Mastering a race of three parts is hard enough. But it's even harder without the correct triathlon nutrition
Triathlon requires the mastery of three disciplines, each of which are combined into a dynamic and competitive endurance sport that is contested the world over. Triathlon, however, also requires the mastery of training and dietary principles to prepare you for the high-stress demands of the sport and promote optimal recovery and adaptation. In this article, we discuss the science and nutrition of triathlon and offers tips on how to best prepare you for triathlon success.
Triathlon Nutrition Fundamentals
Notwithstanding the importance of genetics and mastering of the psychological discipline, performance is primarily determined by smart training and good nutrition. A simple way to organise your nutrition is to follow a ‘pyramid approach’, that is, focus on obtaining a strong base of healthy nutrients first, selecting additional performance supporting foods or supplements once you’ve got the fundamentals right.
As indicated by the diagram above, optimum recovery and performance will depend largely on your ability to organise the main macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) into quantities appropriate for your activity levels, and these will form the base of your pyramid.
Get Carb Conscious
Carbohydrate ensures you have sufficient energy to complete long or hard sessions and, in general, should constitute ~60% of your total calorie intake, but can be more during periods of hard training. Ideally the bulk of your carbohydrate should come from the general diet, choosing from healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans in the daily diet. This can then be complimented with carbohydrate drinks, gels and bars before, during and after training, to support your total needs.
Pay Attention to Protein
Protein, by contrast, plays a minimal role in energy metabolism but is considered an essential part of muscle growth and maintenance. As an approximate guide, consume protein in a quantity of 1.5 g per kilo of bodyweight per day, at regular 20 g doses every 3-4 hours. Select from a variety of protein rich foods including lean meats, fish, beans, low fat dairy or nuts. If you struggle to meet your dietary protein requirements, sports nutrition products such as Maximuscle’s Protein Milk, Promax bars and shakes can be used between meals or immediately after training to supplement your intake (see below).
Don’t Forbid Fat
Fats are also important, despite the negative stigma, because they are calorie-dense (which can be useful during hard training when calorie requirement is high) and can assist in a range of metabolic processes including the transport of ‘fat-soluble’ nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K). A predominance of your dietary fats should come from healthy sources like nuts and fish as opposed to fried and processed foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
Once these basic principles are in place, you can then focus on the micronutrients which comprise the next layer of your pyramid. These are the smaller vitamins and minerals that ensure effective metabolic function, help us unlock energy to train, boost the immune system keeping us in training. In general, try to consume a diet with a rich variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meat/fish to optimise micronutrient intake. As a modest target, try to hit your ‘5-a-day’ but, if you’re already there, take the next step and aim for up to 11. Prioritise vegetables over fruit and you’ll be achieving a beneficial mix of micronutrients and fibre.
Finally, staying hydrated will support your ability to perform well across your three disciplines, increasing your need to replace fluid relative to inactive individuals or those with lower training loads. Dehydration caused by insufficient fluid intake can negatively impact on exercise capacity (by reducing your blood volume) so make sure you understand your losses and aim to replace them by drinking prior to, during and after training. For more guidance on calculating your fluid requirements take a look at our hydration guidance from Sport Scientist Rebecca Williams.
What about recovery?
The longer or harder your session, the more vital your post-exercise recovery. Good recovery, as with good nutrition, is about getting the fundamentals right. In this respect, make sure you follow high-intensity cardio sessions with at least 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise. This will promote blood flow to facilitate the removal of metabolic waste products, and reduce the risk of muscle soreness in the days that follow. Stretching helps muscles to return to their normal length and is believed to make them more permeable to waste products and, therefore, may also be a good way to minimise soreness and stiffness. If you have access to a swimming pool or hot-tub, 10 minutes of gentle movement or swimming has also been suggested to facilitate recovery; the hydrostatic pressure of the water compresses the major blood vessels around the muscles and helps increase circulation. The evidence in support of other commercially available recovery aids, such as compression garments and ice baths, is at present inconclusive.
Triathlon is a fun, competitive and exciting multi-discipline sport, enjoyed by many millions the world over. The physical benefits enjoyed by participants are rich and varied. But before you dive headfirst into a challenging training schedule, consider the triathlon nutrition guidelines above; look before you leap and maximise your chances of achieving your personal goals.