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Triathlon nutrition

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

You need energy to fuel your muscles and to train and race well. Energy is found in three types of macronutrients:

Carbohydrates are the most important fuel for endurance athletes. They are the primary source of energy during the first 20 minutes of exercise and during higher intensity exercise. Your body can store enough carbohydrate to fuel 90–120 minutes. After this you will need to supplement your carbohydrate stores. Each gram of carbohydrate provides four calories of energy.

Protein is required for recovery from high-intensity and endurance workouts. It repairs muscle tissue and maintains a strong immune system. Each gram of protein provides four calories of energy.

Fats are stored in your body and are a valuable source of energy for endurance athletes. They are not as efficient as carbohydrates in releasing energy and can only be converted to energy during lower intensity exercise. Each gram of fat provides nine calories—over twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates and protein.

Fueling Guidelines

Workouts from 15 to 60 minutes - If you are properly fueled before your workout then hydrating with water and/or sports drinks should be enough for these shorter workouts. If you have multiple training sessions in a single day then sport drinks (that provide 6% to 8% carbohydrate) will help maintain blood glucose levels and improve performance (blood glucose supplies the brain with fuel which will help you maintain focus).

Moderate intensity workouts under 2 hours (or high intensity under 1 hour)- Eat normally 1-2 hours before training and drink 0.5-1Litre water during and after your activity. Eat normally within 1-2hrs of training.

You may not need to consume food during this type of workout but if you do, consume 30-45 grams of carbohydrate + 15g protein in 500-600ml water per hour. You can use sports nutrition products such as gels, chews and energy bars. If you prefer you can choose 'real foods' which are low in fat, protein and fibre. Training is an ideal time for you to experiment and practice with foods and nutrition. Get used to the products as well as how you carry and consume the fuel.

Moderate intensity activity lasting longer than 2 hours or high intensity lasting longer than 1 hour (or multiple events in one day) - Eat normally 1-2 hours before activity, drink 0.2-0.5 litres water 30-60 minutes before exercise. Consume approximately 30-45g carb + 15g protien = electrolytes in 600ml water every hour, and also afterwards. Again, eat normally within 1-2hrs of training.

After Exercise - Post-exercise nutrition helps to replenish your body, restore muscle and replace fluids/sodium lost to sweat and respiration. Aim for a ratio of 3:1 carb:protein within 30 minutes of a strenuous or long workout or race. Milk is a great example of an easy portable recovery drink.

Fuel Specifically - Early in your training take time to find out which on-course nutrition products will be offered for your race. Think about using these products during all training sessions in preparation to reduce the risk of GI discomfort during your race. You may not be able to carry enough of your own preferred fuel to get through the race.

Training Times

Morning Training - Aim to eat breakfast 1-3 hours before you workout. If you train too early to achieve this then eat a small snack or sports nutrition product (containing approximately 30 grams of carbohydrate) immediately before exercising.

Afternoon Training - Eat a carbohydrate-based meal (400–500 calories) approximately two to three hours prior to exercise. This will allow the body enough time for digestion and absorption. If your meal is high in fat, protein or fiber you will need five to six hours to digest.

Evening Training - If training in the evening aim to consume a high-carbohydrate breakfast and lunch. Also eat a light meal or snack one to four hours prior to exercising.

Nutrition in Training

Daily intakes taking into consideration your training load. These values are for intake before, during and after training. You will see that you need to adjust your nutrition as your training volumes change throughout the training plan.

Nutrition through the Phases

Prep/Base Phase Focus

  • Consume 6-8 servings of fruit and vegetables per day to ensure you get a sufficient and varied supply vitamins and minerals.

  • Pay attention to what and when you eat, learn about yourself and understand what works best for you to support your training.

  • Experiment with your sports nutrition choices. Try different energy bars, gels and sports drinks in order to choose the products that work well for your body later in training and racing.

Build Phase Focus

  • Stick with the energy bars, gels and sports drinks that worked well for you in your Prep/Base cycle.

  • Eat often, snacking is beneficial in this phase which has the greatest training loads.

  • Consider salt tablets or reach out to Precision Hydration for some advice. Depending on the race environmental conditions and the distance, these could be of benefit. Try them during your long workouts to see how your body handles them.

  • Ensure you have a good balance of calories to support your training and enable you to nail every session.

  • Focus on your recovery and make the most of your training by fueling for maximum benefit.

Peak/Taper Phase Focus

  • Choose a lower fiber diet if you race longer distances to avoid GI distress

  • Keep a check on your hydration

  • You should know what your race day nutrition plan is now, don't try anything new.

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