On today’s edition of The Kona Edge we chat with Wendy Mader about Ironman nutrition and the mistakes athletes make. We learn of her trials and errors in the 4th discipline and what advice she has for other athletes trying to dial in their Ironman nutrition.

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BRAD BROWN:  It’s time to chat some nutrition.  I’m Brad Brown and we head back to Georgia in the United States and Wendy Mader touching base with us once again.  Wendy welcome back, thanks for joining us.

WENDY MADER:  Thanks for having me back.

The first discipline to get right

BRAD BROWN:  Wendy we haven’t touched on it at all in our previous chats, nutrition.  It’s often I think, people think of it as the last sort of discipline of triathlon but it should be one of the first things you try and get right when you take up the sport.

WENDY MADER:  Nutrition’s tricky and it’s so important.  You know with everything that’s out on the market now, Paleo, vegan, plant base, high carb, low carb, malate deficiency, you know it’s best to explore the different options.  Gluten free you know, explore options, see what works for you.  I think the first thing people should do is get their day to day, without training nutrition plan fine-tuned and then figure out what they want to add to support their performance and their training.

BRAD BROWN:  What’s your philosophy for you personally when it comes to nutrition and training and Ironman?

Commit to your nutrition plan

WENDY MADER:  I eat plant based vegan and I actually did that, the reason I do it primarily is I did it just by choice in 2008, three months leading up my best Kona performance.  I wanted to lose a few pounds and so I’m like, I’ve got to cut cheese out cause that’s one thing that I think is keeping me from losing weight.  So, then I just said I’m going to be vegan for three months.  I just did cold turkey. I’ve never been a big meat fan anyways and it worked for me.  And then I wanted to go to the other extreme and I read the Paleo diet for athletes and I wanted to try that out.  I started eating meat after being vegetarian for 20 years.  That didn’t work for me.

Then just in 2012 was really when I committed to the vegan plant based diet.  Lots of vegetables as the bulk of my diet.  That works for me, it works for maintaining my lean body mass, it works for my performances and there’s nothing wrong with me eating processed, I still eat some processed food now and then but again, it doesn’t have any animal product in it.  That just works for me.

BRAD BROWN:  Wendy the thing I take out of that is experimentation.  You have to figure out and try things and if it doesn’t work try something else and really just sort of by process of elimination find what it is and then stick to it.

WENDY MADER:  Definitely, you know as a coach primarily, I tried a lot of different things over the years because athletes were asking me about it. They’d say like this diet plan, what do you think?  I’m like I don’t know I might as well try it.  So, I think all in all, these day to day general healthy nutrition plans eliminate processed foods and I think that’s the key component I want to drive home is try to eliminate processed foods.

BRAD BROWN:  Wendy, where do you draw the line on the experimentation?  You found something that you think works, but I think as triathletes we’re always trying to get better and we trying to get faster and we look, and maybe we’ve got a nutrition strategy in place that’s working but we feel you know what, maybe if we tweak this, we could get better.  Where do you draw the line where you go enough is enough, this is working for me, I’m going to focus on other things?

Don’t mix it up – try one thing at a time

WENDY MADER:  Well, based on again, based on your goal, based on what’s the goal, why are you trying something new?  It’s something that, the bottom line is if it’s working why fix it?  Don’t try so many things at once.  You don’t want to all of a sudden add, I like did for instance, you don’t want to all of a sudden be doing chiropractic, massage and physical therapy to treat an injury because then you don’t know what’s working and what’s not.

You don’t want try to do too many different nutrition plans all at once because you’re not going to know what’s working and what’s not.  I think once you have your day to day diet plan, most people day to day as an athlete, you want to maintain some sort of lean body mass and not gain too much, or lose too much weight at any given time of the year.  So, fixing that day to day comes first and then experimenting with different energy products in a non-important race like oh I think the power bar’s working but maybe I should try cliff bars.  If you’re going to do that, do it in a non-priority event and see if it works for you.

BRAD BROWN:  Have you got a fixed strategy when it comes to racing? Have you got it sorted that you know this is what you  need to do on the bike, this is what you need to do on the run?  Tell me a little bit about how you approach race day from a nutrition point of view.

Getting your nutrition needs tested

WENDY MADER:  Yes, nutrition is still tricky but I, in 2007, I had a sweat rate test done at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and so they dialed in how many calories I needed.  I fortunately don’t sweat a lot of salt so I don’t do salt tabs and I don’t have to take products with a lot of sodium in it.  What works for me best is the caloric consumption.  I have an iron gut, I can pretty much eat anything but I try to stick around, between, about 200 calories per hour on the bike.  Some races those 200 calories are all liquid, sometimes it’s gel, sometimes it’s solids like a bar.  That, my stomach can handle all that.  The main component I’m looking at is the caloric, 200 calories.

BRAD BROWN:  All right, cool.  That’s brilliant.  Wendy, thank you so much for your time once again.  If people want to reach out to you, I know you do a lot of coaching, where can they get hold of you online.  I know you’re very active on social media as well and I’m sure there’ll be a few people who would like to reach out.

WENDY MADER:  Yes, teachercoaching.com.  I have a voicemail pad on my website if someone wants to leave me a voicemail or they can just shoot me an e-mail from my website or Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter.

BRAD BROWN:  Perfect.  I’ll pop all those links into the show notes, much appreciated.  Wendy, thank you for your time.  It’s been a great pleasure catching up and we look forward to doing it again soon.

WENDY MADER:  Thank you.  It’s been fun.