If you’ve got a triathlon coming up, chances are you’re already training hard. You’ve probably stocked up on gear and set yourself a training schedule, so you’re just about ready to leap into your training.
Nutrition is something that can often fall by the wayside. That’s not to say we don’t really focus on it, but it’s often easier to plan challenging and hardcore workouts and put food on the back burner until the week before our race.
But if you’re aiming for a new PR or have a challenging goal for your race, we highly recommend that you start paying attention to your diet early. Here are our best tips on what to eat before a triathlon.
Not just immediately before – from 3 months before you race, so you’ll have enough time to prepare and optimize your body to hit those PRs.
What Are the Essential Rules for Fueling for a Triathlon?
You can get by on your nutrition if you follow these simple fueling rules:
Choose High-Quality Foods
Avoid processed foods. This includes anything ready-made from the store and baked goods.
Generally, pre-made foods contain some kind of chemical to make them last longer, and baked goods are unfortunately mostly empty calories with little nutritional value
Stick to whole foods as much as possible. You can’t go wrong with meat, veggies, fruits, and nuts. For meals and snacks!
Be Careful With Treats
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat. Whatever your weakness, you can enjoy it guilt-free every few weeks, as long as you don’t go overboard.
Be extra careful not to over-indulge after a heavy workout, thinking that it will balance out. This is the quickest way to ruin your progress!
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Make sure you’re not eating more calories than you’re burning! You want to maintain a healthy weight to maximize your performance.
3 Months Before Your Race
Three months before your triathlon isn’t too long in advance to begin paying attention to your nutrition. Here’s what we suggest…
Eat Real, Non-Processed Food
As we mentioned above, steer clear of processed foods. You never quite know what they contain, which means you may inadvertently be eating twice as many calories as you expect.
Even if you’re not actively counting calories, eating much more than you should be is a sure way to throw your weight, hormones, and progress out of whack!
Because processed foods often contain synthetic ingredients designed to increase their shelf life (as well as other things), they can cause inflammation throughout the body.
Not only does this weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness, but it hampers your recovery. In turn, this can lower your performance.
Take note that complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice, and quinoa aren’t processed carbs. They’re healthy and absolutely should be included in your diet.
Other than that, choose lean proteins, a variety of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats.
Pack More Produce
Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, which are essential for your best health. Try to choose a range that includes a rainbow of colors. Not just to keep it exciting, but because they contain different vitamins and nutrients.
The recommended amount of healthy daily carbs for an athlete is between 2.7 and 4 grams per pound of body weight. Don’t overdo the protein – you should be consuming between 0.5 and 0.8 grams per pound every day.
A Month Before the Race
Fuel Your Workouts
As your workouts increase in intensity, you should be paying more attention to exactly what you’re eating. Your body’s need for carbohydrates will increase, to be sure that your muscles are storing enough glycogen to use in your race.
Fuel up with some high-quality carbs before your training. Oatmeal, whole-grain pasta, or a heap of vegetables are all great options. Add a small amount of protein to your plate to keep you fuller for longer and promote muscle maintenance.
If your workout is set to last longer than an hour and 30 minutes, take fuel with you to consume on the road. Now is the time to practice your on-road nutrition so you can eliminate potential problems before race day arrives.
Take note that although carbs are important, you should avoid consuming copious amounts of fiber. This can set your stomach off, leading to discomfort and possibly a sticky situation on the road.
Feed Your Immune System
Continue varying your vegetables and making sure you’re getting a rainbow of antioxidants. Now more than ever, you should be making sure your immune system is strong and hardy. You don’t want to fall prey to a cold before your race.
If you need to, supplement with natural vitamins and minerals. A multi-vitamin could be an excellent idea.
Magnesium and potassium are oft-needed minerals. If you’re struggling with food cravings or uncomfortable foot and leg twitches, especially at night, try these.
Rehearse Race Day
Do a few “dress rehearsals” of race day. Plan a few workouts to match the length of your triathlon so you can experiment with nutrition and intensity. This helps you to create a near foolproof plan for your race day.
It’s worth experimenting with gear during this time too! As they say, you should never wear anything new on race day. Find what’s comfortable during these workouts.
7 Days Out
Begin hydrating yourself a week before your race. Your body will appreciate it and it will ensure that you’re properly hydrated when you hit that starting line.
Aim for between 64 and 96 ounces of water a day. Be careful not to drink too much before you head out on a run – you don’t want your training to be interrupted by a constant need for a bathroom break.
Avoid drinks containing caffeine, as well as alcohol. They can have a dehydrating effect. Save that celebratory beer for after your race!
We’ve already mentioned lowering your fiber intake to avoid tummy troubles on the road. Choose simple carbohydrates in the week before your race, so your body has to work less to metabolize them.
You can go for refined carbs now, as long as you take care to stick to decent portion sizes. White rice, white bread, and potatoes are excellent options.
2 to 3 Days Before Race
From about three days before your race, you can begin carbo loading.
This doesn’t mean you can go wild on the carbs. Rather, it’s a carefully thought-out increase in carbohydrate consumption to bump up the glycogen stores in the muscles.
You should up your carb intake to 3.5 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight. Reduce your fat and protein intake accordingly, so you aren’t simply increasing your calorie intake. It should still balance out.
Make sure you’re choosing healthy carbs that are easy to digest. As mentioned above, refined carbs like white pasta, rice, and bread are acceptable in this case.
Make sure you’re still getting your fill of vegetables – greens and beets are particularly helpful at this stage for increasing glycogen storage.
The Day Before Race
Don’t overfeed on the day before your race. You want to be well-fed but not overly full. Focus on increasing your sodium intake on this day so your electrolyte count is good for the race.
You can add soy sauce or other high-sodium dressings to your meals, or snack on salty things like crisps or pretzels. Consume an electrolyte drink or two as well.
The Morning or Day of the Race
If you’re taking part in an Ironman race, you’ll most likely be starting between 6 and 8 in the morning. You shouldn’t eat within 2 hours of the start, so you’ll have to structure your previous night to make sure you get enough rest but can be awake early enough to eat.
Breakfast should be rich in healthy carbs, and you should aim to finish it between 90 and 120 minutes before your race kicks off. Choose oatmeal, porridge, muesli, toast, pancakes, or other equally substantial foods. If you have a nervous stomach, you may prefer a smoothie.
Make sure it’s something you tested while you were training! You need to know that your stomach can handle it without trouble.
As the race start gets closer, you can supplement with a nutrition bar or banana an hour to 30 minutes before the race. 10 to 15 minutes before, consume a quick energy gel or chew for a bit of a boost at the start.
Sprint Triathlon to Olympic Distance
If you’re doing a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, you’ll fuel slightly differently. 2 ½ to 3 hours before your start, have a good meal consisting of 80 to 100 grams of healthy, easily digestible carbs.
Oatmeal and yogurt, pancakes, waffles, muesli, or porridge are all great choices. 5 to 10 grams of protein is also a good idea, which can be in the form of nuts, nut butter, or eggs. At the same time, consume 16 to 20 ounces of fluid, preferably plain water.
Again, make sure that you choose something you’ve tried before in training so you know your stomach will handle it with ease.
Avoid coffee! Sip on an electrolyte drink between now and the start of your race to fuel your body up with electrolytes. Then hit the start with all the energy you need for a great race.