May 21, 2017 Philip

Endurance challenges and nutrition

A question that Warren and I regularly get asked is about nutrition. Over the past few years of taking on our EPIC Challenges and other events such as Marathons and running the Saffrey’s Walk, you have to focus on getting your approach to nutrition right. Nutrition is a very subjective topic, it comes down to what is right for you and your event, so what we share about in this post may not be the perfect approach for everyone, but it may give people some tips and lessons for their own events and challenges.

The daily calorie intake numbers often thrown about are 2500kcal per day for a man and 2000kcal for a woman each day. To give you an idea of our current position with under 8 weeks to go until the challenge is a daily intake of circa 4000kcal to 5000kcal per day. This can be a challenge in itself, simply including that number of calories in your daily intake. Unfortunately, it’s not a case of just throwing whatever you want down your throat, we’re not on a diet of malteser’s and ice cream. Our approach to nutrition is to focus on the right calories, ones that will give us energy to complete training without risking falling off a cliff in terms of energy levels. For us this has been a balance of carbohydrates (including complex carbs such as sweet potato, wholegrain rice and green vegetables) and protein such as eggs, chicken, beef, tuna. To add to this we are also using protein powder in nutri-bullets for extra calories. This is then ‘topped up’ with additional daily intake of fats (some good some not so good :-)) and unrefined sugars (like Maple Syrup on porridge!).

To incorporate that level of calorie intake every day during training we have moved from the traditional 3 meals a day to simply eating all through the day. It is a case of constantly grazing in-between the main meals, nuts, flapjacks, fruit etc, it is all on the grazing list.

When we take on the 7 Ironmans in 7 Days we expect to be burning anywhere between 7000kcal and 10,000kcal each day. Simply fuelling adequately each day is going to be a challenge in itself. Our 17 months of training has had to also incorporate nutrition training. If we get that wrong during EPIC7 we are going to be in a whole world of trouble and it could be impossible to try and play catch up with the calories. We have had to use our lessons learnt from 7 Marathons in 7 Days and EPIC48 with our approach to EPIC7, however this challenge does feel like it is on a complete new level. Our training has had to include testing all elements of nutrition, and this includes hydration! We have had to put ourselves in scenarios similar to the challenge to discover what works and what doesn’t. For example, we recently completed two half-ironman brick sessions on two consecutive days. This involved a 56 mile bike ride followed immediately by a 13.1 mile run, two days in a row. Just under 6 hrs of moving time gave us a great environment to test nutrition, we also spent 6 hours on our turbo trainers in St Peter Port on Liberation Day. The Liberation Day ride was a good test for me, I took in a bowl of pasta, as well as other food, but I could not stomach the pasta at all. A good lesson learnt that whilst out on the bike, solid food like pasta isn’t going to work for me.

For EPIC7 we believe we are going to be looking at the following approach in terms of target calorie intake:

  • Breakfast – 2000kcals
  • Transition 1 (Swim to Bike) – 1000kcal to 2000kcal
  • Fuel every 45 mins to 1 hour on the bike 
  • Transition 2 (Bike to Run) – 1500kcal to 2000kcal
  • Fuel every 10km on the run
  • Overnight Recovery – 2500kcal to 4000kcal 

Hydration is really important, in fact it will be crucial for Warren and I as we are taking on the challenge in the middle of the summer, which means we could be cycling and running in temperatures well over 20deg. Hydration for us isn’t just about drinking enough during a session, it has become like an obsession throughout the day. The trick with hydration is to keep at it constantly, for the big sessions we often use coconut water, electrolytes and salt replacement drinks alongside water.

All of the above may not work for everyone, but if we think the following 3 tips are crucial when approaching nutrition for a long distance event or challenge.

  1. Don’t wait until you are hungry to eat – playing catch up is not going to be successful. I set my watch to beep at me every 45 mins on long bike rides or runs to remind me to eat.
  2. Test scenarios in training – create opportunities to test new foods and drinks, that is what training is for. Don’t leave it until the challenge or event to see what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Beware of overdoing it with energy drinks and bars – try to keep it as natural as possible with the occasional inclusion of an energy based drink or snack.
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