Recently, maybe it was a few weeks back now, on the MSM FB page, someone asked me about my race day fueling.
A great starting point, and what I usually say to people, work with a sports dietitian. At least, you can knock out about half the trial and error.
I worked with a sports dietitian. I have done sweat tests and sodium tests. Before going through all that, race fueling was absolute hell.
What I've learned since then, is that it will always be a work in progress. There are no two races the same. Your body changes as well. Something might work well for years; then BOOM out of nowhere, you can't stomach it anymore.
Things that affect my fueling decisions:
1.) Race distance: Races under 2:15, I don't need fuel other than electrolytes/water combination.
Races from 2:15 to 4 hours, gets tricky, especially if that race is an olympic distance triathlon. I take in calories and electrolytes. The calories tend to be liquid because of the high speeds I'm going on the bike; and running and chewing....just below threshold....really isn't easy or advisable.
Once I get to the 70.3, that's a different ball game altogether. Liquid calories, real food, on the race course I drink coke at every aid station (after the halfway mark of the half marathon).
2.) Whether or not my hormones are being assholes. The week of PMS, for all women, our blood plasma drops. Because of this, we are right on the verge of hyponatremia on a daily basis, which is ok if you are not an athlete. It has some dangerous outcomes if you are an athlete and don't address it. During this time, our bodies do not process fats for fuel as well as they do during the rest of the month. The good news is that all is not lost. We can add carbohydrates and electrolytes to offset these hormonal changes.
3.) Weather. Cold, heat, wind, humidity, altitude, rain, hail. Again fueling changes based on these external factors. Is there shade on the course? Are you running on pavement or trails?
Believe it or not, you need to know all of this before a race.
(NB: This is why writing a race plan is so important. When I started with Liz, I'd never written a race plan. For my first race, she asked me for it. I had NO idea what she wanted. Now, I can't imagine heading into a race without a plan. Just another reason you should hire her if you are looking for a coach. She does things long before other coaches do).
Another very important thing to keep in mind. Please don't take advice from coaches who are not trained sports dietitians. I cringe every time I see coaches giving out fueling advice. They aren't trained in the field.
Would you go to an eye doctor for advice about putting in a sprinkler system?
With all that said, here are the products that I use. It'll seem complicated, but it's not. Now that I know what I need and when I need it, it's easy.
Tailwind Nutrition: Created right here in Colorado, by ultra-marathoners, this drink tastes good hot or cold. It is meant to be an all in one fueling. The flavor is extremely mild, and they have an unflavored version as well. I use this for olympic distance races or any race where it's easier for me to drink than chew. For hot races, I will make tailwind ice cubes the day before. When the ice melts, I know I'm not just having straight water.
For 2017, with my focus on olympic distance races, this has been my go to fuel.
One other point: Tailwind is the only product I've ever used that dissolves within a matter of seconds. It completely dissolves.
I use pre-load the night before a long or hot race, and I sip on it the morning of a race. The pre-load is a very high sodium drink. There is a women's version as well as a men's version (since we have different needs).
(Note: The Right Stuff is very similar to Pre-load. Right stuff also works well. The main difference is that Pre-load is a powder. The Right Stuff is a liquid that comes in a pouch. I no longer use RS because: 1.) I noticed some of the salt was staying in the bottom of the pouch. No matter what I did, I couldn't get it out. 2.) MSM gets a discount from NBS Nutrition--which is why I tried it to begin with, but I am still giving you an honest opinion of the product).
The hydration product is meant to be taken with real food, so this is a very good option for long course racing. It has all the electrolytes but not many calories. The calories would be taken in separately.
I use the hydration product for short races such as a sprint. It's an electrolyte/water mix that works well for me. The taste is also mild, so that's a bonus. I absolutely can't handle sweet stuff.
Precision Hydration For those of you salty and/or heavy sweaters, REJOICE! Precision hydration might be a good one for you to try.
I should point out that my sweat rate and sodium losses are very low. I'm on the very low end of the spectrum....like freak level.
Precision Hydration offers a sports drink, salt tablets and effervescent tablets. I have not used the sports drink.
Why is this different? PH makes products with as little as 500mg of sodium (good for people like me) and up to 1500mg of sodium per serving, good for those of you with a high sodium loss.
I use the effervescent tablets. Again, this is mostly for short efforts, pre-race drinking. I also use it for things like masters swimming.
Skratch Products: In an effort to completely transparent, I am not currently using Skratch labs because my distances aren't long enough. I use this product for 70.3 training and racing. (I do not use the hydration product because I have found it doesn't dissolve as easy as the other mixes I've mentioned here. In fact, I've had to use hot water to get it to dissolve. That's not good when you're trying to get ready for a hot race and have limited ice availability).
I use the Skratch labs chews for the run and the cookie mix for long workouts or races.
When I'm too tired to bake, I use Picky Bars.
These items are the "real food" products that I mentioned above. These need to be taken with an electrolyte drink. (Keep in the mind, the chews have incremental sodium in them but not enough to sustain an athlete during long training/racing).
Although I had a starting point in regards to sodium and sweat loss because I worked with a sports dietitian, I've figured out most of this through trial an error.
It's up to you to figure out what tastes you can handle. I know that I can't handle sweet tastes. Some products dissolve better than others. Different products have different calories, electrolytes, etc. Unfortunately, fueling is not a one size fits all. You'll have to try different things and see what works best for you.
On a related note, here are some warning signs that you should pay attention to when training.
This is not medical advice. I am not a trained sports dietitian.
For those of you who are training for a 70.3 or a full Ironman, if you notice that you are getting angry or frustrated or feel like you hate a particular training session, you are not taking in enough fuel. If, during training, you are starting to question what you are doing. Those are signs of bonking. You need more calories. DON'T SKIMP ON CALORIES when training for long course.
If your heart rate drifts upward, if you cannot hold the watts or pace you need to.....look at your hydration. You are likely dehydrated. (This is slightly more complicated. During a an ultra endurance race, you will likely see HR drift-especially when it is hot-but in training you need to learn what is an acceptable level. You can really only do this with the help of a knowledgeable coach. I have been training in very hot and humid conditions recently. Liz has been helping me figure out how much MORE water/electrolytes I need to add to my training).
If you feel sloshing in your stomach when you drink, you are dehydrated. I know. It might seem like you are taking in too much, but it's exactly the opposite. The general gist is that without the correct balance of electrolytes and water, your stomach shuts down (basic terms) and will not allow the absorption of the water. Water alone will not hydrate you. You need a mix of electrolytes and some carbohydrates (as found in hydration products).
I know most of you, experienced athletes, know all of this. I mention it because I see comments on strava. I've been doing this for a very long time. I can see when people are new to endurance events based on their comments. From training volumes, I can tell if someone is training for a tri or a marathon or an ultra event. I can usually tell if someone is in a build period, taper or recovery. It's like when I go to the pool, I can see when people are using bad form. I can see what needs to be changed. But, I don't know exactly what that particular person needs to do to fix the issue.
That's because we are all unique individuals with unique needs. We can't train or fuel like our neighbors. We have to do what's right for each of us individually.