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Nutrition: fuel for iron-distance
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Friday 19th July 2013

Tags  Ironman Nutrition  |  Lisa Picton  |  Nutrition  |  USN

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Age Group athlete Lisa Picton has a lot of iron-distance race experience. A multiple Kona qualifier (we interviewed her prior to her 2010 race HERE), Lisa races for the Racetime-USN team.

With the peak summer racing season here, many of you will be getting ready for your big long distance event of the year with Ironman UK, Challenge Henley and Ironman Wales just three of many events scheduled over the coming weeks. A huge component of iron-distance success is getting your nutrition strategy right as without it, no amount of physical training will overcome deficiencies in that area. For iron-distance, nutrition really is absolutely crucial to success - and indeed, just finishing.

In this article on fuelling an iron-distance event, Lisa outlines some key advice on how to get through the race with the right calories, fuel and hydration at the right time. Lisa also outlines for practical purposes her personal approach and product selection from her sponsors range (USN -, but you can readily apply the key principles to your particular products and brands of choice.

Fuelling an iron-distance event

In a long distance triathlon such as an iron-distance event, it is often said that nutrition is the fourth discipline, however it is an area that is often underestimated despite the fact that it can actually make or break your race. Having spent at least six months training for an Ironman distance, in addition to the cost incurred of entering the event, it is a big investment and therefore it would be a shame to turn up in the best possible physical shape and yet not have the race you deserve due to not having a nutrition strategy in place.

Finding your ultimate nutritional strategy can take some time and it may actually take more than one race to find your 'ideal' nutrition plan, however there are some key points that are worth bearing in mind:

  • Experiment in training to find what does/doesn't work for you. Once you have found what works, practise this strategy in key training days and 'B' races. This includes practising pre, during and post-race fuelling.
  • During an event, a good guide for fuelling is 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour so it is worth calculating your calorie intake from the solids/ gels/ fluids of choice and again, practising this goal intake in training to find what works for you. As an example, for an 80kg male, 1 bottle of Cytopower, 1 small banana and 1 Vooma gel per hour would easily achieve this.
  • It is worth knowing the course - especially the bike course where the majority of fuelling will take place – so you can plan when to take on fuel. Ideally you want to identify parts of the cycle route where your heart rate will be lower i.e. flats and descents, as your stomach will be more receptive at these times.
  • Related to the point above, your heart rate is generally lower on the bike section and therefore if part of your plan is to take on solids, it is recommended to do this in the first half or so of the bike. Thereafter you may consider a shift to gels as it is not ideal to run with undigested solids in your stomach.
  • Consider the weather beforehand with regards to fluid intake. You may already know your sweat rate and if it is hot and/or humid, this will need to be taken into account. A good guide is 750ml bottle per hour on the bike and this may need to increase in hotter weather conditions with the additional consideration of electrolyte intake. Carrying Electrolyte Acti-Fizz to add to your drinks is one way to address this. Equally, if it is cold and wet, it is easy to forget to drink despite it still being important. Some competitors set an alarm to bleep on their stopwatch every 20mins to remind them to fuel which is a worthwhile strategy.
  • You may not wish to rely on event feed stations to supply your energy drinks as firstly, it may not be the best product for you and may not be what you have trained on (it is not advisable to try anything new in an event!), and secondly, you cannot necessarily guarantee that the bottle is full and made up to the correct isotonic solution. To overcome this, consider carrying your own 'concentrate' of energy drink such as Cytopower, marking the divided quantities on a clear bottle, and just take water from the feed station to mix in a front aero bottle.
  • Consider your caffeine intake. Large intakes of caffeine can have a diuretic effect and therefore for an endurance event, such as an Ironman distance, you may consider saving it for a boost when needed i.e. in the latter stages of the race when you may benefit from the stimulatory effect.
  • If for any reason you incur tummy issues, switch to water to settle your stomach until it is ready to accept something more.

Lisa Picton

USN products recommended for fuelling an Ironman distance event:


  • Endurocarbs to be taken as per recommendation starting 2-3 days prior to the race

Pre-race nerves can affect my appetite and so I find that drinking Endurocarbs alongside eating lighter meals is a good way of getting an easily transportable carbohydrate source to the liver & muscles without my body having to process large amounts of carbohydrate heavy foods.

As my usual breakfast consists of oats, Protein GF-1, seeds, berries & yogurt, this product is a great practical alternative for when travelling and racing away. It also makes up a smooth blend and so it goes down a bit easier on race morning! You can supplement this with other foods of choice i.e. banana/ bagel etc. according to your individual plan.

Pre Race USN


  • Any of the endurance range of energy drinks (or a combination according to requirements):
  • Epic Pro All in One: on the bike only when heart rate is lower due to protein content
  • Cytopower: depending on caffeine tolerance, may be preferred in latter stages. Good electrolyte content
  • Endurocarbs (made to an isotonic solution): a caffeine-free alternative. Supplement with Electrolyte Acti-Fizz
  • Protein bars: a 'solid' option in earlier stages of the bike
  • Vooma gels: on the bike and/or run

The USN endurance range of products offers enough choice to accommodate a wide range of nutritional strategies according to individual requirements. As said before, it is important to trial these in training and be prepared to adapt these according to environmental factors on the day.

During Race USN


The ideal would be to drink R3 Excell to help to replenish all round after the event; personally I struggle to drink anything 'sweet' afterwards and generally crave something more savoury and salty in taste so this year, I will be tempted to refuel with the Protein Soup after and start on the R3 Excell the next morning! Also, the day after an endurance event, you may experience symptoms of dehydration such as bloating, headache, stiff neck and in this instance, an Electrolyte Acti-Fizz tablet will certainly help.

Then, enjoy eating whatever you like/ crave for a couple of days as you have certainly earned it!

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