Your First Long Distance Triathlon – What’s for Lunch?

author : BrianPBN
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Brian Shea is the Owner and CEO of Personal Best Nutrition and a certified triathlon coach through U.S.A. Triathlon. Plus he’s a favorite here at Beginnertriathlete.com helping out whenever necessary. We all loved his series on his trip to Kona and competing in the IronMan. We all remember reading his detailed logs on how much he ate, drank and planned to eat during training and during the race. Today he takes that nutrition expertise and begins a series on planning nutrition for Long Distance Triathlons.


By Brian Shea, B.T.com Contributing Writer

A very important and often overlooked aspect of the ‘long’ distance triathlon is the nutritional component. What you consume during the race is just as critical to your success in crossing the finish line. If you don’t take in enough calories or fluids, then that perfectly scripted race you’d hope to execute could turn into the dreaded three letter word triathletes fear the most - DNF (Did Not Finish). Just as you plan your swim, bike and run workouts, an equal amount of time should be spent planning your race day menu.

As it pertains to this series, we will define ‘long’ as any distance equal to or above the Olympic/International (1.5km swim + 40km bike + 10km run). Obviously the term ‘long’ is relative to the individual athlete, but the Olympic distance is usually the first step a beginner triathlete takes towards the Holy Grail of all triathlons – THE IRONMAN™.


Why Eat?


Even if an Iron-distance triathlon is not on your near-term race calendar, the Olympic distance triathlon offers the beginner triathlete many of the same nutritional challenges. Remember, this is an event which will probably take you somewhere between two to three hours to complete – not an easy feat! Very often this distance is the first time an athlete will take notice in the importance of a well-designed nutritional strategy. As every veteran athlete can attest, a non-existent or ill planned ‘race meal plan’ will leave you falling far short of your goals or even worse, in the medical tent. The good news is that your nutritional plan, as with just about every other aspect of the race, can be practiced again and again so when your big race finally arrives, nothing is left to chance.

Today we will simply address the basics…‘Why do I need to worry about my nutrition in a long distance race – I’ve heard that water is enough?’

For the beginner triathlete, many times you may have relied 100 percent on water as your only form of ‘nutrition’ in both training and racing. You’ve seen those fancy gels and confusing powdered formulas? Those are only for those fast guys and gals at the front of the race – right?!? Wrong! As a matter of fact, the elite athlete's need for calories may actually be less than that of the first timer because his or her system is typically a better conditioned ‘fat-burning machine’.


Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate


First and foremost, hydration is the most important nutritional factor to your success at any endurance event. As little as a 1 percent drop in body weight (just 1.5lbs for a 150lb athlete), can cause a 15 percent decrease in bodily function and performance. How would you like those 10 minute-miles you’ve been running to drop to 11:30’s just because you neglected your fluid intake? You’ve just added 10 minutes or more to your Olympic distance finish time just because you didn’t drink enough! It’s not uncommon for most athletes to lose between one to three quarts of water per hour of intense exercise. What does this mean to you? Remember our 150lb friend, if he hasn’t taken in adequate hydration, 90 minutes into his inaugural Olympic distance triathlon he’s lost between 3-4lbs of fluid. Remember what happened to his performance when he dropped just 1.5lbs…what happens when the drop is twice as much?!? It looks like it’s going to be a very long 10km run for our friend!

Replenishing these fluids which are lost during exercise is crucial. When the body is depleted of fluid through sweating, body temperature elevates and exercise performance drops as demonstrated above.

It’s All About The Water – And More!


‘OK I get it; I know how important it is to get these fluids in which is why I’ve been drinking water. Why do I need all that other stuff?'

Although rehydration is the most important function of any sports drink and almost all sports drinks do an excellent job in this regard (as does water), their redeeming quality is they also contain nutrients which support energy production. In addition to fluids, muscles also need energy to work optimally and that energy needs to be consumed. That's why sports drinks are better than water since most contain carbohydrates (the ideal amount is six to eight percent). The inherent problem with water is that:

  1. Water Has No Taste: Water is obviously flavorless and therefore athletes tend to drink less of it vs. something that has a flavor which the athlete finds favorable. There have been numerous studies indicating athletes tend to drink more of a flavored beverage than plain water.

  2. Water Contains No Carbohydrates or Protein: Water has neither of these critical macronutrients which play an important role in fueling working muscles. Carbohydrates have been a mainstay of sports drinks for years and are the most important calorie source during a long distance triathlon. In upcoming articles we will address the specific differences between carbohydrates as it’s important to understand they are not all created equal. In addition to carbohydrates, recent research has indicated the importance of also including protein in your fluid replacement drink.

  3. Water Does Not Contain Electrolytes: Plain water does not contain any electrolytes. The replacement of key electrolytes such as potassium and sodium play a critical role in many bodily functions especially during periods of intense exercise.

In our next installment we will go into greater detail calculating your individual calorie needs as well as specifics of calorie sources.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me either through the PBN Forum or via e-mail (as noted below).

Good luck planning your season, see you at the races!!
 



Brian Shea is the Owner and CEO of Personal Best Nutrition and a certified triathlon coach through U.S.A. Triathlon. Mr. Shea is also an accomplished endurance athlete himself having competed in over 100 triathlons and marathons, including the Ironman Hawaii World Championships™ with a 9:31 personal best. Most recently, he was honored for his achievements with an All American ranking by U.S.A Triathlon. As a coach, he has worked with athletes of all abilities from the United States and abroad, formulating training and sports nutrition programs for optimum performance. He can be contacted at Brian@PersonalBestNutrition.com

 

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date: January 24, 2005

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BrianPBN

Brian has been competing in triathlons for over 13 years and has completed over 100 events including 6 Ironman Triathlons w/ a 9:31 PB.

On the coaching side, he is a USAT certified coach and has worked with athletes ranging from beginners to professionals. Brian is also Owner/President of Personal Best Nutrition, a nutritional supplement resource specifically catering to the needs of endurance athletes.

Author

avatarBrianPBN

Brian has been competing in triathlons for over 13 years and has completed over 100 events including 6 Ironman Triathlons w/ a 9:31 PB.

On the coaching side, he is a USAT certified coach and has worked with athletes ranging from beginners to professionals. Brian is also Owner/President of Personal Best Nutrition, a nutritional supplement resource specifically catering to the needs of endurance athletes.

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