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Race Fueling

How This Athlete Used Nutrition to Improve His Triathlon Run

Here's how to avoid turning swim, bike, run into swim, bike, walk. 

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Here’s how to avoid turning swim, bike, run into swim, bike, walk. 

The Case Study Athlete: Joel Rutledge

Germantown, Tennessee
43 years old
6’1”, 175 pounds
Years in the sport: 15
Occupation: Dentist
Triathlon coach: Siri Lindley
Athletic highlights: 21-time Ironman Finisher
2018 race schedule: 70.3 Florida, Ironman Texas, 70.3 Muncie, Ironman Florida

The Issue

Joel was frustrated that he couldn’t put together a solid marathon in long-distance tri racing. Physically, he felt able to complete the event distance in a respectable time, but as the miles progressed, he consistently suffered from fatigue, turning his run into a sorrowful walk.

Expert Notes

Joel trained consistently and had the fitness to put together a solid run. But it was clear that he wasn’t meeting his fluid and carbohydrate requirements, contributing to the massive slowdown in pace when running off the bike. We needed to fine-tune his sport nutrition strategy as his hit-or-miss intake of Gatorade and gels was not meeting his needs. A rise in core temperature and subsequent increased rate of muscle glycogen use and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) ultimately was leading to extreme fatigue.

The Sports Drink Paradox

For a sports drink to effectively fuel and hydrate, it must have the same osmolality—or concentration—or less than the blood. If a drink’s osmolality is greater than the blood’s, water will be pulled from the blood and into the intestine to equalize the two concentrations. This may cause dehydration, GI distress, and fatigue.

In Joel’s case, he was experiencing glycogen depletion and dehydration despite consuming sports nutrition products simply because he wasn’t using them properly.

The Solution

  • Utilize a three-flask hydration belt to make it easy to drink on a schedule, practice race-day fueling in every training session, and consistently consume a sports drink formulated according to needs.
  • Run nutrition plan: For each 10-ounce ask, Joel used Skratch exercise hydration and 1 scoop base salts for a total of 80 calories, 21 grams of carbs, and 650 mg sodium. Joel drank 10 ounces of his personal drink mix for every 30 minutes of running. Use water from aid stations for additional fluids and for cooling.
  • Bring packets or bags of replacement powder to refill flasks each hour in training and on race day.

Did It Work?

At first, Joel was hesitant to wear a belt. He thought it would be too hard to run with all of the fluid weight around his waist, but he learned to embrace it. “I train with the belt all the time now, and it’s become part of my running attire,” Joel says. Even Joel’s wife, Ali, an 18-time Ironman finisher who suffered from GI distress, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting in long-distance racing, learned to embrace the hydration belt, and now she is running better than ever before—without GI issues. Recently, Joel and Ali raced IM 70.3 Florida where Ali had a strong performance in her age group and Joel set a personal best by over 18 minutes.

Joel is now able to consistently run to his abilities. “With my hydration belt, I can drink whenever I want in small sips throughout the entire run. I can always practice my race day nutrition, and I never experience the bonking feeling I once felt in most of my races because I keep myself from getting depleted and dehydrated.”

Belt Up: 3 Options to Try

Nathan Peak Hydration Waist Pak
Holds one 18-ounce flask
$40; Roadrunnersports.com


FuelBelt Ergo Belt
Holds two 5-ounce flasks
$40; Amazon.com


Camelbak Ultra Belt
Holds one 17-ounce flask
$50; Amazon.com