Nutrition Tips For a Successful Triathlon Race Day

Nutrition is a key element to a successful triathlon race day, especially for longer events. It’s difficult to refuel during the swim, and eating food on the run can result in a stitch or nausea.

There is a lot of information available about nutrition for a triathlon race, but it can be confusing. The goal of this article is to simplify the process and help you reach your race goals.

When to eat and what to eat prior to the race

One of the quickest ways to ruin your triathlon race day is by having gastrointestinal (GI) distress. This can take the form of pain and discomfort, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea. The good news is that nutrition can be an effective tool to help prevent GI issues in triathlons, especially in terms of the timing and type of fuel consumed before a hard workout or race.

The key to getting the most out of your pre-race nutrition is by using a mixture of both simple and complex carbohydrates. Aim for a combination of carbs from both fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy, different kinds of pasta and rice as well as protein from lean meat and fish. Avoid consuming too much fat and protein, which can delay the digestion process and lead to GI problems.

It is also important to be well hydrated in the days leading up to the race and on the day of. This should include drinking water throughout the day as well as consuming a sports drink or juice. It is also recommended to avoid spicy foods on the day of the race and avoid any alcoholic drinks until after the race has finished.

On the morning of the race, it is a good idea to consume a small breakfast which includes carbohydrate-rich foods such as toast, oats or muesli. Try to choose a food that you know your stomach can digest well and stick with what you’ve used in training. If you’re a coffee lover, it is also fine to have some caffeine on race day as long as it doesn’t cause any digestive upset.


Carb loading and fuelling during the race are two of the most important aspects of triathlon nutrition and where many triathletes make mistakes which can have a negative impact on their performance. Getting these two elements right can be the difference between a DNF and a podium finish.

Always practice your race day fuelling strategy in training using brick sessions, long sessions and race simulations. This will allow you to iron out any kinks with how your body processes the nutrition as well as helping you get an idea of the amount of carbohydrate and how it affects your performance.

What type of nutrition to carry with you

The amount and type of food and hydration you need to carry with you during a triathlon race will depend on the length of the event. For events under 90 minutes, you can rely on your glycogen stores to fuel you during the race. If you are doing a longer event, it is important to plan out your nutrition and carb-loading strategy well in advance. Aim to consume carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, rice, bread and cereal in the days leading up to the event, while also limiting foods that are high in fibre as they can cause gastrointestinal upset on race day.

Carb loading is a great idea for triathlon as it can help with the energy levels in your muscles during the race, especially during the first part of the bike and run legs if you cannot consume any solid foods. However, it is crucial not to overdo carb loading as the excess carbohydrates can lead to bloating and stomach cramps which will ruin your race!

On race day, you should aim to consume between 30-60 grams of carbohydrates with 24 to 28 ounces of fluid per hour. This will give you the optimal level of energy and hydration during your race. It is best to have a carbohydrate gel with you during the race, as these are easy on your digestive system and will keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Once you are on the run leg, it is essential to continue consuming sports gels and electrolyte mix as these provide you with the right mix of carbohydrates and liquid to help you hit your nutrition goals for this portion of the race. If you begin to get a stomach upset at this stage of the race, try changing the sports gels that you are consuming to those that have less fibre and will be easier on your stomach.

Once you finish the race, it is important to eat a meal or snack that is rich in carbohydrates and protein to help with muscle recovery and repair. This will aid in your muscle recovery and prevent any post-race soreness.

What type of hydration to carry with you

How to stay hydrated during a middle distance triathlon - Nutrition - TRI247

You’ll likely be provided with fluids and sometimes food at the aid stations that line the course during your race. These are staffed by volunteers and they will provide water, sports drink or Gatorade in cups. Some races are even going cupless and require you to purchase a small plastic cup that attaches to your running gear. It’s important to know your race nutrition needs ahead of time, so you can determine how many times you will need to stop to refuel during your run.

Once you have figured out your nutrition, it’s a good idea to practice your fueling strategy during training. This will allow you to be familiar with the product, format, and flavour and how it fits into your system. Depending on your race distance, you may need to carry a specific amount of carbs or electrolytes with you on the bike and during the run. For example, if you are planning to use Powerbar gels on the run, your plan may call for three per hour with 75 grams of carbohydrates and 600 mg of sodium. You will need access to at least 14 gels, or 26 scoops of the drink mix, across seven bottles of water for your bike ride.

During your practice, you will also learn what type of hydration works best during the bike and run portions of your race. You’ll want to choose water bottles that fit in your bike carrier or aero bottle holders, and you will want to be able to get them off and on easily without slowing down. You will also want to decide if you are going to use your normal cycling shoes or wear racing shoes. If you will use a racing shoe, make sure you are accustomed to the extra stiffness as this can cause your feet to ache later on during your race.

The night before the race, try to get a full 8-10 hours of sleep. This will ensure you have a rested, ready-to-go body and mind. It’s also a great opportunity to double-check your race day checklist, so you don’t forget any of your vital racing equipment.

What to eat and how to hydrate after the race

A triathlon is a fast-paced endurance event so fuelling with carbohydrates is incredibly important. This can be in the form of a drink, gels, chews or bars. Aim for 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, (1 kg of body weight times 10) and keep fat and protein low (if eating solid foods). It’s a good idea to practise using these products in training so that you have a feel for how they sit on your stomach and can maximise their effectiveness.

Carbohydrate loading and fuelling during a triathlon are critical to performance but it’s also just as important to get the pre-race meal right. If you do this your race day nutrition will be on point and the stage will be set for a great performance. Get it wrong and you will see the DNF letters on your results page – these are the letters nobody wants!

Generally speaking, the most effective pre-race food is one that you have eaten in training and have had no problems with. Stick with what works for you, as long as it is easy to digest and contains carbohydrates; pasta, rice, quinoa, fruit etc. You might be tempted to experiment with something new on race day, but it’s better to stay safe and go for a meal that you know will work well for you and has served you well during your training.

Hydration is key on race day, and the most important part of this is making sure that you have a plan that makes sense for your unique needs as an individual athlete. Aim to have an optimal balance of fluid and electrolytes in your system before you get to the start line, and then drink largely to thirst during the event – don’t over-drink. It’s also a good idea to add some extra sodium to your drink on hot days or if you’re a salty sweater as this will help to avoid the negative effects of dehydration during an endurance event.

After the race is finished, it’s a good idea to eat an easily digestible recovery snack within 30 minutes of finishing, like a granola bar or half a chocolate milk. Ensure that this includes some carbohydrates, protein and fat to support your muscles and help you recover properly.

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