Eating Like an Ironman

Jay Hewitt shares how he balances the nutritional demands of the Ironman triathlon in a race and workouts, as well as his daily life.

| Apr 30, 2009

What do you eat in a 140 mile Ironman triathlon?  I get that question a lot. It's been said that the Ironman race is 10% fitness, and 90% nutrition. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but for those of us with diabetes, that's our daily life.  Nutrition affects everything we do. Exercise, sleep, driving a car, all of those activities require a person with diabetes to think about the carbohydrates they have consumed and when they will eat or drink them again

The demands of the Ironman triathlon take nutrition to another level, but I'd like to tell you how I balance it in a race and workouts, as well as daily life.  In a 10 hour Ironman race I burn approximately 11,000 calories.  I consume only about 2,500 calories, mostly from liquids, gels, and sport bars, all on the go.  There's no stopping for a sub sandwich in the Ironman.  I know from experience and lab testing at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute that I need between 60 and 80 grams of carbohydrate, 250-300 calories, per hour during the race. Any more and I risk stomach upset and hyperglycemia; any less and I will slow down (bonk) or worse, get hypoglycemia. It's a delicate balancing act to stay disciplined to my nutrition plan during the middle of an intense competition, when the body is severely stressed and the mind can get distracted.

For me, food is fuel.  It powers my body on and off the racecourse. Think of it that way and you are less tempted to clog your engine with junk food, greasy fast food, processed foods, fat and sugar. This is true for the elite athlete and the working mom and dad who just want to exercise to lose weight and be healthy. I always eat before I workout. A few grams of carbohydrate depending on your body weight before that 30 minute or 1-hour exercise will give you the fuel you need.  I also consume carbohydrates immediately after exercise to help my body recover-a sport drink, banana, or a healthy sport bar. I make sure not to eat or drink junk calories and ruin the good work I just did.

Off the race course, I am not a fanatical athlete who weighs my portions and counts every calorie.  I eat a healthy mix of fresh vegetables, steamed or baked, not coated in creams and butter. Fish, chicken, or lean meat are usually a part of my meal for protein. I don't eat fried or greasy food, I try to eat meat that's grilled or baked in light but tasty sauces. Because of my training demands, I eat a lot of pasta, but again, not coated in fat and heavy cream. I also love salads and fruit. I do not count carbs or do food exchanges. I generally know from experience how a serving of each item will affect my blood sugar and I set my Omnipod insulin pump accordingly. I check my blood sugar several times in the hours before and after a meal just to make sure I got it right.  If necessary, I bolus with insulin or supplement with a few carbs.  The key is to check your blood sugar frequently, and eat a fairly consistent diet with a variety of tasty foods you know and trust.

Most people think I can eat whatever I want because I workout so much, which is probably true, but I am also meticulous about checking my blood sugar 6 to 8 times a day.  The great reward of exercising is being able to eat when you are hungry, and even enjoy occasional treats for your hard work. I love chocolate and bacon. I also love Mexican and Italian cuisine. Knowing you burned 500 calories on a one-hour power walk in your neighborhood allows you to have a meal you couldn't have had if you sat at your desk or on your sofa all day.

Move more, eat less.  That's a pretty easy motto to follow.  But you don't have to eat less if you just eat well. That will get you to your finish line.  Now, I need to workout so I can have that piece of chocolate...

Click Here To View Or Post Comments

Categories: Beginners, Blood Sugar, Diabetes, Diabetes, Diets, Exercise, Food, Insulin, Insulin Pumps, Jay Hewitt, Losing weight

Take the Diabetes Health Pump Survey
See What's Inside
Read this FREE issue now
For healthcare professionals only
  • 12th Annual Product Reference Guide
  • Insulin Syringe Chart
  • Insulin Pen Needles Chart
  • Fast-Acting Glucose
  • Sharps Disposal
  • Blood Glucose Meters Chart
  • Insulin Pumps Chart
See the entire table of contents here!

You can view the current or previous issues of Diabetes Health online, in their entirety, anytime you want.
Click Here To View

See if you qualify for our free healthcare professional magazines. Click here to start your application for Pre-Diabetes Health, Diabetes Health Pharmacist and Diabetes Health Professional.

Learn More About the Professional Subscription

Free Diabetes Health e-Newsletter

Top Rated
Print | Email | Share | Comments (2)

You May Also Be Interested In...


Posted by Anonymous on 6 May 2009

Jeff, your story is definitely an inspiration to other people with diabetes.

I am an athlete and found Extend Bars to keep me from going low during exercise. I'm not sure if you've heard of them, they are not in stores near me (have to find them online mainly I think), but they keep sugars stable and have pretty good nutrition too.

Also, I saw you eat a lot of pasta. Do you eat whole wheat pasta? Have you tried the Dreamfields pasta? I like Dreamfields but because of price I buy whole wheat. What do you do? Thanks for the article!!

Posted by Anonymous on 19 May 2009

Check out the book "Thrive" by Brendon Brazier, triathlete for more insight into optimal nutrition for athletes or anyone!

Add your comments about this article below. You can add comments as a registered user or anonymously. If you choose to post anonymously your comments will be sent to our moderator for approval before they appear on this page. If you choose to post as a registered user your comments will appear instantly.

When voicing your views via the comment feature, please respect the Diabetes Health community by refraining from comments that could be considered offensive to other people. Diabetes Health reserves the right to remove comments when necessary to maintain the cordial voice of the diabetes community.

For your privacy and protection, we ask that you do not include personal details such as address or telephone number in any comments posted.

Don't have your Diabetes Health Username? Register now and add your comments to all our content.

Have Your Say...

Username: Password:
©1991-2015 Diabetes Health | Home | Privacy | Press | Advertising | Help | Contact Us | Donate | Sitemap

Diabetes Health Medical Disclaimer

The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. Opinions expressed here are the opinions of writers, contributors, and commentators, and are not necessarily those of Diabetes Health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website.