March 31, 2011

How to Avoid the Port-A-Potty Two-Step

I’ve been pretty fortunate when it comes to racing and nutrition.  In scores of triathlons, including 10 Ironman (IM) races, I’d never had a single nutrition issue on race day… until the 2009 Ironman Coeur d’Alene (IMCDA) race when all that changed.  My suffer-fest that day was a re-education in eating and racing, and in particular how to manage nutrition in the days leading up to the race.

It’s Not Just “Race Day” Nutrition

Someone once said “Good decisions come from experience.  Experience comes from bad decisions.”  That’s a good depiction of my race week nutrition prior to IMCDA.  It wasn’t about just one thing that I did wrong, it was the cumulative effect of the four days of poor dietary choices prior to race day, particularly the rich breakfasts at the B&B and then finally capping the whole thing off with the special pasta feed the night before the race.  The food was good – but that wasn’t the issue.  The problem was that I don’t normally eat that way, so doing it in the days leading up to the race was stupid.  Just how stupid?  Well there’s nothing like diarrhea first thing race morning to get your attention.  And believe me, it got mine.

I tried to push it out of my head but there was just something about slipping into my wetsuit wondering if I was going to need to dash to the bathroom.  Not a pretty picture.  Fortunately the swim went off without incident and once on the bike I knew that stopping was easier so I calmed down a bit.  So far, so good.

Coming off the bike my legs felt terrific and I was clicking off the miles.  I was having a great run!  I passed through the 8 mile mark in just over an hour, which is fast for me, fired down a gel… and that was it.  The gel triggered my port-a-potty dance number, and from that point on all I could do was pray that I could pass each aid station without being forced to make a sudden detour into one of them.  The good news is that it was cold that day so I was able to drink chicken broth for calories since the sweet options just made things worse.  On the down side let’s just say that I wasn’t the only one experiencing GI difficulties that day judging by the condition of the johns, and if you’re not he first one to use the facilities, it’s disgusting.

So, here are my GI-friendly recommendations for eating during the week leading up to the race:

1. Keep It Clean & Simple. Eat balanced meals (proteins, carbs and fats) consisting of whole foods (i.e., they look as close to the way they GROW or the way the GO) whenever possible and avoid junk food snacks.  A sample snack is an apple with nut butter.

2.  Hotel Room Nutrition.  Some of my favorites:

a.  Shakes/blended drinks:  I travel with a Magic Bullet portable blender.  It’s a great way to get balanced, quality calories.  Add some powdered greens to bump the nutrient and fiber content.

b.  Instant oatmeal

c.  Canned meats:  chicken, salmon, sardines

d.  Bananas, oranges, apples:   eat with some nut butter or a small handful of almonds, cashews, or walnuts for balance.

3.  Dining Out Strategies.

a.  Once again keep it simple:  avoid spicy food and heavy sauces, particularly cream and cheese sauces and look for broth-based soups to ease digestion.  Focus on whole foods with lean meats that are grilled, steamed or sautéed veggies and healthy carb options like rice, sweet potatoes, black beans, and things like that.

b.  Avoid junk food as much as possible…cheese burgers and fries are really not good pre-race calorie sources.  Choose grilled chicken sandwiches, subs or salads if you must indulge.

4.  Add Salt.  Don’t be afraid to add some salt to your food especially the day before the race.  This is particularly important if you’re like me and make it a rule to regularly stay away from sodium-loaded processed foods.

5.  Stay Hydrated. This goes without saying but here it is anyway:

a.  Drink plenty of fluids and add some electrolytes to your water.  I like Pure Encapsulations Electrolyte/Energy formula mixed with a powdered Emergen-C packet. I try to stay away from drinking lots of Gatorade, Power Bar Performance, etc. since I’ll get plenty of opportunity to drink those on race day.

b.  Alcohol should be strictly avoided at least 1 week before the race!  Enjoy a cold brew or, better yet, go for a nice glass of cabernet with all its antioxidant punch POST-race.  Booze is a serious dehydrator, among other things, and it’s the last thing you should be dumping into your body right about now.

6. Caffeine. If you’re a coffee fanatic like me then cut back to help you get more rest.  Switch to decaffeinated coffee after one cup or drink half caffeinated/half decaffeinated.  Eliminating it altogether is fine if you start two or three weeks before the race.  Going cold turkey race week doesn’t make sense… you don’t need to deal with the headaches with all the other things you’re trying to manage.

7. The Day Before the Race.

a.  Breakfast:  Get in some good quality calories and don’t be afraid of some fiber.  Again, keep it balanced with a bit more emphasis on carbohydrates.

b.  Lunch:  Enjoy a balanced meal with less emphasis on whole grain…white bread is okay.  Get this meal in by 1pm and make it the last meal of the day.

From this point on just graze… small meals with an emphasis on white food.   I have things like steamed rice with a little grilled chicken, bagels with nut butter and jam to munch on the night before a race.  Don’t worry that this food isn’t “healthy,” that’s not what fueling the night before a big race is about.  You’ll have plenty of time to eat nourishing, whole foods during your recovery period.

I’ll let you know how things turn out after this weekend.  Until then train safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you at the races.

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