The best sports nutrition for triathletes
What we put into our bodies has a direct result on how we feel, look and behave. But when it comes to swimming, cycling and running, it also determines how we perform. The best sports nutrition for triathletes is the subject of much conflicting advice - let our guide sail you through the confusion
How do you define sports nutrition for triathletes?
The term ‘sports nutrition’ has different definitions. To some, it comprises sticky gunk that you force down when the body feels it’s about to pack up during a long endurance event.
[Editor’s note: If you’re in this camp, may we recommend 33Fuel’s own Chia Energy Gels - they're all power, no stomach trouble. But we digress, back to the guide]
To others it includes what you eat and drink before, during and after an event. ie. to prepare, sustain, and recover.
But the best way to think of ‘sports nutrition’ is holistically - as part of our regular diet.
Take a mindset that whatever we eat or drink, we should try to make it nutritious because if it boosts our health, it will also benefit our sport.
This doesn’t mean living a monastic existence and refraining from treats, but being mindful of what you’re consuming makes sense when performance is your goal.
Pre-race sports nutrition for triathletes
For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll look at a typical day of hard training or racing.
Many triathletes choose to train in a fasted state in the morning. The belief is it forces the body to become more ‘fat-adapted’ which means you use proportionately more fat for energy during training.
The body has an almost limitless reserve of fat so, when using this efficiently, can go further with less refuelling. However, fat is harder for the body to break down than carbohydrate stores so training for fat adapation is needed to get the most from this excellent power source.
Don’t get hung up on defining ‘fasted training’. It can be as simple as not eating any breakfast before your session.
Your tummy will find it far easier to digest your sports nutrition before the race – than during it
Before a race, it is recommended you eat a good base of slow-release energy foods. So around two to three hours before the start you might have a light breakfast - this post goes into ideal pre-race breakfast strategy in more detail.
This gives your stomach time to digest the food and keeps your energy levels topped up.
Toast and jam, a peanut butter bagel, or small bowl of porridge are all long-time favourites, but the important thing is you head to the start-line feeling prepped and ready, not bloated and hefty.
Stay hydrated of course. That world-renowned sports drink H20 is a good one here, but don’t over-drink, which can be easy to do as you nervously sip on a bottle of water before the start. Coffee for a caffeine-kick is an optional extra.
In-race sports nutrition for triathletes
Sports nutrition during a race comes down to personal preference. Many triathletes will take on nothing except water during a sprint distance of 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run.
Others might opt for a sports drink containing a mixture of fructose and glucose. Over-consuming on sports nutrition is far more common than ‘bonking’ ie. running out of energy.
We would recommend the water all day long, this post explains exactly why.
This can be a hard message to understand because when taking our initial steps in triathlon, we are hit by a mass of marketing messages about the number of gels we should gulp down for optimum performance during racing. Caution: Despite promoting these products, most elite performers use them sparingly at best.
If you have trained adequately and want to enjoy the race, you may find you perform equally well without the excessive heavily-processed gloop - and you might not feel so sick toward the end.
For a foolproof way to create a bespoke fueling strategy that works in any race, any conditions, every time, all is revealed here. You will be surprised, but please be warned the post images are a little graphic and best not viewed while eating.
It’s also much harder for the body to process ‘food’ when it is exercising because the blood is targeting the muscles we need to power forward – not help the gut digest. This is a key cause of stomach trouble during triathlon, our guide to beating race-day stomach issues here explains exactly how to avoid this curse easily and finish fast and happy, instead of DNF’ing doubled up in a portaloo.
In longer races, from Olympic distance to full iron distance and beyond, you will likely want something to sustain you.
33Fuel's Chia Energy Gel uses just four powerful, natural ingredients for strong, stable energy and no stomach trouble. Don’t take our word for it though, our embarrassingly good customer reviews are here
Post-race sports nutrition for triathletes
Post-race, there’s no need to opt for heavily-processed and formulated ‘recovery’ products. You won’t go far wrong with a good mix of carbs, protein and fat. ie. something that is real food.
Many sports nutritionists recommend it’s optimal to consume a light snack within 20 minutes when your body is most receptive. Great if you can, but make sure you’re comfortable first, and then pick something you actually enjoy eating. Missing this moment is no big deal, and much of the hype around this ‘window’ is from protein companies trying to flog you gunk you don’t need.
The following day though is a key time that is often overlooked by triathletes giddy with their achievement. This is a great time to mindfully restock the internal larder by eating heartily, and powerfully. And with the body’s immune system potentially suppressed by exercise, it is also good to try and bulletproof yourself from illness as much as possible.
Concentrating on a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is important and for those looking for an extra shield 33Fuel’s Pre and Post Workout Shakes contain 33 powerful superfood ingredients, all focused on elite endurance performance.
More performance-boosting content
From the 33Fuel Podcast
From the 33Fuel Vlog
Best pre-race breakfast options
Coffee and athletic performance
Best marathon fuelling strategy
Fat adaption for endurance athletes
How often to take a gel on race day
Do we really need (pseudo)science in sports nutrition?
Post Exercise Immunosuppression - if you always get sick when training hard, this is why
Why water beats sports drinks on race day
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