A Short Triathlon Nutrition Guide
The Importance of a Triathlon Nutrition Plan
Nutrition is a topic that should be considered by all people in their regular daily lives, but it’s especially crucial for athletes and triathletes. Your nutrition approach should not only help you manage your health and wellbeing, but also support your training by providing the optimal nutrients availability to maximize adaptations from training and thereby your performance in competitions. Finally, when it comes to racing it’s also important to achieve your intended race weight. There are many different and often contradictory dietary recommendations in the endurance world that can make navigating this space very confusing. For starters, we want to give you a good overview on how to fuel your body during the training phase and on race day and give you quick insights on the various diets that are common in endurance sports.
Nutrition Tips for Triathlon Training
Things can get pretty complicated when you have a day job, want to fit in your workouts and eat properly. The TRIQ app optimizes your training to fit your life and to help you achieve your triathlon goals taking care of all planning and adjustments while also monitoring your recovery and considering when setting your sessions. In addition we’d like to give you some additional pointers regarding things like nutrition on this website while we keep the app focussed on training. Regarding this introduction to nutrition, we will split the nutrition phases into nutrition before, during and after a workout. Since you will have to eat quite a bit more than non-athletes throughout the day to cover your body’s nutritional demands in order to perform many hours of training per week, you might really want to consider to start preparing the right food beforehand and for more than one meal at a time so that you have it available when needed.
Triathlon Nutrition Before Training
Normally, for an easy session you can train after having eaten, or after an overnight fast (see further below). The decision here is largely a matter of preference. Pre-exercise nutrition could be your normal breakfast, lunch or a midday snack. For a more intense workout you might consider adding some extra carbohydrates prior to the session and give your body 2-3 hours to digest before you start training.
Nutrition During Training
For shorter sessions you typically won't need any specific nutrition during the sessions themselves, although you may consider taking on water. However, when sessions are intense and last longer than an hour, you might want to consider consuming some easily-digestible calories to ensure you stay energized and can maintain exercise intensity later in the session. Whether this is in the form of fruit, gels or bars is up to your personal taste and digestion. It’s key to get to know your own body over time and to understand the specific sessions that require food intake during exercise and the sessions that do not. It’s a process and should be a conscious learning experience you approach with the goal to master it.
Nutrition Post Training
After a low intensity workout you don't need to consume extra large amounts of food, but it is necessary to eat something to refill the energy stores and enhance recovery. According to recent studies this recovery window which was thought to be only 30 minutes actually seems to be longer and open for up to 2 hours. Proteins are the most important component for recovery and adaptation, while carbohydrates can also help to accelerate the refilling of energy stores. When you finish a hard session or longer session, it may be necessary to consume a greater number of calories, with protein again of paramount importance. Since proteins are the most important nutrient for recovery you can also choose to have a shake to make sure the recovery is covered.
This kind of training method is a strategy commonly used to upregulate fat metabolism. If you are just getting started with fasted training it is recommended that you keep the workout short and build upon it. For all athletes undertaking fasted training, it is important to ensure that you are in calorie balance over the whole-day in order to remain body weight stable.
Nutritional Supplements in Triathlon
Supplements are a difficult topic to navigate for endurance athletes, as there are many supplements that are reported to have ergogenic effects. However, establishing which supplements do and don’t have ergogenic effects can be challenging and goes far beyond what we can cover in this article.
Diets and Triathlon Training
There are hundreds of different nutrition plans which serve various purposes, such as weight loss, weight gain, performance enhancement, just being healthy or wanting to avoid animal products. Here we will just mention some of the most popular diets in triathlon and give a short overview. First and foremost: There is no diet that suits everyone, and macro-nutrient content and prioritization will differ in accordance with the desired outcome by the athlete on an individual level. This is regarding both health and performance.
A vegetarian diet is one that avoids all meat and fish.
The vegan diet, refrains from consuming meat, eggs, dairy products, and any other animal-derived substances
The low-carb diet is one that restricts carbohydrate intake without aiming for ketogenesis (see below). Low-carb generally consists of around 130 g per day, with the rest being made up of protein and healthy fats.
The ketogenic diet is the purest form of the low-carb diet and limits the carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day. The aim of the diet is to reach the ketosis which is a state where our body builds ketones in order to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates.
Triathlon Nutrition in Regards to a Race
A triathlon race is a demanding event for the body and mind. Having an effective, individualized race-day nutrition plan is essential for optimizing performance and minimizing the risk of poor performance due to low-energy availability or gastrointestinal issues that can result in a „did not finish“.
Triathlon Nutrition in the Days Before a Race
Race-specific nutrition should begin around 48 hours before the race. The first objective of race-specific nutrition is to top up your carbohydrate storages. How much of this is personal preference and dependent on the habitual diet you follow. However, don‘t overdo the amount of carbohydrates you take in just before racing, even if you’re used to a higher carbohydrate intake habitually in your diet. Short periods of very high carbohydrate intake can still cause gastrointestinal distress.
Triathlon Nutrition on Race Day
On race morning you should consume your last meal 2.5-4 hours before the race. Most athletes’ race-day morning meals consist of easily-digested carbohydrates, which are low in fiber. For longer racing some protein, a hard boiled egg for example, can also be beneficial. However, the main thing is to eat whatever feels comfortable on your stomach (type of food and quantity). Many athletes can also struggle to eat before a race because of race morning nerves.
Triathlon Nutrition During the Race
During the race, the main focus of your nutrition strategy should be to supply your body with energy to support race performance, primarily through easily digestible carbohydrates. Depending on the carbohydrate sources, athletes can typically absorb around 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Since these are significant quantities in-race food intake should be tested during specific training sessions before race-day to ensure your strategy avoids gastrointestinal issues. Hydration is another essential component of your race-day strategy, particularly when your competition takes place in hot conditions.
Nutrition Directly After the Race.
For recovery post race, we’re looking to have the physiological changes return to homeostasis as effectively as possible. Most research agrees that the ingestion of carbohydrate (CHO) + protein (PRO) is effective for recovery. The ratio of 0.8 g carbohydrate + 0.4 g protein∙per kg of body weight, seems to be effective. It is generally advised to avoid simple sugars and processed foods as this can slow the recovery process. However, there is of course a mental aspect to the post race meal, and often this can mean relaxing a little and enjoying some of the favorite food you’ve been refraining from in the build-up to the race.