep hydrating with small sips at aid stations as needed.

The 3 R’s of Recovery

Re-hydrate: The reaction that provides energy for our body requires water, so we go through a lot during a training session, regardless of how much we sweat. Replacing these losses is the first step to recovery. Shoot for 16 – 32 oz of fluid after training, more if you are a heavy sweater or if it was particularly warm out.

Replenish: Stored carbohydrates are a main source of fuel during training and a hard session can entirely deplete these stores. Replacing these carbohydrates provides the energy necessary to repair our muscle and also our fuel future training sessions. Aim for 50-100 g.

Repair: Training damages muscle; recovery rebuilds it stronger. Getting adequate protein after a session jump starts this process by providing the building blocks for muscle tissue. Try to get 20-30 g of protein. We can’t really use any more than that at once, so getting overzealous here won’t build more muscle. And remember, without replenishing carbohydrates, protein can’t do its job repairing muscle!

Tailor your recovery to your training. With longer, harder sessions, such as long rides or speed work, be aggressive with your recovery. A more relaxed approach is acceptable for easier, shorter workouts. Hitting the 3 R’s in the first 60 minutes after training is best, but life happens: do it as soon as you can. For optimal recovery, try water or sports drink with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or blend up some fruit, nuts, seeds, and water or juice to make a smoothie.

Hydration Station

Dehydration can quickly cause performance to deteriorate, but how much should we actually drink? The American College of Sports Medicine suggests drinking 3-8 oz of water every 15 minutes during exercise. If longer than 60 minutes, make it a sports drink. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking: “wow… that’s a lot!” It is. In my opinion and experience, you can certainly do with less. Strive for a balance between not drinking and these recommendations. Now for logistics. Fluids on the bike are easy; get a bottle cage. On the run, you’ll have to try some things:

•    If you’re frugal, carry some 8oz plastic water bottles
•    Try a fuel belt. I find these tend to bounce at higher paces, so make sure you can return it if you don’t like it (Bonus: pockets for gels, phones, etc.)
•    Try the hand-carriers. This has become my favorite. Although odd at first, I find it much more comfortable than the belt (Bonus: pockets for gels, phones, etc.)
•    Using a hydration backpack is not seen too often as it tends to prevent sweat evaporation on your back, but give it a shot.
•    Plant water bottles on your run course, or create loops around water fountains in the park

Bottom line: You don’t have to drink a lot – but don’t not drink. If late in a race and you’re having GI issues, even sloshing some sports drink around in your mouth and spitting out can help performance! After training/racing, be aggressive with rehydration to speed recovery!

Nutrition During the Taper and Race Day

The Glass City Marathon is less than month away! It’s time to taper and recover. In the weeks immediately prior to your race, there are several key nutritional elements to focus on.

  • Although your training time is dwindling down, your appetite may not immediately correspond. Be mindful of this and be careful not to overeat. Packing on a few extra pounds can greatly affect the energy required to get you across the finish line.
  •  (I hope) You’ve been practicing your fueling during long runs. I suggest practicing during a shorter, race-pace run as well. Some foods sit in the belly OK at lower, long-run intensity but cause gastrointestinal mayhem at race-pace. Try your gels, bars, and/or sports drinks during that tempo run to make sure all goes well. If not, you have some time to change course.
  •  About 4 days before the race, start to increase your carbohydrates and decrease fats. On the day of the expo, about 70% of your intake should be carbohydrates. Start to drink more fluids as well; you don’t want to start without a full tank!
  • On race morning, I suggest a bit smaller breakfast than you’ve been working with. You’ll be at a higher intensity and race-day jitters will slow down digestion causing cramping. If you’re a coffee drinker, drink a cup or two.

Getting to the start line healthy and ready is the hardest part. During the race, stick to your fueling plan as best as possible, but don’t be afraid to adjust if things go wrong.

Fueling the Endurance Machine

Properly fueling your endurance training and racing is a bit of an art form. Too little and your performance will suffer while too much can pack on a few unwanted pounds. How much fuel you need depends on where you’re at in your training. Periods of light training don’t require the same nutritional investment as periods of heavy training. The chart below provides a rough estimate of the targets for calories, carbohydrates, and protein during different periods of training:


Calories Carbohydrate Protein
Male Female
Light 17 Cal/lb 16 Cal/lb 2 g/lb 0.5 g/lb
Moderate 19 Cal/lb 17 Cal/lb 3 g/lb 0.6 g/lb
Heavy 23 Cal/lb 20 Cal/lb 4 g/lb 0.7 g/lb


There are many food tracking smart phone or web-based apps that will make calculating what you eat easier. They will also provide nutritional targets, but be careful because they are not designed for endurance athletes. Also, there is no need to log everyday. When your training changes, log a few days to get an idea of how much you’re eating and revisit as often as you’d like.


When determining your needs, keep these things in mind:

  • These are recommendations, not hard and fast rules. You may venture outside these ranges and that’s OK.
  • Eating for weight loss and performance are two different goals. Understand that if intentionally trying to lose weight, your performance will take a hit.
  • Monitoring your weight and performance is a great way to find out if you’re fueling correctly. You’ll want to maintain your weight during your training. Weigh yourself once a week at the same time of day.

In 2016, let’s eat right! Most of the time…

After the new year rolls around, we often make fairly demanding resolutions to the way we eat. “I won’t drink pop;ever.” “I’ll never have desert.” Now that it’s February, research shows at least 80% of those resolutions failed.

This year I encourage you to demand a little bit less. Let’s not strive for perfection. First, there really is no perfect way to eat. Second, this mindset usually only leads to let downs. It doesn’t account for that wedding you’ll attend or that time when you’re having a busy week and just can’t find time to prepare a healthy meal.

This year, let’s embrace imperfection. As I try to provide you with up to date nutrition information to live a healthier lifestyle and optimize your performance, don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t let the fact that you can’t eat the recommended amount before training bother you. Don’t get discouraged when your recovery meal is potato chips and beer instead of a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.

We’ve all been there; we’ve missed training sessions due to whatever life throws our way. Still, the race usually turns out just fine. We don’t throw in the towel at that less than stellar workout. We take it in stride and move on. This year, let’s resolute to not let the imperfections of our eating get in our way of making progress and becoming healthier overall. Strive to eat right most of the time, allowing some room for imperfection.

Shake Up Your Protein Routine

What? Protein immediately brings the image of a big steak to mind, but I argue plant proteins are a better choice for endurance athletes. While animal proteins tend to come packaged with saturated fats, plant proteins usually provide carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats, and other vitamins and minerals that will benefit health and performance. Grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and even veggies will give you as much protein as you need.
How much? Endurance athletes need roughly 0.5 grams protein/lb body weight. You may need a bit more (0.7 g/lb) if you’re vegetarian, restricting calories to lose weight, or strength training in the off-season (yes, you should do that!). This may seem low compared to what you typically see from websites and magazines, but, trust me, it’s plenty.
When? After a training session, a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within an hour helps promote recovery. Carbohydrates are critical here: repairing muscle requires energy and if it’s not supplied from carbohydrates, protein will be converted to energy instead of being used for its intended purpose. Don’t bother exceeding 30 g (at any meal) because the body can’t use that much at once.
How? Store bought protein shakes can be convenient and effective, but often lack carbohydrates and can be expensive. I’m a ‘real food first’ fan and suggest trying homemade: blend water or your favorite milk, fruit, nuts/nut butters, seeds such as chia, flax, or, my favorite, raw pumpkin seeds (aka: pepitas), and perhaps some tart cherry juice.

Does Fasted Training Have A Place In Your Training Plan?

Traditionally, a high-carbohydrate diet is recommended for athletes, but the “train-low,compete-high” modality is becoming more popular. This paradigm suggests training with low carbohydrate stores (read: fasted) will teach your body to use fat more efficiently, while competing with high carbohydrates (read: carb loading) will provide a performance boost.

Our body stores enough carbohydrates for about 90-120 minutes of exercise. Although we’re usually using a mix of fat and carbohydrates for energy, carbohydrate metabolism  dominates at higher intensities. When carbohydrates run out, we derive most energy from fat, which is a much slower process. Enter the bonk: this shift results in fatigue and reduced intensity. Relying more on fat early on in exercise spares our limited carbohydrates and delays this dreaded bonk.Studies have found that training with low carbohydrate stores activates genes associated with your “aerobic engine” (good!) and increases fat utilization during exercise (also good!). BUT this didn’t actually result in improved performance. Training low may also reduce your ability to sustain high-intensity exercise, impair immune function, and increase muscle damage. These may all prevent you from hitting your goal!Due to the discrepancy between the molecular and performance effects, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Try 1 or 2 of your longer, low-intensity sessions per week without eating before/during the session. However, perform all high-intensity sessions after a low-fat, high-carbohydrate snack/meal or else you risk not being able to hit your target zone; if you can’t train at race pace, you can’t race at race pace!

Tart Cherry Juice: Nature’s Recovery Food

Recovery tip #1 is to get adequate fluid, carbohydrates, and protein following exercise. If you participate in races frequently or otherwise need a speedy recovery, tart cherries are a great addition to your recovery regimen. Loaded with anthocyanins and antioxidants, tart cherries might just help you get back to 100% a bit more rapidly.

Intense exercise unleashes a cascade of events in muscle tissue causing cell damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation. These events result in impaired muscle function, such as reduced strength, and may contribute to soreness in the days after intense exercise. This damage serves as the stimulus for muscle to rebuild itself a bit stronger.

But when athletes drink tart cherry juice, there are fewer signs of muscle damage, fewer cell damaging ‘free radicals,’ and less inflammation in the following days (in a test tube, tart cherry was as effective as ibuprofen). Coupled with reductions in soreness and pain, strength tends to return a bit more rapidly.

Shoot for 8oz twice a day for 4-7 days pre-race, race day, and 2 days post-race. Although drinking it every day sounds good, be careful: physiological adaptations from training making you stronger and/or faster are likely dependent on some of these pathways. Only use when quick recovery is needed, such as if you’re racing on consecutive weekends or didn’t taper for your race appropriately (as is all too common).

Tart cherry juice is readily available at local grocery stores for roughly the same cost per serving as orange juice!