Fueling Strategies For Triathletes

 Part One - TRAINING

By: Steve Born

For details on Hammer Gel products, visit www.hammergel.co.nz


As a competitive triathlete you're different from any other athlete in many ways. You have to manage your time wisely to train in three distinctly different disciplines. And in doing this type of training, you are recruiting and using many more muscles than most other athletes ever do. As a result, the opportunity for over training and injury may be more prevalent with triathletes than with any other athlete. In order to stay healthy and prevent the consequences of both over training and injury the serious triathlete will give serious consideration to an intelligent supplement and fueling program. Allow me to take that a step further…

I've often said that there are three key tangibles that are needed to achieve success in athletics:

  1. The use of high quality equipment - You don't necessarily need the "limited edition, gold plated" model but you do need to use good equipment.
  2. The incorporation of an intelligent training and recovery program - You can't just "wing it" in terms of a training regimen and hope that the pieces will somehow fall into place. Similarly, you have to recovery as "hard" as you train to get the most out of your training.
  3. The consistent use of high quality nutritional supplements and fuels, and a sensible supplement/fueling program - As a triathlete you're demanding a lot out of your body. Your nutrient requirements - just to maintain health - are much greater than the average person. But your goal isn't to just maintain health at a minimally acceptable standard; your goal is to achieve supreme health. In addition, you want to get the absolute most out of your body so that it can do what you want it to in your workouts and races, having more fun and achieving more success in the process.

All three of these tangibles are important and if one is lacking, the others are negatively affected. My sincere belief is that without the consistent use of an intelligent supplement and fueling program, all the equipment you spend so much money on and all the time you spend in training will never realize their full value.

While supplementation (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients) is indeed an important factor, we’ll keep the focus of two articles on your fueling - the fluids, calories, and electrolytes your body needs during and after your workouts. And no matter how long or difficult your training sessions are, and no matter what distance triathlon you compete in, Hammer Nutrition has the fuels your body craves. You can easily fulfill your pre, during, and post-workout requirements from our line of fuels.

This article is broken up into three sections. The first section is a primer on fueling, some basic guidelines for what we believe constitutes proper fluid, calorie, and electrolyte intake. It’s important information to read, understand, and apply because we believe it will help take the guesswork out of how to properly fuel your body and give you the results you want to achieve: more productive workouts and more successful races. Section Two describes our fuels in detail and tells you how to best use them. Section Three is where you’ll find suggested dosages for each of the products.


Section One - Basic Fueling Principles

Although the topic of how to properly fuel the body during endurance exercise is a subject that requires much more than a few paragraphs there are some key things that endurance athletes should know and apply, which I believe will yield tremendous benefits.

Dr. Bill Misner, the head of R&D at Hammer Nutrition states: " To suggest that fluids, sodium, and fuels-induced glycogen replenishment can happen at the same rate as it is spent during exercise is simply not true. Endurance exercise beyond 1-2 hours is a deficit spending entity, with proportionate return or replenishment always in arrears. The endurance exercise outcome is to postpone fatigue, not to replace all the fuel, fluids, and electrolytes lost during the event. It can't be done, though many of us have tried."

What this means, in regards to fluids, calories, and electrolytes/sodium, is that the body cannot be replenished at the same rate that it becomes depleted. Yes, the body needs your assistance in replenishing what it loses but that donation must be in amounts that cooperate with normal body mechanisms, not in amounts that override these vital mechanisms. Optimal nutritional support for endurance athletics means consuming the right amount of the right nutrients at the right time. You can neither overload nor undersupply your body without compromising athletic performance and incurring detrimental results.



When it comes to fluids, experts such as Dr. Tim Noakes and Dr. Ian Rogers suggest that an intake between 500-750 milliliters/hr will fulfill most athletes’ hydration requirements under most conditions. I believe all athletes would benefit from what Dr. Rogers says: "Like most things in life, balance is the key and the balance is likely to be at a fluid intake not much above 500 milliliters per hour in most situations, unless predicted losses are very substantial." [Fluid and Electrolyte Balance and Endurance Exercise: What can we learn from recent research? by Ian Rogers @: http://www.wms.org/education/Hyponatremia.htm]


It’s vital that you keep the word “balance” in your mind and as your guide when you’re replenishing fluids during workouts and races. If you don’t drink enough fluids you’ll suffer from unpleasant and performance-ruining dehydration. Drink too much however, and you’ll not only end up with impaired athletic performance, you may even be flirting with potentially life-threatening water intoxication. Dr. Noakes, perhaps the most respected researcher on hydration, studied the effects of thousands of endurance athletes over the course of several years and noted that the front-runners typically tend to dehydrate, while over-hydration occurs most often among middle to back-of-the-pack athletes. Both conditions lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), but through different processes. Excess water consumption causes what is known as “dilutional hyponatremia,” or an overly diluted level of sodium and electrolytes in the blood. This is as bad as under-hydrating in regards to increased potential for muscular cramping but has the added disadvantages of stomach discomfort, bloating, and extra urine output. In some unfortunate circumstances, excess hydration can leads to severe physiological circumstances, including death.


We at E-CAPS/Hammer Nutrition agree with the recommendations of Drs Noakes and Rogers and have found that most athletes do very well, under most conditions, with a fluid intake of 500 – 800 ml/hour (roughly the equivalent of a typical small to large water bottle). Sometimes you may not need that much fluid and sometimes you might need slightly more. If more fluid intake is found to be necessary (under very hot conditions, for example), proceed cautiously, noting that it will most likely be necessary to increase electrolyte intake as well.



As far as calorie replenishment is concerned, the body has a limit to what it can accept from carbohydrate donation for return to the energy cycle. Researchers such as Coleman, Noakes, and others (in carbohydrate oxidative research) agree that up to 1.0 - 1.1 grams of carbohydrate per minute can be utilized from exogenous (outside) carbohydrate donation. A 1.0 g/carb per minute donation equals 240 carbohydrate calories per hour. A 1.1 g/carb per minute donation equals 264 carbohydrate calories per hour. Now, taking into account that some of those calories - approximately 6-23% - are burned/lost during the digestive process, this suggests that for the average athlete the minimum intake is approximately 254 calories per hour to obtain 240 calories per hour (1.0 per minute with 6% lost in route) while the absolute upper maximum is about 325 carbohydrate calories per hour in order to regenerate 264 carbohydrate calories (1.1 per minute with 23% lost in route).


Our recommendations are fairly similar - a bit more conservative perhaps - and we suggest a slightly lower hourly intake after finding that higher amounts ( > 300-325 calories/hour) only induced a variety of stomach related stress disorders and reduced performance in many athletes. This is why our common recommendation is approximately 60-70 grams of carbohydrates hourly (240-280 calories). That will, in most situations, and for most athletes, provide enough carbohydrates for energy production (the limit of what the body can metabolize) while taking into account a percentage of those calories being lost/burned during the digestive/metabolic processes.

Simple Sugars vs. Complex Carbohydrates

Another primary factor of importance to endurance athletes is the type of carbohydrate used. We believe the only type that any athlete should consume, especially during exercise, are long-chain ("complex") carbohydrates and never short-chain carbohydrates ("simple sugars"). Here’s why:


Fuels containing simple sugars (glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose) must be mixed in weak 6-8% solutions in order to match body fluid osmolality and be digested with any efficiency. Unfortunately, solutions mixed at this concentration will only provide about 100 or so calories an hour, which is inadequate for sustaining energy for most athletes. However, you can't make a "double or triple strength" mixture from a simple sugar-based product in the hopes of obtaining adequate amounts of calories because the concentration of that mixture will exceed 6-8%. Once that 6-8% solution concentrate is exceeded (or if a simple sugar-based fuel is consumed with or near a complex carbohydrate product) osmolality is raised and, unless more water and electrolytes are added to the mix (at which point the athlete might very well be flirting with over hydration), that concentrated simple sugar solution will not pass the gastric channels… it will literally sit in the stomach, with the inevitable outcome being any number of unpleasant gastric maladies. Even more problematic is that if more fluids and electrolytes are not available the body will recruit these from other areas in the body (areas that critically need these fluids and electrolytes) and divert them to the digestive system in an effort to digest this too-concentrated simple sugar mix.


Simply put, simple sugar-based drinks or gels have to be mixed and consumed at very dilute (and thus, calorically weak) concentrations in order to be digested with any efficiency. And again, when a simple sugar-based product is used at properly mixed proportions it cannot provide adequate amounts of calories for energy production. Complex carbohydrates, however, will match body fluid osmolality, not at weak 6-8% solutions, but a more concentrated 15-18% solution. Even at this seemingly too-high concentration complex carbohydrates (such as maltodextrins/glucose polymers) will empty the stomach at the same efficient rate as normal body fluids and provide substantially more calories (up to three times more) than simple sugar mixtures will.


To sum up, if the athlete consumes a simple sugar fuel the body will only permit 6-8% of it in solution into circulating serum for fuel replacement. On the other hand, complex carbohydrate fuels are easily absorbed, even in a 15-18% solution. The bottom line is that more calories are absorbed faster, and are thus available for energy production, from complex carbohydrates than from simple sugar. The higher the simple sugar content, the higher the solution osmolality, the less of it is absorbed immediately. The longer the chain of sugars linked together as a complex carbohydrate the more of it is absorbed in higher solution because its osmolality is closer to that of body fluids. Therefore, the ideal carbohydrate source for athletes is long-chain complex carbohydrates.


The Need For Protein

When exercise goes into the second hour and beyond, supplemental protein will fulfill the 5-15% energy requirements of the body while also preventing the cannibalization of lean muscle tissue (which, among other things, produces excess amounts of performance-robbing ammonia). Therefore, it makes sense during long exercise sessions or races, to include some protein in the fuel mix. A donation in the range of 3-10 grams of protein (12-40 calories) will satisfy this 5-15% protein requirement. We believe that soy protein, with its specific amino acid profile and naturally occurring isoflavones, is an ideal protein source for use during exercise.



Electrolyte replenishment is as important a component of proper fueling as the fluids you drink and the calories you consume because they are crucial for maintaining the optimal performance of many of the body's functions such as proper muscular contraction. Far too many athletes forget to replenish electrolytes consistently or mistake "electrolyte replenishment" for "sodium or salt replenishment." Sodium chloride (salt) is indeed an important component of electrolyte replenishment but it does not fulfill the entire requirements. Satisfactory electrolyte replenishment requires the re-supplying of sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and potassium; all these minerals play several key roles in the maintenance and optimal performance of many important body functions.

In terms of sodium replenishment, far too many athletes "over salt" their bodies during exercise, with bloating, water retention (edema-like symptoms), and stomach distress being the usual outcome. We want our body to re-circulate adequate amounts of sodium for supporting systemic balance of osmolality, carbohydrate transit across gastric membranes, and nerve transmission for muscle contractions. Too much of a sodium donation neutralizes this re-circulation process and again, may contribute towards those aforementioned, performance-inhibiting problems. The key for electrolyte replenishment, as it is with calories and fluids, is to provide an adequate dose to support bodily functions without overwhelming the body with too much, which will override and neutralize those body functions. Therefore, to satisfy the body's crucial electrolyte requirements, we suggest consistent/hourly replenishment from a balance of electrolytes, which would include a donation of anywhere from 100 to 600 mg sodium chloride (salt) per hour, with the average hourly replenishment dose being approximately 200-400 mg.


Because full-spectrum electrolytic mineral supplements are not available in Australia, you’ll have to rely more heavily on your fuels to help satisfy your electrolyte needs. However, don’t make the mistake of taking copious amounts of salt tablets in the hopes that they’ll satisfy your body’s electrolyte requirements. Remember, you want to provide your body with adequate amounts of sodium while taking care to not overload your body with too much. Supplementing with salt alone or consuming too much salt overrides the complex and precise mechanisms that regulate proper electrolyte balance. There are just as many performance inhibiting-to-ruining consequences from taking too much salt as there are from not taking enough so keep that in mind before you indiscriminately pop salt tablets.


Most sports drinks usually contain only salt and potassium whereas HEED and Perpetuem provides all the minerals your body needs - sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Are the amounts in each serving capable of fulfilling all athletes’ needs under all conditions all the time? Probably not. However, both HEED and Perpetuem contain adequate amounts of all the electrolytic minerals you need – not just salt and potassium – so you’ve got a much better opportunity of fulfilling your electrolyte requirements with more precision from these two fuels than you can from the typical sports drink. The bottom line is that no sports drink can meet every athlete’s electrolyte needs under all conditions all the time but with HEED and Perpetuem you’re giving yourself a much better option than you would from the typical sports drink.




SECTION TWO – The Hammer Nutrition Fuels


Hammer Gel – Hammer Nutrition’s original fuel, an athletic mainstay for over 15 years. You can use it as all or part of a pre-race meal (which we’ll discuss in detail in the next article), to stanch hunger immediately before an event, to provide all your caloric needs for events up to about two hours, to supplement Perpetuem during longer events, and as part of your post-workout recovery nutrition.


Many triathletes use Hammer Gel as their primary fuel during the run portion of their triathlons, simply because it’s so easy to carry and consume, either in the Hammer Flask or in the one-serving pouch. You can keep an extra pouch or flask in your pocket in case your planned fuel outlay in a race or training event comes up a bit short. Don't leave home without it!

Hammer HEED - HEED is our newest fuel, designed for those who want an all-in-one energy drink option. It contains a number of extras, primarily a full spectrum electrolyte profile, that make it ideal for races of all lengths. You’ll be able to fulfill your hydration needs, as well as a portion of your caloric and electrolyte requirements, with HEED. Many triathletes will use it during both the cycling and run portions of their races to do just that – augment their caloric intake, satisfy fluid needs, and fulfill at least a portion of their electrolyte requirements.



What’s the difference between Hammer Gel and HEED?

Perpetuem - This fuel takes the concept of long-distance fueling to the max; it’s an ideal fuel for any workout or race in the 3-4 hour range or longer. Perpetuem contains 75% carbohydrates (from long-chain maltodextrins - no added simple sugars), 13% fatty acids from a specially made long-chain lyso-lecithin, and nearly 10% soy protein. A small portion of fat seems to cue your body to more liberally release its fatty acids stores, which account for up to 70% of one's energy requirements in long bouts of exercise. A little fat in the fuel also slightly slows the rate of digestion and thus promotes "caloric satisfaction," another attractive plus during primarily aerobic long distance events.

Perpetuem also contains sodium tribasic phosphate and l-carnosine, both of which are tremendous lactic buffering nutrients, l-carnitine (to promote fatty acid utilization), and chromium polynicotinate (to stabilize blood sugar level). Perpetuem’s protein source is soy, a preparation called "XT,” which, along with the sodium in tribasic sodium phosphate, provides an excellent mineral profile.

During half or full iron distance triathlons Perpetuem is an ideal primary fuel source, especially during the bike portion or, if logistically possible, for both bike and run segments. (Note: we’ll discuss fueling options for race day in greater detail in the next article).

Recoverite - The delicious all-in-one recovery drink with each serving (two scoops) providing 30 grams of complex carbohydrates, 10 grams of whey protein isolate, and three grams of glutamine. While the standard 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is certainly acceptable for recovery, a 3:1 ratio may be even more beneficial for hard training athletes. Also, while some companies may use monosaccharides and disaccharides ("simple sugars") such as glucose, sucrose, or dextrose in their recovery drinks, due to their high glycemic index (GI) (and thus fast elevation of blood sugar), we use only complex carbohydrates (maltodextrin). Maltodextrin has a GI on a par with simple sugars (except fructose), so it too elevates blood sugar levels rapidly, with the added benefit of providing up to three times more calories compared to products containing simple sugars. This is vital for preventing stomach distress and also ensuring that your body quickly and efficiently obtains the full amount of calories it needs. 





SECTION THREE – Usage Suggestions

First, let's talk briefly about pre-workout food consumption (I’ll discuss this in greater detail in the next article). There are two ideal options available in terms of pre-workout food consumption:

*** During Workout Fueling ***


Workouts of 1-2 Hours


Calories - Suggested Doses*:

* These are estimated doses. Each athlete should determine in training, under a variety of conditions, their personal optimum.

If you've consumed some fuel just prior to your workout (in the 5-10 minute window) that may very well satisfy energy requirements for workouts up to 2 hours in length. However, it still is a good idea to carry additional calories in the event additional fuel becomes necessary (the "it's better to be looking at it, than looking for it" train of thought). If no calories are consumed just prior to the workout you'll definitely need to refuel your body during your workout, especially if it goes beyond an hour. Hammer Gel or HEED will be ideal fuels to use during workouts of 1-2 hours, when carbohydrates + muscle glycogen stores will fulfill energy needs.

On warm-to-hot days consider using HEED as your primary fuel in order to satisfy electrolyte needs as well as some-to-all of your caloric and fluid requirements.


Workouts 2-3 Hours or longer


The goal here is to satisfy fluid, caloric, and most-to-all of your electrolyte requirements as efficiently and conveniently as possible. With a combination of Perpetuem and HEED, mixed in and consumed from separate sources, this goal can be achieved. The key thing to remember is that you will want, with very few exceptions (such as extremely hot weather), to keep your fluid intake from all sources within a range of 500 – 800 ml/hour. So keep that in mind when you mix bottles of HEED and Perpetuem, as the volume of fluid supplied from both sources counts towards your overall fluid intake. To make things easier logistically, especially if your workouts are in excess of three hours, consider making Perpetuem in a thicker, more concentrated form (using minimal water in the mixing process) and carrying it in and consuming it from a Hammer Gel flask. Because you’ll have several hours of fuel in a very concentrated form and in a very small space (a Hammer Gel flask), you should consider this as a “calories only” source as it won’t contain much actual fluid. You can of course mix several hours of Perpetuem in a water bottle - you don’t need to use a Hammer Gel flask – but this too will provide unsubstantial amounts of fluid, especially over the course of several hours (remember, you’re making a multi-hour bottle) so this minimal amount of fluid won’t count towards your overall fluid intake. 


To make super concentrated servings of Perpetuem use a blender or bowl and spoon. Mix scoops of Perpetuem with a small amount of water, gradually adding water as necessary to create the consistency desired. Pour the mix into one or more of the Hammer Gel flasks. To make a concentrated bottle of Perpetuem start with a small amount of water in the bottle, adding the appropriate number of scoops of Perpetuem (see suggested dosages below). Add slightly more water and scoops until you have the strength and consistency of Perpetuem that you desire. Remember that the heavier, more concentrated Perpetuem is mixed, the sweeter and stronger the flavor will become.


To satisfy hydration requirements, while also fulfilling a portion of your electrolyte and caloric needs, use one scoop of HEED per 500-800 ml of fluid an hour in a separate water bottle or hydration pack or system.

Calories - Suggested Doses*:

Total Calories: 165 – 230. Electrolyte profile: Sodium chloride = 177.5 - 293 mg, Potassium = 94 - 172 mg, Calcium = 152.5 – 274 mg, Magnesium = 21.5 – 27 mg

Total Calories: 262.5 calories. Electrolyte profile: Sodium chloride = 350 mg, Potassium = 211 mg, Calcium = 334.75 mg, Magnesium = 29.75 mg

Total Calories: 262.5 - 295 calories. Electrolyte profile: Sodium chloride = 350 - 408 mg, Potassium = 211 - 250 mg, Calcium = 334.75 – 395.5 mg, Magnesium = 29.75 – 32.5 mg

Total Calories: 262.5 – 327.5 calories. Electrolyte profile: Sodium chloride = 408 – 466.25 mg, Potassium = 250 – 289 mg, Calcium = 395.5 – 456.25 mg, Magnesium = 29.75 – 35.25 mg

*These are estimated doses. Each athlete should determine in training, under a variety of conditions, their personal optimum.


Post-Workout Fueling


Recoverite - 1 to 3 servings (2-6 scoops) in 250 - 500 milliliters (or more, if desired) of cold water. This provides 166 - 498 calories from 30 - 90 grams of complex carbohydrates, 10 - 30 grams of whey protein isolate, plus ample amounts of glutamine. As far as doses are concerned, the amount you use can be determined by a couple of factors:

The key thing to remember is that recovery begins as soon as the workout ends and the sooner you "re-fill" the tank, the quicker your recovery will be and the better prepped your body will be for the next workout. In other words, how well you recover today greatly determines how well you perform tomorrow. To put the "finishing touches" on your workouts, and to get the full value out of every minute you've put into them, make sure you consume adequate amounts of high quality and easily digested carbohydrates and protein as soon as possible after each of your training sessions.

Recoverite is the easy way to take care of serious recovery needs for serious endurance athletes, providing unsurpassed nutritional support to ensure that you obtain the maximum value from your workouts and complete recovery after each training session and race. Recoverite supplies carbohydrate and protein in an ideal 3:1 ratio for superior glycogen synthesis and muscle tissue rebuilding, the two main components of recovery. Other recovery formulations on the market typically use a 4:1 ratio. We opt for a larger protein donation, as endurance athletes have habitually poor overall protein intakes. To ensure rapid metabolism and ease of digestion, Recoverite contains only maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate with a high glycemic index, as its carbohydrate component. Unlike most recovery products that contain simple sugars, maltodextrin provides a large volume of easily digested and rapidly assimilated carbohydrate, vital for preventing stomach distress and promoting full, efficient restoration of muscle glycogen.


Regarding protein, Recoverite contains only whey protein isolate. For rebuilding lean muscle tissue and immune system support, whey protein isolate has no peer; it’s simply the purest form of whey protein available. In addition, each serving of Recoverite also supplies a potent, recovery-boosting three grams of l-glutamine. The benefits of l-glutamine are hard to overstate. It plays a crucial role in preserving and rebuilding lean tissue as well as supporting the immune system following intense exercise. In addition, l-glutamine is vital for gastrointestinal health.


Recoverite supplies other recovery-enhancing nutrients such as ChromeMate™ brand chromium polynicotinate (for maximizing muscle glycogen synthesis) and l-carnosine, a powerful antioxidant and potential anti-aging nutrient. They’re both important nutrients, but l-carnosine deserves special attention as it is one of the most versatile and beneficial nutrients you can put in your body. During exercise it's a great lactic acid buffer, and afterwards it continues to offer antioxidant and antiglycation properties.


Antiglycation is a process that may play a substantial role in preventing age-related physiological decline. One theory of aging focuses on the damage done to the cells by free radicals, which antioxidants help neutralize. Another theory points to irreversible damage to the body’s proteins caused by a process called glycation. A simple definition of glycation is the cross-linking of proteins and sugars to form nonfunctioning structures in the body. Glycation is cited as an underlying cause of age-related problems including neurologic (brain), vascular (circulatory), and ocular (eye) disorders. Carnosine has been shown to prevent glycation.


Recoverite also contains a full-spectrum electrolyte profile, which helps replenish depleted essential electrolytes.



Yes, there is a lot of information to digest (no pun intended) in this article in the series. But I believe this information is vital because it represents a big “piece of the puzzle” that is far too often missing in the training programs of many triathletes. To elaborate and to emphasize my point, I’d like to repeat something I wrote several years ago…

“Now, maybe you’ve never given consideration to supplementation or fueling in your athletic endeavors. If that’s the case, stop for a moment and consider how expensive it is to be an endurance athlete. Equipment costs a fortune, getting to and from races is pricey, and what about the time and energy involved in training? That certainly could be considered an expense as well. No doubt about it, being an endurance athlete is expensive! But let me ask you this: Are you sure you’re getting the full value out of all the time, money, and energy you spend in training and racing, and on equipment?’

“I’ll be bold and suggest that if you haven’t addressed and resolved the essentials regarding proper nutrition and fueling, then sadly, those things will probably never realize their full benefits and you will most likely never achieve your full potential as an athlete.”

Strong statements? Perhaps. But I stand by them completely, having personally experienced what a huge difference an intelligent fueling program can make. And it’s not just me. Thousands of athletes can also testify to the eye-opening effectiveness of a solid and sensible fueling plan. It really does make a powerfully positive difference so if you’re ready to enjoy more productive workouts and better race results I urge you to consistently apply these suggestions in your training, making slight adjustments as needed to meet your specific physiology. I know you’ll be pleased with the results!

Good luck in your training and racing!

Steve Born is a technical advisor for E-CAPS with over a decade of involvement in the health food industry. He has worked with hundreds of athletes - ranging from the recreational athlete to world-class professional athlete - regarding their supplement/fueling program. Steve is a three-time RAAM finisher, the 1994 Furnace Creek 508 Champion, 1999 runner-up, the only cyclist in history to complete a Double Furnace Creek 508, and is the holder of two Ultra Marathon Cycling records. In February 2004 Steve was inducted into the Ultra Marathon Cycling Hall of Fame.

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