Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ironman Food

Quite a few people have asked "What the heck do you eat for that thing?"  This mostly comes from people who don't ride, run, or even exercise.  One woman asked "Do they feed you between the...things. Like after all that swimming and then between the other stuff?"  Its hard to explain it to someone like that because their knowledge of sports supplements or energy food is pretty much limited to Gatorade and PowerBars (they have become the Kleenix of sports foods), and RedBull. So to explain what a "gel" is, is a whole separate conversation that they have trouble wrapping their mind around.  Anyway... before I bore you with an explanation of  how I decided to consume what I did during Ironman, here's a list of what I took in (explanation follows if interested):

Before race started--morning of:
  • Large bowl of Trader Joes' Frosted Shedded Wheat with organic soymilk about 2 hrs before start time (about 400 calories)
  • 16 oz of Gatorade (100 cals)
  • misc sips of water
  • 3 Clif Bloks about 15 min before swim start (100 cals per 3 bloks)
On the Bike:
  • 15 Clif Bloks (100 cals per 3 bloks)
  • 4 bottles of HEED sports drink (100 calories per bottle)
  • one 20 oz Coke (240 cals; warm, but still carbonated)
  • 1 - 2 bottles of water (20-30 oz total??)
  • Two Almond Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, but only ate 1.5 (approx 400 calories per full sandwich)
  • half bottle of PowerBar Perform sports drink
On the Run:
  • 1 Clif Blok (a whopping 33 cals)
  • 20 oz(?) of Pepsi
  • 10 - 20 oz of PowerBar Perform sports drink
  • 20 oz water/ice
  • a pound of grapes (no idea how much really, but I ate a lot of them)
  • 1/3 of a banana
  • 3 orange wedges
A Little Background on the Food During the Race
This may bore you, but hopefully you get something out of it.  I am recounting the experience of what I ate during the race so 1) if you're thinking of doing a long course race, you could maybe skip some experimental trial & error during your planning, and 2) this is for my records so I can remember it while its still fresh in my head.

It wasn't until July that I started to try to figure out what I would/could/should eat and drink during the Ironman.  I ended up with a jug of HEED drink mix (Hammer Nutrition) from a drawing at the Rochesterfest triathlon, but never cared for it in the past. I didn't mind it, but its not the best.  A friend gave me a bag of Clif Bloks, Chomps, and Hammer Gels she got at a race because she said she doesn't do long races and doesn't have a need for them.  I didn't want to use gels on the long rides/runs unless absolutely necessary. To me, gels feel like you're just drinking something thicker, then washing it down with water--the result being a sports drink in your stomach.  I didn't have good experience with Clif Bloks in the past, but love the taste and chewiness so I decided to try those again.  Many people make a concentrated drink that is somewhat thick, but calorie dense. They sip that followed by water throughout the ride. That did not appeal to me.  I wanted some solids.  So, thru July and August I experimented with HEED for the sports drink and for the solids I tried Bloks, and the Chomps, and sandwiches.  One thing I knew would change the way these "went down" was the fact that you aren't red-lining in long races, rides, and runs. Well, not me anyway.  You're moving at a tolerable pace.  If you're eating food that isn't too acidic, its almost impossible to have GI problems. If you are eating highly acidic foods, you need to experiment and see what will digest without adverse affects.  Acidity vs. alkaline... I don't want to make this complicated, but pretty much anything in its raw state is either highly alkaline (opposite of acidic), neutral, or slightly acidic.  For arguments sake, most any raw fruit or vegetable food is alkaline--many are highly alkaline.  Contrary to popular belief, raw oranges, grapes, grapefruit, lemon, lime, etc are alkaline and would actually calm a sour/upset stomach and encourage digestion of foods that you may be having trouble getting to move along thru your system, and can potentially reverse a GI issue while its happening.    HOWEVER, when those fruits/juices are processed, cooked, pasteurized, sugared up, or put thru some other form of processing it changes their 'makeup' and they are less alkaline, often times turn acidic, and could cause issues.  So, real fruit would be a great choice for energy food, right?  Sort of... although you get high water content and naturaly sugar energy from fruit you're only getting a modest amount of calories relative to the space it would take up on the bike (a medium to large apple is only 100-130 calories).  For the most part, if you don't want to worry (as much) about GI problems, and also get enough energy for the long haul, you have to compromise and find things that are minimally processed, packed with energy (calories) and convenient to carry and consume.  Clif Bloks are processed, but they digest quick and you feel like you're actually eating something.  They are on the acidic side of things, but contain very natural ingredients when compared to other supplements.  I experimented with those and they seemed to work well.  I still wanted something more solid--like a sandwich.  Not the most convenient, but with a Bento Box, its doable.  I love PBJ's so I thought I would give that a shot.  Wheat bread is packed with energy, but digests slow.  White bread is on the high end of being acidic.  Some brands top the acidic chart--its processed, cooked, and usually has a million artificial ingredients and preservatives, but the plus side is that its also high calorie for space it takes up.  I decided to use a minimally processed white bread--I went with Great Harvest white.  Compared to the 50 ingredient list on 'off the shelf' bread in a grocery store, Great Harvest has 5 to 6 ingredients, no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors.  Peanut butter is highly acidic, but has essential fats, and a lot of calories.  To lower the acidity, I went with raw unsalted almond butter and low sugar preserves.  Raw almond butter is simple: Unroasted almonds ground up into a paste vs. roasted, salted ones.  I went with a low sugar preserve for the jelly (not sweetened with artificial sweeteners).  Trader Joe's has both.  When all said and done, a two-slice sandwich packs around 400 calories!  I used the HEED, sandwiches and Clif Bloks during long rides and during the Chisago Half Iron and TriStar 111 and everything worked fine so that was the plan for IM.

My bike was loaded down and I didn't use the Bike Course Special Needs bag they provided.  Instead I wanted to carry everything I needed.  I had 3 large bottles of Heed, the Aero Drink was filled with Heed, a 20 oz Coke and a sandwich in the Bento Box--all on my bike.  In my jersey pockets I had another whole sandwich, and 15 Clif Bloks. The Bloks come in packs of 6 that I cut in half so I'd have a serving of 3 ready to grab.  As soon as I started riding I was sipping on the Heed.  When I was on the bike for 30 minutes I had a half sandwich; 30 minutes later, 3 Clif Bloks.  Then I alternated half sandwich, 3 bloks, drinking Heed thru out.  For some reason I was going thru the Heed pretty fast.  I saved one bottle for the last 20 miles so at some point I grabbed a bottle of PowerBar Perform and a bottle of water as I passed a feed-zone and went to work on those.  I never trained with Perform, but I figured if I have it early enough and its out of my stomach long before I run, I'd be fine.  It worked and it was nice to have a different taste.  At about 70 miles into the bike ride I stopped and drank half the Coke. About 20 miles later I drank the rest of it.  I FELT GREAT on the ride back to Madison. I had one half of a sandwich left, took two bites and was sick of it--couldn't eat anymore of that.

Knowing they'd have cola on the run course I experimented with Coke during long rides and runs. Surprisingly, I could run a 7 to 7.5 min pace, swing home after about 6 miles, slam a half a sandwich or some Clif Bloks and a half a Coke, go back out running and I felt fine. Yes, the Coke was carbonated. I thought t was odd that I didn't get sick, but sometimes you need not question why something works, just accept that it does and move on.

If you read my re-cap of the race, you know it was my own dang fault that I had trouble with the run due to starting WAY TOO fast.  I had 15 more Clif Bloks in a pouch on my Fuelbelt and ate just one Blok throughout the run.  I had a whole sandwich and a bottle of diluted Heed at the Run Special Needs area that was accessable on the out when you start the run, or when you start the second 13.1 mile lap.  I was not in the mood for it at either passing.  After the near total bonk experience after the first 4 miles of the run, I wanted nothing to do with food--or at least not the same food I had been eating all day. I did continue to drink as much as I could in small amounts.  Pepsi, Perform, water, chewed on ice....  Eventually I was craving the taste of something chewable and sweet so I started with a small chunk of a banana, then went for some grapes and oranges.  Before long, I bounced back a bit.  Have you ever been sick--down and out in bed with the body aches and total exhaustion, but then at some point you suddenly feel almost normal again?  I felt like I was walking in that state while on the course then with the flip of a switch I felt pretty good. 
I could go on with more miscellaneous details of little or no value, but that's about all I feel like writing.  Again, this post took a couple weeks to write....
Ride On!

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