by Alex Hutchinson
A quick tidbit from a PowerBar-sponsored presentation after the New York marathon, given by exercise physiologist Trent Stellingwerff (who used to work for PowerBar's parent company, Nestle): the fueling plan used by Haile Gebrselassie when he set his first marathon world record of 2:04:26 in Berlin in 2007.
- 3 hours before race: wake up, have breakfast including one bottle of orange sports drink
- 1 hour before race: another bottle of sports drink plus a banana-flavored sports bar
- a few minutes before the start: one gel
During the race:
- 5K: 250 ml sports drink (one spoonful of "Performance Sports Drink" powder mixed with 250 ml water)
- 10K: 250 ml sports drink
- 15K: 250 ml sports drink
- 20K: 250 ml sports drink plus one gel (black current flavor)
- 25K: 250 ml sports drink plus one gel
- 30K: 250 ml water plus one gel
- 35K: 250 ml water plus one gel
- 40K: 250 ml water plus one gel
In total, that works out to between 60 and 80 grams of carbohydrate in 1.1 liters of water each hour, which is a pretty high rate of consumption. Traditionally, scientists figured that 60 grams an hour was pretty close to the maximum you could absorb, but research in the past decade has shown that by mixing two different types of carbs (which are absorbed into the intestine through different pathways) you can get that up to 90 grams per hour -- so Geb's definitely pushing into that upper range.
This is quite interesting, because Geb is a classic example of an athlete who performs extremely well despite becoming extremely dehydrated during his races. He's reported to have lost 9.8% of his starting weight (i.e. 5.7 kg or 12.5 lbs) during on marathon a few years ago. He also has one of the highest sweat rates ever recorded: in one lab test, he was shedding 3.6 liters per hour of sweat! So he's a great illustration of the nuances inherent in the current hydration debate. He's definitely not making any attempt to limit his hydration losses to below 2% of his starting weight, as many experts still recommend. On the other hand, he's not just heading out and figuring he'll take a drink whenever he feels like it -- though that, by some accounts, is the approach he took in his first marathon, back in 2002, when he blew up and was passed late in the race by Khalid Khannouchi and Paul Tergat. Instead, he has a very detailed plan about the fluid (and, just as importantly, the fuel) that he'll be taking in during the race, beginning before the race even starts.