Nutrition and Hydration for IM Wisconsin ET Cheer Crew

Nutrition and Hydration for IM Wisconsin ET Cheer Crew

laurie bio photoBy Laurie Schubert, PhD RD LDN, Team Dietitian

So, it’s the big day!  Your friend or significant other is about to embark on 140.6 miles and you get to be the holder of the tissues and bike pump, the bolstering voice on the tough hills, and the smiling, screaming face in the crowd.  You’ve read the ET Spectators Guide so you know the logistics of the big day.  You’ll be there from well before dawn until well after dark, and through it all, you’re supposed to be unfailingly positive and cheerful.  This is going to take some fuel.

Before the race, in the hotel room/car/parking garage:  This is an essential time for maintaining a calm demeanor as your athlete will be at their most fragile.  You need to eat so that you can deal with whatever that sensitive, quivering person throws at you.

  • Have some complex carbs and fat for sustained energy and some protein to curb feelings of hunger and to pump up those leg muscles for the long day ahead. Peanut butter on a delivery vehicle (whole wheat bagel, gluten-free bread, tortilla, oatmeal, dark chocolate) is always popular and has the added advantage of being shelf stable.  Other options are hard boiled eggs, cereal, fruit, trail mix, cans of tuna or chicken, yogurt and any number of pre-made drinks and bars.
  • Caffeine might be a good option, even if you don’t normally partake. Really, it’s a long day!  Stock up before you leave the hotel room, or stop by a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks on the way to the race.  Coffee and espresso drinks seem to be the most popular, but green, black and white tea also have their fans.
  • Avoid waving a breakfast pastry in front of an athlete at this time. They’ll either pull something when they lunge for it or turn green with nervous nausea.

At the swim venue:  Sherpa duties and last minute emotional support will be your most important activities.

  • You might not need anything, but your athlete will. This is their last chance for any non-sports food for hours.  It’s your job to make sure you know where their pre-race snack is at all times and that you can produce it instantaneously while juggling the bike pump, wetsuit and body glide.  Aren’t you glad you ate so well in the hotel room?
  • For the serious, hardcore coffee fiends, the Cappuccino Camelbak (CC) is a handy accessory, and indeed, serves as a shining beacon for support personnel to recognize each other.
  • If you forgot to fill your CC, there are a variety of options near the race start, but a) your athlete might forget something vital, b) the local shops will be jam-packed and c) you might miss your athlete getting in the water. There’s a Starbucks between the finish line and the Capitol, and several other options on State Street.
  • If you do carry a cup of coffee (so passé compared to the CC!), do throw it out in the appropriate receptacle. Don’t litter.

On the bike course:  As you know, we drive out to the bike course for a large part of the day and spend the hours with our eyeballs peeled, searching for our athletes and teammates.   Cheer for all ET athletes and anyone else you might know.  Please don’t just save your efforts for your athlete.  It’s considered bad form.  Concentration in scanning for all ET athletes is important.

  • You should plan ahead and bring enough food and drink to get through 4-6+ hours of standing around and constant vigilance.
  • A stop is made on the way out of town at Panera on University Avenue. Here you can stock up on sandwiches, enormous baked goods, and CC refills.
  • If Panera doesn’t suit your mood, there’s a Whole Foods across the street. It’s slower but they have a different range of food.  No or limited coffee!!
  • Don’t forget water and non-caffeinated beverages, enough for everyone in your family – plus one for good luck.
  • Here again, consider a mixed meal of protein, complex carbs and fat for sustained energy and concentration. It is amazingly exhausting looking for athletes for hours on end.  By lunchtime your brain, legs and feet will be hurting.  Any of the above you had for breakfast will work again for lunch, but you can also add cut fruit and veggies, salads, and meat and cheese sandwiches with all the fixin’s.
  • Not into coffee anymore? Green tea gives a nice energy boost with a mellow feeling (thanks, L-theanine!), and chocolate covered espresso beans make good friends.
  • Consider taking a small cooler for keeping drinks and meat sandwiches cold. You’re on the job and you can’t afford to get food poisoning on the bike course!
  • Chairs and blankets are helpful here, as it’s good to get off the feet for a while. Between times when your athlete might be coming by, of course.
  • Lastly, take enough to eat and drink.
  • Don’t litter. Carry in, carry out.

On the run course:  By now, we’re back in town and hunkered down at or near Tap Haus on State Street.

  • This is a good time and place to have a solid meal and a cold drink and generally take a break. The Tap Haus has pub food: burgers and sandwiches, salads, and the like.
  • The Tap Haus has the added advantage of being steps from the run course so you can lounge in a supportive, go-get-it fashion and toast your athlete with an adult beverage while they shuffle by. Be sure to point this out to your athlete; they love this!
  • If you need caffeine, there’s an independent coffee shop directly across the street. There are also several other independent coffee shops and a Starbucks or two down State Street toward the university.  Here again, green tea can be your friend as it provides an upbeat feeling without adding nerves.  If you’re heading off to pick up a bike and transition bags, the CC can be put back into service.  On the flip side, you would like to sleep tonight, right?  Play this one by ear based on your athlete’s ETA and your caffeine tolerance.
  • Also across the street is Ian’s Pizza, a Madison institution for 15 years. Expect long lines, as it’s a student favorite!

At the finish line: Finally, your athlete is getting close, you’ve collected their gear and stashed it in the hotel room, and your feet hurt.

  • It’s a long day. Really, you need to fuel.  Eat real food, and plenty of it.  Your day’s not over until your athlete falls asleep in your hotel room.  If you messed up early, now’s when you’ll start to fade.
  • Things to have on hand include:
    • Water, just in case
    • Snacks, just in case
    • Toilet paper, just in case
    • Dry clothes for your athlete (optional, dependent on how much new bike gear they “had” to have in the last few months)
    • Money or phone with app, just in case you need an emergency Starbucks run (it’s less than a block away)
  • When your athlete finishes, they’ll have a chance at the food tent. Despite a prolonged stay to inhale 15 slices of pizza, there’s a decent chance they’ll be ravenous before you can tuck them into bed.  Consider going around the corner to Subway for foot-long sub or having enough food in the room to tide them over until breakfast.  Some people are hungry and some aren’t, but you don’t want your athlete eating the remainder of your chocolate covered espresso beans at 3 AM because they couldn’t find anything else.
  • When your athlete, your fabulous, wonderful, kick ass athlete, emerges from the finish area, you need to be ready to bounce around giving hugs, kisses, taking photos, hearing the highlights and lowlights, and shouting your pride for the world to hear. Keep your thumbs warmed up for texting family and posting on Facebook.  Keep smiling no matter what!
  • Okay, when ANY ET athlete crosses the finish line, you need to start bouncing, cheering and taking photos. It’s considered bad form to only cheer for your athlete, remember?
  • Pay attention while driving or walking back to the hotel room with your athlete. They had a long day and they will want to talk about it, at length.  Ask questions and be engaged.  The day will have been interesting and this is a good chance to assess the well-being of your athlete.  Did THEY eat and drink enough?  Do THEY need more water or snacks?  Do THEY want to go out for dinner?  At the very least you can give them that spare water bottle you hauled around all afternoon.

Back at the hotel room:  Your ebullient friend or significant other is either bouncing off the walls or has crashed into bed wearing their race belt and finisher hat.  If your athlete is still up, you need to be (mostly) alert.

  • Keep talking while showering and getting ready for bed. Rehydrate yourself and your athlete.
  • Provide tissues and medical care as needed.
  • Plan your strategy for convincing your athlete that they should be the one to drive home in the morning. Despite an exemplary fueling plan, you had a long day and you’re TIRED!

Laurie Schubert is the Team Dietitian at Experience Triathlon.  She specializes in working with clients to meet nutritional needs and goals within the boundaries of food preferences, cooking ability, medical limitations, and budget.  She has a particular interest in sports nutrition, but gets personal satisfaction from encouraging people in weight loss, finding the right meal plan for a diabetic, and watching young children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.

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