Nutrition Strategies for your Triathlon Training

January 12, 2017

D3 Staff


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Begin with the end in mind!

You don’t have to be a professional athlete, just do what they do. 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 roll 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 in order 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 and 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 & 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, bet sure to add several servings extra of fruits & vegetables.

3. Protein. Make sure you eat enough protein to support muscle repair. If you focused on this during pre-season & training, you should arrive at your race in an “optimal” state of recovery & 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) & 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. TV dinners are not what you need. 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; it 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. Not everything that you eat is absorbed and utilized. Increase your body’s chances of doing so by giving it only a little to digest at a time. This will also increase your metabolism, sustain blood sugar, and keep from the extra pounds 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 afterwards. 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, 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. When water loss takes place the heart beats faster. This, in turn, contributes to fatigue. Older athletes in particular should drink before they are thirsty as the sensation sensitivity decreases with age. Keep in mind, however, that while you should drink water before and after your meals. In a typical day, focus on consuming ¬Ω your body weight in ounces.

Supplements for the Triathlete

The use of nutritional supplements is especially important to 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 own 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. Many nutrients work synergistically with one another and the body needs certain vitamins and minerals present in order to absorb and utilize other nutrients. 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.


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. They are also critical in arming your immune system against illness when training volume increases.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) 

These help in the repair and growth of muscle tissue as well as preserve muscle glycogen stores. By consuming BCAAs immediately before or during exercise, you may slow the breakdown of muscle tissue and help avoid soreness, bonking, and decreases in power output.


This amino acid is worth ingesting extra of. It supports the immune system by optimizing white blood cell production. By taking 2 to 6 grams of glutamine two to four times a day you will help strengthen your immune system, decrease the rate at which muscle breaks down, stay leaner, & maintain your lean muscle mass.

Glucosamine for Joint Repair

maintaining the health of your joints and the connective tissues that support them is extremely important for performance as well as comfort in your later years. Glucosamine supports the connective tissues that make up your ligaments, cartilage, tendons and spinal discs. Your body converts glucose and glutamine into glucosamine to support repair and growth of your connective tissues. As we age its ability to do this decreases. Supplementing with glucosamine can help the body up to as much as 170 percent!

Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids

Fats help the body synthesize hormones which are responsible for a myriad of important functions including supplying the body with energy, recovery, and cognitive function. During the off-season an athlete can lower their intake, but during race season it is IMPERATIVE that they not neglect consuming unsaturated fats such as those found in fish, flax seed oil, nuts and seeds. Avoid the saturated fat found in tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil as well as in many processed foods.

Energy Drinks

Your competition is using them. Don’t waste an opportunity to get the additional boost you need to kick yourself into high-gear. The ability to keep your energy up during a race is key to making it over that finish line first (note: the key word here is “up” – you never want to get behind in energy stores). There are many different products on the market today… Some only need a carb based drink; some need a carb + amino acid/protein drink; some need a concentrated mixture to prolong exercise activity. Experiment with a variety to find the best one for you.

Recovery Drink

Consuming the drink again right after the race will help replenish your body with the electrolytes and nutrients it needs. You’ll want to look for one w/ the “big 3” – Carbs, electrolytes, & protein. As most know, the 30 minute window following a training session is critical to put your body in a positive state of recovery. If you miss the window, you’re sending your body the wrong message – don’t neglect it. Just as you’d shower after a long, sweaty workout, get in your recovery cocktail!

Beta Alanine

A non-essential amino acid, Beta Alanine is supported LARGLEY via research. Plain and simple, Beta Alanine is an antioxidant that works immediately within the muscle – you’ll train harder and longer. Ultimately, it delays muscle fatigue by increasing our Lactate threshold, therefore extending aerobic performance & time to exhaustion. Definitely a must have if your training over 90-120 minutes per session!

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