If you’re preparing for your first triathlon and you think that training is all about hitting the gym or the pool, then there’s a whole world of nutrition you’re missing out on. Without it, you’re not going to get very far with your training and, more importantly, your race.
Here’s our 101 on newbie triathlete nutrition.
First let’s get some questions about supplements and nutrition bars out of the way.
What kind of sports nutrition bars and supplements are for triathletes?
Nutrition bars and supplements are broken into four broad categories: bars, chews, gels and mixes. As a beginner you need to remember to try out different brands during your training period rather than using something a friend recommended. Everyone’s body reacts differently to a variety of brands.
Bars generally have dates or oats as the main ingredient, and include a combination of pressed solid food like nuts and fruits. They are protein-packed snacks which are storehouses of energy, ideal as an easy snack to have in between workouts, after a workout, or when you feel your energy levels dipping. They can also be easily eaten on long bike rides.
Do not use them as a meal replacement, and look at the calorie value before consuming.
Chews are gummy or chewy treats you can pop in your mouth for those during workout hunger pangs or just before you begin a training session. They contain a lot of sugar to give your muscles an extra energy boost.
A gel is flavored or concentrated syrup full of a mix of sugar and carbohydrates. It’s best to be used during long hard workouts or during a race for an added boost of energy.
One important thing to remember is not to try a new gel on race day – test it out before the race to ensure it doesn’t upset your stomach and make sure you consume a lot of water along with it since it’s a high dose of concentrated sugar.
There are typically three kinds to match body’s requirements during different phases of a workout.
Pre-loading mixes contain nutrients like high sodium or electrolytes and carbs to help sustain you during a long workout. Sustained energy mixes help maintain essential hydration and electrolyte ratios to keep your energy high. Finally, recovery mixes are formulated to aid in muscle recovery by giving you the needed protein and carbs after a workout.
What do you need to know about triathlete sports nutrition to fuel your performance?
- Reduce Refined Foods
When you’re training for a triathlon, try to reduce refined foods. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this kind of food increases inflammation, which causes pain, overheating, redness and swelling of muscles.
- Never skip breakfast
Katya Meyers, a professional Ironman triathlete and endurance coach, says that not eating breakfast can significantly hinder performance. You need to remember that food eaten early doesn’t get stored as fat – it translates into energy. The idea is to eat small quantities more often through the day.
- Balanced Diet
It’s no secret that a balanced diet is the key to good health. But it is the key to a successful race too. Including protein and carbs as well as vegetables, fruit and healthy fats like nuts or seeds help you maintain a low glycemic response which in turn sustains the right blood sugar levels.
- Drink More Water
A balanced diet isn’t complete without water. Water is important for hydration as well as a range of other functions like elimination of metabolic waste and digestion. Bob Seebohar, a USA Triathlon certified coach, recommends 12-16 glasses of water per day for triathletes.
- Curb your sweet tooth, don’t cut it out
When it comes to sweets, maintain the 10 percent rule which allows you to source 10 per cent of your calories from treats and desserts. Go ahead and enjoy your dessert without feeling guilty.
- Fuel up right
Matt Fitzgerald, author of Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance and other books on triathlon, recommends oatmeal and bananas as an ideal food before races. He says a carb-rich normal full size meal should be consumed 3 hours before the race.
Jamie Cooper, another sports nutritionist, says that the game plan during workouts or training sessions should be a little different: simple sugars like the ones we get from white bread are a good source of fuel for workouts. Both agree that a pre-workout or pre-race meal should be high in carbs but low on fat, protein and fiber.
During the race, remember to replenish your fuel stores with complex carbs every hour after the first hour of the race. Here’s where gels and sports drinks come in. Even bananas do the work.
After the race, Matt Fitzgerald suggests that the focus should be on rehydrating as soon as possible, eating some carbs to top off glycogen stores and a little protein for tissue repair. A recovery drink, yogurt, cereal, fruit and nuts or even a sandwich are great options as long as you avoid fatty food.
Because we care about all things triathlon, JustWetsuits recommends that if you are a beginner who wants to go professional, you need to remember that your race is only as good as what you eat!