When it comes to your triathlon race day, there are many different things that can go wrong. With 3 individual disciplines involved, you need to nail each part of your race to get the optimal results. Too often are people working on their swim technique, their cycling FTP or improving their running splits in the lead up to race day that they forget about the “fourth discipline” – nutrition.
The truth is, no matter how good your training block has been, if you neglect nutrition, or don’t hit your goals as far as calorie and hydration goes, your day can take a bad turn very quickly.
Now, there are many things that can affect your nutrition plan on the day – course profile, goal race time, and – most importantly – heat/humidity. Everyone’s nutrition goals are individual, however there are some general rules that we can follow to get started on the right track.
Before we get started – one quick disclaimer here – Never try anything new on race day. Only use things that you have tested in practice – you don’t want to risk GI issues by using something in a race you have never tried before.
What are the goals for a normal triathlete when it comes to nutrition?
A widely adopted nutrition goal for middle and long distance triathlons is to consume between 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This equates to around 240-360 calories per hour.
In addition to this, from a hydration point of view, aiming for 600-800ml of liquid in an hour is also a number that is widely recommended. While I am not a nutritionist (yet!), this is what I follow on race day. I would, however, recommend doing your own independent research as to what works for you.
In addition to this, I try to consume 50% of my fluids as electrolytes, which gives me some sodium too and helps me take in more nutrition with less volume of food/liquid intake.
What type of nutrition products work?
Everyone is individual, so trial and error to find something that works for you. Electrolyte drinks, carb drinks, gels and jellies/lollies are all widely used forms of carbohydrates. Some athletes also try more solid foods, especially in full Ironman distance events, where 12-17 hours of gels can get pretty repetitive and taxing on the gut. I am currently trialing pikelets with biscoff spread as an alternative way of consuming carbs, however for me this can only work on the bike – I can’t take in solid foods when running, which is something a lot of people can relate to.
Some popular brands to look into are: Maurten, SiS Nutrition, Gatorade, GU, Clif and more. My preference currently is to use Pure Nutrition Gels and Carb Drinks. They are a nutrition company based out of New Zealand.
What about aid stations?
Aid stations are usually sponsored by nutrition companies, so depending on your event, you could have any number of brands/products to choose from. For me, I always find out what products are offered, and if I haven’t used them before, do some research into their nutritional value. I will also look to incorporate them into training. If they work for me – great! I have used Gatorade products at past events which have worked really well. If not, you need to work out how you are going to carry your nutrition with you on the bike/run legs.
A way around this may be bringing 2-3 bottles of carbs on your bike with you, or perhaps using a lot of gels and lollies. For me, I have previously brought some sachets of my favourite carb/electrolyte drink. I can then grab water bottles from aid stations, and add the powder to make a mix while on the go.
What if I still can’t find something that works?
You’ve been trying numerous nutrition options and not having much success? Perhaps you’re still bonking in races and long sessions? Or you’re struggling to find something that works with your stomach? This is where I recommend speaking to a performance based nutritionist – someone with a thorough knowledge of long distance and endurance sports. They can hopefully get you on the right track and nailing your nutrition in no time!
Lastly, what about the night before and the morning of a big race?
So it’s the night before your big race? Time to carb load, baby!
I try and have a big, carb heavy meal the night before – something like a pasta with creamy or tomato based sauce. I avoid spicy foods and avoid anything that might repeat on me the following day.
For me, its also plenty of water the 2 days leading into the race, as well as some electrolytes – I try to drink around 1-1.5L of Powerade or Gatorade too.
When it comes to the morning of race-day – I try and get up early. 3 hours before the race (at the latest), I try to eat some plain toast and I often have a Red Bull to give me a perk-up. I will also sip on water or Gatorade all morning, to ensure I remain hydrated right up to when I enter the water. From there, I will always have a gel just as I’m about to enter the water. I find if I don’t I will get a little jittery. I know many people will eat more than this pre-race, however for me it’s perfect and has me starting the race feeling good.
I hope this little insight into what I have learnt in relation to race nutrition helps you get some direction of what to do in preparation for your next race.
Remember: I am not a nutritionist, so always do your own research – if you want to speak to an expert – go see a nutritionist. While a nutritionist didn’t teach me anything revolutionary – it definitely did reinforce that a lot of what I was doing was on the right track, which made the visit worthwhile in itself.