Nathalie Jones is a GTC member and also a dietician based in Glasgow. She has put together these 10 top tips for triathlon nutrition.
Keep track: It’s a good idea to keep a log or diary of your weight and, if possible, body fat percentage at each time trial or race. This will help you to determine your ideal weight in races where you achieve a PB.
You do not need to maintain this “racing weight” all year round – it’s not necessary and not often possible – but it will show you what to aim for in the few months leading up to a peak event.
Take notes: Make a diary of notes in the week before an important race, including what you eat and drink. If the race went well, repeat it for others. This is also helpful even if it’s just a few days before a race.
Stick to what you know: While training try out a range of energy gels/bars /drinks and find out which ones suit you. If you know that a particular event uses a sponsored brand, try them out. In this way you can use these products with confidence and predictability in your races.
When to top up: You should aim to consume around 0.5 to 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight per hour for longer rides and runs so that you can replenish your energy stores. What this means, during training and races, is approximately one gel, half a cliff bar or three shot blocks every 45 to 60 minutes during a bike ride or runs over 90 minutes.
Fuel early: Don’t wait to take on your first energy supply. If you know you are exercising for over 90 minutes, take fuel on early, at 45 minutes. You will absorb it better if it’s consumed earlier in the session.
Eat smart: Some carbs up to two hours before exercise will be helpful. So, if you have a 6pm run planned, eat a cereal bar, or two slices of toast, or a small bowl of cereal, or two oat cakes between 4pm and 6pm. Lunch will not help you by 6pm.
Coffee aware: Have you thought about how caffeine affects you? If you are used to having four cups of coffee a day, for example, the caffeine in energy gels won’t do as much as if you are not used to it.
Likewise, if you are not used to it, having coffee before exercise may help reduce the RPE and use fat as a fuel or it may make you feel jittery. Try these things out in training before attempting it on race day.
Tummy troubles: If your stomach is sensitive or you get runners’ trots, the following can be to blame: Fibre, lactose, fat and protein.
It’s sometimes worth seeing a dietician about this as it is not as straightforward and often difficult to manipulate diet successfully in your own.
Recovery shake: Chocolate milk (300 to 500ml milk with 2 to 4 tbsp chocolate drinking powder) as soon after a long session gives the right ratio of carbs and protein (and it is tastier and cheaper than recovery/protein shakes).
Sugar overload: Remember that an athlete’s diet can contain quite a bit of sugar, which is not good for your teeth. Drinking water or rinsing with water after sports drinks and gels can help, as can having sugary foods in one go, rather than spreading them out. It can be a good idea to drink through a straw, too.
It would be great to hear about your diet tips. What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you as a triathlete.