It is easy to overcomplicate your Ironman Nutrition. Sometimes less is more. On this edition of The Kona Edge we chat to Steve Mantell about the importance of simplifying your Ironman nutrition.  We look at his day to day strategy as well as how he fuels during his Ironman race.


BRAD BROWN:  You’re listening to The Kona Edge, I’m Brad Brown and time to chat some nutrition on today’s podcast and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Steve Mantell back onto the show. Steve, thanks for joining us once again today.

STEVE MANTELL:  Thank you for having me.

BRAD BROWN:  Steve, I’ve loved chatting to you in our various chats, just how deliberate you are in your training and I’m guessing you’re pretty much the same when it comes to nutrition, it’s something you really do spend a lot of time thinking about and focusing on?

STEVE MANTELL:  Yeah, I do, I think it’s important for all athletes and obviously it plays a big role in how you’re going to feel during your workouts, but I also believe in keeping it really simple and not stressing. Unless you’re allergic to something, I think it just adds more stress to your life to really think about overthinking nutrition. I think if you find something that works for you and you enjoy it, in terms of food and life in general, then you should stick with it.

BRAD BROWN:  Talk to me about your approach to nutrition outside of race day. We’ll touch on race day nutrition in a moment, but just generally, the day to day training stuff, how do you approach it?

If you want something, you should eat it

STEVE MANTELL:  I wouldn’t say I eat whatever I want, but I kind of do. I’m generally a very healthy eater. I like to feel good in my workouts and what that basically means is that I put good food in my body. My diet day to day doesn’t change very much. It includes a lot of the same foods, sometimes a friend will have something and I think that looks good, so I’ll try it and then I’m like, oh, I do like those, so I’ll eat them a lot for the next month or so, but it’s constantly changing. In the morning I usually have a, I have a swim for my first workout in the morning and before that I have like an English muffin with just butter and honey and that works pretty well for me.

I found that if I don’t eat something before I swim, then about 2km in, then my arms just don’t feel like, I can get through it, but it just doesn’t feel that great. I think getting something in me before helps. I have a lot of oatmeal, so for breakfast after I swim and then throughout the day I just eat as I feel like I should. I have my staple, the foods that I eat a lot of are Greek yoghurt, I eat a lot of rice cakes with nut butter and jelly, I like bananas, I like apples, just a lot of fresh fruit.

I generally don’t eat that many vegetables throughout the day, just because I’m constantly either going to my next workout or something, so I want something that’s going to give me a little bit energy and not totally mess up my GI system, so I generally stay away from vegetables for most of the day, unless I’m having a smoothie, then I might put some in there.

I just found that works well with me and if I need something after my workout, then generally I’ll include something that’s higher protein and Clif bars have been awesome, it’s good quality food and really simple to eat. I like having those. Dinner is pretty similar each night, since I’m usually pretty busy, I make big meals a few times a week and then just have leftovers. It’s usually some sort of protein like fish or chicken and then basically a big salad. I’ll cut up some bell peppers or some mushrooms, have that in there and then with a bunch of mixed greens and some rice or quinoa or sweet potato with that. I get a lot of my vegetables in at dinner.

As a snack I like carrots and hummus, kind of like while dinner is cooking or something. I think the crockpot, I probably use that a lot, probably each week I use that. You can just throw everything in there and let it go all day, so I found that really helpful, especially while I was a student, just not being home very often and it’s really easy to make large meals that you can eat for the rest of the week in the crockpot.

In general I keep it pretty simple, foods that I know I can digest well and are going to give me energy and heal the damage that I did to my muscles during the day. I like peanut butter a lot, I eat that a lot, we have, at least once a week I get frozen yoghurt with friends, so I really like going to that, I like Froyo. This summer my brother and a girlfriend were in Colorado and we probably got frozen yoghurt like three times a week. We were training a lot, so it was okay, but we got a lot of Froyo. Whatever is going to get you through the training session. If you’re thinking I’ve just totally emptied my tank today, this is a hard swim, or I was just on the bike for four hours, I want some ice cream, if you tell yourself that during the workout and it gets you through it, then you should eat some ice cream because I think your body knows what it wants and you should listen to it. If you want something, you should eat it.

BRAD BROWN:  You’re making a lot of people very happy Steve. Let’s talk about your race day nutrition plan and how you approach that.

A smoothie the quickest way to load calories?

STEVE MANTELL:  It’s a little bit different for the various distances, but for Kona, what I like to do is, in the morning I had a big smoothie, I just found that was easier to pack in a lot of calories for that and I didn’t have to worry about breaking it down that much, cause it’s already kind of broken down in smoothie form. I had a big smoothie with like protein powder, a little bit of berries, some coconut milk and I know some people don’t do well with dairy, but I seem to do okay, as long as it’s not an overwhelming amount. I definitely tried it out during training to make sure it would agree with me.

I had a big smoothie for breakfast and then once I get onto the bike I mostly do Chomps or SHOT Bloks or GU Chomps, those kind of gummy bear things. I have 200 or so calories of those, I’m a little bit smaller than most people, but I basically fuel with most of those throughout the bike and I don’t know, it’s just easily digestible, seemed to work well and especially in Kona, it’s really hot, duh! It’s really hot there and a lot of your blood is working to cool your body down, and not a lot of your blood is going to go to your stomach to help digest, so I think either doing completely liquid or very close, or just something easily digestible.

Personally I can’t do bars all day in Kona, there’s not enough blood in my stomach to digest because I’m using that blood to cool myself off and exercise. I did mostly SHOT Bloks. I have in the past done dates and nut butter and I really like that, it’s kind of like a treat. In Kona last year it was mostly SHOT Bloks and Chomps and I had some really, mostly electrolyte drink in my bottles, but you go through those bottles quick. I went through four bottles or whatever on the bike and then I just did a bunch of Gatorade, I don’t even know how many bottles, I was just going like crazy, drinking so much Gatorade and water and then when I got to Hawi, they have your special needs bag and in there I had a kind of granola bar that had some chocolate in there and that was amazing, you’ve been on this sweet stuff for a lot of the time and with the Chomps and what-not, so I think just changing it up a little bit and giving yourself some real solid food, was good for me.

Take in what’s easiest to digest

Coming down from Hawi, you’re pedaling, but it’s not like you’re totally climbing up a hill, so I feel like it’s a little bit easier and you can get some solid food in, so it’s a little bit easier to digest at that point and that just, having a little bit of chocolate motivated me. I think having something that you’re looking forward to, at Hawi, in your special needs bag or something that you’re going to eat in the second half of your bike, is really important, just to help you stay motivated throughout, because it’s like, oh yay, I get another vanilla gel at mile 90, great, I’ve already had 15, so personally, I wouldn’t be looking forward to that.Having something that’s tasty for you is good. I think I really liked having a few walnuts as well, I know people say nuts, that’s not the greatest, but I tried it in training, it worked well. It wasn’t towards the very end of the bike, so I think it was okay and felt fine for me.

In terms of the run, I pretty much had a flask that I ran with, which had 5 gels or so in there, with water and before every other aid station I’d just take a swig of that. Every other mile I’d take a swig of my gel flask and then I had my Base salt. Every mile and sometimes in between aid stations I’d do a lick or two of Base salt and I used it a little bit in training before Kona, but I knew Kona, since it’s so hot and you’re going to be sweating a ton, I didn’t want to get low on sodium, I didn’t want to have that be an issue, so I knew Base salt would work and I really like salty things.

I knew it would be okay taking the salt, so I did Base salt every mile or else a couple of times a mile and then once my gel flask ran out, I was probably close to mile 13 or 14, by then you’re out on the Queen K and so I tried to just take in, at every aid station I’d take in water with my gel flask or else Gatorade and then of course, I’d put a bunch of ice in my hat, put ice down my tri top and my pants, sponges on my face felt really good because it was crazy hot.

Once I got to mile 13 or 14, I was still feeling okay, so I tried to stay away from the caffeine stuff for a bit and I just did a couple of cups of Gatorade at every aid station and then once I got to the Energy Lab I started taking Red Bull. It caused me a little bit of stress at first, but after a few miles I got used to it and just kept doing that. I think the biggest thing for me, during the run that I was focusing on for Kona, was just not overheating. Every aid station I made sure that I slowed down to get a few cups of ice to keep my body temperature down. The ice, the sponges, that was the biggest thing because I knew it was hot out, but I just kept on making sure that every single aid station I got enough stuff to keep me cool to the next one and I think doing that and making sure that I was consistently getting in fuel as well, that first half of the marathon, was huge, just keeping me going.

If you mess something up, if you get behind on your fueling, if you overheat going up Pualani, then you can’t recover on the Queen K and you’re going to be walking aid stations just to try and recover and it’s not going to be fun. It’s better to make sure that you’re cooling yourself down, getting in nutrition and just focusing on doing those little things right the first half so that you’re at least setting yourself up to have a good second half.

BRAD BROWN:  I think that’s brilliant advice. Steve, thank you so much for joining us here on The Kona Edge today, much appreciated. Best of luck and we look forward to catching up again soon.

STEVE MANTELL:  Awesome, for sure, thank you.

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