Is Ironman Nutrition an art or a science?
Is Ironman Nutrition an art or a science?

Is Ironman Nutrition an art or a science?

Is Ironman Nutrition an art or a science?

Today on The Kona Edge we chat to Kevin Portmann about his Ironman nutrition plan. Kevin reveals the decision to invest in a sports nutritionist and gain the maximum benefit in his Ironman performance.

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BRAD BROWN:  Onto the Ironman nutrition now.

KEVIN PORTMANN: It’s been huge. I completely changed my nutrition from Coeur d’Alene to Kona for my build. I didn’t have much time and I started using Klean Athlete as my supplements and recovery drinks, as well as working with a nutritionist.

I don’t know if you know QT2 systems. It’s a big triathlon group here in the States and they send 30 to 40 athletes to Kona every year. They have a group of nutritionists called Poor Diet and I reached out to them and worked with them for my build to Kona. Just going through each micro nutrient and specific amounts.

Nutrition is paramount in your Ironman training

I was following the program to the T. Writing everything down that I would eat, calculating the percentage of carbs versus protein versus fat. Eating what they told me to eat during race week and on race day. And it worked.

Kona last year was extremely windy on the bike really early on and I clocked in at 4:53 feeling really strong the entire bike ride. Feeling I could have done a lot more but never had a low moment on the bike. I was mind blown completely. Revelations.

I’m a firm believer that nutrition is paramount in your training. Not just the nutrition you use during training which is very important, but also what you eat outside. And then between each training session for me is what has changed a lot, because I’m able to, day in and day out, go out and train at the intensity that my coach asked me to train at. So it’s huge.

Your coach is not your Ironman nutrition expert

BRAD BROWN:  You mention in our first chat about that coach and finding someone who was good for you. Someone who worked on what you wanted to or felt you needed to get stronger at. Have you felt the same with the nutritionist?

Often people will get a swim coach on deck to work on swim stroke and a coach overall but often people neglect the nutrition side of things. Would you advise someone if they are really serious about this, to work with someone? Because we’re all different, what works for me might not work for you or vice versa?

KEVIN PORTMANN: Oh absolutely and I heard someone say I don’t understand why the coach is not mentioning nutrition during my training. It’s so huge.

Ironman nutrition is a science in itself

Well you shouldn’t expect your coach to be coaching you on nutrition. It’s a science in itself. People study, go to school, and get degrees and masters in nutrition.

As you say what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you and I can give you tips on what I do and advise you on what I do, but it’s trial and error and it’s huge. And my experience going to a sports nutritionist that has experience with athletes racing in Kona and athletes performing at that level was key. It was very important.

So I worked with her and she was fantastic and she made nutrition very simple. She told me you should be doing this and these are the kinds of foods that you can eat and food that you should avoid. She told me the amount and it was so much easier.

Be committed to your Ironman nutrition to gain in performance

Because I like to learn and understand what I’m doing I would study it as well on the side but I think it’s one advice I would give. If you are serious and you’re having some issues with nutrition just go talk to a nutritionist. Do your research because you want to make sure the nutritionist understands the athlete and what that sport takes. But yes, it worked for me and I believe that it would work for the majority of people.

BRAD BROWN:  You obviously made a big change in the build up to Kona last year. You said it was a quick turnaround from Coeur d’Alene. But now that you’ve had that experience how much do you tweak it now? Or have you pretty much figured out what works and you’re sticking to that.

KEVIN PORTMANN: We tweak it and change it a little bit. Mostly because when I followed the nutrition plan that she gave me I got really lean. I was at my lightest and my fittest at Kona but you just can’t. For me it would be really hard to maintain that without getting sick or exposing myself to more injuries. I think it would be very difficult to maintain that.

There’s a time to give your body a break from rigid Ironman nutrition

You have to get a little bigger and put on some pounds during the off season. But when training kicks in we start slowly but surely getting back into a routine closer to what we did for Kona. And then 2 to 3 weeks out from a race we would follow the program to a T.

I would allow myself to each junk food obviously and be a little more relaxed with my nutrition in general after the race. Just so that my body can replenish everything that it needs to replenish. It’s very hard to maintain that lean form throughout the year. But I do tend to follow what she gave me for the races that I’m doing this year.

BRAD BROWN:  From a race day perspective, how do you approach it? What’s your nutrition strategy? Just tell me like on a typical Ironman race what would you do?

KEVIN PORTMANN: It starts with eating breakfast 3-hours before the event. So it’s apple sauce with whey protein in it, a scoop of whey protein in it. Usually two-and-a-half scoops of apple sauce. It’s a lot to take in. She doesn’t want me to drink coffee but I love my coffee too much. So coffee on the breakfast table. And a sports drink and a banana. That’s 3-hours before the race.

Train with Ironman course nutrition

I get another sports drink about an hour before the race and then 15 minutes before the race I have a gel with some caffeine in it. On the bike it depends, but it’s usually about 2 bottles of Gatorade an hour, especially in Kona and a gel every 40 to 45 minutes.

What I changed was I went from training with Herbalife products to training with Gatorade products and Cliff, only because that was what was provided on the course. It sounds stupid to say that now but it just makes so much more sense that you’ve got to train with what’s going to be provided on the course. And it just changed my entire race.

Logistically, you don’t have to worry about preparing your bottles and grabbing your special needs bag. You just grab whatever is provided on the course because you’re used to drinking or eating it. It’s a big change and you don’t have to have 4 or 5 extra pounds on your bike.

It’s a big change but it’s about 1 gel every 45 to 50 minutes and 2 bottles, depending on how hot it is out there.

BRAD BROWN:  And then on the run is it pretty much the same? Are you just on gels or would you grab Gatorade at the aid stations as well?

No nutrition on race day has negative effects on performance

KEVIN PORTMANN: That’s another thing that I could talk about. How I can improve my run and it comes also through nutrition. I really struggle taking anything in on the run. So my half marathon or half Ironman I almost run dry. I struggle to take any liquids or gels in and I think that definitely impacts my performance.

I’ve been practising it and I’m able to do it in practise but I haven’t been able to replicate that in racing. What the nutritionist would like me to do for Kona, the plan was a gel with caffeine I think 2 miles in, then Cliff blocks every 2 miles and grab a Gatorade at each aid station. She would tell me stay away from water because that’s what could trigger GI issues and try to hold out drinking coke too soon.

So it was Cliff blocks for every mile, 1 gel every 2 miles or every 3 miles based on how comfortable I am and how I feel. If I had any tingling feelings in my fingers that means I need to get potassium, so half a banana would help at an aid station. Coke if I feel like drinking coke but right towards the 10 of the run and it worked.

Don’t try anything different on race day

I had a good run in Kona last year up until mile 5. You know those big buckets of cold water that they put all the sponges in and you grab the sponges. I got to that big bucket of water and I ducked my head in it and there was this massive ice block in the middle and I hit my head really hard on it because I didn’t think twice, I just went straight in. I was like oh, that didn’t feel good; I didn’t know you were going to do that. It got hot for me mentally in Kona. I think it was probably the accumulation of 3 Ironmans in 11 weeks.

But if I follow her nutrition plan. I’m always guaranteed that I would have a better run experience but I struggle with taking things on the run. So that’s also one thing I need to work on.

BRAD BROWN:  Fantastic. Well Kevin Portmann thanks for your time on The Kona Edge. Much appreciated. It’s been great catching up and I look forward to following your progress and seeing how you go over the next few seasons.

KEVIN PORTMANN: Thanks very much Brad for the time. That was awesome. Thank you very much.


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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