The Consequences of Racing Without a Nutrition Plan

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This article is an excerpt from Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan MS, RD, LDN, CSSD. In her comprehensive guide to sports nutrition, Ryan uses her 30 years of experience coaching professional and age-group athletes to simplify this complex subject into proven, real world guidelines. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes shows runners, cyclists, and triathletes how to address specific nutritional needs for short- and long-course racing and busts dozens of myths and misconceptions along the way.

Case Study: Racing Without a Sports Nutrition Plan

Maddie was excited and nervous about completing her first half-Ironman. She was an experienced runner and had caught the triathlon bug two years before, building up her race experience with a series of sprint- and Olympic-distance races. Her racing had gone well, and she wanted to venture into longer distances. She was confident that with all her long-distance training, her body was becoming more efficient at burning fat during exercise.

Before her race taper, Maddie’s training peaked at 22 hours weekly. She practiced her intake of a carbohydrate electrolyte beverage on the bike, and felt that she was becoming more efficient at using fuel during training. Maddie is very weight-conscious and takes pride in her lean physique and 14 percent body fat level, which requires keep- ing an eye on portions even with her heavy training schedule.

Prior to race day Maddie emphasized carbohydrates in her diet but had no formal carbohydrate-loading plan. On race morning she consumed oatmeal and a banana, and she hydrated in expectation of the day’s 88°F temperature and high humidity. Having done well in the swim, Maddie started on her bike with one bottle of her favorite sports drink. She slowly consumed the 24 ounces of fluid over the 56-mile segment. At about 42 miles, her nutrition strategy—or lack of one—hit her hard, with both low blood sugar and muscle fatigue.

Maddie regrouped with a sports drink and gel offered on the course. She slowed below pace for the remainder of the bike leg and managed to pull it together for the run thanks to her extensive running background. Maddie took two weeks to fully recover from the race and vowed to develop a more structured race nutrition plan for next season. Among the areas that Maddie planned to work on was devising a structured carbohydrate-loading plan with a sports dietitian. Maddie also wanted to increase her intake of carbohydrates before the race through a carbohydrate-loading meal plan but wanted suggestions for how to do this without having digestion problems. Finally, she vowed to learn about her personal sweat and electrolyte losses during training and focus on carbohydrate replacement on the bike so that she would be better prepared for the run leg of her next race. 

See what to eat and when with Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Ryan demystifies optimum daily nutrition and shows simple steps to make the best decisions about what you eat and drink.