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Iron Man Nutrition - Maintaining Peak Performance with Sugar.

This is maybe not a IronMan strategy for the fist time or novice. It's more of a diary entry from someone whose life motto is "Go big or go home."

As a background of myself, I started doing triathlons around the age of 8, and I finished my first olympic distance race when I was 15. As a reckless youth, I regularily bonked on my long rides. I'd ride for 30min into a nearby town, ride for what we called a three hour "simulated race" group ride, and then bike home for between 30min and one hour, depending on the strength of the inevitable head wind and the degree to which I'd bonked.

Somewhere between bonk 10 and bonk 15, I remembered someone from the last bicycling camp talking about nutrition and the ability to postpone a bonk by eating lots of sugar. On the the next ride, I consumed 4 chocolate bars, and a new chapter of my cycling had begun. I discovered the wonder of the "sugar high" and the applications it had to cycling. Over the next few years, I always had a few chocolate bars or litres of pop/soda in my water bottles. Gradually, I started waiting less and less time before hitting the chocolate and caffiene filled soda.

Eventually, I decided to just turn the bike rides into one big sugar high. It sounds like a diabetic case waiting to happen, but as it turns out, your body responds differently to high glycemic index carohydrates when you are exercising vigorously compared to when you're eating candy, sitting on your couch watching TV.

When exercising hard, you can eat sugar without the corresponding spike in insulin levels and stress on your liver. You're even sort of supossed to eat sugar. How cool is that? Either way, to make a long story short, I'll fast forward to me biking through Australia with 40 pounds of packs on my bike while averaging a little over 200km/day. I realized pretty quickly that it was impossible to really eat enough to fuel my caloric demands and that cycling is more fun when you've a little more high on caffiene.

The result was water bottles filled with a few bags of tea, about 200grams of sugar and a little bit of cream. It's a little risky, but it seemed to work. I'd wake up before the sun, back up my tent, mix up an ungodly strong and sweat tea, pour it into my water bottles and ride until sunset with the possible detour to a all-U-can-eat buffet that hapenned to appear along the way.

This seemed to work well. I attacked each hill along the way, and one time caught up to and rode with a bunch of road cyclists on a group ride until 2hrs later, I dropped them on a false flat. I guess this is sort of anecdotal evidence to the wonders of eating lots of food on long bike rides (and a testimonial to the fact that sugar seems to be OK if you're exercising hard enough).

Foolishly, I came back and signed up for Ironman Canada. It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. I went back to regular life, until one month before the race, I kind of realized that training would be a good thing. I spent three weeks cycling for 3-4 hours and then immediately running for 1.5hrs and then it was time to taper.

On race day, I decided that I might as well do the entire race on a big caffeine/sugar high. The swim went OK. It's pretty hard to screw up a Ironman in the swim. I swam, got kicked a few times and almost lost my breakfast but emerged mostly unscather in a little under an hour. I got on the bike, drank some of my tea and dextrose filled water bottle and took off like a rocket. Dextrose is not like normal sugar. The first time I tried it (the day before Ironman) I got a huge buzz, and had to ride up and down a steep hill for an hour until the high wore off. Basically the same thing happenned on Ironman. My first though on the bike was "why is everyone going so slow?"

This thought persited with me for the first 2 hrs of the bike until it was replaced with "Oh my god, I think I'm going to die..." My mistake had been to mix up my home made sports drink a little strong. It was sitting in my stomach and all the water I was drinking was mixing with my sports drink and most importantly, not getting absorbed into my blood stream.

I was really tired for the next hour or so, until the sports drink was digested by my stomach. Note to self, don't mix sports drinks too strong. After this, I felt good. I had lots of energy, the dextrose was kicking in nicely, and I had a good caffiene buzz again. My thoughts turned to "Wow, this race is alot tougher than I though, I wonder if I'll finish". I got of the bike with reasonbly wobbly legs, took a last drink of what would normally be referred to as a sports drink, but which I think is better referred to as "speed" and took off.

It wasn't a stellar race, but I stumbled in at 10hrs 3min. I don't think it's too bad for just a few weeks of training. It was also my first marathon and Ironman ever. Up to this race, I'd never ran more than 30km. Chalk the race upto a willingness to endure pain, confidence in myself, dextrose and caffiene.

So here's what I learned:

IronMan = really quite hard
Proper nutrition = necessary
sugar = good
dextrose in your sports drink = really good
caffiene = really, really good
Training before = not a bad idea
A sports drink tailored to your individual needs = priceless


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