Nutrition Strategies for your Triathlon Training

Platter of vegetables and dip
January 12, 2017

D3 Staff


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**Begin with the end in mind!**

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to optimize your performance like one. Read on to learn how!

The bike leg of your race is done, and you’ve made great time, but your body is beat. You’re gasping for air, and your blood sugar is dropping, hovering in the “no-go zone”; you’ve bonked. Your body has all the zip of a slug and feels like a broken rubber band. Making it through the running leg of the triathlon just isn’t an option. You aren’t going to PR at the event. How do you ensure this doesn’t happen to you again?

In triathlon training, it is important to be able to access large amounts of energy and utilize it efficiently. While genetics do play a role in your ability to do both of these, proper training and nutrition will go a long way towards maximizing your abilities.

**The Nutrients You Need To Go Farther, Faster**

As most of us know, there are three important fuel sources that your body consumes: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your body prefers the glycogen that comes from carbohydrate consumption because it requires the least amount of energy expenditure to release its energy for use. In the first stages of an event, the body will utilize the glycogen stores found in your muscles, but as time passes and these stores deplete, the body will then go to glucose stored in the blood. By the end of the event, your body is relying on both fat and glucose to power itself and will reach exhaustion when your supplies fall below a certain threshold. It then turns toward breaking down your muscle tissue. To help ensure that this doesn’t happen, many athletes consume carbohydrates, often in liquid or gel form, as it is easy to digest, while the race is still taking place.

**Top Form Tips**

Here are some nutritional tips that will help you optimize your performance while training:

1. **Drink on the go:** Drink a carb drink during the event to support glycogen stores and not risk completely losing what’s stored in your body. Fluids are easier than solid foods to absorb at this time, yet most people will find that a mix of both creates the optimal solution. Play with it and find what works best for you.

2. **Carb loading:** 5-7 days before your event, increase your carbohydrate consumption to about 60 percent of your daily calories. During this last week, your training should be very light so that the nutrients you are taking in are stored in the muscles and available to you during the race. For those on gluten-free or starch-restricted diets, be sure to add several extra servings of fruits & vegetables.

3. **Protein:** Make sure you eat enough protein to support muscle repair. If you focused on this during preseason & training, you should arrive at your race in an “optimal” state of recovery and not worry about getting in large quantities. Consuming protein with your sports drink before, during, and after the event will decrease the amount of muscle tissue breakdown as well as muscle soreness and will help you fight fatigue. One thing that may work well here, instead of worrying “how am I going to add” protein to my drink while racing, many athletes will benefit from Branch chain amino acid (BCAA) consumption here. These should be your secret weapon – they absorb rapidly (within 20 minutes) and don’t cause stomach distress – a BIG plus.

4. **Variety:** Vary the sources of protein and nutrients you ingest. While it is great to stick to the staples such as ground turkey, chicken, and tuna, you also need to consume lean beef, soy, fish, and eggs. By varying your protein source, you ensure that you get the full spectrum of amino acids.

5. **Go Natural:** Avoid food loaded with preservatives. Fresh/whole food is always better for the body and easier to digest and utilize while providing much-needed enzymes we don’t get otherwise. “Oxidative stress” has caught a lot of attention in the endurance community simply because the volume is higher than that of a person simply staying active; hence the need for greater food/nutrient utilization.

6. **Eat small meals frequently and chew slowly:** Increase your body’s chances of digestion by giving it only a little to digest at a time. This will also increase your metabolism, sustain blood sugar, and keep extra pounds from creeping up on the scale, & ultimately keep stress hormones down.

7. **Time your meals:** There are two times in particular that you need to pay attention to. The first is from when your event ends up until 30 minutes afterward. Your body is depleted at this time and you need to replenish it to avoid further muscle tissue breakdown and glycogen depletion. The second time of importance takes place about 60 to 90 minutes after the event has finished. At this time, the body is more receptive to taking in and utilizing protein and the amino acids within it.

8. **Avoid late-night eating:** High-calorie meals in the evening will impact your sleep and limit your body’s natural release of human growth hormone, which is essential for muscle repair and growth. If you are training late in the evening, drink a quality carbohydrate and protein drink to replenish your nutrient stores after your workout, but avoid the big “carb crash.” Perhaps try some cottage cheese, a handful of nuts, a small glass of milk to curb the need for putting down “junk calories.”

9. **Water:** Your muscles generate 20 times more heat while exercising than at rest. Thirst is not always a reliable measurement; by the time you feel it, you are already facing dehydration. Keep in mind, however, that while you should drink water before and after your meals. In a typical day, focus on consuming half your body weight in ounces.

**Supplements for the Triathlete**

The use of nutritional supplements is especially important for the endurance athlete, who places demands far beyond the realm of normal stress on his or her body. The risk of nutrient deficiency is greater, and they require a larger amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to keep themselves at optimal health and performance. Nutrition is 70 percent of the formula. Give your body the fuel it needs to win the race and perform optimally; you can have the best training plan, but without fuel, you make minimal gains. Here are some of the tools you can use to optimize your performance while supporting your body’s need to recover:

- **Vitamin and mineral supplements:** With today’s natural food supply nutrient-depleted, everyone can benefit from taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement; in fact, the FDA has recommended everyone do so. However, endurance athletes, in particular, need this in their arsenal to avoid deficiency and to help support the absorption of protein, amino acids, and the glycogen from carbohydrates. Remember, larger amounts of coffee may interfere with the absorption of nutrients, so take your vitamins an hour or two before or after you drink your morning java.

- **Antioxidants:** Known for neutralizing free radicals and helping detoxify the body, antioxidants protect against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is what leads to a reduction in performance and premature aging. Well-known antioxidants such as A, C, E, beta-carotene, and the mineral selenium are only the beginning of what most athletes need. Consuming an antioxidant supplement along with your post-workout recovery drink is a great way to increase the utilization of those nutrients and to fight free radical damage.

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