This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of USA Triathlon Magazine.
By Bob Seebohar
Speed. It’s the triathlete’s partner in crime and sometimes a long lost friend that is hard to locate. Sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don’t. However, once you develop your physical ability to go fast, the last thing you want to do is waste too much time fumbling with consuming calories during the race. Nutrition when going fast is sometimes an art and can require a bit of ingenuity and know-how. I have witnessed many strange things in my years working with triathletes, and while some made sense, others have made me scratch my head. This article will shed some light on a few strategies you can use to feed yourself fast when you are going fast.
Let’s face it, nutrition is typically the missing link in a race plan. You have methodically planned your swim placement and best line to the buoy, mastered your first transition to be as fast as possible, chosen the proper bike equipment that improves your aerodynamic profile and may have even picked up some good running drills to minimize energy loss to bring you home to the finish with one goal: speed.
In order for you to methodically develop and implement your eating for speed plan, let me separate it into each sport. Below are some tricks that may assist you in your quest in eating fast.
Aside from having a floating aid station in the water (of which I have petitioned for at Ironman races), there is not much you can do nutritionally in the water. However, there are a few strategies to take before the swim that can facilitate a quick transition to the bike. One of the more popular ones taken from open water swimmers is to stuff your suit with some nutrition. Shove a gel down your suit and you have a very fast delivery of sugar to your body as you exit the water. Take the gel after you take your swim cap and goggles off or strip the top half of your wetsuit down before entering T1. Remember to slightly tear open the package beforehand so you do not have to fumble with it if your hands are cold. Add some water to the mix in the transition area and you have fast calories before you get on the bike.
The advent of products such as a Bento Box, aero water bottle (mounted in front with a long flexible tube to sip through) has made life much easier on the bike. Sometimes though, stashing your nutrition in the Bento Box on the top tube is too slow. Try placing gummies in the top portion of a front-mounted aero bottle or taping them to your aero bars. Other tricks that have been around for a while are to stick small pieces of an energy bar across your top tube or use electrical tape to affix your gels to the top tube in an almost domino fashion. Just remember to choose an energy bar that can be stuck onto your carbon, aluminum or titanium frame and be sure to only place the electrical tape across the top of the gel packet so that when you tear if off your top tube, it opens the gel in one action.
A great trick that can be done on the run (or bike) is to delicately place your electrolyte supplements (capsules or tablets) inside of energy bars or gels. This way, you do not have to fumble around with another container. However, chewing electrolyte supplements can often be a most unpleasant experience, so if you choose to do this, be sure to have a source of water immediately available. Also be sure, if you are doing this with a gel, to stick a piece of tape on the gel so it doesn’t all leak out.
I used to see athletes taping electrolyte tablets or capsules underneath the brim of their running hat although I have not seen this for some time. This poses problems with disintegration, especially with heavy sweaters who soak through their hat when racing in wet weather or if pouring water over the head.
To make electrolyte delivery quicker and with less flaw, there is a product called SaltStick that can certainly save precious seconds. This product fits inside the end of handlebars and can also be held or worn on a hydration belt. It is designed to hold a certain number of electrolyte capsules and is easy to use by just popping them out one by one.
No matter what you decide to try, eating for speed is much easier nowadays due to all of the great products on the market. However, using a bit of creativity with or without these products can go a long way. Experiment with different methods during training to see which is both easiest and quickest to use and remember, try it over and over. You should teach your body to eat for speed just as you train it to go fast.
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a Sport Dietitian, USAT Level III Elite Coach, USAT Youth and Junior Coach and an exercise physiologist. He was on the coaching team of Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist, and was the head coach of Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympic triathlete, and Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite National Champion. Bob was previously a sport dietitian for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the 2008 Olympic triathlon team. Bob has worked with hundreds of age-group triathletes and professionals to help them lose weight and body fat while optimizing performance through nutrition periodization and metabolic efficiency. Bob recently published a Metabolic Efficiency Recipe book with over 100 recipes that provides athletes even more options to follow metabolic efficiency training. Visit www.fuel4mance.com for more information.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.