N Is for Nutrition in Triathlon Training

N Is for Nutrition in Triathlon Training

Nutrition in triathlon training is probably one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of amateur triathlon. Professional triathletes are overly sensitive to the need for nutrition, both during training and during the race. However, recreational triathletes tend to become sloppy in their diets or not plan their diets well enough and suffer the consequences of poor performance. To be truly successful at triathlon, you need to focus on your diet to get the best results.


The first aspect of nutrition is periodization. It is very difficult to maintain a strict diet in training all year round. Personally, I just need to loosen my belt and enjoy a good cheeseburger. So understand that just like your training, there is periodization in your diet. For example, if you limit yourself on race day, you can be very strict on your diet about 8-12 weeks before race day. This gives you ample time to shed any extra weight you’re carrying around and maximize your training days with quality foods. After the race, you can add a reward week to eat some extra or enjoy a meal that just isn’t in your strict training diet. You shouldn’t feel bad about this cheat phase and enjoy a great desert. Once that cheat week or cheat day is over, jump right back into your stricter diet to prepare for your next race. In the off-season, it’s important to enjoy some not-so-strict foods, but be careful that you can gain too much weight in the off-season.


Every athlete is very different in terms of what they eat during training. Some of the basic ingredients of a good diet are high-quality carbohydrates (no McDonald’s), high-quality proteins such as fish, chicken and lean meats, fruits (often overlooked), and vegetables. Some triathletes get so neurotic about these various aspects that they measure everything. As someone who is very busy this is difficult, but once you find a good eating pattern you will be able to implement good training nutrition. Don’t “diet” by minimizing your calories to the point that your workouts result in weakness or “banging.” Eat quality snacks like fruit, low-fat cheese sticks, or protein bars 6-7 times a day. Be sure to drink plenty of water as your workouts require additional amounts of water to avoid dehydration. Finally, choose an eating pattern and stick with it, rather than trying so many different fads.


With every triathlon race you compete in, you have specific nutritional issues to contend with. For sprint and Olympic/International distance racing, you probably only need a pre-race meal. For endurance races like a half Ironman or a full Ironman distance, you not only need a pre-race meal, you also need a race nutrition plan. I currently have 2 juices at 2,250 calories between 2:30 and 3:00 am on race day. An hour before the race I eat a whole bagel with cinnamon and raisins. I then use PowerBar Powergel Tangerine flavor gels pre-race and during the race. I typically use one gel every:45 minutes on the bike and every:30 minutes when running. I also use Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes pre-race and at each of the intervals listed above for the gels. I also use Hammer Nutrition’s FIZZ in my bike water bottles. The process of finding this nutritional blend has taken the last 6 years. Sometimes you discover things through trial and error, like my need for Accelerade during last year’s race.

Diet is so important to overall performance. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Find some best practices and start the testing process for your own needs.

Thanks to Jeff Dowdy


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