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Ironman Virtual Races: how to build a sports integration strategy

Elena Casiraghi, Ph.D.
Sports nutrition is the fourth specialty of triathlon. A statement which is very true for shorter distances such as sprint and Olympic, and that  becomes a certainty for longer triathlon distances such as ironman and ironman 70.3. In order to compete in every race to the best of one's ability, it is essential to start with the right energy and have sport's nutrition and integration strategy to recharge it during the race.

An important recommendation for real races (like the bike fraction) is also confirmed in virtual races. How to do it is simple: just know a few small rules that I would like to present to you in this article.

The Ironman Virtual Races: an opportunity to train and have fun

Competing in virtual competitions is a real opportunity because it allows developing and define your own personal nutrition and integration routine. There are scientific guidelines that can provide indications of how to feed oneself during exercise, but it is necessary to remember that everyone has their own nutritional necessity. In practice what applies to one person may not apply to another. A fact valid at every level of experience: from athletes in the Age Group categories to elite athletes in the Professional category.

Each athlete, in fact, has his own "Nutrition System".

Build your own Nutrition System: a matter of timing

Here is what you need to know to develop an integration strategy that adapts as much as possible to your needs. Sugars, water and minerals are absorbed into the intestine. From here, these elements pass to the blood that carries them to the muscles involved in the necessary amounts. The most recent scientific studies revealed that the intestine is a highly adaptable organ, just like skeletal muscles.

Training, therefore, must be an opportunity to develop the integration strategy needed for the races. It is an individual process.

Science provides guidelines, but it is practical experience that shows benefits and weaknesses.

For these reasons it is essential to take advantage of training away from the competition period. Virtual competitions are therefore valuable opportunities to build your Nutrition System. Science suggests we have two allies to optimize training stimuli, hydration and sports supplementation to increase performance and reduce fatigue.

While it is essential to take water and minerals at an adequate timing (one sip every 15-20 minutes depending on the degree of sweating and the ambient temperature), the same rule applies to the intake of carbohydrates during exercise, which is useful to prolong the glycogen reserves and thus reduce the risk of an energy crisis.

A few mistakes to avoid

One of the most common mistakes is to take a sports supplement such as an energy bar or sports gel only when you feel the need to do so. It is now too late because the energy reserves have been almost completely depleted and the crisis is on its way. It is therefore necessary to play fast and loose to prevent it by taking about 60 g of carbohydrates for every hour of effort.

This amount can be reduced to 30 g of carbohydrates per hour for shorter distances such as a sprint or Olympic triathlon. Whereas for an Ironman or an Ironman 70.3, i.e. when the performance lasts longer than 2-4 hours, the advice is to increase the carbohydrate portion up to 60 g per hour. An amount that will satisfy both the absorption times of sugar by the intestine and the demands of your muscles.

Beware of the carbohydrate mixture

It is important that sugars contained are based on maltodextrin only or on the addition of maltodextrin/glucose and fructose. Researchers agree that these blends and intake timing can increase energy availability in your body by delaying the onset of muscle fatigue, and at the same time reduce the risk of intestinal stress, common in endurance disciplines. One in ten athletes suffers from these problems during exercise. It's no coincidence that Jack LaLanne, forerunner of body building, claimed that "if training is king, nutrition is queen: unite these two and you will have a kingdom".

Watch out for hydration during indoor races

When the physical effort is indoors things change compared to when competing on the road. The reason? The body thermoregulates differently. While doing any kind of physical activity, the muscles involved produce heat. This is called metabolic heat. This type of heat depends mainly on the energy you spend. If the heat produced becomes too high, the performance capacity decreases and your health is put at risk.

Fortunately, the body has certain processes through which it can remove heat from the body, the most important one is sweating. The body dissipates heat through the evaporation of sweat (not its production as you think!). The problem is when the sweat produced by the body does not evaporate but soaks clothing or falls on the ground.

Every drop of water that leaves the body in the form of vapour removes 0.6 cal from it.

This is in fact the case when cycling on smart trainers or running indoors on the treadmill. MyRun, the treadmill for the home designed by runners for those who love running, is the icon of the Technogym offer for the home, a product created to offer the best running experience, personalized programmes and feedback on running technique. MyRun is the first running solution integrating a treadmill, a dedicated app and tablet.

For cycling, taking part in the Ironman Virtual Races with the official smart trainer is the best solution to  achieve the best results indoors. MyCycling combines a high-tech smart trainer, a dedicated app with personalized programmes and a network of professional coaches able to follow you and develop a programme tailored to your needs. MyCycling also includes a completely innovative training system specifically for cyclists: TNT - Technogym Neuromuscular Training that will help you improve your performance every day.

In these cases, in fact, the sweat produced cannot evaporate to the necessary extent. This event therefore decreases the expulsion of metabolic heat. The risk is that the sweating mechanism does not work properly. As a result, a significant amount of sweat is produced, and the heat produced by the muscles gradually accumulates in the body.

For these reasons, on the one hand it could be functional to use fans that can imitate the mechanism of convection, i.e. the air that meets the body on the road as it travels by bicycle or running, taking heat away from the body; on the other hand, it could be functional to pay close attention drinking. Water alone is obviously not enough, as on the other hand when competing outdoors. It is essential to drink as much as possible the more wet the clothes are and mix in the water bottle all the minerals mainly present in sweat: sodium, chlorine, potassium and magnesium. If these are the first times you train indoors, it is very likely that your sweat is more concentrated in sodium and chlorine. You can feel it from a particularly salty sweat and salt-soaked clothes (you can see it from the white colour on the clothes under the armpits and around the neck). In this case the advice is to use salt capsules that can be taken with water.

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