By Michael Folan
This sums up my nutrition for a majority of my endurance racing career. For years and years I attempted to drink and eat my way to success both during training and races. Potatoes, figs, pop tarts, bars, gels and salt pills in various combinations. Occasionally it worked, most of the time it was a complete disaster. The inconsistency was very frustrating.
This is my reality. My brain does not work when I am going hard.
Just try and calculate your finishing time at the 18 mile mark of a marathon sometime. Math and cognitive skills? Good luck with that.
Trying to use food + drinks + gels is a complicated proposition ESPECIALLY when I am racing. If I have to think about more than one thing, I am going to probably going to mess it up. Multiple tasks are a sure recipe for failure and possible DNF. I may have food in my pocket…but I certainly ROCKS in my head.
Here is how my day usually went. I start clear headed bright eyed and full of good intentions. I planned my nutrition, cluttered up my top tube and Bento and had a general idea of what was going to eat and drink. Then, the race got in the way of my plan. Over the years I understood that food always SOUNDS better when your heart rate isn’t through the roof. Food SOUNDS like a great plan until you are still chewing on the same bite for 10 minutes 3 hours into my bike ride. Gels SOUND just fine until you gag two hours into your marathon. Salt pills SEEM like a good thing until you look at your watch and realize that you have to swallow 3 more of them.
Nutrition is not a simple task when you are relying on various concoctions to fuel your day. An athlete needs to take in the correct amount of calories and electrolyte in a form that is isotonic so your stomach won’t potentially self-destruct. (Remember osmolality is the concentrations of everything you have taken in). Trying to take in food, gels and salt AND making sure that you are diluting that mixture with enough water to keeping what’s in your gut isotonic would take a laptop and a excel spreadsheet (generally not something that I have on my bike).
Can it work for Pro Teams like Garmin-Sharp? Sure it can. However the Garmin-Sharp riders have people that tell them exactly what to drink and eat. The support staff is in effect their "brain" (minus the rocks) during a race. As athletes, we do not have that luxury. We do not have a support staff telling us exactly what to do. Some other Drink companies like to talk about how they “worked” with the Garmin team. Make no mistake, Garmin-Sharp chose INFINIT and has been drinking their custom mixes for close to 5 years now. Other people may talk like their drink is involved with support of the team; INFINIT is the choice for Garmin, and has been for years.
Science people think about athletes like lab rats in a cage. They think that eating food and drinking and taking salt while keeping things isotonic isn’t that big a deal. They do time-trial test inside for an hour, take a core body temperature and expect that to extrapolate into the real world. I don’t remember the last time I only rode my bike for only an hour and frankly you don’t need any calories for that duration. I know that when I ride, I have a hard time thinking. I need my nutrition simple. I want to just drink my stuff, and pedal my bike and not have to try and cram stuff down my throat.
As athletes we understand that simplicity is the single most important key when it is you, all by yourself out there alone. We are not robots that conform to lab protocols. We know that we are unique and not like every other athlete. We like different levels of tastes; we need different levels of calories and electrolyte. We don't like to juggle food, gels and salt pills. We all understand that when we are racing, we have rocks in our heads