Metabolic efficiency and Ironman racing

I have been fortunate to have worked with my athlete, Alan, for 3 years now (as his coach and sport dietitian) in his Ironman (IM) racing pursuits. Alan came to me 3 months before IM Louisville 2009 with the goal of eliminating GI distress. He was one of the many athletes plagued with this condition in each of his long course races and was frustrated and willing to do anything to change it.

I knew that enlightening him to the Metabolic Efficiency concept would do the trick for him and we navigated that journey together. It was extremely difficult for him in the first 4 weeks because his daily diet was the cause of many negative things he was experiencing (GI distress, daily energy lulls which forced him to take naps at work and inconsistent weight and body composition changes). He ate like most endurance athletes: super high carbohydrate diet in the form of starches and grains, low protein and virtually no fat. I knew that making a dietary change was absolutely necessary but it would not be easy.

True to my point, Alan had a rough go around the first few weeks but between week 3 and 4, there was a shift. His energy levels were through the roof, his body fat was down and his hourly calorie needs were significantly reduced during training (with no signs or symptoms of GI distress). We had achieved success in a very short amount of time which led him to finish IM Louisville in 10:02, receive a IM World Championship qualification slot and most importantly, he had NO GI distress whatsoever. He commented to me that this was his easiest IM from a nutritional perspective because he didn't have to worry about trying to consume his typical 300-350 calories per hour and did not have to concern himself with carrying his nutrition or stopping at aid stations. Alan consumed 86 calories per hour in his 10:02 effort at IM Louisville!

I should state that when I embarked down the Metabolic Efficiency road, my goal was not to reduce hourly calorie intake during training/competition. My main goal was to eliminate GI distress but it just so happened that there were two great ancillary benefits to teaching the body to be more metabolically efficient: 1) reduced body fat and weight and 2) reduced need for supplemental carbohydrates due to the increased use of stored fat as fuel.

Alan has been following a metabolically efficient nutrition plan ever since and has been putting in performances that have shocked him and his competitors. Alan, at a ripe young age of 51, just completed IM St. George where, on one of the toughest IM courses in the US, managed to finish in 10:20. This was good enough for 3rd in his age-group (the difference between 1st and 3rd in his age-group was just over 2 minutes!) and with his 3:31 marathon, he had the fastest run in his age-group.

Prior to this race, we had been implementing his nutrition plan in every long training session and had it dialed in. I was comfortable with finally prescribing total calories to consume during the race because we knew how his body reacted to it. One of the defining moments in training was when he did a 9.5 hour bike ride with over 15,000 feet of climbing on 360 calories...TOTAL!

His race nutrition plan was to consume between 350-400 calories total. Here is what he did exactly:

4:00am: 1 packet of chocolate Generation UCAN
5:00am: 1 packet of chocolate Generation UCAN
30 minutes before the swim: 2 scoops of Pre-Race from First Endurance (for its caffeine source, I dosed it based on his body weight)
Swim: nothing
Bike: water, electrolytes (4300 milligrams of sodium), 1.75 packets of chocolate Generation UCAN in paste format
Run: water, electrolytes (3440 milligrams of sodium), 2 scoops of Pre-Race at 13.1 miles

Time: 10:20
Calories consumed before the race: 360 (66 grams of carbohydrate from SuperStarch, 26 grams of whey protein isolate, 2 grams of fat, 480 grams of sodium)
Calories per hour: 36
Milligrams of sodium per hour: 782

In Alan's past IM races under my supervision, he consumed between 73-94 calories per hour during the race. This 36 calories per hour for his recent IM depicts the body's ability to be trained to use stored fat as an energy source when properly trained. Years ago I would have been amazed at these results. After 4 years of employing this concept with athletes and seeing hundreds achieve tremendous results, this is my new normal...what I like to term "New School Sports Nutrition".

If you are not familiar with this concept, I would recommend reading my book "Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat", which you can find at the Fuel4mance website.

Next up for Alan is IM Coeur d'Alene in 7 weeks. He will be employing the same nutrition plan so stay tuned next month for a recap!

Coach Bob