This upcoming Saturday, August 9, I'll be racing in the Xterra Beaver Creek, an offroad triathlon in Avon, Colorado that includes a 1.5k swim, 25k mountain bike, 8k run, and more than 4,500' of vertical ascent. I've been training hard, but I have a feeling this is still going to be a mighty tough race!
When I switched to a gluten-free diet a little over a year and half ago, I had to completely rethink my pre-race, during-race and post-race nutrition. Athletes often carbo load on pasta the night before a big race, and sponsors often provide a free beer to competitors after the race. Both of those were obviously off limits. The question was: how to fuel my body?
Usually, a combination of meat, vegetables and either potatoes, corn or rice would be my meal of choice the night before a race. It wasn't always that straightforward, however. Often, racing involves traveling away from home... Which means eating away from the safety of my own kitchen... Which can mean risking gluten contamination in a restaurant... Which is exactly what happened to me earlier this year.
It was the COSMIC Snowmass race, a ski mountaineering race near Aspen, Colorado. The night before the race, Kelli and I went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Glenwood Springs. I wasn't very confident in our server's understanding of my dietary needs, so we talked to the owner of the restaurant - who assured us that my meal would indeed be safe to eat. But before we even left the restaurant a short time later, I could feel myself getting sick. I was up half the night in pain. Sometime after midnight, I sat on the edge of our bed in the hotel room nearly in tears - the start of the race was less than seven hours away, and I felt as though all my hard work training in the weeks leading up to the race had been sabotaged at the last minute. I finished the race, and did okay, but I had wanted to do better. Could I have if I hadn't gotten sick the night before? Almost certainly yes.
Now, I always travel with a soft-sided shoulder bag with an integrated cooler. It's packed with "safe" foods I don't have to worry about eating. This way, whenever there's a question about gluten, I know I have something to eat...especially when a race is looming and I can't afford to be sidelined with gluten contamination.
Finally, I wanted to share a few thoughts on my during-race nutrition. Lots of racers use goo or different energy or sport bars. Unfortunately, many of those have gluten. However, I've become a big fan of two products that I use during races: Jelly Belly's Sport Beans, and Sharkies. Both are formulated for racing, and both are gluten-free. I'm a huge fan of the orange, lemon-lime, and fruit punch Sport Beans. I haven't tried all the Sharkies flavors yet, but so far, I've loved every flavor I've had. If you're looking for a way to fuel your body during high exertion activities, give them a try!