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Half Ironman Race Nutrition for the Cheap Triathlete

If I’m going to be paying $400 to do a triathlon it better be open bar on the sports nutrition and be damned if I’m BYOing it. Scientifically speaking, you need 70g-90g carbs/hr for optimal performance at these type of things. If you’re capable of holding one of your arms out while riding a bike you can accomplish this using one bike water bottle and cage and a little bit of planning. Well to be honest, I did last year’s Santa Cruz 70.3 without much planning, just drank and shoved stuff in my mouth, but I realize some of you get uptight about this stuff so I’m going to lay a “strategy” out here for you from my vague recollections of the event and a bit of formal research I’ve done since. I’ll do it for the pace schedule I did last year and you can adjust for your pace. I don’t really like to use myself as an example because, y’know, sample size of one and individual variability BUT I am proof it is possible to fuel yourself with on course nutrition unscathed.

On-course nutrition that I used:

  • 710ml bottles of orange gatorade (22g).

  • Packs of 8 clif blocks (8g each block)

  • Clif Shots (23g each)

  • 6oz Coke cups? (25g each)

Hours 0:00 - 1:00 - Carbs: 30g (Large Bottle 900ml Sports Drink)

OK. So I cheat right off the bat here cos often I buy a Gatorade ($1.99) the night before to pour in my old oversized water bottle (900ml) which I plan on throwing away (so sad) at the first aid station. I usually use a different flavor than what's on the course because variety. I’m usually out of T1 at about 0:30. I also usually ride for about 10 minutes before attempting any fuelling to let my tummy settle down then I try and drink most of the bottle in the next 20 to 30 minutes. So I don’t get the recommended dose in the first hour but hey, I’ve had breakfast and been tapering and eating all week so my glycogen stores are well stocked.

Hours 1:00 - 2:00 Carbs: 70g (Bottle of Gatorade, 8 Clif Blocks)

The first aid station comes at about 1:10 for me (14 mile mark). Take a look at page 19 of the athlete guide for a map. Ya have to keep your wits about you but this is what I do: Throw my empty bottle I bought with me away as I approach, replace it with a bottle of gatorade which I put straight in my cage, grab clif blocks and water if I can, shove about 3 clif blocks in my mouth and wash it down with a few gulps of water, then throw the water away, put the remaining blocks in my pocket. First aid station done.

The second aid station comes at about 1:55 (29 mile mark). I might eat the remaining 2 clif blocks before I get there (it’s up a slight incline and easy to see). Throw my empty Gatorade bottle and replace it with a new one, grab 2-3 clif shots to put in my pocket and then grab a water to wash down the blocks i just ate.

Hours 2:00 - 3:00 Carbs: 84g (2 clif blocks, Bottle of Gatorade, 2 clif shots)

By this time I’m usually busting for a leak and I usually try and take care of this on the long decent down to Waddell Creek which I believe is at about 35 miles. I’m not good at relaxing on the bike to do this but I have my best chance while not pedaling and coasting down a hill. After that I feel so much better and feel like drinking again. The third aid station is at 2:35 (43 miles). Same drill. I will have saved some blocks or shots from the previous stations in my pockets so I may not even need to pick up anything solid but I’ll always do the Gatorade exchange and I always try to eat in the few hundred yards before the aid station so I can wash it down with water (not gatorade).

Hours 3:00 - 4:00 Carbs: 85g (Gatorade, 5 clif blocks, 1 clif shot)

Coming into town now I really try and get as much solids/gels in as possible so I don’t have to do solids at all during the run. So I wash down some more blocks and shots with the Gatorade from the 3rd aid station and try and get most of my carbs in for this hour before getting off the bike which happened at 3:15 last year.

While I’m here at T2 let me say something. NOTHING drives me more crazy watching a triathlon than people standing in transition and drinking from a bike bottle. You’ve literally had NOTHING to do for the last 2.5 - 3 hours but sit on your bike, apply force to the pedals, and drink from a bottle. NOW you want to stand there and drink when you’re not moving? You know the clock’s still ticking, right? Rant complete...

Hours 4:00 - 5:00 Carbs: 80g (Coke, Gatorade, Water, 2 clif shots)

I’m usually sick of gatorade by this point and well hydrated so I’ll mostly be drinking coke at the aid stations and wash down a clif shot with water at say 4:00 and 4:30 in the race. Again I like to wait a little out of T2 to let my body get used to running before trying a shot. There are plenty of aid stations around so I don’t usually have to schedule it out more than that. I'll also go for anything with caffeine in it at this point.

Hours 5:00 - 5:10

If you’re bonking at this point in the race nothing’s going to bring you back so no point trying to eat this late in the race. In fact there’s not much point fueling with anything in the last 20 mins IMHO. If you’ve messed it up by then, you’ve messed it up. There's plenty to eat at the post-race buffet.

I was in no real form to race last year but I didn’t bonk, ran pretty consistent pace for the half marathon, and I didn’t have any gastro issues. I also didn’t get a cramp. I sweat like a pig but Gatorade endurance formula has a ton more sodium than regular Gatorade and is formulated to replace what the sweat takes out (so they say) so I figure I’m be good for sodium intake. People say that salts tabs have saved them but I wonder how much of that is psychological. I still think cramps are mostly a neuro-muscular fatigue thing and not an electrolyte imbalance but that’s a debate for another day so if you believe you need extra salt things then you do you.

Total nutrition expenses: Gatorade ($1.99) + 1 old bike water bottle.

If you want to know everything about the topic of sports nutrition that’s not completely biased by marketing this 2019 guide is perfect. Featuring contributions from my lifelong sports nutrition hero Louise Burke.

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