The Kona Ironman Championship and Sarah True’s Nutrition Program

“In short-course racing, I took nutrition for granted,” she says. “With long course, I knew nutrition was going to be half the battle.”

American triathlete and two-time Olympian Sarah True will not soon forget the summer of 2018. This past July she made the leap from the Olympic distance triathlon to the Ironman distance. Whereas the Olympic distance takes elite athletes roughly two hours to complete, the Ironman — 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a full 26.2-mile marathon — clocks in at eight to nine hours, or more, for the best in the sport. It’s a radically different physical effort, and Sarah knew her approach to nutrition and training would require a major overhaul to match the effort.

In her first attempt, Sarah did something truly rare in an event that typically requires a steep learning curve to move from short-course to ultra: She came in second at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt, Germany (to the reigning Ironman world champion no less, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf) and qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Kona this October.

“I was terrified,” she says of what it felt like going into the heavy unknowns of a new event. “But I really liked it!”

Her performance in Germany suggests that True has stepped into a realm for which she has great potential. Her swim time of 53:09 shows no weakness and her run—a 2:54—is exceptional. Her 5-hour and 10-minute bike split was where she lost considerable ground to Ryf. But as three-time Ironman world champion Peter Reid used to say, the bike leg is the best opportunity for Ironman-focused triathletes to improve. That True has recorded a sub-3-hour marathon in her first Ironman race has surely caught notice of top women contenders going to Kona this year.

A key part of her immediate success in jumping into Ironman, True says, is that she made nutrition a focus in her preparation.

“In short-course racing, I took nutrition for granted,” she says. “With long course, I knew nutrition was going to be half the battle.”

Indeed, Ironman history is chock full of stories of great athletes blowing up and melting down deep into the race because of nutrition issues.

"Protein requirements for extreme endurance becomes essential at the 90 minute mark," says Momentous Performance Engineer, Dave Scholz. "During this time, muscle glycogen is being depleted and glucose is being made be means of gluconeogenesis. In order to avoid excessive muscle breakdown via this secondary energy pathway, a high-quality, fast-absorbing protein powder in conjunction with your preferred primary fuel source is your best friend."

One of True’s strengths in her sports nutrition adjustment, she believes, is that she is a skeptic when it comes to gimmicks.

“Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated,” she says. “I ignore trends. They come and go. We keep it simple: We eat high-quality foods and the occasional treat.”

(When Sarah says ‘we,’ she’s referencing her husband, Ben True, a top American runner who has a 13:02 5000-meter PR to his name. It’s a fast household.)

If True had one piece of advice she’d want to offer athletes of all levels it’s this: “Know how to cook. It’s one of the best things you can have in your arsenal.”

That said, True did work with a dietician to look for opportunities to improve. This leads to a second piece of advice she’s confident in offering.

“One of the most effective changes we made to my diet was consuming Momentous whey protein after hard workouts,” she says. “It’s something I hadn’t been doing. After a long run or long ride, or a hard, high-intensity session like intervals on the track, I often just waited until lunch to eat something.”

When True consistently began drinking a simple mix of water and whey protein, she began to notice a powerful difference.

“I started bringing the bottle in my workout bag to the track, and drink it immediately after.” Over time, a clear effect took hold. “It took me less time to bounce back after hard workouts. That sort of thing adds up over time.”

In other words, she was able to handle the volume required for training three sports simultaneously, a regimen that often requires stacking hard workouts on top of each other. Improved nutrition helped her recover better, perform better and feel better. “I wouldn’t crash,” she says.

Along with figuring out the heat and humidity adaptation she’ll need to make in her home training grounds of Hanover, N.H., you can expect that Sarah will pay more attention to pre, during and post-workout nutrition as she prepares herself for the rigors of Kona.

To the degree that her race in Germany is a preview of Kona, Sarah is definitely one of the Americans you want to keep your eyes on in October.

Written by TJ Murphy

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