Road to Ironman: Swim, Bike, Run, Eat

The details are in the diet

I was having a conversation with Kyle Kranz, an ultramarathoner and Ironman finisher who works for Skora, a relatively new company in the zero-drop shoe market. (I’ve been running in the Skora Form for the last 100 miles or so. More on that in the coming weeks.) Kranz told me about his latest experiment with nutrition on an ultra-distance run: He drank green tea, ate dried cherries and sucked on gummy bears. Another conversation, another athlete with batshit crazy advice.

I’m not surprised when I hear about eccentric diets anymore. In fact, when I started bumping up my training I craved super rich, calorie-dense foods like candy bars, big bowls of cereal, and obscene portions of General Tso’s chicken and pork fried rice. What I found out pretty quickly is that not all calories are created equal. This is where Kranz’s advice is important: There’s no exact formula for eating before and during an endurance race. The only way to figure out what works is to experiment. What will give me the energy I need to finish? What can I digest easily? What will bring me joy when I’m in pain? What will make me hurl running in 100° heat?

And so I’ve been experimenting. One morning last week I swam 2,000 yards and ran 13 miles eating only an almond croissant (from Almondine, my favorite) and drinking a 20 oz. can of Arizona iced tea. I felt great until I finished the iced tea, which is mostly high fructose corn syrup and pickled my insides pretty badly. In Kentucky I’ll probably stick to energy gels and drinks instead of carrying around fancy pastry, but it wouldn’t be much fun to eat out of foil packets every day, would it?

What follows is a look at my diet on an average day, the result of a few months of experimentation. Not pictured: the Chinese food, which I still eat twice a week.

Road to Ironman Series
Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Conversation with Phillip Bauman, MD | Part 3: Swim, Bike, Run, Eat | Part 4: Training with USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year



Oatmeal with banana, chocolate chips, salt and honey: I don’t really like oatmeal, but it’s cheap and filling and risk-free in terms of getting an upset stomach.

Pineapple and mango: Runners I met at the Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race told me pineapple and mango contain enzymes that are good for digestion.

Beet juice with lime: Beet juice is packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s also super high in nitrates, which are supposed to increase the body’s capacity to process oxygen.

Iced coffee. Or hot: I brew it in a French press with cardamom pods, which taste amazing and have a variety of medicinal properties. The conventional wisdom on caffeine right now is that it doesn’t cause any significant dehydration.



Energy gels: I take one of these every hour or so during exercise, less if I’ve eaten well and don’t feel like I need it. My preference is for gels that have the consistency of liquid rather than paste and are made with natural ingredients. (The thicker gels require too much water to swallow.) One of my favorites, not pictured, is 2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gel, which has an insane 100mg of green-tea-derived caffeine. Pure gold.

Protein shake: After my last workout I make a shake with whey protein, Greek yogurt (Olympus is good), banana and Nutella — or just protein. This helps with muscle recovery. Another option here is chocolate milk, which is being hyped as the perfect recovery drink because it has a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, ideal for restoring glycogen stores and repairing damaged muscle. I’ve never tried it.



Gazpacho: Healthy, easy to make, tastes amazing on a hot day. Recipe: tomatoes, onion, cucumber, garlic, blanched almonds and sherry vinegar. Put it in a blender and let it rip. I added chopped cucumber and white peaches to this one so there was something to chew on.

Roasted potatoes, avocado, hummus, whole grain bread: There’s no science behind this. This stuff is all healthy, easy to digest, and I feel good after eating it.



Pasta: When I’m not eating Chinese take-out I make a simple pasta dish with vegetables. Sometimes I put a few eggs on top since I’m not eating much meat.

Booze: Sadly, there’s very little drinking these days. I went from being a fairly heavy drinker to having one or two beers per week. More than two drinks and don’t feel as strong the next day. The good news is that one big glass of Scotch gets me loaded.

Road to Ironman Series

Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Conversation with Phillip Bauman, MD | Part 3: Swim, Bike, Run, Eat | Part 4: Training with USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year

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