Nutrition tends to be one of the most discussed topics when it comes to triathlon. It also tends to be over thought and over complicated. I want to try and dispel some of the confusion and complication.
This piece is going to look at primarily how to fuel pre, during and post training looking at the following:
Pre training During training Post training Long sessions
Pre training nutrition depends on the duration and intensity of the session. General guidelines show that eating 3 hours prior to exercise allows insulin levels to return to normal. This is similar to what is practiced on race day having breakfast 3 hours prior to race start before getting along to transition and setting up.
For sessions under <90 mins it comes down to a personal preference and the intensity of the session as to whether you have something to eat directly beforehand. If it is a low intensity session you may not need to eat anything.
For the longer sessions over 90mins, once they are done first thing in the morning I would suggest that you don’t have anything prior to the session. Instead adopt a drip feed approach nutrition. This means that after 20-30 min into the bike you start to gradually drip feed the nutrition into you. Use this as training for race day, where you get out of the water slightly depleted and need to start fuelling your body. It will also train the body to hold onto glycogen stores for longer, which is desirable for long endurance events.
For sessions < 90 mins You really only need to focus on your hydration and electrolytes. Your body has enough glycogen stored to provide you with all the energy you need. 600-750ml of an electrolyte solution will be plenty. Personal preference again should be adhered to.
For sessions > 90mins (more on the longer sessions below) Adopt a drip feeding method again and fuel the session. I like Hammer Perpetuem for this. Along with Hammer you will also need to take on some hydration with electrolytes.
If your run is over 90 mins then you need to make sure you have access to hydration at a minimum. For runs greater than 1hr 45 hydration and nutrition is important. It again gives you a chance to practice in training before race day. You don’t have to go crazy just some Perpetuem or a gel if you like, but you do need to practice it and use as much as you need. Make sure you plan the route so you can get to hydration and nutrition as you need it.
This is an important one. You want to start replenishing your stores of muscle glycogen straight after each session. Within the first 30mins aim to have some carbohydrate and protein. Again, the higher the intensive session the more you will need. If it is a low intensive session you may not need as much post exercise. If you can try and have some real food for this. Avoid high sugary products. But do eat within the first 30 mins. If it is breakfast have some oats and banana and some boiled eggs. If on the go a banana and a high-quality protein powder will be OK.
Be prepared and have your post exercise meal ready.
If you eat within the 30 mins post exercise and it is a snack aim to have a more substantial meal within 2 hours of finishing.
These are the staple for any Ironman or 70.3 athlete. To build up the endurance you need to be going long and to do that you have to fuel appropriately. It is also the perfect opportunity to work on race day nutrition practices. If it doesn’t happen in training, it certainly will not happen on Race day.
Unless you are going to get up 3 hours prior to your long ride then don’t have breakfast. If I have an early morning ride at 8.30am getting up at 5am to have breakfast outweighs the benefits of sleep for me, so I will sleep in.
The next part of the puzzle is to make sure that I am not putting anything into my body that has a ton of crap stuff in it. I tend to lean more towards liquid nutrition (anyone looking to go sub 12 should also consider this). It’s easier on digestion and absorbs quickly, and this is where Hammer Perpetuem comes in. I do have some solid nutrition on the bike sometimes, particularly in the early season but on these I avoid highly processed sugar laden bars. At the moment I use nakd bars and some bananas.
Early morning before the ride I might do some pre ride activation, glute bridges or whatever I need to waken up then:
1. Glass of water with electrolytes to restore any lost over night
2. Black Coffee with no sugar.
3. Mix my nutrition. Concentrated form of Perpetuem. I use one scoop per hour of exercise. All in one bottle. If I only have two bottle cages on the bike I usually distribute the nutrition concentrate into little flasks. I will bring some solid fuel just in case but I rarely need them.
On the run I also use Perpetuem or some gels. Again drip feeding them into me as I go. If it is a run off the bike it may only be one gel and carry some water. On the long runs I will try and set up an aid station somewhere, so I can access water and nutrition as I need it. If not, I carry my own.
4. Prepare electrolyte solutions; I am to consume 600-750ml per hour depending on heat. (Routes should be planned so you have access to a water/shop)
5. After 20-30mins into the ride start to drip feed the nutrition in. A slow steady release of energy that I find really helps particularly towards the back end of the ride.
These are just some of the considerations to take on board when looking to fuel your training. It is important to figure out what works best for you and what your body can sustain. One thing is for sure you have to practice in training what you hope to use/do on race day.