Spring is the perfect time of year to fine-tune your training for the triathlon racing season. As the weather is ideal for longer runs, rides and higher-intensity racing, it’s important to make sure your diet is ready for the increased training load too.
For a triathlete, getting the right nutrition can reduce your risk of:
- Fatigue during training or racing
- Nutrient deficiencies, such as low iron
- Gut troubles during training or competition.
So here are my three top tips to help you get some PB’s, KOM’s or extra kudos this triathlon season.
1. Athlete’s eat and train. They don’t diet and exercise.
Spring is typically the month where people look for quick-fix diets to get them into shape. For triathletes, Spring is often a time where fuel needs may be higher due to longer training hours and more frequent training and racing. Sacrificing fuel (food) may result in not getting enough energy to train or compete at a higher intensity or struggling in the last 5-10km. Not to mention, there are many health issues that can be related to not getting enough nutrition.
As a rule, it’s important to make sure you are getting enough of these five food groups daily:
- Fruit – a mix of fruits will provide you with a variety of antioxidants to keep you healthy.
- Vegetables – as with fruit, aim for a variety of coloured vegetables. Potato and sweet potato will help top up glycogen (carbohydrate) stores too.
- Breads/cereals – breads and cereals, rice, pasta and noodles will provide a good source of carbohydrate to fuel your workout or replace lost stores. Grainy options, such as wholegrain breads are good for health. Low-fibre options might be better tolerated by your gut before training or racing.
- Meat/alternatives – Meats such as chicken, beef and lamb provide high biological value protein to help build and repair muscle. Other good sources include lentils, chickpeas, peanut/nut butters, eggs, tofu and seeds. Spread these over the day for maximum benefit.
- Dairy/alternatives – milk and yoghurt provide a good source of both protein (for muscle repair) and carbohydrate (for fuel). Other alternative sources include calcium-fortified soy milks or yoghurts.
2. Snack Attack
When you’re training more, it can be easy to fall into the trap of not having enough handy snacks around to manage the increased hunger. Snacking can be an important ally for any triathlete as it can help store fuel (carbohydrate) for training and repair and build muscle. Try having a carbohydrate snack 1-2 hours before a heavy training session. Some examples could be:
- Raisin toast
- Crackers with cheese
- Muesli bar
- Home-made muffins.
Having a snack containing carbohydrate, protein and fluid can be helpful if your main meal is a few hours away and you’ve got another training session within the next eight hours. Examples could include:
- Yoghurt pouches
- Up& Go’s
- Milo or Sustagen Sports drink.
The amount, type and frequency of your snacks will depend on your overall training and your season goals. A chat with your coach and a sports dietitian can help you plan your daily, weekly or yearly nutritional and racing priorities for maximum benefit.
3. Eat to compete
I have heard countless stories of race day nutrition gone wrong. The most important tip for anyone racing this season is to trial your race day nutrition prior to race day. Research shows that it can take multiple attempts at training to get your gut used to taking on food during a race. Training is the ideal time to work this out. A carbohydrate snack 1-2 hours prior to your race can be a good opportunity for your body to top up its glycogen (energy) stores. If you get race-day nerves and find it hard to eat solid foods, the following drinks or low-fibre foods are popular choices:
- Low-fibre white bread with honey
- Low-fibre breakfast cereal and milk
If your race will take less than 60 minutes, your body won’t need to take on any food during your race. But for longer events, it’s important you have a race day plan to ensure you are getting enough fuel every hour to meet your needs. Everyone is different went it comes to balancing fuel needs during a race. A sports dietitian can tailor this for you to ensure you are maximising your fuel use during competition.
Holly’s final tip. It’s the daily training and nutrition routine that will ultimately change your racing performance. Periodising your nutrition around training and competition and choosing a healthy and varied diet will put you in good stead this season. Keep things simple and don’t forget - food is fuel. Good luck this triathlon season!
Holly is an Accredited Sports Dietitian and a Canberra local. She consults to athletes of all ages and abilities at her rooms at Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy, Gungahlin. Holly is a keen runner (and dabbles in triathlons) who knows first-hand the importance of good nutrition for optimal performance having competed at national-level cross country and athletics championships over many years. For bookings, call Holly on 0422 840 482 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at hollysmithdietitian.com.au