Nutrition is crucial in any sport but especially in endurance sports and triathlon, combining swimming, cycling and running.
Regardless of the distance you are planning on racing in your next triathlon, anything from sprint to Ironman, as with any other sport, nutrition is a fundamental key in order to achieve your best performance.
(Very) Broadly speaking, a triathlete’s diet can be grouped in two different stages: the training period and the specific nutrition required for the competition.
It is not about “losing weight” when we talk about an endurance athlete’s diet but having the correct muscle composition and a low body fat index. It is always advisable to visit a nutritionist in order to conduct personalized exams and know exactly where you are at.
In the preseason or preparation for any competition, a key element is to always start with a good meal. It’s important to eat enough starting with breakfast and it’s always advisable to eat something before training, as well as to keep tabs on our caloric consumption through our training as it’s common for athletes to finish the day with a caloric deficit in fear of gaining weight. Unless we eat enough, the cost of that deficit will certainly be high. Some of the signs can be lack of energy while training with poor results and general discontent. On the other hand, a good nutrition of likely 800-1000 calories a day, will provides us with quick recoveries, fewer cravings and an increase in performance.
Carbs or carbohydrates are a frequent source of energy for triathletes of all levels, if possible, favoring those of slow absorption (bread, pasta, rice, potato, legumes). At the same time, it is advised to decrease the number of fatty foods. The dietary objective is to provide enough energy and nutrients and assess the exercise performed by the athlete. In addition, possible supplementation should be evaluated in the face of competition.
Hydration should never be neglected, being an extremely important part of what we’ll need to perform, both with water and isotonic drinks. How much do you really need varies from one person to the next based on factors such as sweat rate, activity levels, weather or size of the athlete. A basic rule of thumb is to pay close attention to your thirst and make sure to alternate water with electrolyte-drinks low in sugar to replenish salts and minerals.
Another important thing to consider is nutrition while training, frequently sourced by gels and bars. At moderate or high-intensity sessions of under 2 hours a unique source of carbohydrates can suffice (i.e. glucose) and with those that last over 2-3 hours, an intake of up to 90 grams per hour is recommended, ideally from a product that with multiple carbohydrate sources. At significantly longer durations (over 10 hours) lower doses regularly apply.
These same principles apply for race day, where there are several factors that must be taken into account, from the intake of food as fuel, as the importance of being well hydrated. Big enemies when facing a great demand are stomach pains or fatigue due to lack of sugars, that’s why it’s important to test our race nutrition several times during training.
In the previous days to your race, it’s recommended to increase your carbohydrate load increasing the contribution of rich foods and lowering the consumption of fats and fibers, avoiding mostly fatty meats and fish and fruits and vegetables. The day of the race is important not to “skip” breakfast, as it generates a deposit of essential glycogen to compete. Hydrate well before the race. Nothing should really change that day. It’s important not to try anything new.
As a final disclaimer, everyone is different when it comes to nutrition and there is no silver bullet. While some people will swear by a Keto diet, others will profess the way of Paleo and others will stand with carbs. If you really want to understand what’s best for you, there’s nothing better than visiting a local physician and nutritionist and actually explore what’s best for you.