On this episode of The Kona Edge we chat to Michael Girard about the Ironman nutrition strategy he believes in.  It all comes down to listening to your body in the build up to Kona.


BRAD BROWN:  Welcome back onto The Kona Edge, I’m Brad Brown, we’ve got Michael Girard with us once again, we head to Michigan. Michael, welcome back, nice to catch up once again.

MICHAEL GIRARD:  Hi, great to be here Brad.

BRAD BROWN:  Michael, I wanted to touch on a bit of nutrition. We haven’t spoken about it at all in our previous chats and for a lot of people, in an Ironman, nutrition is essentially the 4th discipline. A lot of people say it’s the most important, that if you don’t get that right, the other three don’t fall into place. Where does it rank on the importance scale for you as opposed to the three disciplines, nutrition, where would you put it?

MICHAEL GIRARD:  As they say it is the 4th discipline and I actually like to wrap pacing and nutrition together because I think they really go together.

Pacing is so critical to your ability to take in nutrition and if you’re pushing yourself a little too hard for that duration, you’re not going to be able to take in the nutrition. I think that’s one of the first mistakes that can easily get made. A lot of people are thinking, boy, I’m having some GI issues, I’m having some trouble with this, that and the other and I think maybe they’re not paying close enough attention to pacing and they’re just not ready for nutrition.

Staying relaxed – The key to Michael’s Ironman Nutrition

The biggest piece of my nutrition strategy tends to be making sure I’m relaxed and ready to take in nutrition. With any race, any Olympic distance, we still need to take in some nutrition. I’m not going to take in anything until I’m relaxed and settled in and that could just be looking at my heart rate, has my heart rate come down from the swim or it’s just kind of listening to my body.

For example, especially after a 70.3 or Olympic, which is a more intense swim, you swallow a lot of air. If you don’t get that air out and you try to take in nutrition, that is just bad, bad news, you’ll probably regret that. Maybe not in Olympic, but you’re definitely going to regret it with anything longer. Get relaxed, I don’t even touch a bottle for at least 10-15 minutes until I know that I’m relaxed, I’m settled in, I can ride an easy pace and I’m not worried about getting a penalty for drafting.  I burned any rubber matches that I had to till I’m spinned out and I just wait a while.

BRAD BROWN:  As far as what you do from a nutrition point of view, are you a big one on just liquids or do you tend to take in solids as well, how does it work for you?

MICHAEL GIRARD:  I’m pretty flexible. Aerodynamics take a pretty good priority, so I keep it really simple. In 70.3 I’m actually this season, well, my last race I lost my reserve bottle, so traditionally I have a reserve bottle which was just an aero bottle and I just exchange my main bottle, so I get most of my nutrition through liquids, what’s on course and then I supplement with whatever gels I need to reach an approximate, for me it was maybe 300-400 calories an hour.  It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling, it might be weather dependent and so forth. I remain pretty flexible. In Ironman, let’s take a step back, for 70.3 I’m probably going to get rid of the reserve bottle.

Ultimately I’ve always found that if I happen to miss a hand off, there’s always a second opportunity in these big races. So it really was kind of useless to have that second bottle, so I’ll take the extra aerodynamics to just ditch the bottle.

In Ironman that’s still too risky, you don’t want to go 20-30 minutes without liquids. I’ll still keep that reserve bottle, but it’s a single reserve. So, pretty much I’m relying on hand offs and I take in on course nutrition and then I supplement with, typically it’s about one gel an hour and then a couple of waffles as well. Again, Ironman similar, actually it’s still about 400 or so calories an hour I’m going to take in.

In Kona it’s a little trickier, I guess you have to vary that and I guess I like to be flexible, you have to vary it for hot conditions and in Kona you’re taking in a lot more liquids. Actually, your nutrition gets a little easier because you aren’t going to take in as many gels, so there’s less eating required, but you’re taking in a lot more liquids.

To put it simply, I’m pretty much drinking to the edge of being bloated, you just listen to yourself and put in as much liquid as you can in that kind of temperature and then you just, when your stomach says you’re ready, it’ll take in some gels and then later in the race you just kind of listen and say, am I still hungry?  If you’re still hungry, then take in an extra gel. I try to remain pretty flexible. I found, it’s funny, not speaking for someone else, but I remember chatting with Dan Stubleski of all people who was very successful at executing and I saw him at a 70.3 and I noticed he had some solid nutrition on his bike. I was like Dan, why do you have that and he said ‘in case I feel like it’. It’s great to see that, someone is a little bit like me, basically they live off the course and they’re just going to say ‘see how they feel’.

Experiment with your nutrition plan in the build up to Ironman World Championship

Their plan is to kind of not have a plan, not hold themselves so rigid to say I have to get through this specific nutrition plan by the end of the race. Because, if your stomach is not ready to take it in and I just about made this mistake at Kona, at one point I took in a little bit too much and I guess not to make too long a story, but I got a bottle and this happens occasionally and this is why you have to have a reserve. I got a bottle and the foil was still on the bottle. This is kind of a disastrous moment here, you have a bottle that you can’t drink from and so you kind of only had so many strategies. Ultimately what I did is, I finally ended up taking the cap off, half of it spilled out, got the cap back on real quick, all while I’m riding in the aero bars and managed to salvage it.  But what I ended up doing was kind of chugging part of a bottle, trying to make up for lost time and it was a real mistake, but I pulled myself through it.

I guess if I can say it, there’s a key, it’s listen to your body and in those long training rides, do a little bit of experimenting and try some different things, but ultimately, figure out how to take in as much nutrition as you can because you’re going to get to those races that are so hot that it’s going to be challenging even getting in as much liquid as you need.

It’s amazing what you can sweat and I kind of wish I’d weighed myself after Kona, but it had to have been unreal. Even though I was taking in absolutely the most water I could, I’m sure I still lost 3-5 pounds of water, for sure.

BRAD BROWN:  Michael, as far as nutrition goes, is there one thing that you’ve done that you feel has made a big difference to your nutrition strategy, something you’ve figured out for you personally?

MICHAEL GIRARD:  Like I said, it’s knowing that I can just listen to myself and realizing when it’s a good time and when it isn’t a good time, but probably the most critical was not taking in nutrition for the start of that race. My first two 70.3 attempts, not attempts, my first two races, I had some GI issues and I think I trace it back to swallowing air and the air works itself through your system and you’re just going to have a bad day on that run.

That’s what I had to learn early on, is don’t touch that bottle, get relaxed, resist the urge to go too hard and it’s two-fold because at the same time, you’re going to have a faster bike split if you’re not going out too hard early on in that bike. It’s amazing how easy, especially if you’re in an Olympic, or even a short sprint, you think it’s a sprint I can just hammer it.  But the truth is, there’s a huge difference between going at 105% or riding right at threshold, 100% versus if you go at 120% for even 30 seconds, you’ve burnt a huge match. It’s amazing how big of a match and how quickly you can burn matches early on in a race. I think you’ll find that a lot of the elites, that’s one thing they do. If you look at their Power files, that’s one they’re doing extremely well. There’s probably a few guys in the top hundred amateurs at Kona that rode harder than probably like a 1:03 variability. So probably a few, maybe a few, close to 5%, but no one over 5% that was anywhere near the front of that race.

You learn to pace real evenly and that plays well in nutrition. You pace evenly, you go out easy, you can start taking in nutrition early and not have to try to, once you get on that run, it’s going to get real hard to take in nutrition, so you’ve got to make sure you fuel as much as you can on the bike.

BRAD BROWN:  Brilliant! Michael, thank you so much for that, great advice and we look forward to catching up again soon. All the best and thanks for your time today.

MICHAEL GIRARD:  All right, thank you.

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