Thursday, October 27, 2011

Getting ready....

Wow, the time in Tasmania so far has been consumed by all of the things that need to be done to get ready for the big race. Just one of them is our food preparation. Here's some insight into how it goes:
Hit the grocery store to see what they have (many of the foods we race with are available here, but not all; the staff were baffled when I was trying to explain what pre-cooked bacon is. This stuff is like gold for adventure racers. When I met Veronica in the ARWC in 2004, she gave me some and I fell in love instantly (yes, with both her and the bacon)).
Once you see what foods they have, you have to calculate how many calories you need of each so that you know how much to buy. We may burn somewhere around 10,000 calories a day or more while racing, but the body can only digest about 200 to 300 calories per hour. Quite simply, the math says we will starve, so you want to at least take in as much as your body can use in order to minimize the deficit. I'm used to my 200 calories per hour approach, but down here it is all done in kilojoules, so they've messed with my math! At one point I was convinced that some chocolate bars were only 100 calories! I was ready to patent my new "chocolate bars only" weight loss plan! What actually threw my math off was not noticing that some chocolate bars are considered 3 servings!?
So, what goes into our "athletic diet"for a week? Trail mix, dried fruit, energy bars? Healthy stuff? Not quite. More like: cookies (4 kinds), chips (3 kinds), candies (2 kinds), chocolate bars (5 kinds), cheezies, wagon wheels, rice krispie squares, peanut M&M's (note to my co-workers who love these: Warning: these are incredibly calorie-dense), gummies, beef jerky, cheese. Ah yes, a breakfast of champions! And maybe our other teammates will succeed at bringing in some bacon. Yes, it's a pretty rotten diet but mostly we need anything that will give that 200 calories per hour, won't go bad, and the key is to have enough variety that you don't burn out on eating the same thing over and over again. If you get bored of your food, then you don't even take in the 200 calories per hour that your body can process, trying to minimize the deficit versus how much you are burning. Taste bud burnout can be an issue in long races (someone even did a study on it). Rather than stopping to eat every hour or so, we eat while moving, on foot, in the boats, even while riding bikes - you always have something in your pocket that you are snacking on. This constant grazing drives the need for variety. Often, whatever your teammate just pulled out is the thing you suddenly crave because it is probably different from your own menu.
Once you've decided what food to buy and how much, it all gets divided up into countless little ziploc bags and then grouped into larger bags such as 2000 calorie mixes for 10 hours, so that in a transition area (eg. Finishing a bike section and about to head out trekking for X hours), it is easy to quickly know how much food to grab for the next section based on its estimated duration (all nicely estimated by our excellent navigator, Bart).
You can imagine what a strange operation our hotel room looked like during our food packing. With little ziploc bags everywhere, marked with calorie totals, we probably looked like some drug operation (especially when I bring my digital food scale), peddling cookies for addicts.

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