Published on October 14, 2011
In the days since I've returned, many of you have written in with specific nutrition, fitness and training questions about the Ironman event. Below, I've chosen the top 10 questions you've asked about what to do during the week of a big race like an Ironman or a marathon and succinctly answered them.
Many of these questions answers apply to you whether you're doing an important workout, a big game, a 5K, a half-marathon, or any other hard effort, so check them out, and if you have follow-up questions, feel free to leave them as a comment below this post!
Q. What do you eat the week of a big event like an Ironman?
A. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Your stomach has learned to digest specific foods, and there is no need to change that or throw your digestive system for a loop during race week. If you read “How To Get Healthy Food When You're Traveling”, you'll see that I purchase and consume the same type of items I eat at home: avocados, olives, feta cheese, sardines, coconut milk, sprouted wraps, sweet potatoes, fresh vegetables, fresh fish, fruits and nut butter. Breakfast is typically eggs and veggies, lunch is a wrap with cheese, veggies and protein, and dinner is fish with a vegetable and potato, with some healthy fruit, protein powder or snack mix for snacks.
Q. What are foods you should avoid in the week before an Ironman?
A. Coffee and caffeine (so you're more sensitive to it on race morning), any “new” nutrition supplements, and starting two days prior to the race, excessive fiber (no more than the equivalent of 2 pieces of fruit and a small salad each day).
Q. Do you lift weights during a race week?
A. Not during Ironman. During most other race weeks, early in the week, I do a light body weight workout that is short, powerful and explosive. Your body takes about 6-7 days to fully recover from a proper weight training workout.
Q. What kind of workouts do you do during a race week?
A. Not much at all, especially before Ironman. Prior to Ironman Hawaii, I did two 20 minute bike rides, two 20 minute runs, and three 20 minute swims. Going into a big race, it's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.
Q. What do you have for dinner the night before?
Usually, fish (easy to digest protein) with a small side of roasted or steamed vegetables (good iron content) and an easily digested carbohydrate, like rice or potato. Prior to Ironman Hawaii, I had fish tacos with a small amount of red cabbage on a sprouted grain wrap.
Q. What do you eat for race morning breakfast?
Very little. Two purple Hawaiian sweet potatoes, lightly salted. This was only about 400 calories. Anything you eat on race morning isn't going to do much except top off your liver glycogen stores, and 300-600 calories of easily digested carbohydrate is sufficient. Take some digestive enzymes to speed up the process.
Q. Do you have any special rituals you do right before the race starts?
If time, I close my eyes and see myself completing the entire race in very, very fast motion – like covering the entire course in about 30 seconds. Just prior to the swim start, I take a few deep breaths to oxygenate the body. Also, see below.
Q. Do you stretch before an Ironman?
Almost always. Even through stretching can slightly reduce force production, your comfort and injury prevention is more important, since Ironman is not a 100 meter sprint or a barbell squat competition. I personally do the same stretch routine I do every morning, no matter what.
Q. Isn't all the sugar you eat during a race like that very unhealthy?
Kind of. When you're exercising, your body is very insulin sensitive, and most of that sugar doesn't even have time to do much else other than get burnt for energy. However, sugar still does have a net acidic load, and long undigested sugar chains do end up in the lower GI tract. As a result, you can feel a bit nauseous if you're not used to eating much sugar (which is how I feel) and indigestion, diarrhea or constipation is common after 9+ hours of a steady maltodextrin, glucose and fructose diet. Incidentally, I never eat any gels or sugary training foods unless I'm in a race (OK, OK…I had a total of FOUR gels outside of racing this entire year).
Q. Are you hungry after an Ironman, and what do you eat if so?
I took 10 NatureAminos capsules immediately after the race, and then did not eat anything or have an appetite for 2 hours after Ironman. I then had a nice dose of protein and fat with 4 egg omelette with cheese and an avocado. Aside from one blended alcoholic drink, the only other food I had until late the next morning was 2 spoonfuls of peanut butter. It is common to have a very low appetite until several hours after completing an event like this, although this is the least I have ever eaten on the day of finishing the race.
Feedback, comments, or additional questions? Just ask them below, and remember that no question is a stupid question!