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Race day iron-distance nutrition
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Friday 15th July 2016

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Nutrition advice: Fuelling for IRONMAN UK

The nation’s largest long course triathlon event, Ironman UK, makes its return to Bolton and Lancashire on July 17th.

With this in mind, Lancashire-based cycling specialist Ribble Cycles have partnered with OTE Sport nutritionist Annie Simpson, to aide athletes when it comes to fuelling for race day.

From swimming to cycling to running, Ribble Cycles have created a bespoke nutrition guide revealing what it takes to champion each leg of the Bolton Ironman.

The Ironman marks the first in a series of nutrition guides Ribble Cycles will be launching in partnership with professional nutritionists. Tackling a variety of competition types from triathlon to track cycling. Ribble hopes to inspire aspiring athletes across the country to follow in the footsteps of the professionals when it comes to preparing for a race.

For those planning to take on a triathlon, such as Ironman UK this year, Annie Simpson explains why getting your nutrition right can make all the difference to your progress and performance: “An Ironman is one of the most demanding endurance events out there, pushing the body to its absolute limits over three different disciplines.”

“An Ironman isn’t just something you roll up to with no preparation, in fact it takes months of training and planning to get it right and nutrition is one of the areas that requires the most planning.”

Covering 140.6 miles, athletes taking part in Ironman UK will make their way across a course including a 2.4-mile swim at Pennington Flash in Leigh, followed by a 112-mile, two-loop journey from Pennington Flash and onto the breath-taking Lancashire countryside.The race concludes with a 26.2 mile marathon starting at the Macron Stadium before finishing in Le Mans Crescent in the shadow of the Albert Hall.

The total calories consumed during an Ironman sits in the region of 6000-8000kcal. Athletes therefore need to consume 60-90g of carbohydrates per hour to avoid calorie deficit – equating to 700g for a 10 hour Ironman.

For more nutrition advice on preparing for an Ironman, please visit:

Matthew Lawson, Chief Digital Officer at Ribble Cycles, said: “Having established ourselves as a bike brand way back in 1897, Ribble has been pleased to see the introduction and subsequent growing popularity of triathlon. As company we were quick to embrace it fully, offering a comprehensive range of triathlon and time trial bikes.

“If you’re in training for a triathlon, or planning to take on the Bolton Ironman eventually yourself, following our nutritional advice is the first step in preparing your mind and body for the challenge ahead.”

Tackling Ironman UK: Your guide to essential nutrition

By Annie Simpson, nutritionist at OTE Sports

Ironman UK is one of the most demanding endurance experiences available, pushing the body to its absolute limits over three different disciplines. An Ironman isn’t something you can take on with no preparation; it takes months of training and planning to get it right.

Although often overlooked in favour of physical training, nutrition is one of the areas that requires the most planning. If you're hoping to take on the Ironman event in Bolton – or a similar challenge in the future – this is the way you should consider your diet.

Example Ironman UK race-day food diary


The best breakfast before such a big event is one high in carbohydrates, but with a portion of protein to slow digestion so you don’t feel hungry at the start line.

By eating two to three hours before the start, food will be given enough time to settle in the stomach. This meal needs to be something you're familiar with and have trialled in training; try to avoid making drastic changes on race day.

Example breakfast

  • One large bowl of porridge made with milk, topped with a chopped banana or your favoured dried fruits and nuts. Add extra protein with a large spoonful of Greek yoghurt.
  • A glass of fresh fruit juice will help provide more calories and aid hydration.
  • A cup of coffee, as Ironman events start early and this will help to wake you up. This will not dehydrate you, contrary to popular belief.


Before the race

In the time between breakfast and the race, focus on hydration. Sipping a hydration tab little and often in the days and hours before the event ensures you start the event fully hydrated.

You may want to consume a snack an hour before the event, but if so, keep it light. An energy bar is ideal, but a jam sandwich or a banana may also be a good alternative.

Hydration: did you know…

A 2% loss of body weight from dehydration can negatively affect sporting performance. Don’t start the race on the back foot this way. Hydration cannot be reversed in a few hours, and can sometimes take several days to fix. Keep checking your urine colour and aim for a light straw colour.

During the race

This is the section that requires the most planning. During an Ironman, you ought to consume 60 to 90g of carbohydrates per hour.

For a ten-hour Ironman, with an aim to get 70g of carbohydrates per hour, you should consume 700g during the race.

There are few more considerations you need to take into account:

  • What is being provided along the course in feed stations?
  • How often is it available?
  • Do you want the nutrition options provided across the course?

Carbohydrates: did you know…

Our body stores carbohydrates in our muscles and liver, but these are limited and are used up during exercise. When we run out of carbohydrates, we burn fat for energy.

When exercising at any sort of intensity, this isn’t as beneficial as it sounds. Without sufficient carbohydrates stores, the intensity we can perform at decreases dramatically. In Ironman, you need to keep stores topped up.

Ten-hour Ironman

Remember: not all nutrition products are equal in nutritional content. The following is true if using OTE Sports' range.

(Based on 70g/hour = 700g)

  • Energy Gel x 6 = 120g
  • Caffeine Gel x 5 = 100g (+250mg caffeine)
  • Energy Bar x 2 = 80g
  • Energy Drink x 5 = 400g*

(*800ml mixed with 80g of energy drink in the bottle).

Depending on how long it takes you to do each leg, here is an idea on how this could be split:


It is very difficult to fuel during the swim, so aim to have an energy gel ten minutes before the start.


Transition 1

Take another gel and a quick mouthful of water before getting on the bike.


During this leg, aim to consume:

  • 4 x 800ml of energy drink
  • 2 x energy bars
  • 2 x energy gels
  • 2 x caffeine gels

Spread the intake evenly, and don't go for long periods without sipping your drink. Aim to consume half an energy bar or gel every 30 minutes, saving caffeine gels for the later part of the ride.

Transition 2

Take another big gulp of water and an energy gel, then move on to the run.


During this leg, you should have:

  • 2 x energy gels
  • 3 x caffeine gels
  • 1 x energy drink

It is also important to have water from feed stations too, especially if it’s a hot day. As with the bike ride, split these evenly across the run.

Calories: did you know…

Total calories consumed during an Ironman can be in the region of 6,000 to 8,000kcal. The above will offer around 3,000kcal+, while your fat stores will contribute around 1,750kcal to this total. You will be left in a calorie deficit.

Post-race recovery

As soon as the event finishes, it is important to go into recovery. Special drinks work well for this, and contain protein for rebuilding muscles, carbohydrates to replenish your energy stores, and fluid to aid rehydration.

Aim to drink this within 30 minutes of finishing – this is the "window of opportunity" to kick-start the recovery process. You may not want to consume this, but it is a case of needs must.

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