Best Ironman Nutrition Tips: Learn to race, not to train
Best Ironman Nutrition Tips: Learn to race, not to train

Best Ironman Nutrition Tips: Learn to race, not to train

Best Ironman Nutrition Tips: Learn to race, not to train

Discover why Rob Cummins feels it is important to use your Ironman or half Ironman training to ensure your nutrition strategy is dialled in for race day.

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BRAD BROWN: It’s time to chat some Ironman nutrition on this edition of The Kona Edge. I’m Brad Brown. Thanks for joining us. Let’s head back to Dublin in Ireland now. We’re joined by Rob Cummins. Rob, welcome back onto The Kona Edge.

ROB CUMMINS: How you Brad? Thanks for having me.

BRAD BROWN: Rob, in our previous chats you spoke a little bit about how you’ve trained. Particularly around the cycling. Getting not just your pacing right, but your Ironman nutrition right. And how that in turn, affects your pacing. It’s something you’ve worked particularly hard at and you seem to have quite a good handle on your nutrition strategy, on race day.

Learn how to race – not just train

ROB CUMMINS: Yes. Again, I was quite lucky with the coach that we started off with. He believed in teaching us how to race as opposed to just training us, and I think that’s an important differentiation for people. Showing up fit on race day doesn’t really matter if you can’t pace yourself and can’t get your nutrition right. They’re the 2 most difficult aspects of Ironman. You need to practice them in training.

So, you practice the pacing like we spoke about on the bike sessions. But, what we incorporated into that was, we practiced the race day nutrition and he planned that as part of the training session, as we do now. It has to be done at your race pace. There’s no point in doing a 5-hour easy bike ride and just rolling around with your mates. That’s not what you’re going to do on the day.

Test your nutrition at race day intensity

So, when you’re racing hard or just racing an Ironman, we’re not going particularly hard for a long time, we’re steady. When you’re racing, you’re riding at a different intensity to your long easy ride with your mates. You need to practice your nutrition at the intensity that you’re going to be racing at on race day. Not harder and not easier, but at that intensity because your efficiency is very different.

A long, easy ride, I can go out with a bottle of water. I can do 4 or 5 hours with a handful of dates and a bottle of water. I probably won’t drink half the water. When I do an Ironman race pace session, 3 x 1-hour efforts or 3 x 45-minute efforts, I’ll go through food every 40-minutes. I’ll use an energy drink and energy bars or gels. It’s the only time I use them in training. Because I want to practice and I want to see how the body handles them. But, you need to practice it.

How your Ironman nutrition feels if you eat enough or too little

You can’t just do it one year and think it’s going to apply the next year. Your efficiency changes depending on your fitness and how much you’re biking or how much you’re running. Or even what you’re eating in your day to day life.

So, every year, about 6 to 8 weeks out from race day we start to incorporate very specific practice to see how it feels if I eat enough or not enough. And I can actually feel it in my legs. I always feel my legs start to get sore and empty. And again, this is very unscientific, but in my head, I think it’s the glycogen stores becoming depleted and the muscles don’t have that fuel in them. Whereas when you get the sugar back in, 5 or 6 or 10 minutes later, the legs start to feel good again. So, I can actually feel it in my legs before I feel hungry or anything else. Or before I start to see it in the pace drop.

Food awareness and how it works in your Ironman nutrition

Learning that awareness of what the food is doing to you and how it works. Seeing your pace drop, knowing that’s food, knowing how much to eat and practicing it in training is absolutely crucial. But it needs to be treated like a training session. So, if you were doing a swim set tomorrow, you would have a warm up and you would have your drills, and your main set, and your cool down. You need to practice the nutrition in the same way.

Go out with a plan. The first week try eating every 40-minutes at race pace and if I’m hungry getting off the bike maybe we’ll shorten that to 35-minutes the second week. Or if I’m a little bit sick halfway through, maybe I will cut that down to three-quarters of a portion, or half a portion. It needs to be experimented like that and everybody is different. There is no one rule fits all. And what you’re reading in the magazines and on the back of those gel packets, is rubbish.

What I need is different to what you  need

You need to practice it yourself and learn what you need. Because it’s different to what I need, and everyone is completely different with the nutrition.

BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. Rob, as far as the biggest lesson you’ve learnt, the biggest mistake you’ve made nutrition wise and what you’ve learnt out of it?

ROB CUMMINS: There’s one or two, I suppose. The first one was in Ironman UK, the first year I chased the slot, I was having the race of my life and I think because I was afraid of the distance. I was afraid of racing the distance for the first time. And I did exactly what I was told.

Don’t let panic change your Ironman nutrition strategy

So, the coach and Aisling had given me a race plan. When I have to ride easy, when I was allowed to push on. How long I had to run easy, and when I could push on. As I got closer to race day I started to panic a little, and I came up with the idea that I would run with 2 small bottles of really strong energy drink with a high caffeine content. I had used them in training before and they gave me a savage kick. They were really effective.

So, I thought I would run to 30k with the bottles and take them at 25/28/30k for the last hour, and they would give me that big kick to get me to the end. I was having the race of my life. Got off the bike in 50th or something and I just ran through. I was passing male pro’s that were 15 years younger than me, I was passing the female pro’s, I was passing age groupers and just having the day of my life. I couldn’t believe it, I’d never had legs like it. I’d never experienced anything like it.

Started off with 5-minute k’s and reckon I ran the middle portion of the marathon at about 2:50 marathon pace. I was flying. Absolutely in the best shape of my life and I’d done everything perfectly.

Caution is crucial with your Ironman nutrition on race day

And I got to 30k, and I started to feel bad and it was only mild at that stage. I’ve never had an Ironman since, where I felt so good all the way through and everything went so perfectly. At about 30k when I started to feel myself tiring a little bit, and starting to get sore, I drank both bottles really quickly. And within about 4 or 5 minutes I had a stitch.

So, it was doing something that I hadn’t trained, I hadn’t practiced it in training. I just decided I’d do this towards the end of the run and assumed it would go well. Because the drink agreed with me, I’d used it before in training. But I’d never done that, a lot of it all in one go. And instead of getting faster for the last hour, I struggled with the stitch for the last 10 or 12k on the run. So, I suppose that was probably the biggest lesson.

It doesn’t matter if something works for you in one way in training, you need to be very careful how you use it on race day.

Don’t panic in build up to Ironman nutrition on race day

At the end of the day, I missed a Kona slot that day by 2-minutes in one place. I was running so fast in the middle portion of that race, that it’s very conceivable that I lost 2 -minutes because I carried a stitch for the last hour. And it didn’t go away. So, that’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve done. That’s just one of the stupid things I’ve done, there’s been a few.

But I think you need to practice whatever you’ve got to do nutrition wise on race day and don’t panic in the lead up to the race, and decide you’re going to try something new just in case you can gain an extra minute or two.

BRAD BROWN: Rob, that was fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing that with us here on The Kona Edge. Much appreciated. We look forward to following your progress this season and seeing how you go in the build up to Kona 2017.

ROB CUMMINS: Thanks very much Brad.

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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