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Coach Steve being aero!

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A few years back I was coaching an IronMan first-timer who had concerns about getting enough calories for her race day nutrition needs. Her plan was to bring along several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I advised her not to, but the comfort food prevailed and she lugged those PB&Js up the hills at Lake Placid. She brought three sandwiches and ate just half of one by the end of the ride. For her second IM she went with hydration and gels, no solid food.

Another athlete I coached who was focused on Olympic distance racing, ate as much during a race as I would for a normal lunch at home. Eventually I convinced him this is not necessary. Years later I'm not coaching him anymore and we've been out of touch. Then I saw his recent race images on the club website—wow—at first I didn't even recognize him. With his new lean physique he's set new PRs at every distance.

My point is that many endurance athletes eventually re-set their thinking and physiology with regard to food intake. As we train for endurance sports, over time we become more efficient and can do more with fewer calories. This is bad news for some of us who really like to eat!

Keep in mind that our bodies can store enough carbs (glycogen) to keep us going at high intensity for ~2.5 hours and this gets many of us through an OD event with no problem. Some elite 1/2 IM athletes can get through the event (up to 4.5 hours) with just hydration and a couple gels. I have, and was not bonking at the end. The needs of an IronMan athlete are quite different though, and that's a different more involved article.

Years ago the concept of 'carbo-loading' was popular. It doesn't work. The plan was to force more glycogen to be stored by depleting with restricted carbs early in the week, then loading up on carbs close to race day. An endurance athlete's metabolism is ostensibly going through that process every training day so energy storing efficiency is always tuned, no need to stress the body more. Our bodies can only store so much glycogen; it cannot be forced to store more.

The same holds for hydration. Drinking more fluids the day before a race will just make you feel bloated while searching for 'facilities' more often.

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