Fuelling your body for racing can be confusing at the best of times. Throw 3 different disciplines into one race and you can have a real challenge on your hands. Here are a few practical tips to tackle any triathlon like a pro.
Basic Nutrition Goals:
Obviously swimming isn’t the most convenient time to take food on board (or intentionally drink) so the pre-race meal is super important for topping up your fuel supply for the day. To ensure plenty of time for digestion this should be eaten 2-4 hours before the start gun sounds (worth setting the alarm, even if you go back to sleep after). When it comes to food options you need to think easy-to-eat carbohydrates such as cereal, porridge, honey or jam on toast. If you really struggle to eat on race day opt for a liquid meal replacement to ensure you are getting something onboard.
Confused with how much to eat? Generally, the closer you leave your main meal to race time the smaller it should be to avoid stomach upsets. Where possible have another snack handy for around one-hour pre-start time (banana, muesli bar or liquid meal replacement) and extra points for topping up blood sugar levels on the start line (gel, jelly beans or sports drink). Begin drinking as soon as you wake up to allow plenty of time for your body to hydrate, sports drink is adequate on race day as it will also help to top up muscle glycogen and help maintain electrolyte balance for the day ahead. Quantity again depends on time however, try and have around 500ml upon waking and then sip away up to race time. The hotter the conditions and the longer the event the more you should be aiming to drink before you race.
Key message pre-swim is that it is vital to practice meal and drink choices, quantities and timing in training so there are no surprises come race day.
Use the swim transition to take a moment to gear yourself up for the ride ahead. The first thing you should do is drink so have an extra bottle of sports drink designated for this transition. Ensure your choice isn’t sickly sweet (your less likely to drink it, especially as you fatigue throughout the day) and is nice and cold if the conditions are hot.
Do your homework on the bike course, if it's fairly flat and nice conditions then you can jump on your bike before eating. However, if its game on with hills or wind then take the time to refuel before you start. This way you know you will get some energy on board, there is nothing worse than getting on the bike and being too busy or tired to eat (hello brick wall). If you tend to overdose on gels/lollies then have some real food options here to avoid “food fatigue” or stomach upsets (banana bread, fruit cake, bar or even a savoury toastie).
Pre-race you want to have planned your nutrition around aid stations to know how much food and drink you need to carry and get through before aid station one and so on. This can be challenging so again practice is key and if you are still not confident get professional advice. Also, keep in mind there are no two athletes the same so what works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for you, it is truly mind boggling to hear the crazy range of advice being dished out so close to race day!
The key thing to remember for the bike is to consistently spread out your fuel intake starting as soon as you begin peddling. Try setting an alarm at 10-15 minute intervals. Good old electrical tape or a bento box type bike carrier is an ideal way to easily access your nutrition on the go.
Now this is a rather fragile part of the triathlon journey. Especially when it comes to stomach upsets. There are many reasons for this, however often a connection to fructose containing supplements or something that doesn’t agree with you can be the trigger here. If this is the case you need to look at food choices right back to breakfast. Too much fibre (possibly fruit or high fibre cereal) can also have you running in the direction of the loo. Small amounts frequently is a good run strategy and again adapting your body to accept food and drink in training is really important.
For longer distance triathlons it is likely you're fighting fatigue by now (mentally and physically) so it's vital you make the time to drink and eat at aid stations. A great opportunity to walk for a few seconds, refuel, regather and carry on. If aid stations are more then 20-30 minutes apart then you will also need to carry fuel with you. Now is not the time to wing it! Stay positive and break the run down into small manageable sections.
Quick fire tips:
Author: Marewa Sutherland
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, University of Otago) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition.