Nutrition Thoughts for Fast Racing


Race Nutrition: 

You need to practice this on your long training days to dial it in for races. Have a read through what I've written below. Combine your experiences of what's worked for you and the following advice to build a plan to try in training and then use for racing.

In the 3-4 days before the race, you can try to eliminate Gluten foods as much as possible. Aim for things like potato, sweet potato, quinoa, rice, lean proteins, eggs, fish, chicken (avoid red meat).

In my experience, taking a SALT TABLET into the gut at once can, and does, have catastrophic effect, as it is way too concentrated. A better plan I have found is to slip half a tablet under the tongue and let it melt, or use salt directly in the drink bottle. The key is not to defeat the purpose. I really like the product "The Right Stuff.” I add one of these vials to each bottle rather than using salt tablets.

My favorite way to fuel and carry nutrition on the bike-

Another favorite is maltodextrin at 350 cal in a large 750 ml water bottle with ¼ of a teaspoon of salt in each bottle, plus one scoop of flavored drink mix for flavor. The additional salt also takes away the overly sweet taste of maltodextrin.

A 750 ml bottle with 300 cal of maltodextrin with ¼ teaspoon of salt would be the maximum needed - one of these per hour along with a gel per hour covers the minimum requirements of calorie and sodium, with no other food at all.


Males may need slightly more calorie intake, but not double, as most seem to advocate. The body just can't process it fast enough and it stresses the GI system.

Before Race:

Two nights before is the time for a main meal of carbs; I don’t say “big.” People can go stupid at those dinners and leave their race at the table. Just a good-sized meal, not excessive, is used to refill the glycogen that is depleted from the (reduced) training load in your taper.


Day Before Nutrition: 

Breakfast is the main, and in most cases, last whole food meal before the race. Try pancakes and something with some good fat, such as eggs or avocado.


Protein shakes, sports drinks you're used to, things that turn to liquid in the mouth on touch. 

Ice cream and/or chocolate as the day progresses. Stick with easy-to-digest simple carbs and protein from easily digestible sources such as fish, chicken, eggs. Stay away from anything full of fiber or spices and heavy meats.


Pre-Race Meal: 

400 cal is fine; some athletes  may need 600-800, but no more; consume 2-3 hours before the start.


Electrolyte drink before the start; just sipping on a mix until 30 minutes before the start.


Remember, you can only absorb so much when you're going at 80% of your best effort.



Rule of thumb: 1 liter per hour; 750 ml of mixed calorie solution; 250 ml in water to wash down anything else you may eat.


Solid and/or Gel Calories.



A gel 15-30 min before the start should be fine.



300-400 cal per hour should be the average, but any intake should have been proven to work in training without any major GI and/or energy issues.


Women may be able to feel great on a little less, while men may need more. Some bigger males may need up to 600/hour, but above that, tests have shown each individual has different rejection levels. This is a trial and error process, but once above 600, it is possible that you are going to overload and cause gastric problems. In hotter races, you need less!! In colder races, you need more. Hot races require more water and more salt with fewer calories. Colder races require more calories.


Don’t try to eat the first 10 minutes on the bike; just sip water in this time period. Let the system and blood flow settle into a normal pattern for racing before taking on calories.


Fluid fueling is much more efficiently dealt with. If you're going to use solids, use them in the first half of the bike, then switch to liquid.


Coke - This is a solution on the run, but always towards the ½ way. Many started to use it on the bike; my advice was for the caffeine it delivered, not the sugar. Some have used caffeine tabs instead and have reported the same benefit without the onset of the sugardoodle that can come with coke or candy eaten too early in the race. So the practice of Coke should be phased out until at least the last ½ of the run. If you still like it, it does supply a refreshing change to what you have had the last 6 hours.


If you mix your bottle correctly, and count the sports drink calories, there is most likely no need for solid fuel while racing. It can cause a lot of distress, especially in hot races. Those that still like something solid take a chocolate bar. Chocolate breaks down into liquid within two minutes of swallowing. A banana also works well to grab from aid stations. It qualifies as a liquid. A bar does not. It is a solid if it doesn't “melt in the mouth.”



I believe this is a real problem. Most think, “Okay, I have eaten or drank all the calories I need on the bike, and now the run is about hydration and electrolytes.” No, that is not all you need!! You must still have calories. Again, you must know what is going to be out on that course and how many calories are in the sports drink. Why? Because you will find it hard to drink a liter every hour while running fast. But you still need those calories, and especially in the first two hours. 

This is where I advocate two things: a small bottle of 500ml of fluid and 200-300 calories out of the transition in the first 2-3 miles. Why? To keep you from running out too fast and to make sure you put some calories in, which will be used later in the day. Don’t blast out of the transition to the cheers of the crowd all pumped up, and then go around the corner after 1 km and suffer the letdown. Use this time to adjust to the run, and then get the motor running, warm it up, and charge down the highway.


So many racers are destroyed by not getting the body into rhythm and getting their run legs under them. Build into it. If you have fed right on the bike, you will run well. But you must get the food right for the run and keep fueling. 


The last 30 km can be viewed as sports drink and gels that will be more than adequate to get you home without depletion or shutting down. Plus, the fact you don’t have a full stomach, lower intestine, and bowels will help your run enormously. Minimize the chances of gastric problems, minimize the toilet stops. Using glucose tablets in the last 90 minutes can be helpful.


General Rules of Thumb: 

If everything tastes too watery, then you need something salty at the aid station. On the run, if everything is tasting too sweet, it’s a big sign of dehydration, and you need water. Take in many small mouthfuls.


If you start to get goosebumps and it’s hot out you might need more salt.

Make sure you have those gels with sodium in them on the run. As the salt drops below a certain level, it will affect the body in processing the glucose.


If you feel you got it wrong, stop at the aid station and drink a full bottle of Gatorade or something, and eat something. Then jog off easy, and in 5 minutes you could have rebooted yourself back to race pace, only dropping a minute or two, thus keeping yourself in the hunt. So many just wind down until it’s a creep and say, “I got it wrong.” Make the courageous call. Stop, replenish, and build again. It could save your race.


This is not the Bible of eating for an Ironman. It’s meant to provoke some thought about what you do and where you may be missing some valuable advice.

NutritionPK Steffen