Monday, February 1, 2016

Finding Your Nutritional System

by Dave Latourette

I’m not a nutritionist but I have stayed at a number of Holiday Inn Expresses before races. The reality is, a nutrition protocol, and the application of it, can make or break a long distance race and all the training in the world isn’t going to cover a nutritional screw up!

Though there isn’t any single nutritional plans that works for everybody, the outline I have below is what I use for a starting point with my athletes. Much of this is derived from my own nutritional nightmares that I encountered early on in my long distance racing days until I stopped trying what other people suggested and simply listened to my body.


  • Eat what you know is going to get through your system before the race start. Calorie totals are different for everyone but, generally speaking, more is better -- assuming you can digest what you take in and what you take in should be predominantly carbohydrate.

  • Race Day versus Training Day breakfast: Many athletes can tolerate more complex meals before training since their bodies aren’t dealing with race day stress. For me, my nervous stomach forces my meal into an almost 100% liquid fuel.

  • Though I have to go the high calorie smoothie and banana route, I have encountered athletes who can easily putting down potatoes, eggs, toast, oatmeal and cereal. Find what works for you in higher stress situations, not on a calm training morning.

Bike Fuel

  • When helping an athlete, I like to have a starting point based on effort, not body weight. If an athlete is racing with a power meter, the starting point is simple. Look at the kilojoules per hour expended on a long simulation ride and shoot for ingestion of half of that amount. If that information is not available, I have been successful starting athletes with approximately 200 calories per hour (women) and 300 calories per hour (men). With those as starting points we have been able to adjust up and down.

  • Once you have a general per hour caloric amount, you need to experiment with different caloric sources at race-like intensity. Many of us can handle more under lighter intensity than we can on race day.

  • Remember, under stress (intensity, heat, and a nervous stomach), certain caloric sources such as protein and fat will slow carbohydrate absorption rate. I prefer that athletes simplify what they take in by starting with mixed carbohydrate sources first. The longer you are out there racing, the lower the intensity -- including some solids (bars) and semi-solids (bloks and chews) tends to work well.

  • Be sure to wash down all solute (gels, chews, concentrated drink mix) with water. I see failures come from simply not enough water to help absorb the solute. In contradiction to that, it is possible to take too much water slowing the absorption and creating bloating.

  • Sodium needs are different for everyone. You’ll need to decide what works best for you regarding sweat rate, fluid absorption and retention and muscular function. I have athletes who range anywhere from 300mg to 1500mg of sodium per hour. If you are supplementing, look for a quality source that has mixed sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. I’m a big fan of SportQuest MetaSalt and Base Nutrition’s Electrolyte Salt.

  • Adapt as you get older! I have found in myself and other athletes that through aging we have become more sensitive to certain foods that we may have had little to no sensitivity to in our early days of racing. I’ve also found that after a period of time, certain fuels that worked well in the past simply don’t cooperate in with system any longer. It may be because of taste, absorption or a combination of both, but don’t be surprised if you find something not working when it always worked previously.


  • Once we get to the run the hope is that the fuel from the bike leg carries you through a large part of the run. Don’t be fooled, you still need calories on the run, but the more you can take and absorb on the bike, the easier the run could be.

  • As good as your bike nutrition is, starting the run too quickly and jamming calories in is a great way to derail all your good work up to that point.

  • Start the run easy and slowly introduce calories.

  • While running, the body will tolerate small amounts frequently much better than if you get behind and have to stuff large amounts down your throat. With aid stations typically every mile it’s easy enough to get 25-50 calories of fluid every mile.

Once the gun goes, the first and foremost thing is about finding caloric sources you tolerate and can keep putting in your mouth over a long day. Finally, and most importantly, it’s about matching your caloric intake with the proper intensity output during your race. Too high an intensity or too many calories can ruin the best fitness on the planet.

Enjoy the process.

Dave Latourette is a full time triathlon coach living in Santa Rosa, California, who works with athletes from newcomer to elite. His top athletes have won USAT Age Group National Championships and raced in World Championship events that include the ITU World Championship and the Ironman World Championship. You can learn more about Dave and follow him at:, his blog, or on twitter @dklatourette
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