31 Jul 2017


Long-course and ironman triathlon is one of the toughest events in sport, and is incredibly demanding on you and your fuelling strategy. What you eat in the week building up to your long-course or Ironman triathlon is arguably more important than what you consume on the day – certainly more important than what you consume for breakfast.

Carboloading is a proven method to ensure your muscle and liver cells are packed with glycogen, which is how the body stores glucose. This is where you increase the number of calories you’re taking in from carbohydrates to ensure your cells are maxing out on glycogen – studies show that figure is around 500g.

So around three days out from your race – any more and you could feel lethargic come the race – increase carbohydrate content to around 7g per kg bodyweight (so around 490g of carbs for a 70kg athlete, which equates to 1,960 calories), though this is a broad figure as some athletes require up to a whopping 12g per kg bodyweight. For that same 70kg athlete, you’re looking at 840g of carbs – or 3,360 calories!

The best way to consume this amount is either five carb-rich meals a day in those last few days, spaced evenly throughout the day, or by having breakfast, lunch and dinner interspersed with snacks high in carbs. Carb-rich foods include pasta, rice, potatoes and quinoa though, for this time only, keep things refined. Wholemeal rice and pasta is normally great but the extra demands of race day heighten the chances of gastro-distress, so cutting back on fibrous foods will lessen evacuation episodes.

R-day feeding

Come race-day breakfast, timing’s important with studies showing the ideal being 3hrs before your race start time. However, we all know the real world is less than perfect, and with many races starting at 7am, that means awaking at 4am if not earlier. So 2hrs before is fine but no later.

As to what to consume, the key is to eat foods you’ve tried before and practised in training. Never try anything new for race-day breakfast; in fact, that applies to the whole day, whether it’s eating, pacing or gear.

Slow-releasing carbs are again a good idea with porridge and jam a favourite. You also can’t go wrong with toast and jam, while maltloaf is also a popular choice. You should then sip water at regular intervals to the start line and then go for a gel around 15mins before to raise glucose levels. A strong coffee’s always a good idea as it’s proven to reduce the perception of effort, increase fat burning and raise power output.

Athletes burn between 7,000-10,000 calories. That’s a staggering amount, which is just not possible to replenish as you race. However, you can do your best. Research shows that many athletes can cope with consuming 90g of carbohydrates per hour from a mix of fructose and glucose. If you go for glucose alone, that figure reduces to 60g per hour but as fructose enters the bloodstream via a different pathway, you can consume more.

How you consume those calories is a personal thing and should be practised in training. Most athletes will take in a mix of gels, bars, real food, energy balls and, of course, fluid. Whatever your food choice, as soon you’re out of the swim, begin your feeding strategy.

What works for many is to ensure they eat solids on the bike, whether that’s a bar or a ham-and-cheese roll. In general, intensity is lower on the bike than the run so easier to digest – also, you’re also not jigging about all over the place so much on the bike! We’d recommend that you aim to consume 30g carbs every 20mins. That equates to three gels an hour.


Hydration systems

How you fuel is also an important factor on the bike. Hydration systems dominate the long-course field with Vision’s Metron front hydration system a good choice. The slick system sits between your aerobars so you don’t need to slip out of your aerodynamic position. Just reach over to the articulated straw mount and consume. It holds around 700ml of fluid, but you can top this up with downtube and rear-mounted options, such as Vision’s Trimax rear hydration system that fits to any type of saddle and holds two bottles.

The marathon run is an affair of attrition but, again, aim to follow that 90g fructose/glucose bike pattern. Dispense with solids; instead focus on fluids and gels. (Talking fluids, around 500ml per hour throughout your race is a good starting point, though dependent on factors including sweat rate and temperature.) A caffeine gel in the last hour of your run will also give you an appreciated kick, as will a can of Coke.

Once you’ve crossed that line, it’s time to refuel. Long-course racing severely depletes your glycogen stores, which can take up to 7hrs to refill. You also need to repair your muscles, which will have suffered huge stress. So aim for a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, with about 80g of carbs and 20g protein a good start. This could be chicken and pasta. In fact, it’s also recommended that you begin the recovery process with a protein recovery shake. You might want two meals post-Ironman; you might struggle to consume one because your stomach’s been under such strain. But like we’ve said, practise, practise, practise in training and your race day will be memorable – for the right reasons!