Save Your Race! Nutrition and Hydration Planning

By LifeSport Coach Jessica Adams

Nutrition and Hydration Planning: Save Your Race and Optimize Pace

Fuel planning and execution is often called the fourth discipline in triathlon.  If you don't have a solid nutrition and hydration plan in place that you have tested out during training, your whole race can go down the tubes no matter how much training preparation you have done.  This unfortunate situation happens all too often and is easily avoided with diligent planning and consultation with your coach.  Even with unforeseen events, such as a heat wave, throwing a wrench into your nutrition plan your plan can be adjusted so that you still have as optimal a performance as possible under more strenuous conditions than you may be used to.  I had an athlete racing the Wildflower Long Distance event. Southern California in May can vary in temperature from 20°C to above 40°C.  In Shannon's case the temperature decided to verge on the 40°C side. Below, I outline a fuel and hydration strategy for Shannon and how we ensured she could maximize her potential on race day.

Your body reacts to training and racing in the heat, and understanding this will help you grasp the importance of nutrition and hydration.  Heat is dissipated from your body by blood travelling to the surface of your skin which allows for sweating. The hotter it is the more blood is needed, therefore there is less blood being delivered to your working muscles and as well to your organs such as your stomach. This is why times will be appear significantly slower during intensely hot and humid races. This means that you will have to reconsider your pacing strategy as well as your nutrition intake on a very hot day. Your heart rate is also going to rise as your body tries extra hard to get that remaining oxygenated blood to those muscles that are needing it, and this will also affect your pacing.

For Shannon we planned out some new strategies to ensure she got through the event as ideally as possible.  First we discussed pacing.  On a day as hot as this, heart rate can be between 5-10 beats higher than normal at the same pace. She was going to need to dial back her pace a little to keep her heart rate in the desired zone on both the bike and the run (paces that she had trained in and planned for).  It was important for her to remember that everyone else is racing in the same heat and unless they have been acclimatized for a while they will be going through the same thing. 

Next we talked about nutrition and hydration.  As there is less blood being delivered to the stomach in the heat we strategized to intake her calories as much as we could in liquid form. This would be less taxing on her stomach and allow her nutrition to be absorbed and distributed with less strain on her system.  However, she needed to be careful not to intake more fluid that her body could handle.  In training she was able to intake 750ml/hr so we stuck to that volume and balanced out the calories according to her nutrition plan for the day.

Finally we discussed electrolyte intake.  Shannon had practiced using salt tablets on hot days in training so we knew her body could handle supplementing.  Based on what she was able to consume in training we decided to increase her sodium intake by 250mg/hr on top of what she was already planning for given the conditions.  She also ate meals with an increased salt content on the days leading in to the race knowing the heat wave was on the way.

Shannon ended up having a great day. Although it was tough, the adjustments we made to her race day plan helped her to stay strong physically and mentally, she avoided cramping, and she finished better in her age group than she had hoped for despite slowing herself down a little. The key was to stay steady, have confidence in her strategy, and stick to her nutrition plan!

LifeSport coach Jessica Adams is not only a NCCP certified coach but a NCAC trained Triathlon Coach. Her philosophy is Every athlete is an individual, with different needs.  Programs need to be tailored to suit the athlete's abilities and goals.  My job is to understand what these are, and design a program to guide them to success”. Contact Jess to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance. Find more great training tips by joining us on Visit us Twitter | Facebook | Instagram  

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