Triathlon Nutrition & Sports Supplements for Triathletes

triathlon-nutrition-and-sports-supplements-for-triathletesTriathlon is a fast growing, multi-disciplinary endurance sport that, as its name suggests, comprises three distinct disciplines – swimming, cycling and running, in that order.

Such a combination of sports means that a triathletes body has to be able to cope with the different physical demands of each of those disciplines separately, but also consecutively.

Generally, competitive triathlons are completed over varying times and distances as there is a wide range of events, starting from approximately one hour for the sprint triathlon and up to seventeen hours for the famous Ironman distance triathlon, which is the most gruelling of them all.

As may be expected, therefore, triathletes are, indeed, renowned for both their physical endurance, stamina and mental strength.

They will often train twice a day and tend to do at least three sessions of each of the disciplines weekly.

In some instances, elite triathletes can rack-up incredible hours on the clock training up to 40 hours per week.

Triathlon nutrition

As many triathletes train on average around 2 to 3 times per day, refuelling during and after these sessions is extremely important as failure to do so could result in the body being starved of what it requires most… energy, usually in the form of carbohydrates.

One of the most important aspects when it comes to participating in triathlons is making sure your body is well stocked up on easily accessible carbohydrates.

In order to restore muscle glycogen stores prior to competition, triathletes need to consume between 7 and 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight for 24 to 48 hours (this is ideal for longer distance events such as the Ironman type events).

For triathletes who compete in long distance and extreme events, the main meal of the day should be breakfast as this will be the meal that provides all the fuel they will need for the day’s competition as many of the races start early in the morning.

Ideally this breakfast meal should be eaten 1 to 4 hours before competing and should feature around 1 to 4g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.

For long distance triathlon events, it is also advised that you consume food and drink that contains sodium.

Three nutrition goals need to be set for long-course triathlon racing:

  1. to meet hourly carbohydrate requirements;
  2. to stay adequately hydrated;
  3. and to replace electrolytes, the most important of which is sodium.

Nutrition for Ironman and long distance events

Triathletes competing in the Ironman or similar events ideally need to consume 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight for each hour of the race.

In some instances this carbohydrate consumption will vary between disciplines.

Some athletes may consume up to 1.5 of carbohydrate per kg of body weight on the bike and slightly less on the run.

It should be noted, however, that evidence suggests that multiple transferable carbohydrates result in increased exogenous carbohydrate oxidation when compared with glucose on its own.

This should be taken into account by athletes consuming more than 60g of carbohydrate every hour.

Triathlete hydration

Secondly, fluid requirements have to be met… and this is essential to ensure optimum performance.

Ideally triathletes should have a good idea of their individual fluid balance during training sessions and competition and this will serve as a guide for determining their hourly fluid requirements.

In practice however, most athletes should aim to consume between 600 and 1000ml of fluid per hour, with the lower amount being consumed on the run and higher amount on the bike.

Slower athletes may be tempted to take in fluids, especially on the run, but this is not recommended as it may result in hyponatremia.

Sodium replacement

The third requirement is related to the individual’s sweat rate and composition.

The average concentration of sodium in sweat is 1g per litre sweat.

The American College of Sports Medicine (1996) suggests consuming between 0.5 and 0.7g of sodium per hour during prolonged exercise.

Some athletes may require far more than this.

Competition nutrition

The second, cycle leg of a triathlon presents the best opportunity for an athlete take onboard foods and fluids, whereas the run is far more challenging.

It can be a long day for some; therefore it is often good to consume some solid food on the bike, you could consider nutritional sports bars or gels for added fluids.

The use of caffeine based products before and during a triathlon are also thought by many to enhance race performance.

To ensure that your fluid requirements are met triathletes are advised to drink to the top side of the suggested hourly fluid guidelines while on the bike, as it is very unlikely that fluid requirements will be met on the run.

It is also recommended that you walk through feeding stations, especially in Ironman events to ensure that sufficient fluids are consumed… if you miss one it could be a long way to the next!

At the same time the athlete should be familiar with nutritional and drink products that may be offered out on the triathlon course and ideally have used these products in training so there are no surprises.

As far as nutrition is concerned the best advice for triathletes is to keep it simple.

During the course of a race it can often be difficult in keeping track of what foods you have consumed during a race, so have a clear plan of what you want to eat together with an hourly goal.

The recovery phase

After competition or training has been completed, it is always advisable for triathletes to follow the correct recovery procedure as, in many instances; this stage is just as important as the initial preparation stages, especially during periods of intensive training or competition.

There are three golden rules to triathletes successful rehabilitation; and we refer to them as the three R’s:

  • Refuel

    Refuel muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores).

  • Repair

    Repair muscle tissue (for maintenance and development).

  • Rehydrate

    Rehydrate to replace fluids and salts lost through sweat.

Therefore your ideal recovery meals and snacks must contain carbohydrate (for fuel replacement), some protein (for muscle repair and/or gains) and plenty of fluids to replace sweat losses.

Want to get involved in triathlon ?

If you’re not currently involved in triathlon as a recreational activity or at a competitive level and are keen to learn more about taking part then read on. Here we’ve brought together a number of useful links to British triathlon organisations that may be able to help you.

  • British Triathlon

    British Triathlon is a Federation, whose members are the Home Nation’s Associations of Triathlon England, triathlonscotland and Welsh Triathlon. British Triathlon is responsible for matters such as the Great Britain Elite, Paratriathlon and Age-Group Teams, British and International events, Anti-Doping and International Representation.

  • Triathlon England

    Triathlon England is one of three Home Nation bodies for Triathlon in Britain. It is the national governing body for triathlon, duathlon and multi-sport in England and a member of the British Triathlon Federation.

  • Triathlon Scotland

    Triathlon Scotland is the national governing body for triathlon, duathlon and multi-sport in Scotland and a member of the British Triathlon Federation. It provides a wide range of services to members, clubs and participants and runs a national performance programme helping top Scottish triathletes to achieve their potential.

  • Welsh Triathlon

    Welsh Triathlon is the national governing body for triathlon, duathlon and multi-sport and a member of the British Triathlon Federation. The Welsh Triathlon committee is charged with running the sport of triathlon in Wales. It manages the affairs of Welsh Triathlon to ensure that all funded money is used appropriately and reports regularly to the Sports Council of Wales.

  • Triathlon in Wikipedia

    A triathlon is a multiple-stage competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines. While many variations of the sport exist, triathlon, in its most popular form, involves swimming, cycling, and running in immediate succession over various distances…

Want help with nutrition?

Get in touch now for more information about triathlon nutrition and the use of sports supplements to help improve triathlete performances in the pool, on the bike and on the road. Our team of sports scientists and nutritionists are always happy to help.