Below are my 5 triathlon race day nutrition tips that I’ve sworn by during my 4 years of racing competitively. I am no nutritionist, but these are things that have worked very well for me from my experience – enjoy!
#1 Race Day Nutrition Doesn’t Actually Start on Race Day
To give yourself the best chance of success, your “race-day” nutrition should start at least 24 hours before the race actually starts. That’s not to say you necessarily need to eat like a horse; you just need to pay closer attention to what you eat. Make sure each meal has a good quality protein source like chicken, beef, beans or fish and a complex carbohydrate like potatoes, rice, quinoa or porridge. I tend to stay away from foods with gluten such as bread and pasta close to race day as it’s more difficult to digest and makes me feel bloated. Definitely not a sensation you want to feel at the swim start.
Eating 3 – 5 well balanced meals while staying well hydrated the day before your race, will fuel your muscles with the glycogen they need to perform at top level the next day. Make sure you eat your last meal no later than 10 hours before breakfast the next morning.
#2 Eat Your Pre Race Breakfast 3 Hours Prior to Start Time
Eating 3 hours prior to gun time will give your body a sufficient amount of digestion time. This meal, similar to the day before, should be well balanced, familiar and not too big. This should essentially top up your glycogen levels and give your blood sugar a little spike after a full night’s sleep. A good go-to for me is a bowl of oatmeal with half a scoop of protein powder, some nuts and a piece of fruit. For an Olympic Distance Triathlon or longer, for me, this comes out to roughly 60 grams of carbs, 15 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat for a total of 390 calories. Wash that down with a glass of water and you’re off to the races.
#3 Don’t Try New Things on Race Day
All of your race day nutrition products should be familiar to you. Everybody reacts to certain products differently and that isn’t a gamble you should take on race day. If you’re still looking for energy products that work for you, be sure to pay attention to the first few ingredients on the product label. Maltodextrin, a form of carbohydrates, tends to be the most common ingredient among most energy gels. It is a white powder made from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat and is highly processed. Its benefits are widely debated, but it all comes down to that it works for some and not others. There are a wide variety of alternatives out there made from more natural ingredients such as honey, cane sugar and my new personal favourite; maple syrup. Bottom line: there’s something out there for everyone, just make sure you find it before race day!
#4 Plan Your Nutrition Strategy Ahead of Time
To take most of the thinking out of your race ahead of time, it is a great idea to plan out what and when you’re going to eat and drink during the race. For sprint distance races, you won’t have to worry as much about this because the food you ate for breakfast and the day before should get you at least most of the way through the race. For races 2 hours and longer, nutrition and hydration become much more important. Fluid requirements should be around 500-750mL per hour – this roughly equates to bringing 2 bottles of water/electrolyte drink on the bike.
I’m not going to get in to the science behind it partly because I’m an accountant and have no business talking about science, but mostly because if I did everyone would likely stop reading. The one thing to remember is that your body uses carbohydrates faster than it is able to digest them. So at some point during the race you will have to begin consuming carbohydrates to replenish the glycogen stores that your body is quickly using. Depending on your metabolism, you need between 30 and 60 grams of carbs per hour of racing. With this in mind, most energy gel products pack around 20 grams of carbs into each gel. With some quick math and clever planning you’ll be well on your way to the finishing chute feeling like a little more than just a bag of skin.
#5 Start Your Post Race Recovery Sooner Rather Than Later
Three important things post-race in terms of nutrition and recovery are replenishing your muscles with carbohydrates, repairing your muscles and other soft tissues with good quality protein sources, and rehydrating with either water or an electrolyte drink. Consider wandering through the post-race food tent as you will find all of these things there in abundance. Having done this, you’ve set yourself up for a speedy recovery in order to get training for your next race!
Til next time,