This was taken from a comment on my Santa Cruz Triathlon Tips post. I created a new post out of it because the information could be helpful to anyone planning their nutrition for an olympic distance race.
Kate: “Thanks for the great tips! I’m competing in this tri for the first time on Sunday and am excited and just a little bit nervous. It’s my first olympic distance race, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to manage food. I’ve used a caffeinated gel in a sprint tri in the past, but don’t want to overdo the stimulants in this longer race. Any tips on nutrition during the race?”
Hi Kate, Congrats on taking the plunge into the olympic distance!
Generally, anything your body was able to handle well during the sprint distance, it should be able to handle during an olympic race since you should be racing at a lower intensity. If gels worked for you, I’d stick with gels for this race. Most people wouldn’t have a problem with using caffeinated gels for an olympic, but you know your body best and if you are concerned at all then go with gels that don’t have caffeine.
Nutrition can be very individual, and it is very helpful to practice it during training to know what works for you. But I can give you some general advice that would work for most people. First of all, make sure that your muscles are plenty “topped off” with fuel. I try to eat 6 small meals the day before a race. Each meal would contain the equivalent amount of carbs as 2 pieces of bread (what I also call the “6 sandwich pre race diet”). I find this is a better way to fuel than to stuff your face with a giant pasta dinner the night before. Also be sure to get up early enough to eat a good breakfast and to digest it. A pre race favorite of mine is a peanut butter and banana sandwich (light on the PB) on healthy bread (I prefer Food For Life brand sprouted grain bread- toasted) plus a protein shake (plain soy milk + a scoop of whey protein isolate). It’s quick and easy and does the job. I also usually would eat half a cliff bar about a half hour before the race with water. If you are concerned about eating solid food, you can take a gel (or half a gel) with water about 15 minutes before the start.
Since it’s much easier to fuel on the bike than on the run, you should try to take in most of race calories on the bike. For the bike I would target about 200 calories an hour, or about 2 gels per hour. If you plan to be out on the course for awhile or if you know you can handle more calories than this without a problem, you can go up to 300 calories / hour. I would set my watch to beep every 5 minutes and I’d take in 1/6 of a gel with water. This is much easier on the stomach than consuming an entire gel at once. Make sure you take in plenty of water with your gels or your stomach will not be happy. To make it easy, you might want to mix the appropriate amount of gel into your bike bottle and try to finish it before the turnaround. I like to use the Profile Designs aerodrink on my bike since it makes it so easy and convenient to drink and fuel without getting out of the aero position. At the turnaround, grab more water and then start using gels you have on your bike. You can use electrical tape to tape gels to your top tube. Tightly tape over the opening tab and it should conveniently rip right off when you grab the gel.
Hopefully if you started the day “topped off” and if you consumed enough on the bike, you won’t need to consume much out on the run. But if you plan on being out on the run for awhile, then you’ll need to take in more fuel. If you think your stomach can handle whatever product they are giving out on the run course (heed or gatorade, etc), then you might want to grab a cup at each aid station and walk a few steps while you drink it. If you are concerned that those products might not work for you, then I’d carry a gel or two with me on the run and consume part of a gel with water at the aid stations. If at any point during the race (run or bike) your stomach becomes upset, stop taking in gels / calories and just drink water for awhile. This should help your stomach empty. If you feel like you are bonking out on the course (which hopefully you will not if you’ve followed the above advice!), then stop at an aid station and drink 2-3 cups of whatever they are serving.
Feel free follow up with any questions or to post your detailed nutrition plan. I hope this was helpful.