There are countless nutritional resources available for athletes and one of the best around in my opinion is Brendan Brazier. So when it comes to nutritional advice, I’d recommend sticking with the experts. With that said, I am only qualified to share my experiences and what I have learned throughout years of competition. Hopefully you will find some of this useful or it will at least re-enforce what you already know.
Here are “My Top Ten Tips for Sustaining Yourself Nutritionally and Mentally During Competition”, from a triathlete’s perspective:
- The quality of our everyday nutrition is vitally important to our performance during training and competition. For the most part, it appears that the sports nutrition industry tends to focus primarily on race day; except for Vega. Although it is very important to focus on easily digestible foods that our bodies can quickly convert to energy during a race, we shouldn’t care about our nutrition any less when we are training. Eat for performance and you will have more sustained energy throughout your day.
- If you train like you want to race, then you will race like you train. Noting that my primary race distance is international (a.k.a Olympic), in general I find that high-intensity workouts (i.e. interval training, sprints, hill repeats) with purposeful recovery will make you a much better athlete than focusing on pure distance and frequency. This isn’t intended to suggest that an athlete should train at a high intensity all the time because that can lead to injury, but rather focus on quality workouts rather than quantity.
- Pre-view the land-based portions of the course and mentally mark the distances. This is important for many reasons. Knowing your way through a course can play to your advantage not just by providing visual cues for turns etc, but also for knowing the grade of the course and the sharpness of the turns. It is a bonus if any of the turns have speed limit signs as those can serve as a good marker for how fast you can take the turn on your bike. For example, if the speed limit sign reads 25-30MPH, you can generally continue to gun it. However if it reads 15MPH, get out of your aero position, sit up to get better balanced and slow down.
- Visualize your race. Run through the entire race mentally a day or two prior to the actual race day if possible and think through not only all the transitions (which will reduce the chance of making an error during the race, for example forgetting to bring a key nutritional item) but also your goals and the attitude you want to carry. What is your strategy? Why are you racing? Don’t lose sight of why you are competing. Having a bigger purpose outside of ones self can be particularly motivating (i.e. working with a charity etc). Find whatever gives your efforts great purpose, so if and when the “demons of negativity” start to creep in, you can refocus on your mission.
- Don’t introduce anything new race day. Yes, it is that simple.
- Make sure your race day kit fits snug and is aero. I sometimes see people with nice bikes, fancy wheels, aero helmets and a parachute of a jersey. Wearing a tightly fitted race day kit can save you big time and it is one of the least expensive ways to go faster.
- Think through your race day nutrition and hydration needs prior to the race and prepare accordingly. I tend to compete primarily with my hydration and nutrition mixed into my two water bottles (for the international distance). However, I also carry what I call, “The Hand Grenade.” Noting this isn’t something to experiment with on race day and the caffeine portion might not be for everyone. This is just what works for me. I tend to fill a plastic race flask 70% with the Vega Endurance Gel, break open some caffeine pills to pour in, pour in some Vega Electrolyte Hydrator and fill whatever space is left with a little water and mix it all up. This concentrated concoction has come in very useful midway during the bike for an added boost.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything might not go as planned, just stay focused and keep positive; no one is making you race. Your attitude can make a huge difference in your overall experience, the experience of your fellow competitors, that of the volunteers and your performance. It’s not over until it’s over.
- Don’t try to avoid all forms of suffering when training or racing. Although it’s critical to make sure you have consulted with your physician to ensure you are cleared to train and race hard (stress test etc), you won’t know what you are capable of until you try to push your limits and raise your lactic threshold. This is especially important during certain training cycles. Just keep in mind while you’re racing to try to keep your game face on and don’t let your competition know when you’re deep in the 'pain cave'.
- Have fun! No really, half the battle is getting to that starting line.
Thanks for reading.