On this episode of The Kona Edge we head back to the UK to chat to Tom Ward about the Ironman nutrition strategy he used to get to the Ironman World Championships in Kona. It is important not to leave anything to chance when it comes to your Ironman nutrition strategy and Tom shares a few of the things that have worked for him over his triathlon journey.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome back onto the next edition of The Kona Edge, it’s great to have you with us, thanks for joining us today and we’re going to chat some more nutrition today and we’re joined by a returning visitor, Tom Ward, Tom, welcome back, nice to catch up again.
TOM WARD: Hi Brad, great to be back again.
BRAD BROWN: Tom, nutrition is often referred to as like the secret weapon of age group triathletes and often people neglect it, but it’s almost, it’s a fourth discipline isn’t it? It’s as important as the other three.
TOM WARD: Yeah, absolutely, and so easy to get wrong and I don’t think there’s a long distance triathlete out there that hasn’t got it wrong at some point in their triathlon career, yeah.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve obviously been pretty deliberate about what you do from a nutrition point of view. You do that with the rest of your training, you don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to nutrition, do you?
A conscious Ironman Nutrition Strategy
TOM WARD: No, definitely not. It’s a very easy trap to fall into and it can absolutely destroy your race and your preparation if you get it wrong.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about your strategy. Are you one of those guys that can eat solids or do you tend to stick to the gels and liquids throughout a race and see how it goes, how do you approach a race like an Ironman?
TOM WARD: Yeah, so for me Brad, a mixture of both. I’ve got a very specific routine in the morning. When I get up before the race I have some porridge, normally with a bit of Nutella, mainly cause I like Nutella, no other reason than that. Then I would normally have, something like a white bagel or a white bread jam sandwich, not long before the race. I’m lucky enough to be able to eat quite soon before the swim and not have a problem with that and that’s a personal thing, that isn’t good for everybody, which means that I’m normally able to take some nutrition relatively close to the swim start, which means I don’t tend to fatigue in the swim and when I come out of the swim I’m in a fairly good place.
I try to take on a reasonable amount of liquid and solid nutrition in the early parts of the bike Brad, so I carry with me, I only carry with me a bottle of gel. I carry 10 gels, 10-15 gels, depending on what they are, I normally use SiS gels in a water bottle, which is my main race nutrition and I would normally aim to consume that throughout the race, depending on how long the bike was and I’ll intersperse that with the occasional half banana or half energy bar on the bike. So I’ll normally take a half banana or half energy bar at most aid stations. I don’t use an energy drink, I only drink water, so I combine the water and the gels, that’s my main source of energy and then take the bars as I go, but I don’t take any solid fuel on in the last 90 minutes of the bike.
BRAD BROWN: Presuming you don’t take anything on then in the bike, you’re not taking on any solids while you’re running either.
TOM WARD: That’s right, so on the run, what I tend to do is I tend to work on the basis that, I walk most aid stations, it depends on the race and it depends how frequently aid stations are, I walk most of the aid stations and in the early part of the run, what I’ll tend to do is make sure that every half an hour I’ve taken on one gel and normally I’ll make sure that I practice with the race day nutrition provider. I’ll find out who that is and I’ll make sure that I practice using that in training. The reason for that is I don’t like carrying anything on the run with me. I like to run completely free and therefore I’ll make sure that I can depend on the aid stations and I’m comfortable with that. I’ll normally take on one gel roughly every 20-30 minutes for the first say couple of hours of the run and then I’ll often switch to maybe sips of energy drinks at the aid station with a bit of water. Often if they’ve got fruit available, like oranges, or watermelon, I’ll start to switch to fruit. I do find that that helps me because by that point I’m feeling a bit sick and all the glucose tends to be difficult to continue to consume later in the race.
I’ll tend to switch to some fruit if they’ve got it and then towards the end of the race Brad, perhaps the last 45 minutes to an hour, never before for me, I’ll often switch to Coke. I don’t drink tea or coffee, so the impact of drinking Coke at the end of the race is quite significant for me, whether that’s psychosomatic and whether it’s a placebo, I don’t know, but I do find switching to Coke at the end of the run really does help me a lot.
BRAD BROWN: It’s quite interesting Tom, I mean there’s lots of sweet stuff in there, those gels, the amount of gels that you’re consuming and you talk about that feeling slightly ill from the glucose, is that something that you struggle with? Obviously you’ve tried this out and it works for you, but you don’t need anything to cut through that sweetness, something savoury perhaps, that just sort of breaks it?
TOM WARD: It depends on what’s available Brad, I guess. Some races I’ve raced at, they do have things like pretzels or Ritz biscuits on the aid stations and if they do I will occasionally take something savoury on board to break up the taste. One of the reasons I do switch to fruit, if there’s fruit available is because the taste of the fruit is slightly different from the taste of the glucose based energy gels and I do find that helps, but no, I don’t actually specifically take anything savoury and I have to be honest, I’m a little skeptical about the benefit of salt. I don’t ever take on salt, I never have done and I’ve raced in lots of hot climates and never ever found that to be an issue. Having said that, I think a lot of people do find that they benefit from salt and there’s a lot to suggest that the change in taste itself can have an impact on how you feel physically.
BRAD BROWN: Interesting. Tom Ward, thank you so much for joining us on The Kona Edge, much appreciated. Good luck on your future races and future endeavors and we look forward to catching up again soon.
TOM WARD: Thanks ever so much Brad, it’s a pleasure to be on here.