N is for nutrition in triathlon training
Nutrition in triathlon training is probably one of the most important and yet overlooked aspects of amateur triathlon. Professional triathletes are hypersensitive to the need for nutrition both during training and during the race. However, amateur triathletes tend to be lax in their nutrition or do not plan their nutrition well enough and therefore suffer the consequences of poor performance. To truly be successful in triathlon, you must focus on your nutrition for the best results.
The first aspect of nutrition is periodization. It is very difficult to be on a strict diet in year-round workouts. Personally, I have moments where I “loosen my belt” and enjoy a good cheeseburger. So understand that just as there is periodization in your training, there is periodization in your nutrition. For example, when you are cutting back on race day, you can become very strict on your diet around 8-12 weeks before race day. This gives you plenty of time to lose the extra weight you are carrying and to maximize your training days with quality food. After the race, you can take a reward week to eat some extra food or enjoy a meal that just isn’t on your strict training diet. You should not feel bad about this cheating period and go enjoy a great desert. Once this cheat week or cheat day is over, return to your stricter diet to prepare for your next run. In the off-season, it is important to enjoy some not-so-strict foods, but be careful that you may gain too much weight in the off-season.
Every athlete is very different in terms of what they eat during training. Some of the building blocks of a good diet are quality carbohydrates (not McDonald’s), quality proteins like fish, chicken and lean meats, fruits (often overlooked), and vegetables. Some triathletes get so neurotic with these different aspects that they measure everything. As someone who is very busy this is difficult to do, however once you find a good eating pattern, you will be able to implement a good workout diet. Don’t go on a “diet” where you minimize your calories to the point that your training sessions end in weakness or “bonking.” Eat 6 to 7 times a day with quality snacks like fruit, low-fat cheese sticks, or protein bars. Make sure to drink large amounts of water, as your workout will require additional amounts of water to avoid dehydration. Finally, pick a nutritional pattern and stick with it instead of trying so many different fads.
NUTRITION OF THE BREED
For every triathlon race that you compete in, you will have certain nutritional issues that you will need to deal with. For sprint and Olympic / international distance races, you will probably only need one pre-race meal. For long-distance races, such as half ironman or full ironman distance, you will not only need a pre-race meal, but you will also need a nutrition plan during the race. I currently drink 2,250 calorie juices around 2: 30-3: 00 a.m. on race day. I eat a whole cinnamon bagel and you spend an hour before the race. Then I use PowerBar Powergel Tangerine flavoring gels before the race and during the race. I normally use a gel every: 45 minutes on the bike and every: 30 minutes on the run. I also use Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes before the race and at each of the intervals listed above for the gels. I also use Hammer Nutrition’s FIZZ in my bike water bottles. The process of finding this nutrition combination has taken the last 6 years. Sometimes you find out things by trial and error, like my need for Accelerade during the race this past year.
Nutrition is so important to overall performance. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Find some of the best practices and start the testing process for your own needs.