Monday, February 1, 2016

Creating Your Nutrition Plan

by Gina Kehr

Swim, bike, run, nutrition. How many times have you heard or said, “All was going well and then I…” had stomach issues, ran out of all energy, couldn’t stop cramping and so on. I remember my first ironman I was given so much advice on what to eat and how much that I ended up being overwhelmed and went into the race with the, “I can not eat enough” mindset. I completely over-ate; eating gels, bars and more bars… ugh.

I will never forget starting that marathon feeling and looking so bloated. It was at that time I told myself I was never eating solid food during a race again. It occurred to me that eating solid food was difficult to actually digest since all the blood was being shunted away from my gut to help my muscles perform. So my journey of nutrition training began.

You may be asking yourself, “Nutrition training? What?” I am amazed at how many athletes ask me about what they should eat during their ironman (or any distance for that matter) the week or two before their events. Nutrition for a race needs to start to get sorted at least two months ahead of time.

One of my learning moments in regards to nutrition was during a training ride to Santa Cruz (120 miles) that consisted of myself and several top male cyclists. We were hammering down Hwy 1 and I was just trying to hang on the 30 or so miles of big rolling terrain with no stops down the coast. Once we got into Santa Cruz I was preparing mentally for the big Hwy 9 climb. The next thing I know the guys tell me we are stopping at the burrito joint to eat. Dumbfounded, I thought, “What?!? I don’t remember any burritos on the Kona bike course.” So while they sat and ate these crazy big burritos, I trained my nutrition eating my gels and drinking my water and electrolyte mix. Once we started riding again and hit the 20-mile climb on Hwy 9 it was no surprise I was the strongest up the hill. While I rode in the front pushing the pace they were barely hanging on complaining of having nothing left to push (how could they -- all their blood was in their guts). I just laughed to myself and kept pushing the pace.

From that moment on my theory of liquid calories was cemented as the only way to go. I became a gel queen. GU was my product of choice (still is) and vanilla bean was my flavor. Every training session that needed nutrition consisted only of the foods that I would consume during a race. For ironman, the long sessions mimicked what I would eat race day. I am proud to say my nutrition plan (coupled with hiring a coach) helped me drop an hour in my second ironman. I went home after that race and I wrote everything down. What I ate during the race and what I ate before the swim start. That became my template.

During training I rarely ate anything I would not eat during a race. I also started paying specific attention to the time I ate it. Over the course of the years I added what I ate for breakfast and what I ate for dinner to my template. I continued to make adjustments over time. I added CarboPro to my list, I added bananas, and in my last few years I even added back a Lara Bar to my plan.

The point of all this is you can not figure out your nutrition by reading books, articles and then piecing together what you think will work a few weeks before the race. You need to train your plan for several weeks if not months. There is a lot of research for and against all the nutrition ideas you hear about. Some work for some people and some don’t. You have to find what works for you, even if it goes against what science says. Your plan is your plan. The way to find out is to do it and continually making small changes if need be. In summary here are my tips for your best nutrition:

  • Write down what makes up several days of your nutrition from your key training sessions that are specific to your upcoming race.

  • Write down what you ate during the workout, dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of the session.

  • Write the time you ate breakfast… was your last part of breakfast 30 minutes before the start or was it 60 minutes?

  • Be specific in each hour of your training. For example: Hour 0-1 I ate “X”; Hour 1-2 I ate “Y”, Hour 2-3 I ate “Z”.

If you write all that down, you’ll start to build your template and you can add or subtract as you go.


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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