On today’s edition of The Kona Edge we chat to Aku Oja about his Ironman nutrition and we find out how he does it. He tells us about the Ironman nutrition mistakes he has made and admits his frustrations about not getting it quite right yet.
BRAD BROWN: It’s time to chat some nutrition here on The Kona Edge, I’m Brad Brown and it’s awesome to have you with us once again and we head back to Finland, just West of Helsinki, Aku Oja joining us. Aku, welcome back, thanks for taking the time once again to chat to us.
AKU OJA: Yeah, hi Brad, good to be here again.
BRAD BROWN: Aku, we touch on nutrition once a week here on the podcast as well and I wanted to get your take on nutrition. It’s vital if you want to be successful as a triathlete, particularly when you’re doing Ironman distance triathlons, let’s talk about your strategy, how do you approach an Ironman from a nutrition point of view?
Finding the golden way for your stomach with Ironman nutrition
AKU OJA: To be honest, I’m probably the worst person to ask that one because I’m still figuring it out. I’ve gone through solids and liquids and playing with salt and stuff, but I still quite haven’t found the golden way for myself and I guess there is just so much anyone else can help with it because it’s everyone’s own stomach. So, you really have to use your time to figure it out for yourself, in a way.
BRAD BROWN: It’s quite difficult too Aku and I’m glad you say you haven’t quite figured it out because it’s one of those things that you have to figure out in race conditions. It’s unfortunate that what you do on a three hour ride, as much as you don’t want to try anything new on race day, I don’t know of any triathletes who go those distances and those times as they do on race day. It’s difficult because the only real time that you get to test it is during a race.
AKU OJA: Exactly and even if you do a three hour ride, and use like your race nutrition, you’re still not anywhere close to the race finish, you still have like hours to bike and hours to run after it, so you can’t really tell how your stomach will cope with everything you’re putting in there. It’s kind of frustrating that you only have the races to figure it out.
BRAD BROWN: And it could be a costly mistake. You see it so often. What are you struggling with at the moment? You mentioned playing with salt, is that something, tell us what you’re trying and why.
AKU OJA: Yeah, the first time I really paid for nutritional mistakes was in Majorca. I had a plan with the nutrition and water and everything but I forgot the water, my mind was in the race and forgot about the nutrition plan totally. I was taking in my calories, I had gels in a bottle, but during later parts of the ride my stomach started feeling weird and I was losing power and I was thinking like, what is happening here, I’ve been taking my calories in and stuff like that and then when I hit the run I just had massive heartburn during the whole run. I could only run a couple of minutes or so and then I had to stop and walk and ended up doing the whole marathon like that.
After the race I had a lengthy discussion with my coach and doctors and everyone, like what was it and we ended up with the conclusion that yes, I took the calories in, but I didn’t have enough liquid with them. I didn’t digest, so the acid started coming up and stuff like that and it was really painful.
Then I tried also liquid nutrition, the Infinite one, trying to neutralize the possibilities of forgetting to drink enough water, but using that only also doesn’t work for me. Lately I’ve had some cramping in my stomach when I’m trying those shorter, harder races, so yeah, still figuring it out.
BRAD BROWN: And you also mentioned solids and the cramping, sometimes, if you are susceptible to GI issues, solids sometimes aren’t the best, what’s your experience been with solids?
AKU OJA: Well, it can be an issue using only solids but for me it worked fairly well, so next time I actually might go back to at least having some part of the nutrition in the solid side, be it gels or bars or something like that and then balancing that with some liquid, maybe a stronger mix of sports drink or stuff like that.
BRAD BROWN: Would you say the nutrition is one of your biggest frustrations right now and trying to get that dialed in?
AKU OJA: Lately yes, yes, and it must be for the Ironman races also because like we said previously, it’s tough to train for it during your workout and the race conditions, yeah, you can’t prepare for those if you don’t live in the area, so you never know how your body will act.
BRAD BROWN: Recovery, what do you love eating and drinking after an Ironman?
AKU OJA: Anything fatty, burgers, pizza, stuff like that, a good cold soda, I’m not into beer, but yeah, soda, a good cold soda.
Why you shouldn’t change your Ironman nutrition in the buildup to race week
BRAD BROWN: In the buildup to an Ironman, race week, from a nutrition point of view, what sort of stuff do you do, do you change much? Do you carbo load, do you tend to stay away from certain things?
AKU OJA: I don’t really carbo load. I think that’s also something that might ruin people from having a good race. You actually, the carbo loading actually could happen on its own if you taper well. So you keep taking your normal nutrition in during the weeks, coming into race, you dial back your training, so you’re getting excessive calories in to store, so in that way I try to change as little as possible. If I go overseas racing, I try to eat some neutral foods, try to avoid trying local special cuisine during the race weeks.
BRAD BROWN: You wouldn’t suggest a good curry the night before a race then?
AKU OJA: Definitely not!
BRAD BROWN: Aku, as always, great to catch up, thanks for your time mate, best of luck and we look forward to tracking your progress and as you said, getting back to Kona again.
AKU OJA: Yeah, that’s the plan in my mind, still have to figure it out.