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IronMan Race Day Nutrition. . . for Sherpas!

Posted Dec 01 2010 7:53pm
Typically you read about sports nutrition for athletes or sport or fitness; today I want to talk about nutrition for the spectators, the coaches, the support crew. . . in other words, for the Sherpas!  That may not seem like a big deal, but if you are playing the role of Sherpa as I did recently, and you plan to be out on an Ironman course for upwards of 12 hours, you need to make sure that you are properly fueling yourself or you will not be of much support to your athlete.  

One of my fellow Sherpas mentioned a friend of hers actually had to be hospitalized from dehydration she experienced while spectating!  In addition, if you are prone to low blood sugar reactions, you also have to be mindful that you are eating frequently enough, and that your snacks/meals contain a combination of protein/carbohydrate/healthy fat.  

I recently attended IronMan (IM) in Tempe, AZ.  It was my husband Dan's first full Ironman Competition.  For those of you not familiar with IM, it is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile marathon.  Yes, all in one day.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time working on Dan's nutrition (daily, training, and for competition). 
Bike Transition, minus the bikes!

Ready to Spectate!

I, however, did not have an optimum sports nutrition plan laid out for my day out on the course.  I took snacks and water in a backpack, as well as money to buy food as needed.  I also had written out approximate times that Dan would be at certain parts on the course.  With these time estimates, I thought I would have time to take the train back to the condo we were staying in to eat a "real lunch" and "real dinner." Unfortunately, I did not take into account the timing of the other athletes I was there to watch.  
There were probably an additional 20+ athletes that I knew (or that my husband knew) who were competing.  There was also an equal number of Sherpas from Austin who were supporting these same athletes.  We made sure we all had each other’s contact information, and had tentative "breakfast" plans.  Because of the large number of athletes and Sherpas in attendance, my thinking that I would have time to take the train back to the condo for meals did not happen.  
Most of us arrived at the site around 5 a.m.  We all watched the swim start/finish and the start of the bike.  We then managed to have a very late breakfast/early lunch around 11 a.m.  After that, we headed back to the bike course.  From that point on, it became difficult to stay in contact with each other as we all had specific people we wanted to see start the run.  I did meet up with one friend and went to dinner at a little Mediterranean Restaurant just a few blocks from the race site around 6 p.m.  
Tea and coffee; not the best for rehydrating!

While I did manage to snack a little during the day, I did not drink nearly enough water, which made for a very dry mouth, slight headache, and chapped lips by the end of the day.  Not that big of a deal, but if I had not carried my own water bottle with me it could have potentially been much worse.  
So what are the lessons learned?  Keep track of how much fluid you are taking in; make sure you drink at least as much as you would on a normal day, preferably more depending on the weather conditions.  Take snacks that include both protein and carbohydrate (dried fruit, nuts, and seeds work great).  Set an alarm for at least 3 different times during the day when you will take a break and eat a meal and stick to it!

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