Fueling the Body and Mind
Inspired Age Group Athlete, Heather Bedinger, Tackles Triathlon Backed by Support Team.
On the morning of November 7, 2020, Heather Bedinger sat on the couch with her three year old daughter, Helen, and watched in amazement as Chris Nikic made history when he became the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete a full distance Ironman race. It was a huge moment not only for Nikic, but for Bedinger as well, because Helen also has Down syndrome.
It was at that moment, just four months postpartum with her third child, that Bedinger knew she needed to participate in triathlon.
“After seeing Nick complete that race, Ironman blew up within our community and everyone wanted to do one,” said Bedinger.
So with nothing more than a gut feeling and some general swim knowledge, she began her journey to become an Ironman.
Starting from Scratch
Triathlons, particularly Ironman distance races, are huge time and financial commitments. It’s also important to have a support system in place.
“I did know how to swim, but I am not a runner and I did not know how to ride a bike,” shared Bedinger.
She recalls her husband saying that if she could beat him in a 5k, she could sign up for an Ironman. So she began training for a 5k using a template Couch to 5k plan she found online.
On race day, Bedinger beat him by half a second.
The following day was her birthday and her husband gifted her with a new bike. Equipped with a drive and some new gear, she was ready to start training for her first triathlon: Ironman Florida in November 2021.
“I knew I needed all the help that I could get,” said Bedinger, so she found a local triathlon group, Irontex Triathlon, and shortly thereafter hired a coach.
With family and coaching support now in place, Bedinger faced her next challenge. As a new athlete and a nursing mother, she knew that nutrition would be a cornerstone of her success. For her, it wasn’t just about fueling for training. As a nursing mother, she was expending more calories than the average woman and had to fuel appropriately.
Nutrition as the Fourth Discipline
While searching online for ‘breastfeeding triathlete,’ Bedinger stumbled across Alex Larson, a registered dietitian and mom that specializes in endurance athletes, particularly triathletes.
Bedinger turned to Larson for nutrition guidance. The first thing they did together was assess what she was eating and Larson recommended a few changes.
“I didn’t change too much right away, just added more carbs, more frequent meals and made sure to pair carbs and protein throughout the day,” said Bedinger. “Variety was also big too. Being a mom, convenience is key and I ate a lot of bars. Chocolate milk and a banana is my go to.”
Finding balance was key. When she finally got a handle on managing her meals and daily caloric intake, things started to fall into place. She lost 25 pounds in less than a year and kept the weight off.
“I would send Alex progress pictures every month and it was incredible how I transformed,” said Bedinger. She was starting to look and feel more like an Ironman athlete every day.
She also saw major gains in performance. Now it was time to take it to the next level. Together, they started to pull together a nutrition training plan. Bedinger learned everything from the importance of electrolytes to why carbs are king.
Despite being equipped with this new knowledge, there were still learning curves to navigate. She completed several smaller triathlons leading up to Florida and used these, and long training rides/runs, as opportunities to test new nutrition products and formulations.
She trialed pushing the limits on her nutrition for one of her long training days—100 g of carbs/hour—it backfired, leaving her feeling full and sluggish. But through trial and error, Bedinger and Larson landed on a nutrition plan that gave her the energy she needed while taking it easy on her gut.
Earning the Title
All of the pieces were falling into place. One month before Ironman Florida, she had her nutrition dialed in.
Race day arrived and Bedinger stepped up to the line with confidence. There were no surprises on the course. Everything went smoothly and between the fuel provided and the fuel she carried, she had everything she needed to complete each leg of the race.
“I had probably spent the most time preparing for the nutrition portion of the race in the days leading up to IMFL. I checked and double checked which nutrition went in which bag, and exactly how much I’d need in each bag of Tailwind, Honey Stinger waffles, salt tabs and chews. I knew I’d have Maurten gels on course, but I stuck a few extras to take with me too. I planned to do 80-90 g carbs/hour on the bike and 60-70 g carbs/hour on the run. I really listened to my body, especially in the later stages, but worked so hard to stay on top of my nutrition throughout the day. I consumed all I planned for and added a little more as needed,” said Bedinger.
All of her hard work and preparation paid off. With the support of her family, Larson and coach, months of training, a solid nutrition plan and a sense of appreciation for what she and the thousands of other athletes towing the line were about to do, she crossed the finish line (feeling good) in 16 hours.
She recalled, “My mind, body and nutrition carried me through that day. To look back on where I was a year before to what I accomplished that day, was mind blowing. If I can do an Ironman, anyone can.”
Her advice: hire a dietitian. “I had no idea how much of a job eating is for endurance athletes. I told my husband I’ll do triathlon for the rest of my life if it means I am free to eat carbs!”
Today, Bedinger and her husband take turns training for big races. She continues to fuel and train and demonstrates to her children what hard work and commitment looks like.
Helen got a balance bike for her last birthday and is signed up for her first triathlon hosted by the local Children’s hospital for young children with disabilities. Perhaps she will be the next generation to inspire another person to take the plunge into triathlon.
If you would like more information about personalized nutrition plans and services, please contact dietitian Alex Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org.