Just 50 yards from the finish line, Chris Legh's legs buckled underneath him. The elite triathlete had endured almost all of Ironman Kona in 1997, and was strides away from a podium finish when his body gave up on him. His run became a stagger, then a crawl. Finally, he collapsed.
The cause of his breakdown? Dehydration. And a missed chance at victory was just the beginning of his problems. The lack of fluids turned part of his intestine necrotic. Essentially, it became dead tissue. Legh needed emergency surgery to survive.
The near-death experience forced the athlete to realize the importance of proper race fueling.
"The only thing you can mess up on race day is pacing and nutrition," Legh says. "Obviously, '97 was a big failure of mine, but I think you learn more from those races."
After his recovery, Legh turned to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute to develop a new nutrition plan. The team came up with a strategy Legh now uses in the days leading up to a race—one that anyone can use to perform better during an endurance event.
Two days before the race, Legh makes three dietary changes: He eliminates fiber, eats simpler carbohydrates that break down quicker for easier-to-access energy, and curbs his protein intake to lower his chances of GI distress.
During meals and snacks, Legh aims to consume 100 grams of carbs—enough to fill his energy stores, but not too much for his body to digest at one time.
When race morning arrives, Legh consumes only simple carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes—usually from Gatorade's G Series Pro Carb Energy Chews or Prime Pouch.
After the starting gun sounds, Legh aims to take in 350 calories of carbs, 1,500 milligrams of sodium and a liter of water every hour. His grab bag at fueling stations contains Gatorade Endurance Formula Drinks or Gatorlytes.
"It took a lot of complex testing to realize that my race day strategy should be simple," Legh says.
Armed with his new plan, Legh returned to racing, became the top-ranked long course triathlete in the world during 1999 and 2000, and won the Ironman in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 2004. His 2012 victory at the Ironman 70.3 in Lake Stevens pushed his lifetime total to more than 85 professional race wins.
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