I've emphasised to the athletes that I've worked with this year that they should try to stay positive and use their time without races to focus on the factors of performance and training that they can control.
It's an ideal opportunity to measure your sweat rate, develop skills in weaker disciplines and refine your nutrition strategy for racing in the "new normal"...
Key considerations for racing in the "new normal"
Some athletes have been fortunate enough to return to racing in the "real world" and I've been interested to hear about their experiences, particularly when it comes to managing their nutrition strategy on course.
Many athletes assumed they could get water or pick up nutrition on longer course events, but this has not always been the case.
Regardless of Covid restrictions, this is a dangerous assumption to make and we should always be planning our nutrition strategies for each race and gathering information well ahead of time; thus giving us the opportunity to plan, re-plan and change as required.
Key considerations for athletes to look out for when gearing up for their first race since the pandemic hit:
- Will your race provide any feed stations?
- Will there be reduced feed stations to pick up bottles?
- If you do pick up bottles will you have to stop and refill your own?
- Will you carry all of your nutrition?
- Will you be able to discard the rubbish?
- If you do have to carry all your hydration, how? And how much?
- Will there be nutrition on the run course or will you have to try out a new style of race belt?
- There are various different requirements for races this year - so it's important to check the information for your specific event.
How to be self-sufficient with nutrition
Race day fuelling WILL be different, so don’t assume you can turn up with your usual strategies being able to “get away” with it if you forget some of your nutrition or get through more gels than usual or drop a bottle.
The point I emphasise to athletes in clinic on a daily basis is:
Plan your nutrition and practice it BEFORE the race and tweak again and again until it becomes natural for you. Have plans A, B and C for fuelling as no race ever quite goes to plan!
Practice planning out your nutrition by breaking your strategy down and considering these 5 key areas:
1. The days before the event
Will you reduce fibre intake? Will you focus more on carbohydrates? What will you have the night before your race?
2. The race-day morning
Find what sits most comfortably for you pre-race. How many hours prior do you need to start fuelling and preloading? How will you store your on-bike nutrition? And where or which aid stations will you pick up nutrition or fluids?
3. How will you carry your hydration and fuel during your race?
Does this mean changing your strategy? How will you decrease the weight you have to carry? How will carrying all this nutrition feel if you usually pick it up at aid stations? Could you swap to a different nutrition strategy to make this easier and lighter?
4. How many grams of carbohydrate are you aiming to consume?
And what intervals are you aiming to take these (consider practicality of taking on fuel with the race profile also)?
5. What does your hydration strategy look like?
If it's going to be hot, how much will you carry and how often do you want to be getting off the bike to refill bottles? Which aid station will you plan to stop at or what are your options if you run out sooner than expected? Will you have to carry a bladder bag? How does this feel? Is it better to carry extra weight or take time to stop and refill?
The weight vs. time debate
I was interested to see some triathlon races suggest using a bladder pack or fluid pack for the bike and the run.
Now, I can see how this will reduce touchpoints but you'll have to consider how this will impact your ride. For example, if you have to stop, dismount, refill, remount and ride away, there's the extra time taken. You will have to decide whether to carry more or use a fluid pack (if the course is hilly, you might not appreciate the extra weight but it could be a good choice on a fast, flat course).
It goes without saying that athletes should have practised in advance how they will carry nutrition, but this may take more planning nowadays.
For most athletes - unless you ride mountain bikes or run ultras - you may not have practised much riding and running with a fluid pack, so choosing one that fits well, sits comfortably and that you've tried out in training is crucial.
This is like measuring up for a wetsuit; find one that suits you and feels like another layer rather than a bag on your back.
I love this part of planning, calculating, practising, reviewing and then refining. Learning to do the same will certainly benefit you in the long run too. For many of us, this year has offered an opportunity to actually have the time to work on our nutrition strategy.
So plan ahead - work out what you will need to take with you, how you will carry your nutrition, the course profile, and how the event will differ from racing before.
Claire Fudge is the founder of 4th Discipline, who offer performance-focused nutrition coaching for triathletes, cyclists, runners and swimmers. Claire is a Precision Fuel & Hydration Sweat Test Officer and you can book an Advanced Sweat Test, as well as find out more about her nutrition services by emailing email@example.com.