Fuelling your body for racing can be confusing at the best of times. Throw 3 different disciplines into one race and you can have a real challenge on your hands. Here are a few practical tips from our co-founder and sports nutritionist Marewa Sutherland to tackle any distance of endurance triathlon like a pro.
Basic Nutrition Goals:
- Start hydrated and limit dehydration by replacing lost fluids
- Fuel muscles to prevent fatigue
- Replace electrolytes (salts) lost in sweat
- Avoid stomach discomfort by choosing foods and fluids carefully
Obviously, swimming isn’t the most convenient time to take food onboard (or intentionally drink) so the pre-race meal is super important for topping up your fuel supply for the day. To ensure plenty of time for digestion this should be eaten 2-4 hours before the start gun sounds (worth setting the alarm for even if you go back to sleep after). When it comes to food options you need to think easy-to-eat comfort food high in carbohydrates such as cereal, porridge, honey or jam on toast. If you really struggle to eat on race day opt for a liquid meal replacement to ensure you are getting something onboard.
How much do you need to eat? Generally, the closer you leave your main meal to race time the smaller it should be to avoid stomach upsets. Where possible have another snack handy for around one-hour pre-start time (banana, muesli bar or liquid meal replacement) and extra points for topping up blood sugar levels 5 min before go time (gel, jet plane, jelly beans or sports drink). Begin drinking as soon as you wake up to allow plenty of time for your body to hydrate, a sports drink is preferential on race day as it helps top up muscle glycogen (fuel) and maintain electrolyte (salt) balance for the day ahead. Quantity again depends on time however, try and have around 500ml upon waking and then sip away up to race time. The hotter the conditions and the longer the event the more you should be aiming to drink before you race. Prone to cramp? Start taking your Electrolyte Replacement Tablets on race morning.
Key message pre-swim is that it is vital to practice meal and drink choices, quantities and timing in training so there are no surprises come race day. Also, practice relaxation techniques to channel any race day nerves into excitement for the day ahead.
Use the swim transition to take a moment to gear yourself up for the ride ahead. Have some nutrition and an extra bottle of sports drink designated for this transition. Ensure your choice isn’t sickly sweet (your less likely to drink it, especially as you fatigue throughout the day) and make sure it is nice and cold if the conditions are hot.
Pre-race you want to have planned your nutrition around aid stations to know how much nutrition you need to carry and get through before aid station one and so on. This can be challenging so again practice is key, make the most of long training sessions to rehearse your race-day nutrition and tweak if required. Don't hesitate to get professional advice from a qualified sports dietitian or nutritionist to help come up with a custom plan, this will save you from making costly mistakes and ensure you have a clear plan on race-day. Keep in mind there are no two athletes the same so what your best mate Mike swears by doesn’t necessarily work for you!
The key thing to remember for the bike is to spread out your fuel intake evenly over each hour and to do your homework on the bike course. Hilly courses or windy sections can mean increased intensity, potentially making it harder to fuel. Plan to use easy to access supplements during these times and save real food for easier sections of the course. Good old electrical tape or a bento box type bike carrier is an ideal way to easily access your nutrition on the go.
Now this is a rather fragile part of the triathlon journey. Especially when it comes to stomach upsets. There are many reasons for this, however often a connection to fructose containing supplements or something that doesn’t agree with you can be the trigger here. If this is the case you need to look at food choices right back to breakfast. Too much fibre (possibly fruit or high fibre cereal) can also have you running in the direction of the loo. Small amounts frequently is a good run strategy and again adapting your body to accept food and drink in training is really important.
For longer distance triathlons it is likely you're fighting fatigue by now (mentally and physically) so it's vital you make the time to drink and eat at aid stations. A great opportunity to walk for a few seconds, refuel, regather and carry on. If aid stations are more then 20-30 minutes apart then you will also need to carry fuel with you. Now is not the time to wing it! Stay positive and break the run down into small manageable sections.
Quick fire tips:
- Hydrate really well in the days leading up to your race.
- Lay your nutrition out the night before so you know exactly what you are using.
- Always take more nutrition than you need.
- If you suffer from cramp, prevention is your best strategy. PURE Electrolyte capsules help maintain your bodies electrolyte levels during sustained strenuous exercise and/or hot conditions.
- Know what supplements are on course! Check the event website. Super important to familiarise yourself with these in training so there are no surprises on race day.
- Stick to what you have tried and tested in training.
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, University of Otago) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition. Marewa is available for personalised Nutrition consultations in person or via Skype.