Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Training Nutrition Hierarchy

by Gordo Byrn

I had a painful reminder of the need to train race nutrition last month when I was on vacation in Italy. The first two days I was riding long and intense, and was using my typical fueling strategy of four to six PowerGels at a time, chased with sports drink. At dinner on the first day, a headache kicked in that lasted close to two days. I realized that my body wasn’t used to coping with the level of sugar that I was throwing at it.

Racing ironman, my gut was my strength. On the bike, I could consume up to two liters of fluid per hour and eat up to 600 kcal of carbs. My high-volume training program meant that I was always training my nutrition.

Skip forward a decade and I’m a much lower volume athlete who is not keen on sugar intake. My reluctance to eat sports nutrition comes from a desire to stay lean and for personal health. With an average training volume of less than two hours per day, I simply don’t need to eat much sugar.

I live at the bottom of a mountain and my favorite bike workout is to ride uphill for an hour out of my garage. If I bonk then I can spin around and coast home!

My training nutrition hierarchy mirrors my workout duration. From short to long:

  • Air: A large glass of water before and after my session -- nothing during training.
  • Water: Once I’m training over an hour, I like to bring along a bottle.
  • Nuts: If I’m out for over two hours then I bring mixed nuts to snack on at the top of the longest climb, I chase with water and digest on the descents.
  • Sports drink (INfinit heat mix): If the session is going to be intense or I have to back up with a second session, then I hydrate with sports drink.
  • Non-caffeinated PowerGels: If I’m going really long then I’ll bring a few PowerGels along -- I like these because they are simple, don’t require mixing and can be chased with water
  • Caffeinated PowerGels: I don’t like caffeine in my sports nutrition (mainly because I enjoy my latte stops). However, I’ll carry a few to keep me rolling, especially if I can’t access a good coffee shop mid-ride!
  • Cola: Rocket fuel. If it didn’t rot my insides and my teeth then I would live on this stuff. However, I have the eroded tooth enamel to remind me of the damage I did to myself as an elite riding across America.

By the way, in a race situation, I go full bore with the cola and sports drink. In IM, I’ll nibble on a bar early on the bike to settle my digestion and make sure that I’m not working “too hard” too early.

Here’s what I recommend:

For your short days: Use nutrition for health and base your daily nutrition on real food and water.

For your intense days: Use sports nutrition to ensure your best athletic performance.

For your long days: Early season and during base training, use a mixture of real food and sports nutrition. In your specific preparation phase, use sports nutrition.

For your key race simulations: These must mirror your game plan for race day as closely as possible. Use the products -- and the intake rates -- that you’ll apply on game day. Assess your post-workout hunger, and weight loss, to see if you’re depleting yourself.

For your training camps: In the month before camp, schedule three or four long days to train your ability to tolerate sports nutrition. During camp, keep a steady but gradual intake of sports nutrition and easily digested foods. The time to tighten nutrition is 72 hours after camp completes. During camp and in the 48 hours after camp, don’t restrict yourself. If you are obsessive about your weight (most of us are) then prepare yourself mentally to gain weight across camp. This is normal and you’ll shed the excess weight in the week that follows camp.

Similar to training load, you’ll find that high performance nutrition often diverges from healthy nutrition.

To balance the blocks where you focus on performance, schedule blocks that focus on health.


Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog at coachgordo.wordpress.com.

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