Nutrition is key to becoming a healthy triathlete, but it becomes even more important on race day for fueling performance and recovering from your efforts. With swimming, cycling and running to take on, plus different distances to choose from, understanding what to eat is extremely important to help improve your stamina. If you need some advice about what and when to eat, take a look at our guide to help make sure you’re fuelling up and improving your performance instead of hindering it.
Your Pre-Race Meal
We know race day breakfast is often tricky; nerves, unfamiliar environments and early starts can play havoc with your mind and stomach. Try to eat things that are familiar to your usual routine and are easy to eat or drink, and will sit well in your stomach in the morning. This could be a breakfast smoothie, a slice of toast with peanut butter or a banana. Take inspiration from our What to Eat Before and After Swimming blog for delicious recipes.
To ensure that you have enough glycogen for your race, female triathletes should aim to consume about 200-250 calories of carbohydrates, while men should aim for between 250-300. Keep in mind that fat, protein, and fibre slow down digestion and can make you feel bloated while you exercise, so try to minimise these nutrients in your pre-race meal.
What to Eat for the Swim
Typically, the swim section comes first so you may not need to eat, but if you do, we suggest consuming an energy gel, energy bar or a banana at least 10 -15 minutes before the start, which will keep you going during this section of the race. Obviously trying to eat while swimming probably won’t help you get a good time, so don’t try that! And don’t forget you can refuel properly during your transition from swim to bike.
What to Eat for the Bike
The bike leg is the time to really kick-start your fuelling strategy, and it’s important to start fuelling before you feel the effects of energy depletion. Racers spend the biggest amount of time on the bike in a typical triathlon, and it’s often easier to eat on the bike so it’s an ideal time to refuel & stock up on the calories with solid foods such as energy bars, fruit or perhaps a sandwich if your body is ready for that.
What to Eat for the Run
As the final stage in a triathlon, the run is usually when the real fatigue sets in. For longer races, food that can be easily transported is your best bet. Energy gels, bars, sports drinks or dried fruit such as raisins will be the easiest to attach to your running belt. Be sure to eat your food slowly and carefully to avoid any accidents, you don’t want to risk choking during your race! It’s also a good idea to find out what will be provided at the refuelling stations and plan this section accordingly. When it comes to energy gels, the general advice is to take your first gel somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes into a race, and then take them around every 45 minutes from then on.
Should I Carb Load Before a Triathlon?
Think of carb loading as filling up your car before a long road trip. Your muscles store glycogen but when you are regularly training, you are constantly expending glycogen during training and replenishing it through the diet. But rarely do we max out our stores. For a triathlon, avoid consuming too much fibre in the days before, as stomach cramps and bloating during the swim or on the bike are pretty unpleasant!
Fuelling for a triathlon is a tricky one to get right. The goal is to eat enough to keep your energy levels high, yet avoid over-eating and leaving your body struggling to digest foods when it’s already under stress from exercise. It’s a tough balancing act and it’s individual to everyone. Keep in mind that what works for others won’t necessarily work for you. Practise makes perfect and it’s wise to rehearse your nutrition plans ahead of time to find food combinations that suit you.
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