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Triathlon Nutrition Guide

Train as you race!

Whether you decide to tackle a sprint or middle-distance triathlon, there are certain elements you need to give serious thought to; your training and your nutrition. Don’t let those hard-earned training sessions go to waste with poor nutritional strategies. Your nutrition will be the make or break when it comes to not just surviving the tough swims, runs and rides, but actually enjoying the event when race day comes and being able to train without fatigue. We’ve put together the key nutritional considerations to help you fuel your training days and chosen event itself.

FUELLING YOUR TRAINING

Key Consideration: Train as you race!

As the official sports Nutrition Partner of the AJ Bell London and Bloodwise Blenheim Palace Triathlon’s we believe that testing nutrition strategies before race day is essential for the following reasons:

  • Morning fuel: Your breakfast will be one of the most important meals you consume and will ensure you are fully fuelled when you first hit the water for your first section, so make sure you are comfortable with it and it works for you.
  • On the go feeding: Fuelling while running and cycling is key, so get confident at consuming food and fluid whilst at a good pace.
  • Carbohydrate intake: Since your body can only store enough carbohydrate for up to 90-120 minutes you will need to intake up to 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour during prolonged exercise (over 90 minutes) to maintain carbohydrate supply to your muscles(1). If you’re not used to consuming this much carbohydrate during exercise it is a good idea to test it out to ensure the body is capable.
  • Sweat rate: How much you sweat will dictate how much fluid you need to take-in. Aim to not lose any more than 2-3% of your body mass through sweating to maintain hydration and be ready to train the next day(2).

Below is an example nutrition guide to follow around your training:

Pre Training During your swims Post Training
Hydration It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take on fluid during the swimming section, so ensure you are fully hydrated beforehand. Drink 500 – 1000ml fluid at least 4 hours prior to your session and ensure that urine is a clear colour. Use GO Electrolyte or GO Hydro to increase fluid retention. Work out how much you are sweating (per hour) on the bike and during the run. Try not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass through sweating. This usually means drinking 500 ml of GO Electrolyte per hour depending on temperature. During competition you’ll have ‘feed stations’ during the run and cycling session but you may not for training! Ensure that fuel is available during your running and cycling sessions. To ensure that you are fully recovered to train again, aim to replace 150% of the fluid lost through sweating(3). Always make sure to weigh yourself before and after your training.
Energy Fuel for the work required throughout your training weeks(4). During short or low intense sessions, reduce carbohydrate intake. However, it’s important to practice your race-day fuelling plan during longer sessions, so that your body adapts to the work. Here, have a carbohydrate-based snack 3-4 hours before such as porridge, breads and yoghurts. A GO Energy Bar 30 minutes before can help top up your energy stores Split training into the triathlon sections (swim, run & bike). Aim to take on 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour during running and biking. This can come from 3 GO Isotonic Gels, which can be taken without the need for fluid. Find out the combination that works for you. You probably wont be able to take on energy during the swimming section, so prepare well! If you’ve had a tough session, replenish your carbohydrate stores with 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates, starting within 30-60 minutes of finishing your ride.
Recovery Ensure that you rest well between training, as this is where adaptations take place. Overtraining is common in endurance athletes. A good strategy is to swim in the morning and run/bike in the afternoon. Aim to get the same amount of sleep each night throughout your training period. N/A Post-training recovery starts within 30-60 minutes of finishing training. Take REGO Rapid Recovery to replace glycogen and electrolyte stores and repair damaged muscles. Take on a post training meal containing balanced carbohydrates, protein and a mix of vegetables. Overnight Protein is great during high volume training periods.
Caffeine A pre training GO Caffeine Shot can help decrease your perception of fatigue and increase concentration during your rides, runs and swims. Take 30 minutes before your session. N/A N/A

RACE DAY

Key Consideration 1: Build up Strategies; the Importance of carbohydrate

Our muscles can store up to 400-500g or around 2000kcal of glycogen to be used as energy. Glycogen is the main fuel you will use during your race and is stored when you eat carbohydrates. To make sure these stores are fully loaded, reducing the onset of fatigue, you can step up your overall carbohydrate intake in the 48 hours before the event(5), especially if you’re taking part is a long distance triathlon

To do this, increase your carbohydrate portions at meal times, including foods such as rice, potatoes, pasta and cereals and add carbohydrate snacks in-between, such as cereal bars, fruit, or carbohydrate drinks such Go Electrolyte . Aim for 8-10g of carbohydrate per kilo of your body mass, per day.

Below is an example plan for a typical 70kg long distance triathlete, providing 3500kcal, loading with 600g carbohydrates- great the day before a race:

 

Breakfast 2x croissant with jam; 1 medium banana; 250ml fruit juice
Snack 1 glass of chocolate milk; GO Energy bar (65g)
Lunch 1 jacket potatao (choice of filling); low fat yoghurt with granola and honey
Snack Smoothie: blueberry, strawberry, yoghurt and nuts
Dinner 3x medium chicken fajitas (mild) with cheese and rice
Snack 500ml GO Energy, Toasted muffin with jam

 

Key Consideration 2: Pre Race

Breakfast: Have breakfast 2-3 hours before the race. This should be mainly carbohydrate based as our liver glycogen stores decrease over night. Don’t leave breakfast too late as this could cause muscle cramping when we start the race. This should involve normal breakfast foods that you’re accustomed to such as toast, cereals and juices.

Hydration: Pre race hydration is key. Aim to drink 500ml-1000ml of fluid in the build up to the race, ideally 500ml 2-3 hours at breakfast and 500ml in the build up to the event. Don’t drink just water, GO Electrolyte or GO Hydro can increase fluid absorption and retention, meaning there will be less stops for the toilet during the race(5).

Snacking: A pre race snack is perfect to ensure you don’t eat everything at once for breakfast which could cause stomach discomfort. An GO Energy bar or an GO Energy + Caffeine gel (shorter races) can help give you that start by loading with extra carbohydrate to replenish glycogen stores and prepare you physically and mentally for the race.

Key Consideration 3: During the Race

  • For shorter events like a sprint, focus on hydration and electrolyte intake pre race. If you have trained using a caffeine product such as GO Caffeine Shot, this should be taken just before the race to kick in and last you the short length of the race.
  • For longer events like middle or Olympic distance, focus on hydration and carbohydrate intake. Our bodies can absorb around 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour so know how long you’ll be competing for and pack enough nutrition to see you through to the end. Here, caffeine should be taken towards the end of your race to give you increased mental stimulation.

The tables below provide an example nutrition plan during the race. Most importantly, don’t try this nutrition plan on race day for the first time.

Shorter Races

Sprint Triathlon (<90min) During Race
Hydration
  • Aim not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass through sweating. This usually means taking 500 ml of fluid during the cycling section depending on sweat rate and temperature/humidity. This should be sufficient to last you the majority of the running section
  • Rehydrate using an electrolyte drink: GO Hydro provides a precise 30 mmol/L of Sodium, which will help retain the fluid
  • For an extra lift at the start of the race, take an GO Caffeine Shot which may increase concentration and endurance performance
Energy
  • Focus on hydration and electrolyte intake
  • Consume GO Electrolyte with 1 GO Isotonic Gel during the cycling section as this will be easier to consume on the bike.
  • If in need of a final energy boost, consume 1 GO Isotonic Gel during the final running section

 

Olympic Distance

Event Day (>3 hrs) During Race
Hydration
  • 500 ml of fluid during the cycling section depending on sweat rate and temperature/humidity. Aim not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass throughout the whole event
  • Aim for 200-300ml of fluid during the final running section
  • Rehydrate using an electrolyte drink: GO Hydro provides a precise 30mmol/L of Sodium, which will help retain the fluid
  • Towards the end of the race consume an GO Hydro + Caffeine (75mg) which may increase concentration and endurance performance
Energy
  • Focus on both hydration and carbohydrate intake
  • After the swimming section, aim to take on 60-90g carbohydrate per hour. This can be achieved through food and fluid sources; energy bars and/or energy gels.
  • Along with appropriate hydration and fluid intake, this could come from: 3 GO Isotonic Energy Gels or 1x 500ml GO Electrolyte and 2x GO Isotonic Energy Gels (per hour)

 

Middle Distance Triathlon (>5 hrs)

Event Day (>5 hrs) During Race
Hydration
  • 500 ml of fluid per hour during the cycling and running section depending on sweat rate and temperature/humidity. Aim not to lose more than 2-3% of your body mass throughout the whole event
  • Rehydrate using a carbohydrate- electrolyte drink: GO Electrolyte provides both carbohydrate and electrolytes
Energy
  • Focus should be on hydration and carbohydrate intake
  • During the cycling and running section, aim to take on 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour. This can be achieved through food and fluid sources; energy bars and/or energy gels
  • Along with appropriate hydration and fluid intake, this could come from: 3 GO Isotonic Energy Gels or 1x 500ml GO Electrolyte and 2x GO Isotonic Energy Gels (per hour)
  • During the final run, take a GO Energy + Caffeine Gel in the last hour to help reduce the perception of fatigue and finish strong.

 

POST-TRAINING / RACING: RECOVERY

After training or racing the body will be in a state of depletion; to reduce fatigue, the risk of injury and promote physiological adaptations it is important to recover well by refuelling and getting enough rest. Consider these three key points for the ultimate post-tri recovery:

  • Refuel: The capacity of your muscles to absorb and store nutrients is increased 30-60 minutes post-exercise, so it is important to replace carbohydrates and provide protein and electrolytes within this time. This can be done with “real food” such as carbohydrate (e.g. rice, pasta, breads etc) and protein options (e.g. greek yoghurt, chicken, fish etc), however this is not always possible or palatable immediately after training or a race. REGO Rapid Recovery provides the body with 23g of carbohydrate, 20g of protein and 1 gram of salt, which is what the body needs to begin the adaptation and recovery process after training and competition.
  • Food: Take on a full carbohydrate based meal within 1 hour of finishing a tough training session or race. This should also include a source of protein and plenty of vegetables.
  • Always plan ahead: Pre-planning your meals or snacks after training ensures that you can take advantage of the 30-60 minute recovery window. If you have to drive back from a race or are heading out to training straight after work, ensure you have the appropriate meals with you. Have REGO Rapid Recovery pre-mixed in your kitbag for when you finish training and competition.
  • Don’t forget protein before sleep: Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery. During sleep, it is also important to have the muscles to have a supply of protein (i.e. amino acids) to help the muscle recovery. Consuming 40 g of Overnight Protein prior to sleep can help to deliver a sustained supply of amino acids during the overnight period. Mixing with milk (as opposed to water) can also deliver more carbohydrates to help with recovery of glycogen stores.

Related Articles:

    References

    1. Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Medicine44(1), 25-33.
    2. Casa, D. J., DeMartini, J. K., Bergeron, M. F., Csillan, D., Eichner, E. R., Lopez, R. M. & Yeargin, S. W. (2015). National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: exertional heat illnesses. Journal of Athletic Training50(9), 986-1000.
    3. Baker, L. B., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). Optimal composition of fluid‐replacement beverages. Comprehensive Physiology, 4, 575-630
    4. Impey, S. G., Hammond, K. M., Shepherd, S. O., Sharples, A. P., Stewart, C., Limb, M., … & Close, G. L. (2016). Fuel for the work required: a practical approach to amalgamating train‐low paradigms for endurance athletes. Physiological reports4(10), e12803.
    5. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics, dietitians of canada, and the american college of sports medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics116(3), 501-528.
    Ted Munson
    Written By

    Ted Munson

    Ted is a Performance Nutritionist here at Science in Sport.