Although fairly new to the world of endurance sports, triathlons are exploding in popularity. Whether you are a veteran of the sport or still thinking about signing up for your first race, there are several nutrition tips that can help your next race, and every one after that, go a lot smoother.
IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION FOR TRIATHLETES
Nutrition is crucial for triathletes year-round. During the off-season, following nutrition tips like these helps you in maintaining your goal weight if you have hit it already. It is critical when training for specific races because it fuels your workouts and ensures proper recovery. Eating well before a race mitigates your risk of gastrointestinal issues such as the runs and proper fueling during your race will prevent you from blonking.
TEARING DOWN THE WALL
Many athletes hear first-time marathoners refer to a "wall" they hit when they are running. This is when their bodies run out of glycogen, so they have no more fuel. If you follow the keto diet, your body is well-accustomed to running on ketones, but for most of us it is a shock. One of the most important nutrition tips you can learn for endurance racing in general and triathlons specifically is to count your calories. Estimate how many calories you will burn during the race.
Your glycogen stores will be full thanks to the high-carb meal you ate two nights before the race, but you still need to consume carbs throughout the race starting at your transition from the swim to the bike. Your body can process one to one-and-a-half grams of carbs per minute which equates to 240 to 360 calories per hour. Do not try to consume more carbohydrates than this as you may feel ill. Remember, performance starts to dip when your fuel tank dips to about 30 to 50%, so refuel early and refuel often to avoid hitting a wall during your run.
RULES FOR TRIATHLETES
There are several rules for triathletes to keep them fueled through their workouts. These include keeping a food log, being realistic about weight loss, recovering adequately and following the 10% rule.
One of the biggest challenges triathletes face is feeling the need to eat clean. However, 10% of your calories can come from splurges such as a Scotch, glass of wine or dark chocolate mousse cake.
KEEP A FOOD LOG
As your training season starts, keep a log of every calorie you put into your mouth and its macro-nutritional content. You only have to do this for three or four days such as Friday through Sunday or Monday. This gives you a fairly accurate idea of how you eat on a weekly basis as we tend to be creatures of habit.
Sports nutrition experts have differing recommendations for the breakdowns of macronutrients. Some recommend 60% of your calories come from carbs, 20% fat and 20% protein. Others recommend a 40% calorie-count from carbs with 30% each of fat and protein. The bottom line, however, is the total amount of each macronutrient based on how frequently you train.
Recreational endurance athletes should consume a gram of protein per 2.2 pounds of bodyweight while competitive athletes should consume 1.5 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight. Consume five grams of carbs for every kilogram of bodyweight if you train for an hour per day. Consume six grams of carbs per kilo of bodyweight if you train for two hours a day. Continue this pattern. If you train for over five hours a day, 10 grams of carbs per kilo will be adequate for your training needs.
Another big challenge is all the outlandish claims of losing 10 pounds in 10 days or 10 pounds in two weeks. If you are trying to lose weight for a triathlon, do it slowly and steadily. The reality is, your body can burn fat at a rate of 1% of your body mass each week, meaning if you weigh 160 pounds, you can burn 1.6 pounds of fat or 5,600 calories.
Any more than this and your body will start to consume your muscles as fuel. Use your BMR and activity level to calculate your caloric need for the week. Then, multiply the number of pounds you want to lose by 3,500 (the number of calories in a pound of fat). Subtract the second number from the first and you know how many calories you should eat for the upcoming week to lose your target weight.
Proper recovery is important whether you are training for a race or just finished one. Within an hour of your workout, consume at least 15 to 20 grams of protein and half a gram of carbs for every pound you weigh. This means, if you weight 120 pounds, consume 60 grams, or 240 calories worth, of carbohydrates.
Consume any more than 20 grams of protein, and you may have issues with uric acid buildup or kidney stones. Consume whey protein immediately after workouts as this is the type of protein which is most readily broken down by your body. This kick starts the process of your muscles repairing themselves. Save the casein protein for right before bed as it takes five to seven hours to be fully metabolized and allows your body to absorb and process nutrients even as you sleep.
3 NUTRITION TIPS FOR TRIATHLETES
There are lots of things people have pre-race jitters about. What will the weather be like? What if I get lost? Luckily, what to eat is not one of them thanks to the following three nutrition tips for triathletes before, during and after the race.
KNOW WHAT NOT TO EAT
Do not eat anything new the night before your race. As tempting as the green curry and chicken tikka masala are from the brand new Indian restaurant, you do not know how your stomach will react. Also, avoid food high in fat and fiber the night before and day of your race.
Pre-race nutrition is one of the most important nutrition tips for triathletes. Two nights before your race, eat a fairly large portion of carbohydrates such as a plate of spaghetti with breadsticks and may dessert. The night before, eat a light, healthy meal such as a spinach salad with a little chicken and strawberries, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
Whatever you choose, make sure it will be easy on your stomach and not keep you so full you cannot sleep. Eat a light, healthy breakfast the day of the race. Well before race day, try out different breakfasts to see what will keep your fuel tank full and not upset your stomach during the swim.
During your two transitions, try to down a pack of GU or Clif Shot energy gels. These are the two leading brands in the industry due to the nutrition and ease of consumption. Some things to look for when trying out energy gels is making sure it does not have too much caffeine, which can lead to diarrhea, and looking for shots that have essential fatty acids. Price and taste are secondary to the nutritional value of the product.
Eat on your bike ride. It is time-consuming and difficult to eat during the swim and your body will not have time to process the carbs if you eat on your run. Also, make sure you are frequently sipping on a diluted sports drink including electrolytes, vitamins and key minerals lost when you sweat. Set a timer on your watch so you do not forget. Dehydration can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, fatigue, poor performance and loss of consciousness.
The human body can only process between one and one-and-a-half liters of water per hour. While you are already dehydrated when you start to feel thirsty, you should not over-hydrate. Start drinking about 30 minutes after you get on the bike and drink about a quarter of a liter of water or sports drink every 15 minutes.
Depending on the type of carbs you consume, your body can process between 45 and 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. The easiest carbs for your body to process are sucrose, glucose and maltodextin. Fructose, galactose and amylose are harder for your body to break down. Your body is also better at breaking down multiple carbohydrate sources at once. Try to eat a combination of glucose and sucrose as these types of fuel are readily bioavailable.
Nutrition tips are critical for triathletes due to the extreme endurance nature of the sport. Many experts have nutrition tips on macronutrient ratios, but the bottom line is consume carbs based on how many hours per day you exercise and your body weight and one to one-and-a-half grams of protein per kiloogram of bodyweight depending on if you are a recreational or competitive athlete.
Estimate how many calories you will burn during the race, remember your body can only process between 240 and 360 calories per hour of carbohydrates depending on type and quantity, and refuel early and often. Do not try anything new the night before or day of the race and eat whey protein within an hour of finishing your race and casein protein right before bed. Both will ensure your body recovers quickly. Treat yourself to a nice massage, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and congratulate yourself on a job well done.