How to fuel an IRONMAN

Hannah Munday taking part in IRONMAN World Championships 23 in Hawaii

Written by IRONMAN athlete, Hannah Munday

From Triathlon to IRONMAN

Growing up in Leicestershire, my parents very selflessly supported my swimming aspirations as a young girl. I swam competitively between the ages of 11 and 16, training 8-9 times per week, including those dreaded 5:30-7:30am swims before school. I then kick-started my triathlon career whilst at University, after meeting a triathlete in a pub (doesn’t every good story start with a bet in a pub….?). I was a complete novice on the bike and run, and it’s taken over a decade to build the skills and endurance for me to race at the level I do today.

Triathlon has taken a back seat to my career aspirations throughout this last decade, because, shortly after graduating from Oxford, I decided that four years at University wasn’t enough, and I planned to continue my time as a student and I embarked on a career in Medicine. Over the next 8 years, I spent my head buried in medical textbooks, graduating early to become a Doctor during the COVID pandemic. My first three years working as a Doctor, rotating jobs every four months, and juggling night shifts with training, have been a huge hurdle.

Hannah Munday swimming during a race
Image by Will Munday (IG: @willamunday)

Triathlon has been more of a hobby and stress-buster than anything else. Since completing my foundation programme last summer, I’ve been able to take my foot off the gas slightly, and work ad-hoc locum shifts to allow myself the time to focus more on sport, and my aspirations of becoming a professional triathlete.

Despite my career taking the forefront of my mind and energy over the last decade, I’ve been able to race at a competitive level within the age-group field. In the same year that I won Long Course Weekend, I came 3rd amateur at IRONMAN Wales, winning my age group, and qualifying for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawai’i.

Hannah Munday taking part in the IRONMAN World Championships in Hawaii
Image by Will Munday (IG: @willamunday)
Hannah Munday during the World Championships in Hawaii
Image by Hannah Munday

I was the first amateur Brit across the line at the World Champs, finishing in a respectable sub-10hr time in those brutal conditions the volcanic island is renowned for.

In 2024, my eyes are set firmly on gaining a professional licence. I’ve ticked the first of two boxes required for this with my 9hr42min IRONMAN in Texas, just a few weeks ago, and I hope to back this up with a similar performance in my next race in order to secure a professional racing card.

You can follow my journey on my Youtube Channel or on social @hannahmundaytri, and see two of our latest videos from IRONMAN Texas here:

Training for an IRONMAN

Training for an IRONMAN is all about patience and consistency. Knowing that changes don’t happen overnight, but celebrating those small wins along the way and learning from all of the setbacks. Throughout my medical studies and years as a foundation doctor, I averaged 10-16 hours per week, split across swim, bike and run. Now that my working days have reduced, I’ve been able to increase training hours to 18-24 hours per week in a gradual build.

Growing up with that regimented swim programme taught me so many lessons about dedication, motivation, commitment and consistency, as well as how to balance sport alongside work/school. All I’ve ever known is to plan my day around work and training, so I’m fortunate that this routine is part of my nature.

Saying that, I’ve also learned (the hard way…) that listening to your body is key. 

Although we all want to tick off every single session on the plan, sometimes rest and sleep should be prioritised, and it’s knowing when to back off and when to push through the fatigue.

Hannah Munday running
Image by Will Munday (IG: @willamunday)
Hannah Munday running
Image by Will Munday (IG: @willamunday)

The Importance of Nutrition

For me, nutrition has to taste good. It shouldn’t be a chore to take it - I should look forward to the next gel/bar/drink. Veloforte is the only brand where I have taken their products both in and outside of training and racing. My go-to post-swim snack is the  Avanti energy bar  and a  Nova shake, and for long car journeys I always make sure I have a selection of energy bars in the glove compartment!

When I’m training, the amount of carbohydrates I take in per hour varies depending on a number of factors including: 

- Duration of session
- Intensity of session
- Other sessions that same day
- Pre-session fuel status
- Time of day

Some sessions will be at 0-40g/hr, and others will be 100g/hr which is close to race day fuelling.

I like to mix the flavours up, so there’s no flavour fatigue, and then I always look forward to the next bottle. My favourite flavour is the Doppio energy gel - I always look forward to it on my long run; the smooth coffee/sweet flavour makes me feel like I’m drinking a baby guinness mid-run and always gives me a boost.

Fuelling an IRONMAN Race

When it comes to training and racing across the IRONMAN distance, fuelling is absolutely essential. Making sure sessions are fuelled will optimise recovery and ensure I’m ready to go again the next day.

Like I mentioned above, some shorter/easier sessions aren’t fuelled, but the majority of my endurance base miles are done with about 40g/hour of carbs. For race-specific sessions, or on days when I practise race nutrition, I use 100g/hour. This is in a mix of gels and drinks. I tend to avoid solids during race day and on race simulation sessions.

Again, I like to mix up the flavours to avoid flavour fatigue and to ensure each bottle tastes different to the last one. I also am able to tolerate between 75mg-100mg caffeine per hour both in training in racing, and this is something I’ve practised a lot too, mostly through the use of gels such as the  Doppio

Recovery is Key

There are lots of recovery fads out there, but I like to keep it simple. My essentials for recovery are:

- Good sleep
- Fuelling sessions adequately
- Eating nutritious food between sessions
- Taking protein as soon as possible after key sessions
- Having regular sports therapy/massage

I use protein shakes regularly after key sessions, as an easy way of getting easy-to-digest protein in very soon after the session has finished. My favourite flavours are Veloforte’s Nova and Vita Recovery shakes.

The Road to Pro

This year I’m taking the season one race at a time, and once I have secured a professional licence, I’ll sit down with my coach and put together a bigger plan for the next chapter. I know that I’ll be racing a mix of 70.3 and IRONMAN distance races, mostly across Europe, but possibly another trip to America might be on the cards too - watch this space!

It’s hard to offer my “top 3 tips”, as the backgrounds that people enter triathlon from is so diverse - everyone has a different foundation and skill set, and one beginner’s weakness might be another beginner’s strength. If I had to offer generic advice though, it would be:

1. Work on your weaknesses

It’s easy to train the things we enjoy and are good at, but the biggest benefits often come by working on something we’re not so good at and have a huge potential to work on. So, what are you waiting for, go challenge yourself!

2. Listen to your body

That nagging niggle? Don’t ignore it - get it seen to. Your body is asking for more sleep? Miss an early morning session, have a lie in and you’ll be better rested for training later that day. Feeling fatigued? Have a think about when was the last time you had a recovery week.

3. Do the basics well

There are so many gadgets and fads around to help improve performance, but for the majority of us, focusing on the basics of consistent training, perfecting technique, optimising recovery and improving efficiency across swim/bike/run will be far more beneficial than the latest “recovery tool”.

Hannah Munday swimming
Image by Will Munday (IG: @willamunday)
Hannah Munday at the start of her IRONMAN race
Image by Will Munday (IG: @willamunday)