My visit to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute

Sometimes in your life things work out very nicely...

and so it was that 2.5 wks after Ironman Louisville, I found myself with an opportunity to go to Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) in Chicago for a day and a half to undergo some sports performance testing.

The testing was done under the umbrella of the "Inside Endurance" project.  From the press release:
This year, Gatorade is following amateur endurance athlete Ryan Sutter as he trains for and participates in four uniquely challenging races as part of the online content series, Inside Endurance. The weekly, documentary-style program will follow Sutter as he works with the world’s leading sports scientists from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) who will help him make small changes to his training and nutrition that can help lead to improvements in his overall performance.
To fully understand what it takes to prepare and fuel like a pro, Sutter will also train with and receive insights from elite athletes like Chris Legh, Dathan Ritzenhein, Shalane Flanagan and Michellie Jones. These immersion sessions, coupled with Sutter’s work with GSSI, will provide endurance athletes of all levels with tangible methods that they can utilize as part of their training.

If you haven't checked 'em out yet, they have already posted 3 episodes of the series at Triathlete Magazine:   Episode 2

The goal of the testing was to get an insight into why my long distance races have been plagued with GI issues.
Normann Stadler puking it all back up in Kona - an example of my unfortunate habit on the bike of most half and 140.6 distance races.
My difficulty has been trying to figure out why I have issues in races, when I do not have issues during training. My nutrition issues are very frustrating to me because this is something I can control, but it seems so far out of my control.  I know that it is holding me back from breaking through to the next level of racing.  (As evidenced by my nutrition breakdown at Ironman Louisville - I do think it is fair to say that my nutrition is the biggest contributing factor to what kept me from reaching my goal of qualifying for Kona)

I was lucky to be traveling with my friend Shanks.  Shanks is getting his graduate degree in exercise science so it made for pretty interesting discussion.

Shanks and I had a bit of a laugh when arriving to the airport in Chicago.  We'd been told there would be a car waiting to take us to the airport (how very posh) and we wondered whose last name would be on there... how could they pick between holding a sign that said "Shanks" or "Poon"

They went with the safer one:
 We were supposed to fast after 10pm so our first order of business was to head to dinner and eat something.  This year I focused a lot on my nutrition and had been following Metabolic Efficiency Training (MET) all year.  I stopped following it strictly when I started heavy training for Ironman Louisville. (basically in the month of July).  Since the race though, I'd been pretty much on a normal diet but I hadn't really introduced pasta and bread back into my diet.  So when we decided on Italian - bread knots, pizza, beer (for Shanks) - I was wondering what it might mean for my results.  But I'd decided I wanted tests that reflected my NORMAL eating habits as much as possible.  So Italian for dinner... YUM!!! I hadn't eaten like that in months!!

After dinner it was off to bed and early to rise!


We met everyone in the lobby of the hotel at 7am.  I was STARVING and had no coffee... probably wasn't at my most cheery :D

First order of business: Bod Pod

Okay, I'm a girl, so I have to say the idea of knowing my body fat % kind of scared the crap out of me.  Going in to IMKY I was definitely the leanest I'd even been in my entire life.

But let's be honest, that was two weeks ago, I'd been eating ever piece of chocolate and bowl of ice cream I could get my hands on! (no bread though haha) The BodPod was fairly painless, the only tough part was tucking all of my hair up under the little lycra swim cap.  They warned me that it would be a bit claustrophobic, but the little window helped.  I sneaked a peak at my results before they ushered me into my next test (of course). ha ha

The next step was Vo2MAX testing.

The Vo2Max Testing (or FATMAX as they referred to it) was designed to identify the point at which my body burns the most fat as fuel.  The test also takes us to our Vo2MAX point so that we can see how our body uses fat v carbohydrate fuel in every zone.

Here I am with Shanks learning about the protocol from GSSI scientist Melissa:

They put a mask on you to collect your breath and then pinch your nose so that you can only breath out of your mouth.  You've all seen the Nike ad with Lance doing the test (What am I on? I'm on my bike...)

What you don't realize watching someone take the test is that your mouth gets so dry and you can't swallow and the really not so pretty part?  Your drool drains out of a tube onto the floor... yeah no one ever pointed that one out to me before.

They start you out super easy at 90w.  You ride for 3:00 and every 3:00 they jump up the resistance by 35 watts.  So with about 10 min you go from super super easy to about half IM effort by 12 min you are pushing it... I lasted 21 min.

So that's the science - how did it feel? Very easy at first and then a bit harder, as it the increased the resistance watts it felt more and more like climbing a hill and then it became like climbing in the north GA Gaps.  The resistance felt like much more than what they were saying - more like 400w than the 200w (and eventually 305w that I ended up at).   As soon as my cadence slowed the resistance became greater and it was impossible for me to pick it back up.  The test was supposed to be done when I called it because I couldn't keep going; true to being a triathlete I just kept going until they called it for me...  No Quit right?

It's pretty interesting how that all showed on my results.

After that we were finally able to eat!!!  They gave us some G Pro Series Recovery Shake and it was like manna from Heaven!!  That stuff is packed with calories but they recommend you drink half immediately after workout and the rest as a snack several hours later.  I've heard that recommendation before, but this is the first time I've seen it on the packaging.  Pretty interesting.

After a bit of lunch we hung out for a bit before heading out to a park for a 90 min run.


The point of the 90 min run was two fold.  The first was what they call "Carbohydrate Tolerance Training".  This sounded very intriguing to me.  If there is one thing I don't tolerate well during a race it's too much carbohydrate.  And here I had these guys telling me that I can actually train my body to accept more carbohydrate and they were giving me the protocol with which to do it.
An Aside: Once I returned home and saw the first episode of Inside Endurance I was surprised to learn that 5-time Kona finisher, Asker Jeukendrup is a Senior Director at GSSI.  These theories had sounded familiar to me and I realized the were more refined versions of the theories I first heard from Asker in his inerview on Competitor Radio; one of my first introductions to sports nutrition.  It was pretty exciting to me to know that he was involved with this project.

I've got one word for this... SWEET!!

The other point of the 90 min run was "Fluid and Electrolyte Balance testing".  This entailed putting big square band-aid like patches on our forearms to collect sweat while we ran.  They would then run the collected sweat through a machine that would analyze the concentration of electrolytes lost through sweat (i.e. are you a salty sweater)  They also weighed us before and after our run. This was to determine how much fluid we lose.

This brings me to my favorite part about the testing - every part of the day, whenever it made sense, they gave us tricks/ideas to take home with us to improve our training and increase our knowledge of how our bodies need to be fueled.  It was a rather cool day in Chicago (about 60 degrees) which meant I was barely sweating as I'd been training in 100 degree weather all summer in Atlanta.  Melissa stressed to us that they were just showing us how to weigh ourselves before and after our workouts and run the calculation, because our fluid loss would very based on conditions.  One thing I found very interesting is that our concentration of electrolyte per liter of sweat would not change.  That is not to say you don't loose MORE electrolytes on a hot day, just that the reason you do is because you are sweating more.

So the way the Carbohydrate Tolerance Training works is that we ran 1 mile loops around the park.  At the end of each loop we would pick up a water bottle filled with G Pro Series Prime.  We were instructed to drink as much as we wanted, we did a smaller 1/8 mile loop and hand the bottles back.  Here are Shanks and I on the bottle hand back:

They tracked how much we drank in fluid and carbohydrate.  Shanks and I decided to really test it, we started out slow (about 8:00 /mi pace) and then progressively increased our speed to sub 7's... the idea was to see if our bodies accepted the carbohydrates differently at different HR.

First of all, I have to admit, I really liked the flavor of the Prime, even though it was super sweet.  Secondly, I had one of the best long runs I've had in awhile.  It wasn't until mile 11 that I started to feel the effects of the Ironman in my legs.

Throughout the day I spent at GSSI, once I got over the awe of being in the same testing facility of some pretty amazing athletes (pictures of Mia Hamm on the walls were a pretty cool reminder), I was impressed with the attention to real quantifiable science.  Anything they presented us with was backed up with numbers and data, not just anecdotal evidence.

Shanks and I heading to the airport still sweaty from our run :D


I started the day with a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Gatorade products.  I thought that they were for high school kids and recreational athletes.  I think it's pretty clear that through the time spent at GSSI and my data results meeting afterward, I've changed my views.  I'm still trying out the products and I'm a bit wary of HOW MUCH carbohydrate they recommend using, but after seeing the results of my testing I have to give it a shot.


If anyone is interested in the nitty gritty data, let me know, but in a nutshell I found out the following things from my testing:

After a year of using MET diet and training protocol my FATMAX watts are still disturbingly low.  My crossover point (where I start burning more carb than fat) is also disturbingly low.  To fix this the folks at GSSI recommend doing more training at my FATMAX point, after a 10 hour fast and without carbohydrate.  This is fairly similar to MET, but the training is at a much lower intensity, and they recommend these types of workouts only 1 a wk or every 2 wks - instead of ALL of your early season training without fuel.

On the flip side of this coin, they also recommended the Carbohydrate Tolerance Training (CTT) at least once per week.
 I like this plan because it seems more balanced.   One on hand, they agree the best way to fuel your Ironman would be using mostly fat stores in your body.  But they also recognize that our bodies really like to burn carbohydrate so let's training ourselves to be able accept as many of them as possible without getting sick.


I'm really anxious to put all this to the test.  I'm going to try some new stuff at Rev3 SC HalfRev this weekend, but not too much new stuff.  I'm certainly not ready to the full dose of Carbohydrates they recommend.

The nutrition plan that I followed at IM Lou had me consuming at total of 650 calories for the entire ride.  Yes, that is about 110 calories an hour.  Before anyone jumps down my throat I will clarify that this is EXACTLY what I trained with ALL SUMMER.  This is the amount of carbohydrate (CHO) that I can currently take in over many hour ride without getting sick on the run.  It equates to about 43g of CHO per hour.

GSSI reccomends that I shoot for 70-90g per hour... yes about double... can you say GI distress!!!

So they recommend that I do the CTT and increase by 5g every week.  Right now I'm ready to try about 50g per hour at Rev3 Half Rev in Anderson this weekend.  We will see how well the tummy tolerates it.


I love the fact that I have an action plan to try for the next few months and test out.  It also makes me happy that I'd already decided no 140.6 next year.  It gives me a chance to really flesh out the theories and put them into practice and determine what works best for me.  (Another thing I liked about the Gatorade folks, the stressed over and over that they are designing a system that will work for most, but everyone needs to determine what will work best for them specifically - this is exactly the type of stuff that we hear from the folks at First Endurance and I trust their products and science too).

So do I know what happened to me in Lou?  We don't have a definite answer for the actual lower GI distress (I think I might have eaten too differently that week); but we do know why I couldn't run faster between my potty stops :D  I know why I felt like I was running in a tunnel the entire run and why I couldn't think clearly.  My FATMAX testing showed that at the watts I trained at all summer long, 110 calories an hour would cover my losses because I was still burning mostly fat... however, increase that by 10 watts and we are looking at a very different Fat Burning v Carb burning ratio... yep, just 10 watts harder on race day pushed me into the red zone... I was "bonking" coming off the bike... how I managed the run??? well, I guess I have the simple sugar of Coca-Cola to thank for that!!


Like I said before, I'm not going too crazy in SC.  Just going to increase my calorie/carb intake a bit.  Thinking I might try bringing the G Pro Prime in a hand-flask with me on the run.  Originally I was pretty pumped to have a great race in S.C. but after fighting some cold/allergy issues over the last few weeks and limiting training for fear of being un-recovered from the IM.  So I'm either going to be out of shape or I'm going to be well rested.  I'm going to go with well rested :)

The numbers in case anyone is interested:

FATMAX watts: 100
Crossover point: 150w

Max watts: 274w
Vo2Max (bike): 52 ml/min

Body Fat%: 19%

Sweat Rate: 0.83 L/h

Sodium Loss: 0.9 g/L

I'd like to thank the folks at GSSI for treating us so well and taking the time to meet with me individually to go over my results and setup a training protocol.  I'd also like to thank them for sending me the photos included in this blog of the testing we did at GSSI.

Disclosure: As part of the this testing, I received from Gatorade the testing and results data as well as a nominal amount of the G Pro Series Product.

Let me know what you guys think of the testing and nutrition protocols!! Are there any things/topics I didn't cover?  I look forward to reading your comments!

UPDATE: Here is the link to the video about the Carbohydrate Tolerance Training that I did in Chicago at GSSI.

This is the race report for my race at Rev3 HalfRev in Anderson, SC where I first used the information I learned at GSSI and ended up with an 11min PR.


  1. Great experience and thanks for sharing. Hope this eliminates one possible error source in long course racing for you. I wonder how this blends with the blood Testing done by Rose and Shanks at Dynamo.

  2. I hope all your tummy issues fad into the distant background :-) Can't wait to cheer you on this weekend

  3. Great read #Poonstar. Very interesting stuff. I pushed it a bit harder than what I train at on the bike at Augusta, and felt myself slipping into that "tunnel" near the end of the run. It makes me wonder what might happen at IMFL when I double the bike and double the run. This is good food for thought.

  4. That was fascinating! I can't wait to hear how it goes from here on out! What a cool experience!

  5. Here are the questions I had pop into my head I mentioned in SC when I read this last week:

    1:Jill and I kinda have the same body types, and her nutrition is(was for IMLOU) similar to my nutrition. I wonder if it's a body type thing.
    2-I wonder if it's just her nerves that screws her stomach up. Training perfectly and then issues on race day; really think that's all it points to.
    3-even with what GSSI said, I still think nutrition is too personalized for them to say, "you need x amount of cho/k per hour" even if you train your body
    4-what you, Dan, ect take in during training and race, and what I take in are black and white. You also race LC, while I'm a SC specialist. I believe that I could get away with my k/hour MAYBE through a half, but would have to supplement if I was racing a full. ie-you don't need ~200k/hour racing high intensity races(SC), but you must up your k/hour as you up your distance, or at least get k in a different form.

    And Tony's responses: 1. It def could be.
    2. Nerves or "brain malfunction". Sometimes we 'think' we are doing X, while we were actually doing Y in the race once we look back. Happens all the time...
    3. I agree. You have to plan, test in training, test in races, then rework the plan. Field testing, then race testing.
    4. You are likely right here. I think your body processes way better than mine too.

    What do you think?

  6. That is so cool!!! I wish there was some magic formula, but it sounds like you are on the right track!

  7. Wow I'm glad I found this post Jill!! Thanks for sharing!!


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