After a decade of competing in events like Ironman triathlon, long cycling races, distance swimming, obstacle racing and more, I’m still constantly befuddled by the number of guys and girls who, despite more than adequate fitness, tend to simply get weaker and weaker as an event progresses.
Nine times out of ten, the issue is very basic: a lack of proper attention to or understanding of the basic fueling needs of the body.
What follows are my top three tips for avoiding the kind of issues I personally witnessed in the 12-Hour Hurricane Heat in Seattle that I recently finished: faces becoming more pale and white, people slowing from sprints to jogs to walks, increasing lethargy and grumpiness and moodiness, and all the other signs that something is going awry with the body and brain.
1. Fuel Up Simply and Smartly
If your pre-event meal is too complex or too processed, it can often take hours before this mistake actually catches up to you.
From pizza to doughnuts to fast food stops, my ears perked up as I listened to my fellow Hurricane Heat competitors discuss their huge and complex pre-event nutrition intakes. The problem is, heavy amounts of protein, fat, and oil shuttle blood to the gut and don’t leave much for the muscles. Then, a few hours later, issues arise that slow one down considerably. I’m talking constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating during the actual event.
So what’s the solution? Keep it simple. My own pre-event meal consists of a pile of roasted vegetables, easy-to-digest black rice, a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and a banana. This may not seem like much, but it’s your dietary intake for the 2 to 3 days going into a long event that your body is relying upon as muscle and liver glycogen-based fuels (and not that final pre-event meal) which really can make or break you.
2. Eat Early And Eat Often
I never wait until I’m hungry (or thirsty) to eat or drink during an event. From the get-go, I dump small bits of fuel into my body every 20 to 60 minutes. These tiny feedings make it easy for my digestive system to process the fuel, and keep me from getting hypoglycemic.
Whether you fuel your body with a traditional intake of sports bars, sports drinks, and slightly more carbohydrate-rich choices, or whether you opt for more of a low-carb, high-fat ketosis type of approach, the rules are the same: fuel early and fuel often.
For most women or athletes under 150 pounds, this means about 200 to 300 calories per hour, split into two or three doses throughout the hour.
For most men or athletes over 150 pounds, this means about 300 to 400 calories per hour, again split into two or three doses throughout the hour.
This is important, because once hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) strikes, you get lethargic, you slow down, you get grumpy, you lose motivation, and you often think it’s because you aren’t fit enough. In reality, you just aren’t eating enough damn food, or you’re eating meals that are too large and too infrequent.
3. Don’t Assume a Cramp Is Dehydration
I witnessed several people getting calf, quad, and forearm cramps during the 12-Hour Hurricane Heat. Many of them began sucking down water and salt pills to get rid of these cramps, but often, that’s not what’s actually causing the cramp in the first place. One big issue for athletes during an event is a particular muscle or muscle group being in a constant state of tightness or spasm.
Take the hip flexors, for example. When they’re in a constantly shortened position from wearing a ruck and hiking up hills, at some point you’re probably going to encounter a quadriceps cramp unless you do two things:
- Stop every once in awhile for a lunging hip flexor stretch.
- Take a massage stick, a branch, a rock, or whatever else happens to be nearby and dig into the shortened tissue to release any knots or adhesions.
Doing soft tissue work on the fly during an event can be an incredibly effective cramp-preventing technique, and is often what your body truly needs, especially if you’re already getting water and electrolytes on board.
Want more Hurricane Heat tips? Check out the Hurricane Heat recovery post on my website. You may also be interested (especially if you’re pursuing a Spartan DELTA) in my post on the winter Agoge, which also has plenty more tips, including my fueling choices for the Agoge.
Join the Revolution.