Ironman Nutrition - Being in ketosis on race day
Ironman Nutrition and ketosis - What is the deal?

Ironman Nutrition and ketosis – What is the deal?

Ironman Nutrition and ketosis - What is the deal?

Rob Hill joins us today on The Kona Edge and shares the secret to his Ironman nutrition success. He reveals what his Ironman nutrition strategy is on this Ironman podcast.

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Transcription:

BRAD BROWN:  Let’s chat some Ironman nutrition now and we touch base once again with Rob Hill who is out in Melbourne Australia. Rob welcome back on The Kona Edge. It’s good to have you with us.

ROB HILL: Yes thank you Brad. It’s good to be back again.

BRAD BROWN:  Rob on a scale of 1-10, where would you rate nutrition in the greater scheme of triathlon things?

The importance of your 4th discipline

ROB HILL: I’d rate it probably fairly low for sprint triathlon. Right up to 9 out of 10, to 10 out of 10 for Ironman triathlon. It really depends on the distance that you’re competing in. But day to day sort of nutrition is critical for all triathlon. Come race day in Ironman, it’s been called the 4th discipline and it’s very important.

BRAD BROWN:  The shorter ones you can wing it and mess things up but the longer you go the more precise you have to be. Let’s talk day to day though and laying that correct nutrition foundation. What is your approach to things?

ROB HILL: My approach has changed a lot over the years and I remember, it must be probably 12 years ago, I went to a registered sports nutritionist that my coach recommended and I wrote down a food diary of what I was eating and how much training I was doing.

Will carbohydrate overload enhance your Ironman performance?

And she said look, you’re having nowhere near enough carbohydrates to fuel that level of training on a daily basis. You have to have way more carbohydrates. I was having huge bowls of pasta back then. She got me to add some slices of white bread. It was like I was having carbohydrate overload.

Then my partner Nicky, she said to me probably 3 years ago “I’d really like you to try a low carbohydrate approach to your Ironman training and racing.” She’s experimented with a ketogenic diet which is where you cut your carbohydrate so low your body then turns to burning it’s own fat for fuel in the form of ketones in the blood.

This is like 3 months out from Hawaii Ironman and she’s suggesting that I try this. I said there’s no way I’m going to try something that sounds so freaky a few months out from Hawaii. But I committed to her that I would give it a go after Hawaii and I experimented with it and went into ketosis and it’s absolutely incredible.

Fasting can improve your Ironman performance

Prior to that though I did some fasts in training on longer bike rides. Not the longest bike ride I do, but anything up to maybe 4 hours, just on water was really seeming to be paying off for me. My Ironman performances were improving a lot and the only thing I could put it down to after so many years in the sport, was that my body was getting better at burning fat during a race and not being quite as carbohydrate dependent.

BRAD BROWN:  You mention the word freaky and it is. I followed the LCHF diet, the way that wave is growing, because it is. There’s a lot more athletes doing it now than there were maybe 10 years ago. But it’s a very different way of thinking and approaching things. Would you say you’re racing better now than you ever have, following that sort of approach?

Racing comfortably on your Ironman nutrition

ROB HILL: No, I wouldn’t. I’m racing more comfortably Brad which is interesting. I think as far as time wise my best performance in an Ironman I think was Melbourne 2004. And that was before I tried the very low carbohydrate diet approach.

It was after I’d been a number of years of doing the fasting training sessions. So I’m sure having enhanced fast burning ability did help me to that best ever Ironman result in Melbourne. But since then, I then raced Melbourne in 2015, the year after, having gone onto a ketogenic diet for a while. And then not quite ketogenic but certainly a very low carb diet in the remaining months up till Melbourne in 2015. It was a fascinating experiment because I found that Melbourne, I didn’t feel like I quite had the same top end but I felt just comfortable all day.

Super stable with my blood sugar levels and my energy levels. It was an almost enjoyable day out, that Ironman. Both years I won my age group and the second year was tougher conditions where I went a bit slower. I think they’re probably comparable, maybe slightly worse overall place in the second year but there’s not much in it.

Daily nutrition can add value to your Ironman performance

So I think if people are looking for a way to get faster at Ironman, I don’t necessarily think, unless they’ve got major problems with their nutrition up until now, I don’t think that the low carbohydrate approach is necessarily going to help them if they’re looking for that performance improvement.

But as far as health wise, I’m always having some issues with my health. Every couple of years I was getting my blood glucose level tested and it was just slowly going up year after year. That has just completely stopped now with the change in my diet and I’ve never felt better. And I’ve never felt more comfortable when I do an Ironman race, or a half Ironman race. So it’s really shown me enough to think that there’s no performance disadvantage. And in my mind it’s a healthier way to eat on a day to day basis.

BRAD BROWN:  As far as race day itself goes, are you one of those guys who trains low carb and races high carb, or is it across the board pretty much the same?

Do you need Ironman nutrition backup?

ROB HILL: When I started with the low carb diet I thought this could be fantastic. I can go and do an Ironman with a couple of gels on the bike, and maybe half a gel during the run and I won’t have to worry about getting that intake correct, and stomach issues and all the rest.

I quickly found that it doesn’t work that way. It’s familiar at least. And a few other people I’ve spoken to would just want to cram as much as, and if not more, carbohydrate in on race day to fuel the pacing intensity that we want to race at. But it’s almost like you’ve got this background of fuel that you can burn at the same time, I assume through the fat.

It sort of feels like it’s taking the criticality out of the timing of the carbohydrate you’re taking in on race day. You still need a lot but it’s not like “if I don’t quite hit that gel at that right moment that my pace is going to drop off, my heartrate and I’m just going to start to fall apart a bit”. It’s almost like you should have back up.

Learn to pace your Ironman nutrition

BRAD BROWN:  That’s quite interesting. The biggest nutrition mistake you’ve ever made in an Ironman? Tell us about that.

ROB HILL: I’ve got a cast iron gut Brad, so you’re asking the wrong guy. I really can’t think of any nutrition mistake I’ve made. What I’ll do is I’ll put 15 plus gels into my drink water on my bike. Add a bit of water and some salt capsules to that and that’s my nutrition for the bike ride.

Probably the biggest nutrition mistake that I’ve made, and it’s happened at Ironman New Zealand this year. And it happened at Kona, I think last year. Where I’ve gone through more than half that bottle well before halfway of the bike ride. You start to freak out thinking hang on, I’m going to run out of my calories way before I get to the end of the bike.

Then you’re suddenly grabbing half bananas and bars and gels and everything you can get your hands on at every aid station from then on. It’s not a disaster, it’s great having aid stations with the backup energy that you need. But other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever vomited in a race. I’ve really had very few issues nutrition wise which is, touch wood; I’m in the minority I’m sure amongst Ironman triathlons.

BRAD BROWN:  Too true. Rob as always, great catching up. Thanks for your time on The Kona Edge, much appreciated. Best of luck and we look forward to following your progress in the years to come.

ROB HILL: Thanks a lot Brad. It’s been great to talk to you and your listeners.

About Us

Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).

Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.

He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.

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