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Eating for an Ironman

by Meghann on July 9, 2013

I need to start this post by saying I have no idea what I’m doing here. This is my first Ironman and I have zero training in the nutrition department. I’m basically going off of gut feeling, what I’ve learned from other people’s experience, and google. Please take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt. I’m simply sharing my experience, not offering advice of any kind.

With that being said, I feel like I’ve been eating for two lately: me and the Ironman. The Ironman has a hunger of its own and, trust me, it’s always hungry. It’s common knowledge that Ironman training will likely lead to weight gain because that hunger is a bitch to control. I 100% get that now, especially since the majority of what I crave is cake and sweets.

Of course, my goal during training is to eat what I need to eat, when I need to eat it. Nothing is off limits and I’m not following a set eating strategy (i.e. diet plan). However, I am trying to direct some of those much needed calories away from the sweets department and more towards the healthy grains/protein/veggies. It’s a constant work in process, but I am working on it.

To accomodate my larger appetite, I’ve been eating larger snacks in the morning and an extra snack in the afternoon. Basically it feels like I’m eating all day. I’ve found that constantly eating works best at controlling the hunger beast.

A typical day goes:

  • 5:30am: Pre-workout snack (1/2 granola bar, handful of cereal, nuts, etc.)
  • 7:30am: Breakfast (oatmeal, eggs, granola and yogurt, etc.)
  • 10:00am: Morning snack (mixed nuts)
  • 12:00pm: Lunch (leftovers, sandwich with side of vegetables, etc)
  • 3:00pm: Afternoon snack (hard boiled egg, cheese, veggies + hummus, fruit + PB)
  • 5:30pm: Pre-workout afternoon snack
  • 7:30pm: Dinner (protein, carb, veggie)
  • 8:00pm: Dessert (ice cream, chocolate bar, fruit, etc.)  

Lots of healthy fats, fiber, and protein helps keep me full. Now, if only that combination would keep my sweet tooth away!

For long bike/run days, I’m still experimenting with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, and when I’m eating it. Part of training for an Ironman is figuring out what works for you with nutrition during the race. My goal for race day will be to take in 200-300 calories per hour on the bike. I prefer to eat every half hour and have been practicing that strategy on every ride. I like to break up Clif bars, drink Gatorade,and I’m a fan of the new PowerBar Fruit Blends. I really like eating solids on the bike, I’ll save the chomps for the run.

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Before long rides, I also like to enjoy a larger breakfast. My current pre-ride fave is greek yogurt pancakes with nut butter and berries.

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I’ve started a bad habit of bribing myself on the bike with the promise of a Starbucks frappuccino if I finish the ride. It’s a bad habit, but it works every time.

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Back at home, I’ll refuel with a protein smoothie and/or eggs.

For runs, smaller pre-run breakfasts are preferred. I am DONE with nut butter and cold bagels (gag!) and usually go with a small bowl of oats instead.

My general rule is that I usually don’t take fuel in on a run unless I’m running greater than 10 miles. I’m a Gatorade fan and plan to train with the energy chews they sent me.

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Like I said, I’m a work in process. I’m figuring everything out as I go. As I get deeper in training, I’m sure my eating habits will continue to evolve and change. Any advice anyone has to offer with on-the-go snack ideas (homemade granola bars/energy balls/etc recipes especially!) is appreciated!

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate @KateMovingForward July 9, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Those pancakes look absolutely amazing!! Looks like you have a solid plan shaping up! Good luck with your training!
Kate @KateMovingForward recently posted..Pulling Myself Out of a Slump

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2 Lauren July 9, 2013 at 10:18 pm

This is great! I’m training for my first marathon (not as hardcore as an Ironman but still) and am hungry all the time after spending a couple months after my last half marathon running less. I am trying to count calories loosely to keep my snacking from getting out of control but am glad to see that someone else eats all day and is always hungry. As long as it’s clean and healthy ish, it’s okay to eat lots!
Lauren recently posted..Frog Fuel Review and Giveaway!

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3 Amanda July 9, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Have you considered keeping track of your macros? (Grams of fat, carbs and protein). Your eating is quite balanced but it might help shed some light on any deficiencies. This beast is only going to get worse! I can’t even imagine.

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4 Julie @ Swim Bike Running on Empty July 9, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I have my first Ironman in 7 weeks and I just completed my first half this past weekend! One thing I’ve found that works well (albeit not a solid) are the pouches of natural baby food. Easy to consume carbohydrates! Otherwise, I stick with Gatorade, Honey Stinger chews & chocolate Power Bars. Any other tips I come across, I will let you know!

And PS – I also do the post-hot ride frappuccino treat – whatever works! 🙂
Julie @ Swim Bike Running on Empty recently posted..Canada Day & Kicking Off Race Week

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5 Meghann July 10, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I have some of those reusable pouches, which were brought with the intention of making my own “baby food” for long rides, but I haven’t had the time to experiment with them yet. I want too, though!

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6 Jan @ Sprouts n Squats July 9, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Sometimes bribes work the best for motivation 🙂

I need to try making greek yoghurt pancakes again. I loved them last time but haven’t made them since.
Jan @ Sprouts n Squats recently posted..Trial Tuesdays #9

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7 Kaitlyn July 9, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Now, I am no where CLOSE to training for an ironman, but I love distance running and workout/run each morning and teach preschool during the day, so I constantly am moving throughout the day and am always hungry.
I’ve only recently started experimenting with some new on-the-go snacks for during the day, and by far my favorites are varieties of energy balls (Julie from PBFingers has a recipe for a walnut oatmeal date ball: http://www.pbfingers.com/2012/03/04/walnut-oatmeal-date-balls/). I make two full batches every Sunday and carry them with me throughout the week…it’s a perfect quick snack. There are so many other energy ball recipes in blogland, if you’d prefer different ingredients.
I hope this helps! I loved this post! I think sports nutrition is so interesting 🙂

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8 Mary July 10, 2013 at 12:52 am

I am training for a 50mile ultra at the moment and am now trying to adapt my eating to fit in five smaller meals throughout the day as suggested by my coach. Her motto is ‘make sure you are never over-full and never hungry’ which I think is quite a good one to live by!
I struggle to find snacks and lunches that are different every day and often end up with the same thing and bored. Looking forward to seeing what ideas everyone posts!
Mary recently posted..Week 1, Day 1 – the early mornings begin!

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9 Gilly @ DoubleTroubleRunning July 10, 2013 at 4:53 am

Hey there! Thanks for your advice. I am mid marathon training and cannot fill myself! I try and take a protein shake after a hard workout or a long run which helps a bit. Any tips welcome!

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10 Maureen July 10, 2013 at 6:47 am

I’m always trying to figure out how to eat right for the level of training I’m doing. I feel like I’m eating all day long, and not all of it good stuff! Someone recommended trying pouches of applesauce as pre/post workout snacks, so I may try that soon. Otherwise I’ve been relying in 200 calorie packs of trail mix from Trader Joes and peanut butter crackers.
Maureen recently posted..Motivation Monday

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11 Sara @ LovingOnTheRun July 10, 2013 at 7:21 am

Thanks so much for this post! I too am no expert when it comes to nutrition and tend to go by my “gut” whether good or bad! It is my goal to learn more about this
Sara @ LovingOnTheRun recently posted..Hill Sprints

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12 egb July 10, 2013 at 8:18 am

I can only imagine how hungry you get! Marathon training makes me eat like a starved wildebeest. How are the powerbar fruit blends? I’ve never tried them.
egb recently posted..The Plan

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13 Meghann July 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

I really like them! It taste like any other applesauce/ fruit pouch you’ll find out there.

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14 Karen @ Runner Girl Eats July 10, 2013 at 8:21 am

Fueling is my biggest issue. I feel like I am constantly learning what works for me pre/during runs. I love reading what other people do!
Karen @ Runner Girl Eats recently posted..WTF?! Wednesday

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15 Victoria (District Chocoholic) July 10, 2013 at 8:34 am

While Ironman training, I have to watch my intake very closely and can’t eat very much, I’ll gain weight at a very rapid pace otherwise. After I gained 10 lbs training for IMKY while eating about 1700 calories/day, my doctor told me to eat 800-1000 calories/day regardless of how much I am training because I am too fat and need to lose weight for medical reasons (even though I’m not overweight according to the BMI scale). I can’t stick to that during Ironman training, and have had to bump it up to 1300-1500, depending on the day. I can lose a small amount of weight on that when I’m training 13-15 hours a week, but it’s not as fast as my doctor wants it to come off.

Basically, I just had to get used to being hungry all the time, waking up starving in the middle of the night, etc. if I didn’t want to gain even more weight. Just be mindful of how your hunger hormones might malfunction.
Victoria (District Chocoholic) recently posted..Cocova January Sample Day

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16 Elizabeth V July 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm

A doctor told you to eat 800-1000 calories while putting yourself through the intensity that is Ironman training? Doesn’t sound like good advice to me. As an RD, I would recommend getting your resting metabolic rate tested. That can be used to calculate your caloric needs, taking into account your activity levels. This can ensure you are getting adequate nutrition and not putting you at risk for deficiencies. The weight gain might have been because you were eating too few calories.

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17 Victoria July 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm

It wasn’t from eating too few calories – I have a hormone imbalance caused by excess body fat that resulted in even more weight gain. The imbalance also means that I burn very few calories while exercising, so that is why she said I could still get by on 800-1000 calories. I lack the self-discipline to deal with that level of hunger, though. so I still weigh more than she wants me to weigh. To address potential deficiencies, I carefully plan what I eat to get in lean protein and a variety of vegetables, and also take a lot of supplements.
Victoria recently posted..Go Big or Go Home: The Electrolyte Edition

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18 Courtney July 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

I agree with Elizabeth V. I am currently doing my Dietetic Internship/MS in foods and nutrition, so I would highly encourage you to visit a Registered and Licensed Dietitian (not a ‘nutritionist’). MDs get very little training/education in the area of nutrition and a good one would refer you to an RD for these issues.

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19 Victoria July 10, 2013 at 8:42 am

OK, trying again, since my first comment seems to have gone to nowhere…

I gained weight (~10 lbs) training for IMKY last year, and that was on a carefully controlled 1700 calories/day. It turns out that I need to very carefully watch my carbohydrate intake, and my doctor says that, regardless of how much I’m training, I should be taking in 800-1000 calories/day because I am overfat and it is causing medical problems. I’m technically not overweight (BMI of about 23) but I guess I’m still too fat and my medical problems are my own fault, so I have to lose weight.

I’ve found that 800-1000 isn’t possible while training, but I can kind of deal with 1300-1500 during Ironman training. I am hungry a lot, and wake up starving in the middle of the night a lot, but at least I am very, very slowly starting to lose weight, just not nearly as fast as my doctor wants me to. I’ve learned to just deal with the fact that Ironman training makes me hungry, but that I have to ignore the hunger and not eat, or I’ll get even fatter and that will cause even more medical problems. It’s hard, but I love Ironman and training for it, so I suppose I just have to deal with it.

Just be mindful of how endurance training impacts female hormones and resulting hunger signals, it can be easy to put things out of whack and gain 10 lbs in a week (not exaggerating).
Victoria recently posted..July 1-7: It’s Hot, But That’s OK

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20 Ashley @ Eat Run Live Happy July 10, 2013 at 9:25 am

Fueling is my biggest issue right now. I’m training for a marathon. Trying to get all the right things for energy and muscle repair. Trying not to over eat but eat enough. It’s crazy trying to balance everything.
Ashley @ Eat Run Live Happy recently posted..WIAW Celebrating My Weaknesses

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21 kelly @ racesrepsramblings July 10, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hunger is SUCH an issue for me when I’m training for longer endurance events. I have settled into really liking the half-marathon distance just because it doesn’t seem to crank my hunger to an uncontrollable level. I actually toyed with the idea of training for a full marathon this fall, but with my wedding coming up in January I just didn’t want to deal with the stress of wanting to eat ALL THE TIME and knowing I needed to fit into a certain dress 😉 Thanks for sharing your thoughts on fueling – it’s always such a tricky balance!
kelly @ racesrepsramblings recently posted..Run-cation, Nashville, and an Audition!

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22 Laura July 10, 2013 at 10:09 am

I love the Honeybee Stinger Chews for easy fuel on runs. I recently found them on sale at rei.com for $1.09 so I stocked up as they are normally about $2 a pack!

I also like Fannetastic Anne’s no back pb granola bars for fuel-easy to make and digest-I bet they’d be great on a bike ride!

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23 Kim July 10, 2013 at 10:50 am

Picky bars are the best on the bike, and power bar gummy shots.
Both very easy to chew/digest. For 100+ rides I stop for pizza ha!

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24 Katie July 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks runs don’t need fuel unless they are long! Some of my friends get a little crazy.
Katie recently posted..Stuck in a Rut

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25 Julie @ RDelicious Kitchen July 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

starbucks bribes are just the perfect motivation sometimes haha
Julie @ RDelicious Kitchen recently posted..Chocolate Chip (Chickpea) Peanut Butter Cookies

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26 Katie July 10, 2013 at 11:03 am

I am in the same boat!! I have been fueling with gels for the first time during brick workouts and I like them.

I struggle with taking in the calories and carbohydrates on the bike. It’s too much to juggle and I don’t want to crash! Do you stop to eat or can you do it on the go?
Katie recently posted..This Mythical Creature We Call LIFE

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27 Meghann July 10, 2013 at 8:38 pm

It depends. Usually I eat as I go, but I slow down a good deal so I don’t crash. I usually stop at the turn around points on long rides and will take the time to enjoy whatever the bulkier snack I brought it.

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28 Emily:2:design:cents July 10, 2013 at 11:17 am

I think there is something to craving sweets when you exercise frequently. I’ll go through phases when I amp up my running and I’ll crave tons of sugar. If I eat honey when I’m craving sweets(add it to yogurt or nutbutter snacks) throughout the day, it usually helps and I don’t want any ice cream or cake. I think the body does really need the extra calories/sugar from burning so much off and thats where the cravings come from and is trying to adjust.
Emily:2:design:cents recently posted..FASHION 2 CENTS: WHAT TO WEAR THIS WEEKEND

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29 christa July 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Personally I found that I could never take in enough calories to make up for what I was expending during IM training – ended up dropping 10lbs down to 115 for race weight. Horrible problem to have, I know, but just goes to show how many calories you’re really burning on those long days. I love the fruit pouches, usually go for the baby food like someone else mentioned but have tried the PowerBar ones too. And Clif Mojo bars are my fav pre-ride snack. Homemade energy balls are the bomb for along the ride, lots of recipes on Pinterest. I mix those up with ShotBloks too.
Post long bricks, I need a frozen mimosa or bellini next to some breakfast tacos, STAT!! 😉
christa recently posted..Week 22

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30 Lindsay @ Running the Windy City July 10, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I’ve found that I tend to crave sugar when I amp up my training and am not consuming enough protein and carbs. Once I get my ratios rate (they’re different for everyone and depend on how much I’m training) my sugar cravings seem to go back to a normal level. I’ve never trained for an Ironman though (..yet anyway :))and I can only imagine how hungry you must get racking up all those miles!
Lindsay @ Running the Windy City recently posted..Wednesday Workouts {07-10-2013}

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31 Alexa July 10, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Is there a recipe for those Greek yogurt pancakes?!
Alexa recently posted..June in a Nut Shell

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32 Meghann July 10, 2013 at 8:40 pm
33 Katie July 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm

It’s convenient that you’re a Gatorade fan a week after they sent you a bunch of product and a mini-fridge. There’s no mention of the items in your photos and descriptions being provided either.

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34 Meghann July 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I’ve always been a Gatorade fan, it’s just convenient that the package arrived right when I started training. And I plan to write reviews of the products as I use them.

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35 Katie July 11, 2013 at 8:20 am

But, just mentioning in a reply comment that a package arrived does not count as disclosure. Adding a disclosure to the post now would be a good step, but misses the majority of people who will ever read the post as it’s bumped down your front page now. The FTC wouldn’t approve.

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36 [email protected] July 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I like a good Starbucks bribe! 🙂
[email protected] recently posted..Open Bag- Let Out Cat

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37 Katie July 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I’ve found these cookies to be awesome snacks or breakfast (I eat a few then) http://fitnessista.com/2013/02/baked-breakfast-cookie/

And I recently made these and thought they were delicious! They are sweet yet filled with nutrition http://www.scalingbackblog.com/sweet-treats/32460757771/

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38 Meghann July 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Thanks!

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39 Katie July 10, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I also LOVE honey bee stringer chews 🙂 I would give them a try!

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40 Allie July 10, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Those pancakes with the fresh fruit, oh man that looks amazing. Throwing that in my rotation tomorrow for sure!

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41 Timi July 10, 2013 at 8:25 pm

http://www.katheats.com/?page_id=2661
Baked banana oatmeal- simple!
You introduced these to me from your Blog: I LOVE them right before exercise-
http://www.fettlevegan.com/4/post/2012/05/chocoatnut-granola-balls.html

I get the same way when I run, I just want more carbs/sweets. I started taking Shakeology and haven’t had the cravings. I’m not trying to sell, just mentioning what I take to help the cravings for carbs/sweets!

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42 Patrick July 10, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I just came across a new product called frog fuel, I have not tried it but but it looks excellent and they are giving away free samples at this site jackfit.blogspot.com.au/. I have nothiing to do with this product at all just thought that it seems excellent for any endurance athletes so thought I would share.

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43 Masha July 10, 2013 at 11:00 pm

About how many calories do you try to take in during each of the days (rest, long run, long bike, long swim)?

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44 Alison July 10, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I’m curious as to why you’re kind of winging the fueling part of your training rather than following a nutrition plan? Ironman training is so grueling, so much more extreme than most athletic endeavors. To me it is kind of like trying to develop your own training plan by gut instinct — it might work, but you’ll go through an awful lot of trial and error. There is plenty written about training (and fueling) for something like an Ironman, so I guess I wouldn’t want to try and reinvent the wheel…I’d want to take advantage of all of the great tried and true info out there!

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45 Victoria July 11, 2013 at 10:08 am

I will butt in here: Most of the nutrition information was developed with men in mind, as 80+% of Ironman competitors are men, and can have disastrous consequences when applied to women. Hormonal differences are not to be discounted.
Victoria recently posted..Go Big or Go Home: The Electrolyte Edition

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46 Alison July 11, 2013 at 10:23 am

It makes sense, I can definitely understand that. But I guess it seems like the no-plan/gut instinct approach could also have pretty disastrous consequences. I would think working for a company like IronGirl might help you identify good fueling advice for female competitors. Even a good personal nutritionist could help you come up with some general guidelines to follow.

I’ve never been that interested in IronMan, but it seems like if I were going to put in the time for training, I wouldn’t want to leave anything to chance on race day.

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47 Victoria July 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

In my own experience, sports nutritionists generally spout off the recommendations for men. Whenever I have followed their advice, I wind up gaining massive amounts of straight up fat rapidly. There is very, very sparse information for women out there.

I don’t think Meghann is leaving things to chance on race day. She is experimenting with what does and doesn’t work for her WELL in advance of race day, which is what I had to do for myself with both rounds of Ironman training. I figured out how much fluid I needed based on my sweat rate, how much salt I needed based on how my brick runs went after long rides, and practiced taking in nutrition at race pace. Some days went horribly wrong – most notably, those where I followed the advice of “professionals” – but others went great, and I knew to keep going with what worked.
Victoria recently posted..Go Big or Go Home: The Electrolyte Edition

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48 Rachael July 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I agree with Alison. I also think it’s really important to get your resting metabolic rate tested (it doesn’t cost that much). I couldn’t believe how high mine was and it’s really helped with fueling for marathon training. I also think there are plenty of professionals that DO know what they’re talking about; it’s a matter of finding them.

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