Found on Ironman.com and written by Pip Taylor
In the many years they’ve been doing the sport, these professional triathletes have heard it all. Here’s what they’ll never do again.
When it comes to nutrition, it seems like everyone’s an expert. People are usually eager to share their opinion with you, whether you asked for it or not. Sifting through nutrition advice can become tricky, not only due to misinformation but thanks to the fact that nutrition is so individual. Sports nutrition is no different. There are guidelines, but what works for you might be very different from what works for the next person—both on and off the race course.
To show how individual this element of racing is, I aked some of triathlon’s most experienced pros to see what they’ve learned over the years. Each one has gone on to learn from mistakes and implement those lessons. The takeaway? Stop looking for the magic solution. Experiment, then stick to what works for you.
Ben Hoffman: Second-place professional, 2014 IRONMAN World Championship
Best advice: Liquid fuel for racing.
“I can credit Chrissie Wellington’s insight to keep the IRONMAN diet strictly liquid and with more water than most people use. When I implemented her advice, I had much better success. I would also warn people against taking in a significant amount of fat or protein during a race, as it’s harder for your body to process and can cause serious GI distress.”
Worst advice: Following fads.
“Don’t listen to the fad diets. Usually these diets are meant for quick weight loss and don’t maintain a balance of healthy nutrients. I recommend Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules. It’s honest, simple, and accurate information on how to eat a healthy diet.”
Lesson learned: Keep things sensible and simple.
Linsey Corbin: Five-time IRONMAN champion
Best advice: Consistency.
In racing: “Be consistent with your fueling plan—both in training and racing. Eat the same foods in training that you do on race day (train your gut!) and eat consistently throughout the race. Personally, I try to take in calories every 20 minutes during an IRONMAN.”
Every day: “I have really had to work to include protein first thing in the morning, after key training sessions, and before bed I have protein as well.”
Worst advice: More is better
“Over-carbo loading at pre-race/event pasta parties spells disaster. Also, don’t try new foods on race day or complete long sessions in a fasted state.”
Lesson learned: Practice! Nothing new on race day.
Chris Legh: Six-time Australian champion, two-time IRONMAN champion
Best advice: Have back-ups and options.
“I mentioned once to Paula (Newby Fraser) that I had run out of sodium in a particular race, she looked at me and said something along the lines of: ‘It’s time you took control of your own destiny and realized that a career isn’t going to be forged from excuses.’ Not long after I turned up to race IRONMAN California in 2000, and as I entered transition on the morning of the race I saw a little Ziploc baggie tied with elastic to my seat post, full of sodium capsules. I turned to see who had put it there and saw Paula just smiling at me from a distance. I went on to win my first IRONMAN title that day and used that elastic band to tie salt caps on my bike for the next decade. It actually just become a limp band after all those years but I still have it as a lucky charm to this day. From that point on I always had countless back-ups and options whenever I raced.”
Worst advice: More is better.
“I remember preparing for a race years ago. The night before I watched television just eating banana after banana. I thought that if one banana was good for you then surely if I had five I would be on fire in the morning. I still don’t know if that was the definite reason for my poor showing, but I’m guessing it didn’t help. Being a ‘hyper-nutritionist’ is never the magic solution to an improved performance!”
Lesson learned: “Find your numbers and then provide yourself with options as a back-up plan.”
Sarah Haskins: Olympian, 33 professional wins
Best advice: Recovery is key
“The most important advice I learned early on in my career was to fuel within 30 minutes after a hard workout. I learned to fuel with carbohydrates, minerals, and proteins to replenish, speed recovery and be ready to push the next session.”
Worst advice: Listening to last-minute advice.
“The worst advice I’ve had over the course of my career was taking a supplement that did not work well for my body. Prior to a World Cup in Mexico several years back, someone told me to take sodium citrate to help improve the process of buffering lactate at a hard effort. The dosage didn’t work well in my system and left me feeling nauseous prior to the race. I was in so much pain, I could barely bend over in transition to put on my running shoes due to the cramping.”
Lesson learned: “Practice in training what you are going to do race morning.”
Matt Reed: Olympian, US National Champion
Best advice: Timing is critical
“Early in my IRONMAN 70.3 racing, Simon Lessing advised me to hold off eating and drinking until 45 to 60 minutes into the bike. Because you can only digest 400 or so calories an hour, your breakfast is still digesting during that period. This was great advice as I always tried to drink in the early stages of the bike and I would throw it up and waste those calories. After an hour my body holds it down much better.”
Worst advice: Solid food.
“For me the worst advice was to eat solid during a race. Trying to eat and breathe at the same time lead to choking, for me.”
Lesson learned: Nutrition is individual. What works for someone might not work best for you.
Pip Taylor is a professional triathlete and nutritionist. Visit her website at piptaylor.com