Ironman Texas was this past weekend (Saturday, May 18, 2013). It looked to be a beautiful, if warm day in the days leading up to the race. We’ve had a very cool spring for Southeast Texas. We’ve had bouts of low’s in the 40′s and highs in the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s depending on the week. Mother Nature decided to pull a fast one and send us a hot, humid day for race day. Because of the cool spring, local athletes hadn’t been able to acclimate to the heat and humidity. As the race started, it was warm and humid. I knew the day to come would present a lot of challenges. Hey, it’s an Ironman. It isn’t supposed to be easy. However, there’s a fine line between difficult and dangerous in these kinds of races. When it is hot and humid, and you aren’t acclimated, you’ve got to be ready to adjust your race plan and your race nutrition.
After the race, several people (including my husband who raced and finished) asked what to do when your gut shuts down. How do you adjust to the heat? I thought about it and bounced some ideas off my friend Ellen Coleman, who is one of the best sports dietitians I know. Here’s what we came up with:
1) Slow down! This may mean walking. Or, walking slower. The issue is that your body is sending blood to the working muscles and not to your gut to absorb the food, water, sports drink, etc. you’ve put into it. By slowing down, your body can re-direct some of that blood back to the GI tract to process what you’ve put in to it. Check your heart rate? Is it too high? Slow down!
2) Slow down on how many calories you’re taking in. Yes, this may mean you take in fewer than planned, but if you can’t absorb them and they’re just sitting in your stomach your body isn’t going to use them anyway. This is related to #1 above. Slow down, back off, get your stomach cleared then try again.
3) Be sure you aren’t over drinking water. If you’re trying to cool down, one of the things you may do is start going for water. If you’re absorbing it, your electrolytes may get out of balance and you end up with hyponatremia (low blood sodium) which is a potentially life threatening situation.
4) Review your salt intake. Are you taking in too much? Enough? If you have a sloshy stomach, taking in a little salt may help clear it.
5) Get off the solids and go to liquids. Your body absorbs liquids easier than solids.
Often, athletes end up throwing up if their GI tract just isn’t working. This often serves to “reset” the system, and they can start taking down fluids and liquid nutrition again. If this happens, start S-L-O-W-L-Y to see how your body is going to react.
Although you may be exhausted, take a few minutes and think about what you’ve been eating and drinking the past hour or two. See how that aligns with the points above and adjust.
And, if you’re not sure what’s going on, don’t hesitate to stop at a med tent and get assessed. They can take your blood pressure and ask you some questions to help you decide if it is safe for you to continue. Yes, I get that you don’t want to stop after training for so long for the race. But, it’s better to stop early and get fixed fairly easily than end up in the ICU (yes, I know of at least one person this happened to this past weekend).
There is lots of racing left in the year. These points should help you adjust if you hit a hot race or training session and help you finish.