Triathlon Race day nutrition - from Sprint to Ironman

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Photographer: John David Becker
We’re very excited to welcome Bec Stone, B.H.Sc. (Nutritional Medicine) back to the Register Now blog - this time Bec joins us to talk race day fuel and triathlon - it’s an age old conundrum when it comes to the swim-ride-run activity particularly for the different distances out there; sprint, olympic and Ironman Oh My!

It’s my favourite time of year on the sporting calendar - triathlon season! While the variety of sports in a triathlon makes it super fun to compete in, it also puts a lot of demand on the body nutrition-wise. So to help you fuel yourself for whatever distance triathlon you decide to tackle, check out these race-day nutrition tips.

Race Day Breakfast
  • 1-2 wholemeal crumpets, or sourdough toast slices, or pancakes - spread with:
    • Raw honey or good quality jam
    • Sliced banana and a little raw nut butter
  • Don’t try anything new for breakfast, it should be similar to what you’d eat the morning of a long run
  • Eat breakfast 2 hours before the race starts
  • You can sip on 150ml of electrolyte drink at breakfast too if you like
Pre-Race Snack
  • At 20 minutes before your start time have a small carbohydrate-loaded snack, giving your body the perfect amount of time to digest it before you hit the water:
    • 1 gel
    • 1 - 2 dates
    • 150ml of electrolyte drink that contains carbs in it
  • Apart from this snack, all you really need to do is sip on water after breakfast
After the swim

As soon as you get out of the swim (no matter what distance), give your digestive tract a break for 15 minutes before consuming any carbs or electrolyte drinks.

You have just gone straight from swimming horizontally to running and then jumping on a bike, so the body is focused on pumping blood from your arms to your legs - there is no time to focus on digestion here! Give your body time to settle before fuelling, but feel free to sip on water in transition.

On the bike
  • In a sprint race, all you really need is a few sips of water & an electrolyte drink and 1 gel or date at the ¾ mark
  • In an Olympic distance race, sip on water and an electrolyte drink and have 2 gels – one at the 20 minute mark, and one 10 minutes before you’ll come into second transition
  • For half or full Ironman races, you want to be getting in approximately 25-30g of carbs and 1 or 2 salt stick tablets, every 30 minutes – and just stick to water (no electrolyte drinks – see below)
Running – the home stretch
  • In a sprint race, free to sip on water or electrotype drinks at run aid stations if you’re thirsty, but you should have enough energy in the tank to make it to the finish line
  • In an Olympic distance race, hydrate at every or every second aid station with water, and at the 30 minute mark have a gel
  • For half or full Ironman races, hydrate with sips of water or electrolyte drinks at every aid station and refuel with gels every 45-60 minutes.
Electrolytes and carbs on long rides

There are carbs in your gels and electrolyte drinks, so on longer races it’s easy to overload your digestive tract, which results in race-day gastrointestinal issues. The best way to avoid this is to drink only water and not electrolyte drinks on the bike – the gels every 30 minutes give you enough carbs.

However you’ll be sweating a lot, so you must make sure you replace your electrolytes with appropriate salt stick tablets (these don’t have any carbs). 1 or 2 tablets taken with your gels every 30 mins on the bike is perfect.

If you are seriously considering doing a half or full Ironman, I would highly recommend you get an individual race nutrition plan made up, that takes into account your gender, weight, carb needs, sweat rate and race goal time, to get the best out of your body.

This is something I love to do, so feel free to contact me – my details are below.

A note on gels

If you want to swap out your gels for something more like real food, try

  • 2 dates (but don’t have too many, or the extra fibre might mean a toilet break mid-race!!)
  • Half a raw honey sandwich on white sourdough bread

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Bec’s webpage and to book a time to chat click here

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