Whether you are training for your first Ironman or you’re competing for a podium finish, nutrition is going to be your “make it or break it” factor to your success. You devote months and months of training and fork over a large amount of cash to get you to the starting line, and it would be very unfortunate if your race goes poorly because you didn’t arrive with a solid nutrition plan. Plan is the key word to that sentence, and it is very important to practice and trial your nutrition plans prior to race day.
I often see a large majority of athletes using sports fueling products on race day such as energy gels, chews, beans, bars etc. There are thousands of products out there touting how they will improve your performance. As a registered dietitian, I’m personally a huge fan of fueling as much as possible with actual food. While I do choose to use some sports-specific products, I always prefer to use food whenever possible. Why use actual food? Sports-specific products are focused on providing you with quick, simple and easy to access and digest energy (aka calories). But, in addition to the calories your body needs, it also requires vitamins and minerals found in whole foods to support all your body’s functions. Research also shows that eating multiple types of sugars will allow for better absorption and better performance.
If you are concerned about digestive issues with actual foods, research again shows that gastrointestinal symptoms are no different when eating natural foods versus sports-specific energy products. See Athletes & Gastrointestinal Problems for more information on dealing with GI problems.
So what is my secret weapon? It’s pretty simple actually… Potatoes. Yes, that’s right, good ol’ spuds. The idea actually came from an organized bike ride I did in Lake Tahoe last September. At the aid stations, there were boxes of baby red potatoes sitting on the table with salt shakers provided in front of them. I soon learned that they were soft boiled and absolutely delicious! I ate them throughout the whole 76-mile loop around Lake Tahoe and loved every bite.
With the two 70.3 distance races I competed in this summer I trialed both baby reds and gold potatoes (during bike course only) to see how my stomach handled them and which variety I preferred. Both potatoes sat well throughout both races and I learned that I preferred the gold potatoes as they have a softer texture. I even had good friend KB trial them on our 86-mile ride a few weeks ago, and she loved them as well and is considering using them for her Ironman Florida race.
I typically prepare the potatoes 1-2 days before race day or a long bike ride by boiling them in salted water. No peeling necessary. I fully cook them to help break down the fiber to allow easier digestion when eaten. Once taken off the heat rinse them in cold water to cool them as quickly as possible and stop the cooking process. Gently dry them, and allow to sit out at room temperature and come race day I store them in my fuel belt’s mesh pocket. I can usually fit 4 small-to-medium potatoes in the pocket which I calculated is somewhere around 300-400 calories. No need to put them in a plastic bag, they pretty much shelf stable and won’t spoil for a few days.
Potatoes make a lot of sense from a nutrition standpoint. Here are my reasons why you’ll see me eating potatoes along the bike course of Ironman Wisconsin. [Read more…]