Triathlon Nutrition 101

Proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects of your triathlon training.  Nutrition is, however, the most easily overlooked of all training aspects of any triathlon training program.  We tend to focus so much on conditioning and not on fully optimizing our training.  We have all heard the saying “work smarter not harder”.

To a certain extent, that saying can be applied to your training program.   Nutrition is the fuel for our bio-mechanical engine.  If we don’t put in the right fuel, we don’t get optimal results.  You’ll have a far better chance of succeeding if you eat the right foods and consume the proper amount of calories, minerals, and vitamins.

Your body needs to be in top shape if you really want to succeed in a physically demanding sport like triathlon. That means you’ll follow the proper training regimen, and do what you can to avoid any injuries.

The “I Can Eat What I Like” Myth

Many people say to themselves “I burn X number of calories a day, I can eat what I want when I want” or “I need to eat less to lose weight for my event”.  Both of which may be true in some regards, but without proper structure this can keep you from getting maximum benefit from your training.

Triathletes and other athletes often assume that since they are fit they can eat whatever they want.  While it is true that being physically fit enables people to consume more “junk food” and still have more energy and overall better health than the average person, unless your nutrition matches your training in terms of quality, your performance will suffer.

The Good Foods

Grains, lean meats, vegetables, and fruits are all wholesome foods that will give your body the energy it needs to keep on training.  Relying on pricey drinks and energy bars can get really expensive, so you’ll do better if you plan meals that contain these foods.

Stay away from foods high in sugar and fat when you’re training for a triathlon.  Your training will be negatively affected when you consume a lot of junk food.  You should also steer clear of alcohol, because that will leave you dehydrated and contains a large amount of ’empty’ calories.

You’ll achieve your goals quickly when you incorporate proper triathlon nutrition as part of your training.

Eat More Meals

The idea of eating 5 to 6 smaller meals during the day as opposed to 2 to 3 large meals is a great concept if it can be incorporated into your lifestyle, and has tremendous benefits.   If nothing else try to incorporate healthy snacks between meals to keep metabolism up and proper fuel throughout the day.

Nutrition and Training Sessions

For maximum weight loss it is best to exercise on an empty stomach.   Simply put, your body will search for needed fuel and with nothing immediately available it will turn to stored fat for fuel. This is fine if you are looking to lose body fat, however, working out on an empty stomach can lead to early exhaustion and poor performance.

Try a small, healthy 100 – 200 calorie snack before your workout and then a sensible snack or meal afterwards for recovery.  Keep fuel available for your workouts so you get maximum benefit.  The result is better performance and a better gain from the training session.

Monitor Your Calorie Intake

Learn to monitor how and when calories are taken in.  A long day of work and/or tri training can result in major hunger at the end of the day.

Try to load earlier in the day to avoid the desire to hit the pantry late at night.  Chances are you won’t be reaching for that healthy snack you convinced yourself you would eat at night.

Weight Loss

For weight loss, concentrate on a 100 to 300 hundred calorie deficit during the day.  No crash diets, just sensible weight loss resulting from burning just a few more calories than you take in.  It is pretty simple math.  And the earlier in the day you put those calories in the better.

Understand the Different Types of Fat

It is very important for endurance athletes to understand good fat versus bad fat.  As mentioned, our bodies will search out stored fat to use for fuel during training.  We are asking a lot of our bodies and it is important to keep this supply stored up for our bodies as we push through these rigorous activities.

Learn to understand good fuel – more nuts, olive oil, salmon, peanut butter, fatty fish and less fried foods, saturated fat, bacon and butter.

Increase Your Protein Intake

Normally, a person’s recommended daily intake for protein consumption is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.  But endurance athletes such as triathletes have different needs.  Depending on body type, size, and weight, they need anywhere from 1.4 and 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.


Providing proper nutrition will make you more efficient and let you fully optimize your training sessions.  Give your body what it needs and it will be there for you when you need it the most.  Stay focused, train hard and train smart.

Good luck!


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