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Fad: Gels Plus Water Plus Salt Cocktail
Tim O’Donnell (winner of the 2009 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships, third at 2015 IRONMAN World Championship): “I put my CLIF SHOTS in a flask and mix with my sodium and water. It makes it a little easier to ingest while racing and allows you to consume at your own pace and combining the sodium with the CLIF SHOTS means there is one less thing to worry about taking when you are out on the course.”


What the science says: Carb ingestion during exercise has been correlated with faster finishing times. Basically, it’s pretty well established that consuming carbs during exercise helps you perform better. But it’s also important to understand that higher levels of carbs can be associated with stomach upset and, putting it delicately, gastrointestinal problems. However, tolerance to carbs can be trained, and given the importance of fueling to performance, figuring out ways to get in enough carbs is a worthwhile endeavor. O’Donnell’s method, while personalized, is one such technique.


 


Fad: Beetroot Juice
Conrad Stoltz (Four-time XTERRA World Champion, three-time ITU Cross Triathlon World Champion): “I haven’t raced competitively the past two years, but the last ‘big thing’ of my pro career was the red blood cell-stimulating beetroot juice the month before the race. Luckily, I like beetroot. Just don’t pee in the pool.”


What the science says: A 2017 review article in the journal Sports Medicine concluded that so far, the benefits of beetroot — aka dietary nitrate supplementation — were restricted to the lab, and not the road. “Dietary NO3-supplementation is likely to elicit a positive outcome when testing endurance exercise capacity, whereas dietary NO3-supplementation is less likely to be effective for time-trial performance.”


 


Fad: Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)
Conrad Stoltz: “One thing that is old news but apparently works, is lactic acid buffering [using sodium bicarbonate]. Not for everybody, as it can be a bowel irritant.”


What the science Says: Research on cyclists and triathletes suggests that sodium bicarbonate — aka baking soda — can limit the buildup of acid in the bloodstream and improve endurance performance. One such study found a 24 percent increase in cycling time to exhaustion after using the supplement. However, as Stoltz notes, the use of sodium bicarbonate can cause a laundry list of uncomfortable stomach and GI side effects.


 


Fad: Flat Coke
Barb Lindquist (Olympian, USA Triathlon Hall of Fame, USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program Coordinator): “I drank a Coke after races where the water quality seemed a bit dodgy. Coke cleans pennies to a shine, coke can clean blood from a crime scene, so why not do its magic on any ingested water I took in. Not once did I ever have a GI issue after a race, and I’ve swam in some pretty gross water. No science behind this one that I know of — maybe a wives’ tale or two.”


What the science says: Though Lindquist was referring to using Coke as a means to avoid “Traveler’s Revenge,” many endurance athletes use the soft drink at the end of a race for a little performance boost. A well-designed research study on the effects of Coca-Cola ingestion on endurance performance, again by researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport, found What the science says: Though Lindquist was referring to using Coke as a means to avoid “Traveler’s Revenge,” many endurance athletes use the soft drink at the end of a race for a little performance boost. A well-designed research study on the effects of Coca-Cola ingestion on endurance performance, again by researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport, found


 


Fad: Glucose (Sugar) Tablets
Barb Lindquist: “Four to six glucose tablets (for diabetics, over the counter) during the run to help my mind stay focused, especially in hot races. The brain only uses glucose.”


What the science says: The things are literally pure sugar, without electrolytes or other forms of sugar, like fructose. Though there isn’t any specific performance research on the glucose tablets for diabetics found in pharmacies, there is abundant research on glucose and endurance performance. In short, glucose (sugar) improves endurance performance, especially in long events like triathlons. One potential drawback with the glucose tablets is that they only provide a small amount of sugar (~4 grams), requiring 10 or more to equal the sugar in one gel or energy drink.


 


The Bottom Line
Of course, maintains Allen, a common sense approach to nutrition — balanced diet, eliminating refined sugar, eating good sources of high quality fats, getting enough good quality protein and avoiding excessive amounts of grains — is kind of boring. But, focusing on the foundation of the pyramid, rather than just the fad supplements at the tip, might offer the best chance for improved performance. Finally, like training, a successful nutrition strategy varies depending on the athlete. What works for your training buddy may not work for you, so always test strategies in training before implementing for racing.


USATRIATHLON.ORG | USA TRIATHLON | 29

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