Training For An Ironman Triathlon

Training for any competition is hard. Training for a triathlon is even harder. But training for an Ironman? That puts you in a category of elite performers and ensures that you are working and training at the very top of your game.

In terms of official numbers, there are 45 Ironman and 5 Challenge races taking place across the globe every year.

Each competition has an average of around 2000 participants, meaning that each year sees the birth of around 100,000 new Ironmen champions globally – a relatively small number when you consider that the London Marathon alone has 40,000 participants a year in a single city.

Training For An Ironman Triathlon

The reason for this lower number? Ironman is tough. That is the first thing that you need to embrace with open arms as you go into the competition – this is absolutely not for the faint-hearted.

The good news is that while it can be tough, it is definitely not impossible, as is evidenced by the huge number of successful participants every year.

All those who cross the finish line have a few things in common: they have grit, determination, and mental strength, are at the peak of their physical fitness and follow a rigorous, detailed, and intense training plan to help them get to that incredible moment.

If you want to follow in their footsteps, you are going to have to do the same: this is one situation where failing to prepare almost guarantees that you are preparing to fail.

Even if you have entered triathlons and competitions before, the chances are high that you will be feeling a little intimidating – the ironman is like nothing you have ever faced before.

Knowing how to get started, the best ways to implement your training plans, and what to do and not to do can be overwhelming, but we have good news: you are not alone.

We have put together the ultimate guide to training for your Ironman competition, and have everything that you need to train, succeed and beat your personal best.

Rather than spend your time worrying about the best way to go about training, you will be able to simply crack on and start seeing results, confident in the knowledge that you are doing everything you can to succeed.

We will consider setting goals and targets, getting into the right mindset, the type of training you should be doing, and how often, the best foods to eat for fuel, and everything in between to guarantee that when you stand on the starting line, you are confident, calm, and ready to smash it.

So without further ado, let’s get started with your ultimate Ironman Triathlon Training Guide.

Are you ready to succeed?

What Is An Ironman?

Before we take a closer look at the training plan in detail, it is worth spending a little time considering just what an ironman is, and what it is not.

Put simply, an Ironman is a long-distance triathlon-style race, which is organized and run by the “Ironman” franchise – hence the name.

As a result of the popularity, any races of the same distance are now largely referred to as an “Ironman”, even if they have been organized by another brand or company. In order to qualify, an Ironman must include a 3.8km swim, a 180 km bike ride, and a 42.2km run.

The swim is the first leg, and this is a 3.8km swim in open water, such as a lake or the ocean. Here, wetsuits must be worn, unless the water temperature exceeds 24.5 degrees celsius.

Following the swim, athletes are required to run to the first transition area (usually known as “T1”), where they quickly change from wetsuit to bike gear, and then complete a 180 km bike ride.

This takes them to transition area two (“T2”), and here they start a 42.2km marathon, taking them through the final leg, and to the finish line of the Ironman.

As you can see, this is not a competition for the faint-hearted, and this type of tournament is typically held up as the gold standard in terms of endurance challenges.

The competition takes place all across the world, with previous tournaments being held in Morocco, Hamburg, Wales, Taiwan, and Lanzarote.

Another, slightly tamer option, is the Ironman 70.3 – this is half the distance of the traditional tournament, and can be a great option for those who are not quite ready or willing to undertake the full distance. They can also act as a “warm up” or practice run for those in training for the full event.

Some of the main locations for the Ironman 70.3 include the Isle of Man in the UK, and the top competitors then qualify for the World Championship – this always takes place in Kona, Hawaii, which is the birthplace of the ironman competition.

As a general rule, professional, top male athletes can complete an Ironman in under 8 hours, and women in under 9. For most of us, however, these kinds of times are not realistic, unless you are a professional athlete at the top of your game.

Most competitions will have an overall cut-off time of 17 hours, and for most athletes between 30 and 35, an average of 13 hours is considered very respectable for men, and 14 for women of the same age.

While an Ironman may be the elite, toughest triathlon event, you do not really need any special training or particular athletic start power to do it – anyone can enter, and thousands of ordinary men and women cross the finish line every single year.

The secret to success lies in solid, regular training – this is the only way that you will achieve your goal.

Which Ironman Should I Start With?

Which Ironman Should I Start With?

If you have already picked a competition, then you can skip this section. In some cases, however, you may have set a goal to achieve an Ironman more generally, without a specific race or location in mind.

In this case, your first step is to choose your tournament. This acts as your primary goal for training, and the date allows you to work backward to set smaller targets and goals, with the overall aim being for everything to build-up to the main event.

The top three most popular challenges tend to be Challenge Roth, Ironman Hamburg, and Ironman Tallinn, largely due to the high-profile nature of these events, their popular course profile, and the overall experience that these provide. That does not mean, however, that they are the best option for you.

Every athlete is different, and it is a good idea to factor in your strengths and weaknesses when making your decision for your first competition – different courses have their own unique quirks, and this can make your life easier or harder. 

As an example, Ironman Lanzarote is known for over 2500m of climbing, complete with very strong winds. This makes it ideal for strong cyclists who can fly across terrain with minimal effort, but not such a good idea for long-distance runners who prefer flat, even surfaces.

Similarly, if you are a keen, experienced lake swimmer but have little ocean experience, then an Ironman which places the swimming section in the open sea may not be the best idea. By playing to your strengths in a particular section, you are pacing yourself and ensuring that you have the best chance of success.

When making your decision, you should also take practical logistics into account – these can matter more than you may have anticipated. Do you want to travel for a lengthy distance to compete, or would you prefer to stay close to home?

Will the terrain and conditions of the final race emulate those you are training in, or will you be overwhelmed by intense heat, strong chills, or powerful winds?

By staying close to home, you can ensure that you are better prepared for the weather conditions you may face, and as well as reducing the amount of traveling – this can have an impact on your performance.

You should also consider your spectators and supporters – hearing your friends and family cheering when you reach the thirtieth kilometer can make all the difference, so staying local may be the best option to ensure that you have the support you need – do not underestimate this.

Set Your Goals

Once you have chosen your race – and this will determine a number of your training goals – the next step to success is to really set your goals for race day – why are you doing this? What do you want to achieve? What is your number one priority?

By taking the time to think about why you are doing what you are doing, you are setting yourself up for success – this is the motivation that will keep you going in the final mile. As a general rule, “success” and goals can be broken up into three categories:

  • Accomplish something – this simply means that your overall aim is just to finish the race – an incredible achievement in itself.
  • Bet your personal best – if this is not your first competition, you may decide to focus on being your previous personal best.
  • Get on the podium – for seasoned pros, and veteran triathlon-goers, the goal may be some sort of win, whether that is for a specific category, or for your particular age group. If you have already experienced the thrill of completing an Ironman, then going for a win can be a great way to keep things fresh, and maintain your motivation.

    In some cases, you may even decide to aim for the Kona Ironman World Championship – an admirable goal that requires you to win your age group if you want a chance of nabbing one of those sought-after spots. Every event will have a qualifying spot – some will offer more than one, and the exact number will be determined by the number of competitors who are in that group.

    As a rule, the ages between 35 and 44 years of age tend to have the most competitors. This means that if you fall into this age bracket, you may not necessarily have to win your category to qualify for the World Championships – coming in the top three or five may be enough.

    If you are competing at this level, then you may want to consider some form of professional coaching to help you achieve your chances of success – those in Hawaii are the elite, so you will need to be top of your game to be in with a chance.

Determining your own goal is an important part of the process – this helps you to untangle your motivation, which can be incredibly useful as you progress through the competition, and in the later miles when things are tough and you are tempted to quit.

On the surface, the Ironman is a physical competition, but preparing mentally and psychologically is just as important.

When setting your goals and ambitions, it is really important to take the time to think about what you want to achieve. Why are you doing this?

Turn your mind away from your coach, your running partner, your spouse, your friends and family, and your children, and take the time to go inwards.

This is important: if you are not entering this challenge for yourself, then the chances are high that you will not be successful.

You need to make one hundred percent sure that you are doing this for yourself; if this is the case, then the training will continue and you will have the inner stamina to push yourself through the toughest, darkest moments, both during your training and in the course of the competition itself.

For this reason, do not take setting your goals lightly – this should be as much of your training as physical conditioning, nutrition, and general wellbeing. Take some time by yourself to write out your goals, and to document your thoughts and feelings on the competition.

Why are you entering? Why now? How do you expect to feel? What are you the most worried about? What are you the most confident about? How will you pick yourself up in the tough times? What areas do you need to work on? How do you imagine it will feel to cross that final finish line?

Give yourself time to really sit with this, and visualize that feeling as you fly, exhausted to the bone but triumphant, across that finish line. Feel the sweat on your forehead, the ache of your muscles, and that wonderful first sip of water.

Hear the cheer of the crowd, and your friends and family as you succeed. Really bring this image to life for yourself – you will be surprised at how it can sustain you during the long, grueling hours of training.

It can also be a good idea to keep this journal throughout the course of your training, as this can be a great tool in seeing how far you have come when you are ready to give up.

Document your distances and achievement, as well as a record of your thoughts and feelings. When you feel like quitting, look back at your progress, as well as your declaration of what you are trying to achieve, and why you started this whole process.

Ultimately, you need to make sure that you are setting the right ambition and aspiration for your training and race day – for you. This will determine how often, how much and how hard you need to train and ensure that your training program is built with you in mind.

So How Long Should I Train For?

This then leads us to that golden question: just how long should you put aside to train for an Ironman, in order to allow you to achieve your goals? The honest answer is that this is not a quick process.

In total, an Ironman event is around 226.3 km in length – or a whopping 140.6 miles. In addition, you can expect to be surrounded by average finish times of around 13 hours for a good time, and up to 17 hours if you hit the maximum.

That is over a day of swimming, biking, and running – to say that this is a high endurance event is an understatement. That means that you cannot simply decide that you are going to participate a month before, or rock up on the day with no training – you will simply not be able to physically complete the course.

It also means that you are likely going to have to change and adapt your training plans and strategies that guarantee a win from previous events and competitions. 

The sheer scale of an Ironman is a whole different beast, both mentally and physically, even for seasoned triathlon participants.

Whether you are a long-distance cyclist, an Olympic-level swimmer, or an experienced marathon runner, you will need to change your mindset for an Ironman – remember, the right mindset is a key secret to success. In simple terms: you can expect to put in a lot of consecutive work over an extended period of time if you want to succeed.

The exact length will depend on your fitness and previous experience; those who have successfully completed triathlons before may start preparing a year in advance, while those who are brand new to long course racing may take several years to prepare before they feel ready.

Ultimately, this is your journey, and so it is worth taking the time to see which is the best option for you – the goal is to feel calm, confident, and ready on race day, so don’t be afraid to take all the time that you need to get you into that cool competitor mindset – even if that takes years.

You should also expect the nature of your training to alter as you progress, particularly with regards to the volume versus the intensity of your training. In the early stages, this will be roughly equal – the volume of your training will be more or less in line with the intensity of your workouts.

When you start your base training – that is, building your endurance – you should expect the volume of your training to increase. An Ironman is a long event, so the focus in the early days is building up your physical endurance, allowing you to run, bike, and swim for longer.

This is particularly important if your goal is to complete the course – your place will take a backseat here, and your priority should be on endurance.

As you move to build training, the volume of training will once again take precedence over intensity, allowing you to sculpt and build your body in preparation for the events ahead, and as you grow closer to the race itself, volume and intensity will level out once more, albeit in larger quantities than in the early stages.

This type of training can be a challenge for those who are more useful to fast, short, speedy competitions, such as sprints. While in these situations, the intensity plays a large part in determining your success, an Ironman depends on longevity and endurance – this is really a case of slow and steady can win the race.

If you are focused on placing or winning, you will want a little more intensity, but the chances are then high that you already have a good level of endurance – take some time to work with your trainer or coach to find the best balance.

Ultimately, your training will depend on your goals. If you want to win or place, you need endurance and a lot of intensity. If you want to complete, endurance should be your main goal.

As a general rule, you should allow between six and twelve months before the competition – this is a bare minimum. Here, there is a basic structure that can help keep you on track:

  • Month 1: you are starting up the machine, and getting your body ready for intense work. This will be slow, repetitive, and steady, waking up muscles you may not have used in a while, and preparing for the more intense training.
  • Months 2-5: you will focus on building up your skills in swimming, cycling and running, and achieving a good, consistent level of base fitness in all of these.
  • Months 6-9: you will continue to work on skills, and boost your aerobic endurance. During this period, you will also slowly start to build your muscular endurance, building yourself up to go further, faster, and for longer.
  • Months 10-12: As you grow closer to the competition, your training will gradually increase incrementally, until you are mincing the conditions, stress, and pressure of a real race.

Remember that you will need to slow the training as you approach the race, and not push yourself too hard in the week before the event – this can result in injuries and damage which could put you out of action for the main event.

The Three “Hows”

When you are training for your Ironman, there are three main variables that you will need to focus on: how often, how much, and how hard. These are the only variables that are firmly within your power to change, and the progress of your fitness will largely depend on these elements.

Once again, it is important to stress that there is no clear, definitive answer to these questions: they will depend entirely on your levels of fitness, your previous triathlon experience, and the goals and aspirations that you set for yourself back in those beginner stages.

How Often?

As we have mentioned, this is an intense, long-distance endurance event, and so you will need to be training regularly.

You need to put yourself into the mind of a long-distance athlete, and be swimming, running, and cycling regularly enough that you are constantly stressing your body – this is important for helping you to develop your overall capacity and endurance.

Ultimately, you need to be looking at around 8 to 12 sessions per week – remember, for most people, it is better to train more often for shorter periods, than for fewer sessions for a longer time.

This is because your body needs to build capacity over time – a longer training session means that you can reach failure more quickly, and after a certain point, you will no longer see the benefits. Pushing yourself more regularly with fresh muscles will be more effective for a long-distance event.

8 to 12 sessions a week is a lot, so you will need to be meticulous about slotting them in and organizing your schedule. This goes back to the importance of motivation: you have to really want this for yourself, or you are unlikely to stick to the timetable and regular sessions.

The easiest option is to treat your workouts as an appointment – book them into your calendar, and explain that only a serious emergency can move them. This helps your mind to see them as serious commitments, rather than optional extras and means that you are more likely to stick to your sessions.

How Much?

So now that we know how often to train, you need to be able to fit these into your day, while still meeting your other commitments. Take both family and work commitments into account, and always plan a little less time than you can handle – this gives you breathing space.

Around eight hours to twelve per week is a good place to start – just ensure that you are checking in with your training plan regularly, and making sure that you are still maintaining a good balance. You also need to ensure that you are giving your body plenty of time to recover, so plan your sessions accordingly.

As a general rule, you should spend around 50% of your time on the bike, and split the remaining 50% equally between running and swimming.

How Hard?

The third part of the equation is considering how hard you should train. If you are at the point of applying for and competing in an Ironman, the chances are that you are highly motivated – but it is important not to go too hard.

There is a tendency to assume that unless you are totally exhausted after each and every session, you are not working hard enough, but this is not the case.

On the contrary, training high volume and high intensity each and every session is a one-way ticket to injury or burnout. Instead, you need to pace your workouts carefully, and this means understanding the idea of zone training.

Within the world of fitness lies the five “training zones”. This refers to the percentage of work done in a session, and is based on your maximum heart rate and heart rate reserved – this is the difference between your maximum and resting heart rates.

Learning how to calculate these is an important first step. For many athletes, a simple equation is enough to work out your maximum heart rate, and there are three options:

  • 220 minus your age: this is the most common, widely used formula for calculating MHR.
  • 207 – 0.7 x your age: this is a little more precise, and is adjusted for use in people over the age of 40
  • 211 – 0.64 x your age: this is slightly more precise, and adjusted for people who are generally fit and active.

Once you have your maximum heart rate, take your resting heart rate – as soon as you wake up – and subtract the latter from the former. The end result is your heart rate reserve, and this is used for planning your workouts to optimize results.

There Are Five “Training Zones”

There Are Five “Training Zones”
  • Zone 1: the most basic, Zone 1 is mainly used for warm-up, cool down, and recovery during a HIIT session or interval training. You will start to warm up the muscles, get them ready for a workout, and start to gently increase your heart rate. Talking will still be possible, and you will feel warm and start to sweat.
  • Zone 2: sees you working at your “all day” pace for a longer period, and will still feel fun and not too tricky. Sentences will be possible, but speech may become a little more difficult. You will perspire a little more in Zone 2.
  • Zone 3: is a step up – you will start to feel as though you are really working harder, and your core temperature will rise. You will start to sweat more, and breathe more heavily to provide your muscles with adequate oxygen. Speech will become more difficult.
  • Zone 4: sees your heart rate increase towards 90% of maximum capacity, and your levels of blood lactate will increase. If you are working at Zone 4, you will only be able to work for a few minutes, even as an elite athlete and speech will become very difficult.
  • Zone 5: is the ultimate challenge, and your heart rate will reach the maximum level. Here, you will be unable to speak, and this is only sustainable for between 30 and 120 seconds, depending on your fitness levels.

While Zones 4 and 5 may sound a little overwhelming, there is no need to worry -you do not need to work at this level for your training. Instead, you should be working between Zones 1 and 3 for the majority of your workouts – fewer than 10% of your total volume of workouts should go anywhere near Zone 4.

This can be difficult if you are used to pushing yourself to the limits during training, but is very important – preparing for an Ironman is a long process, and it is crucial not to push yourself too hard or you could end up injured.

Nutrition

As the old adage goes, you can’t out-train a bad diet. While preparing for an Ironman, you will be working hard, and you need to be able to sustain this over an extended period of time.

This means that you need to be paying close attention to your diet in the run-up to the tournament – if you are not filled correctly, you will not be able to go the distance. There are five key categories you need to focus on hitting:

Carbohydrates

Often demonized in the media, carbohydrates are your body’s first choice as fuel for exercise. Your body will convert carbs into energy, and this can be used immediately if required or stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

As a rule, our bodies are able to store enough glycogen for between 60 and 90 minutes of exercise at a time, so you need to ensure that you are regularly topping up if you are training for longer than this, and especially on race day.

Make sure that you have something to hand during the run and bike to offer that burst of energy, while still avoiding muscle and stomach cramps.

Protein

Protein is another essential for athletes, as it helps to repair microtears in muscles that occur when you push it to the limit and is crucial for helping your muscles and body to recover after exercise.

According to experts, endurance athletes should aim for 1.2-1.8g of protein per kilo of body weight each day, and this should be consumed every three to four hours throughout the day – aim for one protein element per meal. You should also top up your protein after a tough session using shakes or snacks to aid recovery.

Fat

Another often demonized element, fat is also important for success. Try to avoid trans and saturated fats as much as possible, and focus on good, monounsaturated fats, such as those found in seeds, nuts, avocados, and fish.

These help your body to run smoothly, function prosperity and absorb Vitamins A, D and E properly so that you can enjoy the benefits. Good fats also reduce your blood pressure and risk of heart disease, while reducing inflammation and even acting as fuel.

Sodium

Sodium is often overlooked – but it is important to incorporate this into your training plan. Sodium is the primary electrolyte that is lost when we sweat, and this is expressed as white traces on our skin when we work hard.

These electrolytes are the minerals and salts that are found in your blood and conduct electricity when they are mixed with water.

They are crucial and play a key role in helping your body to function, maintain hydration levels, regulate PH level and blood pressure, and regulate both nerve and muscle function. Electrolytes can also help to rebuild damaged tissue – this is important for training.

In everyday life, most of our sodium intake comes from sodium chloride – more commonly known as table salt. According to experts, healthy adults should stick to between 1500 and 2300 milligrams of salt per day, but you may need to increase this when training for an endurance event such as an Ironman.

The exact amount you will need will vary depending on your age, sex, weight, sweat rate, temperature, and the duration and intensity of your workout. You can boost and balance your levels with specialist powders, which help to keep your levels even and ensure that you stay healthy and safe while training.

Potassium and Magnesium

The other two essentials are potassium and magnesium, both of which are members of the electrolyte family. Potassium helps you with muscle contractions, particularly, in the digestive system and the heart, and can boost your energy.

Magnesium can regulate the use of nutrients for energy, offering the best results, and also helps keep your heartbeat regular. As a bonus, magnesium is important for regulating sleep – you need to make sure that you are getting your eight hours of z’s while training.

What Should I Eat?

So, with this in mind, just what sorts of foods should you be eating to complement and enhance your training?

The good news is that most of the vitamins and minerals we discussed above can be obtained through a healthy diet, consisting largely of fruit and veg, lean protein, and slow-release carbs. Aim to stick to this diet around 80% of the time for the best results.

There are a few foods that should form a core part of your diet, and these include:

Bananas

These are portable, convenient, and packed with potassium to help support muscle function. They also contain fast-acting carbohydrates which release energy while you train. As an added bonus, bananas can also reduce muscle cramps, which is important for endurance events.

Oats

Oats are another essential part of any training plan, and starting your day with porridge offers slow-release energy to keep you fuelled throughout training, and on race day.

Oats are also high in iron and protein and regulate blood sugar to reduce the risk of sharp energy spikes and troughs. You can also try to turn oats into flapjacks for portable energy.

Beetroot

Beetroot is another important element of your diet. It is rich in nitrates, and this helps your body to use oxygen in the most efficient way – this is especially important when you are exercising.

According to experts, those athletes who consume beetroot juice around two or three hours before a workout will see between a 1% and 3% improvement in their overall performance.

Eggs

Eating two medium-sized eggs will provide you with 15g of protein, and offer you 100% of your Vitamin B12 for the day. You can unlock energy from food more easily, keeping you going over an extended period of time.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are packed with goodness and include Vitamins A and C, both of which boost the immune system and help you ward off colds. Sweet potatoes are also slow-release carbs and have a low GI to offer an ongoing, steady supply of energy. They are also high in iron, potassium, and magnesium.

Energy bars

Energy bars are designed to offer a steady supply of energy and have the perfect balance to keep you energized on the move.

Energy gels

When you are on the move, the blood needed to aid digestion goes straight to your hard-working muscles, and this means it can be harder to digest food.

When on longer runs, you can top up your glycogen stores using energy gels. Opt for a natural blend to reduce the risk of cramps, and select a dual-carbohydrate format to gain energy and replenish electrolytes.

Water

It goes without saying that water should be a key part of your nutrition plan. According to research by British Cycling, a dehydration level of 4% will decrease the capacity of your muscles and adversely impact your performance.

If your body gets dehydrated, you can feel dizzy and fatigued, experience muscle crampons, and increase your rate of perceived exertion – this means that training sessions feel longer and harder, and stop you from reaching your full potential.

As a general rule, experts recommend around 1.2 liters of water each day – this replaces the water you lose through normal, everyday exertion. When you’re training and sweating, however, you will need to increase this level to roughly one and a half liters of fluid for every kilo of body weight.

Exact needs will depend on a range of factors including the weather, your age, your weight, and the intensity of your exercise. It is important to replace the electrolytes you use, so keep sipping.

How To Work Out Your Nutrition Plan

How To Work Out Your Nutrition Plan

When putting together the ultimate nutrition plan for the race, there are a few considerations to bear in mind:

  • What are your goals? Are you looking to lose weight, or simply to fuel your workouts? This will impact the nutrition plan that you put in place.
  • What habits do you want to develop? Think long term – are there any nutritional habits that could be beneficial, such as having breakfast two hours prior to training – this is likely to be your race-day format – or eating protein after every workout? Make these part of your routine from the outset. It is a good idea to not try anything new on race day, so use this time to work out the best habits and routines for your workouts.
  • How long you will be running for – how long will you be on the Ironman course, and will you have enough fuel for the entire duration? Always take more fuel than you think you will need just in case. Try and find out the aid stations that will be available, and plan your fueling.
  • Make sure you know the level of carbs in your preferred fuels – you should be taking on 60-90g per hour.
  • Practice transitions – the trickiest point will be between the swim and the bike, so try and work out the best way to fuel when you hit the saddle.
  • Decide on a caffeine strategy – some athletes sweat by caffeine, while others think it makes them jittery. According to some studies, a combo of caffeine and carbs can improve performance by up to 9% compared to water, and 4.6 when compared to just carbohydrates. Take some time to train with and without caffeine to see if it works for you. If it makes you anxious, it is best to leave it out.
  • Create a hydration strategy – it is a good idea to monitor the amount of sweat you lose after a tough training session, and this can be achieved by weighing yourself before and after the workout, as well as monitoring the color of your urine. Try using electrolyte drinks on longer runs and bike rides, and see if this helps to enhance your training and maintain your hydration levels. Remember that the temperature may be different in the country that you are competing in, so you may need to adjust your hydration levels accordingly.
  • Batch cook – plan your meals well in advance, and then take some time to batch cook a week’s worth of food in advance. This will keep you on track, and means that you are less likely to reach for junk food after a long day or tough training session – make your life as easy as possible for yourself!

Nutrition Plan Outline

While the ideal nutrition plan will vary from person to person, the basic premise is the same – you need to take on enough calories to keep you going, without feeling tired, bloated, or sluggish, and avoiding stomach cramps.

Aim to increase your carb intake by 60-90g per hour during an event, and aim to take on most of your calories during the bike leg of the race, as this is the easiest point to digest real food.

Three Days Before

Between two and three days before the race, increase your carbohydrate intake to around 10g per kilo of bodyweight- this will ensure that you have enough glycogen stores for race day. You should also stay hydrated, and be consuming around two liters of water a day while keeping your electrolytes topped up.

One Night Before

The night before the race, build your meal around lean protein and carbohydrates and avoid spice, too much fat, or excess fiber. Even if you are nervous, make sure you eat!

Breakfast on Race Day

It can be hard to eat on race day, but this is super important. Aim to eat between two and three hours before the race, and stick to the nutrition plan from your training routine.

Porridge is a great option, as it offers slow-release energy, as is anything with protein, as this helps with muscle recovery.

At The Start Line

At the start line, make sure that you are sipping your water, rather than drinking large gulps, as the latter can make you feel full and comfortable.

Post Race

Though you may not feel hungry following your race, you need to make sure that you are topping up your glycogen stores, and have some protein – this will help with muscle recovery and help you to feel more human.

Around three hours after you finish, try and enjoy a full meal with carbs, protein, and good fats. Though you may be tempted to pop the champagne, it is a good idea to avoid alcohol – this can slow down muscle recovery and repair, leaving you sore for longer.

Final Thoughts

Completing an Ironman is an incredible achievement, and even entering the preparation is something that should be applauded. While the end result can seem far away, you can rest assured that success is in reach as long as you stick to a structured, clear training plan, with a clearly defined end goal and aspiration.

Every athlete’s plan will look different; a lot is dependent on your own personal strengths and weaknesses, and your previous experience in similar competitions. Those with plenty of experience in long-distance endurance sports are at a slight advantage – but must be careful not to overtrain or push themselves too hard.

Those who are brand new to this sort of event may find themselves intimidated – but sticking to your plan is the path to success.

Matt Williams