Triathlon Troubleshooter

  • By T.J. Murphy
  • Published Dec 7, 2012
  • Updated Oct 31, 2014 at 4:40 PM UTC
Illustration by Oliver Baker.

During the run, my legs cramp up like I’m getting stabbed with knives.

Your nutrition plan, or lack thereof, is leaving you vulnerable to this painful problem that tends to really bite hard in hot weather racing situations.

Solution: “Most people just don’t like to focus on nutrition in their training,” says Tom O’Neil, a triathlon coach in Miami Beach, Fla. “If you’re racing half- or full Ironmans it’s just something you have to do if you want to perform optimally.” One way O’Neil gets his athletes to develop precise race nutrition plans is to use weigh-ins to illustrate the problem: Weigh yourself nude immediately before and immediately after a long training session, and note how much you’ve lost. “If an athlete is losing only a couple of pounds, that’s not a big problem. But if they’re losing say, 7 or more pounds, then they’re just asking for trouble.” O’Neil sees a whole new level of motivation after an athlete has seen with his or her eyes a large loss of weight. From there, the athlete starts setting targets for how much fluid should be consumed per hour during training and racing. When it comes to how many electrolytes per hour—sodium and potassium—O’Neil advises considering first where you fall on the “sweat scale,” a technique he learned in working with Brian Shay of Personal Best Nutrition. On a scale of one to five—one being the athlete who barely sweats a drop and five being the athlete who pours gallons of sweat—estimate where you fall. “Take that number and multiply it times 250mg per hour for each of your electrolytes.” Add this requirement to your calculation of fluid intake and test and retest it in your training and racing until you have your nutrition completely dialed in—the best defense against muscle cramps.

RELATED: Simple Half-Ironman Nutrition Advice

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