ATC 335: Ironman Fueling Plans with UCAN and More, Transitioning from Ultras to Ironman – Mindset and Training Style Adjustments, and More Fun!

December 17, 2021


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On this episode of Ask the Coaches with Tawnee and Lucho:


  • Lucho updates us on Ironman St. George training and making the effort to get out the pool, making it a multi-tasking outing.
  • Tawnee and Lucho give some quick followup thoughts from the last show, ATC 334, on transitioning from endurance to a heavier strength training phase.
    • Tawnee says once she backed off endurance training/heavier run volume, and increased strength training and power workouts (eg kettlebells, rowing machines), that she got significant results with low volume, minimal equipment and without having to use very heavy weights.
    • Maybe the challenge for many of us is in the shift in training itself (i.e. from running to strength training focus) and how that affects us mentally. It doesn’t have to be about adopting the most extreme training plan.
    • Lucho’s Instagram account, follow along: @runnerlucho.

Andy asks:

Ultrarunner tackling Ironman & making the mental shift to a new way of training

My name is Andy. I signed up for my first triathlons this coming summer 2022. I am an ultra runner and I am struggling with changing my mental outlook towards training. I have been absorbing as much info on triathlon training as I can. I understand that I need to train totally different than I have been but find myself wanting to train for the swim and bike like I would train for an ultra. I usually would run around 50-60 miles a week in a normal training block heading into a shorter ultra like a 50k and increase that amount if I was training for a 50 miler or 100k. I find myself wanting to swim and bike at least the amount of miles the race will be a week. Like Lucho I always feel better if I destroy myself in a workout and have to work hard mentally to put in the easy miles for recovery. I know that I need to approach the marathon differently focusing on building speed with intervals and fartleks and don’t need to have the long runs I would normally do. Training for ultras I would do back to back long runs and usually run race distance a few times before the race. I was wondering if I swim much further than 2.4 miles in training a few times or ride over the 112 miles a couple times is that going to negatively effect my training. Or is it ok to push myself and get some long rides and swims in in order to make the race distance feel easier. Currently I am swimming 3 times a week and running and cycling 5 times a week. I have been doing high intensity intervals on the bike and swimming mixed with long rides and swims. Same thing with running. And doing brick workouts. I run after every bike session and ride after every run using the latter as a cool down.

What the coaches say:

  • Don’t change who you are. Don’t change your mental outlook, this is part of who you are and what drives you to
  • Make the training work for your mental outlook.
  • Follow your gut intuition and what makes you feel good and confident.
  • Ease off on the run a bit.
  • The run training for ultra has added a massive amount of durability. Durability is everything to avoid injury and setback.
  • Your ability to absorb load will be greater due to previous run training; don’t shy away from cycling volume (way less stress on the body
  • You could totally do the race distance(s) each week.
  • Doing 112 mile rides is totally reasonable, even more.
  • Don’t do your biggest workouts 4-5 weeks out, it’s too risky and too close to race day. 
  • Starting 20 weeks out start you can be doing your longest rides, relates to the 20×20 idea.
  • Drive cycling volume safely because non-load-bearing.
  • Defining performance?
  • You don’t need to be doing speedwork in the run for Ironman; too non-specific. If you do do speedwork, make it 20+ weeks out from the race.
  • Just remember- when you come off the bike in Ironman your run mechanics are going to not be the same as when you’re running fresh or doing shorter races.
  • Ditch speedwork for run-specific strength workout: long tempo runs and threshold runs.
  • Too many athletes focus on the last 5%… but what about the volume that matters e.g. 40 weeks of 40 mpw. 
  • For this athlete, run less (e.g. 30-35 mpw) and boost the bike and swim! 
  • Then ~16 weeks out can add the threshold-type stuff (not traditional speedwork).
  • Two-hour trainer rides have value. 
  • Be realistic with a good kind of hurt vs a bad kind of hurt when you’re in a workout.
  • Fins metrics/data to guide duration and intensity of a workout. E.g. watch your HR and don’t over-stress yourself. Don’t bike yourself into “useless puddle.”
  • If you do destroy yourself, take the next day EASY or off (hop into the pool if you must do something).
  • Triathlon swimmers: It’s OK to use the pull buoy and paddles (with a caveat on the paddles)!
  • But also don’t always use toys a crutch.
  • Wetsuit similarities to a pull buoy.
  • If it helps you enjoy the swim more to use something like a buoy, maybe that’s not such a bad thing! Especially if it helps you swim more without problems or loss in good form.
  • Ironman Cozumel mention: Kristian Blummenfelt and Dede Griesbauer- amazing performances!

Mel asks:

Using UCAN and other sports nutrition ideas for Ironman-distance racing

Hi, I’m wondering if you could address using Ucan during a full IM race. I’ve been using Tailwind for years with success, but would like to get off using so much sugar and natural flavorings.  Ucan plain flavor doesn’t have any electrolytes added in…do I need to worry about that? If so, can I just add some pink Himalayan sea salt to my mix and be good, or would I need to also take nuun or the Ucan hydrate for a successful day? I’m more of a mid packer so I’m not biking or running at a really high HR so not sure how important the electrolytes are for me. ?  I get really hungry on the bike, so I also fuel with some dr. Lim style sushi rice cakes that are more on the savory side. Would love your thoughts on a ideal IM race fuel strategy.  Should I let go of the sugar drinks, or stick with what’s working?

What the coaches say:

  • General tips
    • Look at using more than just one product like UCAN to round out your race fueling plan.
    • Caution against highly concentrated sports drinks (e.g. cramming a bunch of scoops of any sports nutrition mix into one bottle is risky).
      • Mistakes with nutrition are much more likely when using concentrated bottles.
    • Don’t always focus on what other people are doing. If you do go this route, find people who race similar times as you.
    • We’re a huge fan of Dr. Alan Lim’s nutrition philosophy and his rice cake recipe(s), and Skratch Labs drink mix.
    • Start practicing your sports nutrition plan as early as you can to refine and dial it in so there are no questions come race day.
    • And if you’re still confused, talk to a sports nutrition professional or RD who works with Ironman athletes.
    • Keep it simple because you’re brain will be fried! Maybe “boring” is the key to success.
    • Don’t let media hype have you question what works for you!!!
  • How many calories per hour do you need for an Ironman, if you are a fat-adapted triathlete, on the bike and run? These numbers are fairly general; may want to tailor further for fat-adaptation levels, needs and more:
    • Smaller people (<150lbs)
      • 300 calories per hour on bike
      • 200-250 cal on run
    • Bigger people (>150lbs)
      • 400 calories on bike
      • 300-350 cal on run
  • UCAN-specific tips:
  • Longer than 3 hours, it’s recommended to include some variety of carb sources and solids too:
    • Variety of CHO sources may help because different carbohydrates are transported into cells with different transporters becoming the energy we need and use.
    • ISSN recommends a “variety of calorie-dense foods. Consideration must be given to food palatability, individual tolerance, and the increased preference for savory foods in longer races.”
  • ISSN says: A central aim of any periodized ultra-marathon training program should be to maximize capacity for fat metabolism, thereby sparing muscle glycogen for the latter stages of competition.
  • Carbohydrates (CHO)
    • On bike:
      • ~300-400 calories an hour
      • CHO: 60-70g/CHO per hour (240-280 calories from just carbs) on the bike is usually the upper limit
      • Some people can handle up to 90g/CHO hr, or 360 calories from CHO, and if you are one of these people try it on the bike not the run
      • UCAN plain = 1 scoop = 90 calories with 22 CHO (basically pure CHO but as we know that is CHO in the form of super starch- low-glycemic, complex carbohydrate that doesn’t affect blood sugar)
      • So you could do 1 scoop mixes with 8-12 oz water or other drink; consider adding with a low osmo drink like 1 serving Skratch?
      • Refer to ATC 330, where we discussed sports drinks & osmolality in detail; the short: don’t pack too much in!
    • On run:
      • ~200-350 calories an hour
      • 40-50 g CHO/hr (160-200 calories from CHO)
      • This is newer to the scene but if you’re using UCAN can try UCAN EDGE gels instead of mixed bottles.
      • UCAN Edge gel is 70 calories with 19g CHO. Does have some sugar alcohols that some people may find they’re sensitive to, so test test test.
      • Then add in what else works for you
  • Fat
    • Factoring your CHO needs and metabolic efficiency to then determine fat during racing.
    • Fat is a worthy fuel source (oxidation of glycogen provides only ~2500 kilocalories of energy before depletion, whereas oxidation of fat provides at least 70,000–75,000 kilocalories of energy, even in a lean adult [31]).
    • Fat needs can be subjective and a lot of variables like what your gut can and will tolerate. For some people they can safely include MCT oil, for others this may send them to the port-o-potty.
  • Protein?
    • With ultra endurance events, you want to get in a source of protein/amino acids to prevent muscle breakdown + help with recovery.
    • Protein: approximately 0.25 g/kg protein per hour when taken along with carbohydrate is recommended by the ISSN to minimize potential muscle damage [9]. – so for 150lbs this is 17g/PRO/hr (can sub supplements like PerfectAmino)
    • ISSN recommends: 5-10g/PRO/hr.
    • On protein and central governor:
      • “Branched-chain amino acid supplementation still may help endurance athletes via central governor theory modulation [13]. BCAAs compete with tryptophan for transport across the blood brain barrier, and increased tryptophan may increase serotonin and contribute to feelings of fatigue [13].”
    • We like PerfectAmino.
  • Hydration and electrolyes
    • Fluids: ~400-800 mL per hour; not over 1L per hour.
    • ISSN: 450–750 mL/h− 1 (~ 150–250 mL every 20 min)
    • Electrolytes 
      • Sodium: 300-600mg/hr if high sweater or 500-700 mg/L of fluid (32 fl. oz.). Some say salty sweaters: up to 1,000 mg/L (32 fl. oz.)
  • Lucho’s Ironman nutrition plan:
    • 2 bottles on the bike each with 2 scoops; same bottles ready in special needs.
    • Plus a gel flask diluted with water.
    • He likes to stay as self-supported as possible in racing.
    • However, in Leadville he was forced to go lower on calories jut logistically speaking.
  • References:

Comments (2)

  • Christopher D La Salle says:

    So taking UCAN only you do not have to worry about the 300 calories/per hour?
    Is that correct?
    Just take 1 or 2 EDGE every hour or hour and a half?

    • TawneePrazak says:

      Hi Christopher, It still depends on a lot of factors whether UCAN alone would be adequate for your fueling plan, including your level of fat adaptation, your size, your race distance as well as the intensity at which you plan to race. UCAN is a great addition for many athletes, and some can use it alone while others use it in conjunction with other sports nutrition choices! Practicing in training is critical to feel it out.

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