Nutrition. The fourth and arguably the most important Ironman discipline. On this episode of The Kona Edge Lucy Charles tells us what about her Ironman nutrition strategy and how it has contributed to her success.
BRAD BROWN: It’s time to chat some nutrition here on The Kona Edge and we head to the UK, London, to be specific and Lucy Charles joins us. Lucy, welcome back, nice to touch base, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.
LUCY CHARLES: Hello, fantastic to be back again, great to chat with you Brad.
Learn to improve your Ironman nutrition
BRAD BROWN: Lucy, let’s talk nutrition, it’s vital, a lot of people, particularly when they first get into the sport they don’t really realize how important it is. Where would you rate nutrition on the scale of 1-10 from 1 being not important at all, 10 being crucial?
LUCY CHARLES: Nutrition is massive, I’d definitely rate it, definitely around 9 or 10. When I first entered my first Ironman I hadn’t even considered nutrition as something I’d have to think about and then I learnt that I definitely would need to improve my nutrition in order to get through the race.
BRAD BROWN: Have you had to change, just sort of the way you eat outside of racing, compared to when you were training, competitively swimming or is it very similar?
LUCY CHARLES: I’d say it’s very similar. The hours I used to do in the pool and the hours that I do now spread across the three sports is very similar. It’s all about getting loads of calories in. The majority of the time I pretty much eat what I want, it’s not until 6 weeks out from a race that I’ll really knuckle down on my nutrition and think, right, I’ve got to get on the ball now.
BRAD BROWN: All right, let’s talk about your strategy in those 6 weeks. You talk about knuckling down and making sure things happen, what sort of changes and tweaks do you make to your nutrition in those six weeks?
Nutrition strategy in the buildup to Ironman World Championships
LUCY CHARLES: I cut out all of the crap, I mean sometimes I can eat a lot of rubbish when I’m really training and I’m craving things. In those 6 weeks I cut out all of that. I really try and include a lot of fruit and veg, just to stay healthy in that time, I don’t want to be getting ill that close to a race. Refueling always straight after a session, getting the protein and the carbs back in, yeah, it’s just really being on the ball and listening to your body and knowing when you need to be eating.
BRAD BROWN: It also comes down to planning and making sure that you’ve prepared, just as you would, to get ready for a ride the next morning or a run the next morning, to make sure that your nutrition needs are taken care of as well.
LUCY CHARLES: Yeah, most definitely. I mean organization is a massive thing, making sure the food is ready for when you get back from the session. I’m quite guilty of not doing that a lot of the time and then learning the hard way and then quickly having to get something ready. The more organized you can be, having something ready after a session, it really does help.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the recovery nutrition after a session, what’s your strategy there, what do you try and do, what do you try and get in, time frames after a workout, talk me through that.
LUCY CHARLES: I mean I’m on a fairly busy schedule a lot of the time, so I’ll use protein shakes quite a lot, they’re always quick to get calories back in and then I eat a lot of pasta and a lot of carbs as well to refuel.
BRAD BROWN: Fantastic and then let’s talk Ironman race day nutrition and the day before. We touched on it briefly with regards to what you eat and drink before the race, but let’s look at the night before an Ironman, what would you generally do for dinner?
Preparing for Ironman race day nutrition
LUCY CHARLES: I definitely have a big carb dinner, nothing that’s too, got too much that might upset your stomach in it, so not too much additive, it’s pretty bland to be honest, but something that I know I like, so a lot of carbs involved in that. Then the day before and that night I’ll really be up on my hydration, so just making sure I’m drinking all the time, I’ve always got a water bottle on me.
BRAD BROWN: Breakfast, you mentioned you’re a big fan of porridge before a race and obviously far enough out that it’s not too close to the actual start time. Hydration you’ve mentioned as well, what sort of stuff are you drinking, is it just water or are you replacing electrolytes or topping up with electrolytes in the build up to a race as well?
LUCY CHARLES: Yeah, it’s pretty much always got electrolytes in there, just making sure they’re always topped up. If you can go into a race with them really topped up, then you’re not starting below hydration levels, you want to be really topped up before you start. In terms of the porridge, it’s just something I’ve always done as a swimmer, I’ve been up early training and I always have the porridge, so I know I can tolerate that and that works for me.
BRAD BROWN: I guess that’s the key, is finding what works for you as an individual because no two people are the same but you need to experiment. Then, as far as the actual race day nutrition and what you’ve got in T1, obviously there’s nothing you can do while you’re in the water, but T1 onto the bike, what’s your strategy, do you take stuff in T1 or do you tend to take it all on the bike?
LUCY CHARLES: Yeah, normally I’ll get straight out the swim and I’ll straight away try and just get as much of the fluid in as I can that’s got some electrolytes in whilst I’m changing to get onto the bike. Then as soon as I’m on the bike I’ll start eating. I normally start with solids, energy bars and get the solids in to start with.
BRAD BROWN: Lucy, is that something you’ve trained as well, I mean a lot of people that I chat to tend to just stay on liquids and gels and that sort of thing. How important are solids to you and your strategy?
LUCY CHARLES: Yeah, I mean my stomach definitely can’t tolerate taking gels for the whole time, so I’ve implemented using the bars and things in my training to make sure that that works for me as well and it certainly did. Then it’s not really until the last couple of hours on the bike that I’ll start to rely on the gels.
BRAD BROWN: Do you take on any other solids, that last bit of the bike, on the run is it just liquids and gels?
LUCY CHARLES: Yeah, as soon as I get onto the run and the last part of the bike, it’s just pretty much fluids and gels, I won’t have any solids beyond that point.
BRAD BROWN: Then you talk about eating rubbish in the buildup to an Ironman, are you one of those people that just lets go after a race and eat your body weight in pizza?
What is your craving after Ironman race day?
LUCY CHARLES: Yeah, pizza, for some reason is definitely a thing I crave. I think that was the first Ironman I did in Bolton, you would run in past the finish on each lap and they had some sort of pizza and you could just smell it and then by the end I just had to have pizza and I think that’s just now gone into every Ironman that I do, I must have pizza at the end. I think that’s quite a common thing for a lot of triathletes actually.
BRAD BROWN: I was about to say, I’ve never done Ironman Bolton and I’ve got that same problem! Is there one thing that you’ve done in your career from a nutrition point of view that you think has made a big difference to your performance?
LUCY CHARLES: I mean I’ve gone on about it quite a bit, but definitely nutrition, a lot of the best races I’ve done I’ve been really topped up and hydrated and I know that that has a big percentage effect on your performance, so that’s my biggest thing, is being hydrated.
BRAD BROWN: Awesome stuff, Lucy Charles, thank you so much for your time here on The Kona Edge, much appreciated and good luck on the journey getting back there. I know you’ve set some big goals for yourself, you want to be the first age grouper home and you want to break that swim record as well, so best of luck on your journey and we look forward to touching base again soon.
LUCY CHARLES: Thank you very much, lovely to chat, thank you.