One of the mistakes I have made as a coach is assuming an athlete thinks the same as me in everything, just because they seem to have learned from me so many other things. Because of this, another one of the mistakes I've made as a coach is sometimes letting my athletes have too much control of their performance, and me not taking the bull by the horns.
Nutrition has always been something I figured was more personal, and more to an athlete's individual preferences. Lately, with more marketing dollars pushing more thoughts into the consciousness of athletes to think they need a certain drink product, salt tablet, or other electrolyte item, it appears the need for me to be more dominant in my athletes' nutritional plans is clear.
I want to address the largest and most common mistake I see in many athletes' nutritional plans for racing. I tell athletes to "maximize" their nutrition, but I apparently have not been clear on that.
Athletes so often think, "If I need X number of calories, then X + 300 must be better! And then X + 500 must be better than that! That's maximizing nutrition! Getting in the maximum amount I can!"
Herein lies the problem...A maximized nutrition plan is one which gives athletes the LEAST amount of calories needed to get the finish line while still able to meet their goals! They have maximized the production of output per input of calorie! That's maximization!
When athletes start consuming more calories than are needed, their stomach is required to do more work. As the intensity of the race increases, (swimming to biking to running is generally an increase in the intensity on the body), the stomach becomes more irritable, and begins to shut down. The body instead wants to fuel the working muscles with blood, rather than the stomach. If you've ever had bloating, severe stomach nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting in a race, it is most likely from your nutritional strategy being too many calories! (Or too much salt, electrolytes, protein or whatever else you may be putting down your throat.)
If you're heading into a late season Ironman, or even key races of Olympic to Half distances, calculate how many calories you are consuming, and make sure it's only as much as you need! How many is that? In a very general sense, it's 300 per hour on the bike and 200 per hour on the run. Don't neglect the positive caloric effects of a large breakfast!
Double check your plan and be sure to tweak it in your training, as we are coming down to crunch time. Don't waste all your months of training by over-eating on race day. Keep it minimal, and maximize the calories you do get in.
PS - For the record, I do not want my athletes putting anything in their stomachs other than plain calories. No salt, no protein, no electrolytes. But that is another post in itself!