Tackling your First Triathlon - What do you Eat?

Pre-race breakfast

Your pre-race breakfast is an opportunity to fine-tune fuel and fluid levels, making sure your tummy feels comfortable. The focus here is on carbohydrates to top up your muscle glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate), ensuring this is low in fat and low-moderate in fibre to reduce the risk of gut upset. Aim to have brekkie 2-2.5 hours prior to race start. This will ensure things have digested and broken down enough to use the energy and also prevent stomach issues during the race.

With the focus on carbohydrate and fluid, here are a few suggestions of things to eat and drink before a sprint distance triathlon:

  • Breakfast cereal or muesli with milk or yoghurt (avoid high fibrous choices like bran or whole rolled oats unless you know you’re fine with it)
  • Toast , fruit toast, crumpets or English muffins with spread of choice e.g. honey and banana, vegemite, peanut butter, honey/jam
  • A banana and yoghurt
  • Up and Go or Sustagen Sport popper
  • Muesli bar and a glass of milk or juice
  • Homemade smoothie

Don’t try anything new on race day morning. If you don’t normally eat toast with jam, don’t do this on race day. If you can’t stomach anything solid, try a liquid meal such as a homemade smoothie. Evidence also suggests having fluid (roughly 200-300ml) with your pre-race meal helps move food out of the stomach and further along the path of digestion. Choose a carbohydrate containing fluid such as milk, juice, sports drink or simply just water. After your pre-race meal, just take small sips of fluid to keep your mouth from drying out leading up to race start.  Don’t gulp, you’re not a camel.

The best advice I can give you is to decide what you want your standard race day breakfast to be, and practice this before brick sessions or simulated races in training.

Race nutrition

For a sprint distance race, completed in roughly 60-80 minutes, your fuel tank is unlikely to empty completely to the point of “hitting the wall” or “bonking”. Especially if you’ve had a decent, carbohydrate rich breakfast beforehand. You could race with simply water and get through unscathed. For a first time racer, try racing with just water in one bottle on the bike and sip when the opportunity arises. Depending on the environmental conditions and what sort of sweater you are, will dictate how much fluid +/- electrolytes you need to replace.

If your goal time is beyond the 75-80 minute mark, consider taking on a small amount of carbohydrate during the race to prevent running out of fuel. Use a gel, or sports drink on the bike or catch an electrolyte cup in the run. Do some research and find out what nutrition and hydration is available out on course and at what intervals. The more prepared you are going into the race, the less you leave to chance on the day. If the sports drink on the run isn’t something you’ve ever had before, consider trying it in training so that you know you’ll tolerate it during a race if you want (or need) to drink it.


Take home message

Now is the time to practice your race nutrition plan in training. Don’t turn up on race day and wing it. Spend the time developing a personalised plan with your Sports Dietitian to optimise your performance racing.

Happy racing!

If you are interested to know more about how nutrition can improve your performance, check out the Triathlon Nutrition Academy created by Sports Dietitian Taryn Richardson from Dietitian Approved. 

You can check it out here

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