Racing Ironman triathlon is an athletic feat in a league of it's own. Most humans shudder at the thought or running a marathon...and can hardly comprehend running a marathon AFTER riding a bike for over 100 miles, on top of an hour long (or longer) swim. But that's all in a day's work as an Ironman. As all triathletes know, the sport is "swim, bike, run...nutrition." Nutrition is really the fourth discipline, and when it comes to racing in the harsh, hot, humid, and unforgiving conditions in triathlon's marque event, the Ironman Champs in Kona, Hawaii, the importance of nutrition takes on a whole new significance. We asked Field Work Nutrition Co-founder Jesse Kropelnicki, who has coached many, many top performances in the lava fields of Kona, for a list of his do's and don'ts for nutrition for any triathlete racing Kona...enjoy!
10 Nutrition Do's and Don’ts of Kona Ironman World Championship Fueling
Every year around now, a couple of thousand athletes brainstorm as part of their final IRONMAN Kona prep, on how not to let nutrition and fueling be the downfall of their race on the Big Island. Over the past 15 years, I have coached over 40 athletes through the race in Kona, and have been in person to watch the race at least 10 of those years (not to mention have raced it a few times myself). Throughout those experiences, I can say without a doubt that the largest potential limiter athletes face on the big Island is nutrition! With that in mind, I’ve put together ten do’s and don’ts to help ensure nutrition success for your race in Kona.
1. DO have a plan for your race nutrition including the days leading into the race, your breakfast the morning of, and of course what and how much you will eat and drink during the race. Race fueling can make or break your day in Kona. Help it to MAKE it a success!
2. DO NOT make water part of that race day plan. Water only provides fluid and not the precious and important simple sugars and sodium that you will need tons of to get you through the lava fields. Sports drink (such as Gatorade Endurance), on the other hand, can provide fluid, sodium and simples sugars – everything all in one place! I call these the big three. Save the water on course to dump on your head to help keep you cool.
3. DO plan on drinking up to two times the amount you would normally drink per hour for an Ironman distance event, especially in the first few hours of the bike, in Kona. This will help you get ahead of the game and stay as hydrated as possible heading into the run. A good measure of your hydration status is if you pee twice on the bike. If you can do this, you’ve set yourself up for a good run, hydration wise! Its always easier to get ahead on fluids early during the bike when the heat and relative intensity is a bit lower.
4. DO NOT leave home without your electrolyte supplement. If it’s not something you need routinely, at least have some with you “just in case!” Most of the time though, as long as you drink a good quality sports drink with at least 500mg of sodium per 24oz bottle, and drink enough of it to pee twice, you will get enough sodium to satisfy your needs.
5. DO practice your race nutrition for all training sessions in your build to Kona. You must train your gut just as much, if not more (!), than your swim, bike, run! This includes drinking more than you would normally to prepare your gut for the volume of fluid you will take on race day. Specifically, I always recommend that athletes drink 50% more than their race day plan the final 10 days before their race in Kona to specifically acclimate the gut. This means in a normal Ironman if you drink a bottle an hour to pee twice, in Kona you probably need two and therefore the final 10 days before the race you should be drinking three per hour!
6. DO NOT expect your nutrition to go perfectly on race day. Kona is hot and that often times makes nutrition a challenge! If your stomach is starting to go south, slow down, let your heart rate come down, bring your core temperature down with ice and water and THEN your GI system should start to function again!
7. DO plan on a carbohydrate load the days leading into the race. This should include about 40% more carbohydrate than your baseline needs two days before the race and additional 60% more carbohydrate the day before the race. Keep your food choices simple and easy to digest. A nice way to get in easy and healthy carbohydrate during the days leading in, is a smoothie with Field Work Primo Smoothie base, frozen fruit and vanilla almond milk. This will be a refreshing treat in the Kona heat!
8. DO NOT consume too much fiber and fat the days leading into the race. Reduce your intake of whole grains, fresh vegetables, and greasy or fatty foods. Fat and fiber are two nutrients that are tough on the system and slow to digest. You want to give your GI tract as easy of a time as possible the days leading in and the day of the race!
9. DO plan on making your race morning breakfast on the low fiber and fat side, as well. Race morning breakfast should include fluid, some protein, simple carbohydrates and electrolytes. An example of this might be a smoothie with Field Work Primo Smoothie base (2 scoops) in 12oz water and a banana and ice, some amount of unsweetened apple sauce (1-3 cups depending on your size) and a full bottle of sports drink. All this about 3 hours before the start of the race.
10. DO NOT take in caffeine as you normally would during race week. Taper your daily intake throughout the week with the goal of no caffeine on Friday, the day before the race. This will help make your caffeine on race day a more powerful punch! Once you get into race day, wait until the half way point on the bike to start taking caffeine. Once you do, build it throughout the day so you have it when you need it most…the closing stages of the marathon!
Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite/pro level triathlon coach who founded the QT2 Systems brand (www.qt2systems.com) of endurance preparation businesses, including The Core Diet (www.thecorediet.com) and is the cofounder of the Field Work Nutrition Co (www.fieldworknutrition.com). He is the triathlon coach of many professional athletes including Linsey Corbin, Jeanni Seymour, Justin Metzler, Jocelyn McCauley, and Jodie Robertson among others. His interests are in coaching professional triathletes using quantitative training and nutrition protocols. He is a USAT Level III Certified Coach and author of the book “The Endurance Training Diet & Cookbook: The How, When, and What for Fueling Runners and Triathletes to Improve Performance."