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The need for a high energy sports drink.

One of the key challenges of completing the IronMan quickly is ingesting enough calories during the race. Generaly speaking, a key limiter for faster than average Ironman athletes is lack of muscle glycogen. This glycogen typicaly gets depleted during the race and the athlete is forced to utilize fat stores to a higher degree than perhaps they would like.

This sounds perfect for a typical weight loss plan, but it is a less than ideal situation for a race. Once carbohydrate (muscle glycogen) stores are completed, an athlete has to rely primarily on his or her fat burning system. Using the fat burning system, it is difficult to exercise at more than 65% of ones maximum heart rate. Essentially, when one runs of of muscle glycogen, you can only get your heart rate up to 120 beats/min. You also feel mentally shot, it's tough to think clearly and even geting you heart rate over 100 is accompanied with heavy breathing and thoughts of taking up a new sport like golf or curling. It's the state the we athletes call "bonking" or "hitting the wall". It's something to be avoided and it's the bane of triathletes everywhere.

It's not always so black and white though. An Ironman ahtlete's race can be negatively effected by declining sugar stores even without them bonking, becoming delirious and being reduced to crawling across the finishline, IV drip in hand. Significantly reduced sugar stores will generally cause a mild feeling of fatigue and cause an athelete to slow down.

Generally, the average person can burn up to 10,000 calories in an Ironman. In addition, we usually need around 2,000 calories/day to survive. On Ironman day, this figure is a little higher than normal, and we need to add in another 1,500 calories to the mix. Thus, our total caloric needs from dawn until the end of the race are around 11,500. This figure is perhaps higher than other ones noted, But from experience, it's a good goal to shoot for.

Usually, around 80% of the calories burning in an Ironman are sugar. For a slower athlete it will be less, but usually still over 60%. I would recommend assuming 80% of the calories you burn will be from sugar (muscle glycogen). I find that when it comes to preventing bonking, it's better safe then sorry. This simple analysis puts our basic suga needs for the day at 8,000. Given a reserve of 2,500 calories, we've left with a deficit of 5,500 carbohydrates that we need to ingest during the race. Unfortunately, studies have found that it's also useful to ingest high quality protien as well. For every 4 grams of carbohydrates, it is important to have one gram of protien. This protien is important as it helps decrease muscle breakdown during the race.

The upshot of all this is that the average athlete needs 5,500 calories of sugars and 1,375 calories of protien as fuel plus 1,500 calories do deal with the stress caused by the race as well as to meet basic caloric needs (it takes some energy to stay alive).

Thus, we need about for a total of 8,375 calories of protien and carbohydrates during the race. If you plan on completing the Ironman in 10hrs, this works out to 837 calories/hour than needs to be consumed. If would plan to complete the Ironman in 12-14 hours, you need to ingest approximately 698 - 598 calories per hour. If you're a female with a slight build, you can probably get away with eating a little less.

This is alot of calories, and before you ask, yes it is possible to complete the race in these times without consuming this many calories. Some people have larger initial stores of muscle glycogen, some people are more efficient and some people are lighter than average. However, the point remains: you need to eat alot of food.

This is where sports drinks come into play. If you're at the upper end of this caloric spectrum, (around 800 calories/hour) you need a sports drink with high glycemic index sugars. If you're at the lower end of the spectrum, you have more flexibility of choice when it comes to choosing your sports drink. You can have a mixture of sugars in your sports drink.

It is virually impossible to ingest this many calories without a custom sports drinks tailored to your individual needs. If you need 800+ calories/hour, we highly recommend focussing on high glycemic index sugars such as detrose, glycogen and maltose. It's always a little risky just having these sugars in your sports drink, so putting in some sucrose would be a good idea too. The sucrose minimizes the posibility of a spectacular decline in blood sugar (bonk) around mile 20 of the run.

If you try to consume this many calories without using a sports drink, you will most likely get a terribly upset stomach, and you might also get to try out many of the porta-potties along the way. It's virtually impossible to consume this much energy while biking at Ironman intensity. Thus, choosing your food wisely is crutial. A good recommendation is "if you don't need it, don't eat it." This isn't the day for lots of fibre, and nice sauces.

Basically, you want to make a sports drinks that has what you need and nothing else. You pretty much need a sports drink tailored to your needs. To get a better idea of what you're needs are, what types of sugars you need, make your own custom sports drinks at www.custom-sports-drinks.com.

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