Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nutrition and Fueling Update

With only four weeks to go until Ironman Lake Placid, I just realized that I've not written much about my experimentation with nutritional supplements and my race fueling regime. My experiments have mostly involved trying a few different things while out on long runs and rides and then making sure it's working in my one marathon and two half Ironman races. I also decided to try different daily supplements to find some combination of vitamins and minerals to get me through the stress and fatigue of Ironman training at my age.

I'm happy to report that my supplement regime didn't require much changing -- which was good for my budget. After switching from Hammer Nutrition's Premium Insurance Caps (PICs) to IMPaX Enerprime for a month, I noticed none of the health benefits claimed (more energy, greater endurance, better sleep, less stress, etc.). In fact, I noticed no changes at all, so I went back to the much-less-expensive PICs (1/3 the price). The original reason I switched was because Hammer changed the ingredients and removed the amino acid profile and some other ingredients. As a vegetarian, I tend to skimp on protein in my diet -- an amino acid supplement seems like a good idea. I was still in need of finding one, but I'll talk about that in a minute. I also take an iron supplement (prescribed by my doctor because of low iron levels that cause fatigue), and I have added Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to the supplement regime on the recommendation of several well-known triathlon coaches.

The next problem was to change my training/racing fueling regimen to eliminate nausea during long cycling sessions and races. I had been using Hammer Sustained Energy and Perpetuem for years, and, because of all the great claims and support, I wanted it to work for me, so I tried different concentrations and alternated with Hammergel for my long bike rides. It never completely worked. I'm keeping Hammergel for a fuel because it is one of the fastest-absorbing gels I've ever used, but I still needed to find that high-carbo drink component for the bike.

The quest began with only one constant: calories consumed per hour would remain around 250. I've read enough studies and done enough testing to know that there IS a limit to how many calories the body can absorb. Trying to cram more into my stomach won't make me absorb it any quicker.

The first thing to work on was composition. Carbohydrates and protein. There are two schools of thought when it comes to during-race fueling: those who believe you need protein and those who believe you don't. For the pro-protein camp, there is further disagreement about what type of protein: whey or soy. I read many articles and blogs and the most compelling was a recent blog about a study to determine if protein ingestion enhances performance. (Unfortunately, because the study involved only an hour of cycling, I don't know if it can be trusted to assess Ironman racing.) The author's assessment of protein was that it slows down digestion and caused him to vomit. Bingo! Maybe that was my problem.

But before I read that, my own personal experimentation involved trying Accelerade instead of Perpetuem. Accelerade has whey protein in a 4:1 ratio (carbs:protein), and Perpetuem has soy protein in a 7:1 ratio. Big difference. Accelerade also has sucrose as it's carb component whereas Perpetuem has maltodextrin. Confusing? Yep. My first few rides with Accelerade were marked by no nausea. Hmm.. at that point I was thinking I just needed MORE protein.

Then, because I'm a scatterbrain, I ran out of Accelerade with no time to go shopping. I had an old can of something called Extran -- basically a no-protein drink powder of glucose, vitamin B1 and lemon flavor. I "Acceleraded" it by adding soy protein in a 4:1 ratio and got on the bike. THIS turned out to be the best fueling yet. Was it the glucose?

Before my next ride, I read a race-review blog from pro triathlete Amanda Lovato. She had recently won a 70.3 race and raved about her sponsor's product, E.F.S. Liquid Shot (from First Endurance). She also used something called Carbo-Pro (from SportQuest Direct) - a product I've also seen in the fueling regimen of other pro triathletes. I decided to try those two products -- and found a whole new line-up of endurance fuels and supplements from their manufacturers. With E.F.S. Liquid Shot, First Endurance claims to one-up traditional gels by not adding gelling agents, and packing in electrolytes and amino acids. They claim the amino acids are better than regular protein because your body gets the energy without having to break down the protein. Thus, it does not slow down digestion. I bought it. I also ordered Carbo-Pro, which, like Extran is basically glucose powder. I tried alternating it with the E.F.S. shot on my next long ride.

To make a long story short -- this is now my fueling regimen for long training and racing -- alternating Carbo-Pro and E.F.S. Liquid Shot at a consumption rate of about 250 calories per hour. I add Hammer's Endurolytes and Heed on really hot days. I've done this several times now with two half-Ironman bike legs to prove it works. No nausea. No light-headedness. Energy for the run. For a half, I usually don't need anything other than Gatorade (on course) and water for on the run, but for Ironman, I plan to take Gu Roctane with me on the run because its been proven in marathon training and racing.

The only problem left to solve was that amino acid daily supplement thing. This is where luck came in. SportQuest Direct had a product that fit perfectly: Recover Amino Power (RAP). I ordered a bottle (capsules) and have been supplementing with it. Something must be working because when I think I shouldn't have energy for one more workout, I take it, go to sleep, and wake up with the ability to push my muscles hard yet again.

I've heard so many fueling recommendations throughout the years and my only conclusion is this: unless you have a stomach of steel, it's a long process to find the perfect race fueling for Ironman. If you do it wrong, it can ruin your race. But erring on the side of not enough seems to be more-recoverable than too much. Anyway, as they say, nutrition is the "fourth discipline" of triathlon. I just hope I get it right this time.

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