Triathlons are hard. During an Olympic distance triathlon, an athlete can burn anywhere between 2000 and 3000 calories and during your training in the leadup to a triathlon, you’ll burn thousands more! Nutrition is regarded as the fourth and most important discipline in a triathlon – and there’s a good reason for it. Triathlon training and racing takes a huge toll on your body and requires a shedload of energy so it’s vital to ensure that your body is well fuelled and prepared for the challenge at hand!
We’ve tried to split this guide into 3 handy segments: nutrition for when you’re training, for the leadup to the race, and during the race.
Nutrition for your training period
Eat the rainbow
You will have heard it thousands of times, but eat your fruit and vegetables! Fruit and veg are brilliant sources of high-fibre carbohydrates and their different colours serve different roles in the body. From green foods being good for your muscles and bones, to white foods enhancing your immune system and recovery, you can ensure that you’re getting the best of everything if you hit all the colours of the rainbow.
- Carbs, carbs, carbs
Carbohydrates are vital for triathlon nutrition. They're your body's preferred source of fuel and they can help you perform at your best. Carbohydrates are found in foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes, bread and cereal.
If you don’t replace the carbs that are used up in training, you’ll start to feel tired and lethargic, and it may slow down your recovery periods between workouts.
- Dial back on the protein
While protein is an essential part of a healthy diet, and it's important to include it in every meal, especially when you’re in training. But having too much protein can hold you back and stunt your training and improvements. Here are some signs that you might be eating too much protein:
- You're feeling tired or sluggish all the time.
- You're gaining weight even though you don't have any more appetite than usual.
- Your kidneys are starting to hurt when you pee sometimes.
- You feel bloated after meals.
- Every triathlete’s favourite period.
Carb-loading is the holy grail of triathlon (and all endurance sports!) nutrition. Carb-loading is when you load the body up with carbohydrates to pack your muscles and energy stores with glycogen in the days running up to a big race.
As every athlete is built different, so is every athlete’s carb-loading. Whichever way you choose to carb-load, whether it’s with a bucket of pasta or a plate of steak and chips, you’ll want to try and keep the meal simple while maximising the carbohydrate content.
Top tip: Don’t avoid protein in the last few meals before the race – your body still needs it!
Water is always vital but even more so in the run up to and during a big race. Try to keep a bottle of water with you at all times so you can constantly be topping yourself up. You’re about to put your body through a lot so make sure you stay well hydrated. We’d also recommend laying off drinks with caffeine or alcohol as these will both make you feel more dehydrated.
- Take it easy on fibre
While fibre is a crucial part of your daily diet, now is the time to back off the fibre and focus on carbs. This will ensure that you have a settled stomach going into the race. The last thing you want is to have to pull out a couple of bathroom breaks because of an upset stomach!
Fuelling the tank during the race
- Keep the tank topped up
During exercise, you’ll quickly burn through your body’s stores of water, sugars and salts so it’s crucial to keep these stores as topped up as you can. Make the most of the aid stations to ensure you always have enough water or sports drinks to help you stay on top of your hydration and electrolytes.
It’s a similar story with food and carbs, so a prolonged intake of carbohydrates will help to keep the muscles topped up with the energy they’ll be craving. Aim to take on between 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise so your body can effectively and efficiently process it.
- Plan and execute
Race day is not the day to try something new. It’s useful to have a fuelling plan in mind going into the race so you can ensure that you have enough food and drink when you need it. Aim to practice your fuelling plan in training so that your body is used to the kind of energy drinks, gels and bars that you may be taking, your stomach will thank you!
Top tip: No matter how eager you are to get to the finish line, don’t neglect the aid stations. Dehydration has ended many triathlete’s dreams so take a second to grab a cup of water or sports drink.
- Recover, refuel and recharge
You’ve done it, you’ve crossed the line and you’ve got that medal around your neck. Now go and grab as much water as you can. No matter how much water you drink during the race, your body will still be dehydrated afterwards so get some water and a sports drink to top yourself up again. A protein shake or smoothie will also help to get you the carbs that your body is craving.
Top tip: You may cross that line and feel the urge to grab a beer. Fight that urge and wait till you’ve had some water and sugar before drinking anything alcoholic.
We hope you find this guide useful and that you can use some of this info in your next race! Be sure to tag us on social media (@ZONE3official on Instagram and Facebook) so we can see how you get on.