Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Testing at Gatorade Sports Science Institute

Some people say the Ironman is 10% fitness and 90% nutrition. Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but you get the point. But for me racing Ironman with type 1 diabetes, it’s true. It’s the difference between a dreaded DNF (Did not Finish) vomiting or suffering in the medical tent, and hammering to the Finish Line.

I’ve had several unpleasant Ironman races that probably were caused by nothing other than nutrition and hydration mistakes. The ITU Long Course World Championship in Canberra, Australia in November, 2006 (race report) was one of those dehydration bad days. After that race, the medical staff with Team USA contacted the best place in the world to figure out my nutrition and hydration needs: The Gatorade Sports Science Institute. It took several months, and I quickly learned that they don’t let just anybody in there. GSSI is where some of the world’s best (i.e. highest paid) athletes have gone for testing – Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and other NBA and NFL greats. Amazing that they even let me in the door, so I made sure we worked fast before they wised up. Ha!

They weighed me when I arrived, recorded body fat and took a pre-test urine sample for electrolyte analysis. Then it was one hour on the bike at my “Ironman race pace.” The equipment is in a little chamber that reminds me of high school chemistry lab with a treadmill and stationary bike. They can adjust the temperature and humidity to any conditions. Some winter athletes (skiers) etc need testing in cold temperatures, other athletes need arid, dry heat, and some need humidity. The scientists and I selected a “hot and humid” testing condition for me to simulate most of my races and training.

They put sweat patches on my quads, chest, forehead, forearm and back, even a plastic bag over my left forearm and hand to collect several ounces of sweat. Then it was 1 hour of cycling. After the cycling, they weighed me again, took another urine sample, and within 10 minutes I was on the treadmill for another hour of running at an Ironman marathon race pace. After 2 hours of working out, one more trip to the scale and I was done.

The GSSI scientists analyzed the results and now I have a true picture of my nutrition and hydration needs. If you’re interested, they determined that I am a heavy sweater (I figured that was coming), sweating an average of 2.2 liters per hour. I have an extremely high sodium concentration in my sweat, 2.2 grams per liter. The test also showed that I need 75 – 85 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Factor in my often unpredictable high or low blood sugar from diabetes and the result is . . . . “high risk for dehydration and heat illness.” Uh, . . . ya' think? See Ironman Louiville.

Fortunately they gave me several nutrition and hydration recommendations to meet my needs. I look forward to experimenting with them in training and my next Ironman race!

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