How to fuel for your first triathlon
April 13th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

How to fuel for your first triathlon

Nutrition is key to becoming an overall healthy triathlete, but it becomes even more important on race day for fueling performance, avoiding GI issues and recovering from your efforts.

Follow this sample menu, suggested by nutrition and performance coach Krista Austin, Ph.D., for guidelines on how to eat on race day.

You will want to test-run your nutrition/meals during training so there are no surprises. A cardinal rule in triathlon: Don’t do or try anything new on race day.

Night before the race

5:30 p.m. Low-fiber dinner: White spaghetti with a low-fat meat marinara sauce and white bread rolls; or rice and lean meat with a low-fat sauce. Drink electrolyte beverages.

Why: “Energy-rich carbohydrate helps top off glycogen stores for race day, and all of the meal helps minimize the chance of GI distress,” Austin says.

Triathlete.com: Whole foods for recovery

5 tips for the night before

1. Eat a relatively early dinner, no later than 12 hours before your race start if possible.

2. Make carbohydrates (rice, pasta, bread, veggies) the focal point of your pre-race dinner, but don’t feel compelled to gorge on them.

3. Avoid foods you seldom eat. Try to eat something similar to the type of dinner you normally eat before a big day of training.

4. Consider choosing a “ritual” dinner that you re-create more or less exactly before every race. This can calm pre-race anxiety and put you in the right mind frame to compete.

5. Don’t drink too much water (or other fluid). You are not a camel. You cannot store water. Overhydrating will only necessitate sleep-ruining bathroom trips during the night.

Triathlete.com: Battling a nervous stomach

Race day

5 a.m. Light breakfast: Plain bagel with creamy peanut butter and a cup of coffee.

Why: “Foods rich in carbohydrate, such as a bagel, will help restore liver glycogen that was depleted overnight,” Austin says. “These are also low in residue, which will help minimize GI distress during competition.” If your body can tolerate coffee, Austin says caffeine “can help increase the amount of work you can perform and sustain.”

6 to 6:50 a.m. Sip a sports drink.

Why: “Supplying carbohydrate in the hour prior to competition can help maintain stable blood-glucose levels and has been shown to enhance performance,” Austin says.

7 to 8:30 a.m. For a sprint race lasting 1.5 hours, take in 30–60g of carbohydrate, ideally in liquid form on the bike. Aim for 20–24oz of liquid with 200mg of sodium per 6–8oz.

Why: For a race longer than 60 minutes, carbohydrates help performance by delaying muscle glycogen depletion, Austin says.

Triathlete.com: Fuel like a pro


8:45 a.m. Recover with 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight (if you’re 150 pounds, that’s 68kg, so 68g of carbs) and 6 to 20g of protein. Good options include: a protein recovery beverage, PB&J sandwich, yogurt and cereal or cheese and crackers.

Why: “Carbohydrate consumption immediately after competition helps facilitate recovery by restoring muscle glycogen and minimizing inflammation,” Austin says. “Protein assists with the body’s ability to take in carbohydrate and restores broken-down muscle.”

11 a.m. Eat a recovery snack comprising 50% to 55% carbohydrate with the rest being lean proteins and healthy fats. Good options include: a banana with nut butter, Greek yogurt, fruit and granola or eggs and whole-wheat toast.

Why: “Eating every two to three hours assists in maintaining a stable blood glucose level, which not only facilitates recovery but is also important for sustaining metabolism, optimizing body composition and overall health,” Austin says.

1 p.m. Lunch: chili, baked potato, salad and fruit

Why: “Chili contains meat and beans with appropriate amounts of protein and fiber to help lower the meal’s glycemic response, along with the fiber found in salad and fruit,” Austin says. “The fiber and protein content will also help you feel full and satisfied. Remember to control your portions though - since a 1.5-hour competition does not cause a significant energy deficit.”

4 p.m. Snack: Low-glycemic, same goal and options as 11 a.m.

Why: Continues to aid in recovery and sustains metabolism.

7 p.m. Dinner: Lean red meat, grilled vegetables, polenta and fruit; real-fruit sorbet for dessert

Why: “Red meat contains protein, and the fiber in grilled vegetables and fruit will help lower the glycemic response, since metabolism slows as we prepare for bed,” Austin says. “Red meat is also good for endurance athletes to help maintain iron stores. Sorbet should provide a treat that is not overly high in calories, but does provide a reward for the day’s race.”

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Allie

    There really has not been a lot of good science to support carb-loading the night prior to a race. The science suggests that this needs to occur about 5-7 days out from the race after a hard effort to enourage the glycogen uptake to the liver and muscles. The rest of the meals should really be regular healthy meals that have all the food groups.
    Post race a mix of carbs and proteins 4:1 ratio has been shown to be most beneficial.

    The only thing that eating white pasta and bread will do the night before a race is leave an athlete waking up bloated.
    (I know this from my own experiences that occurred early on in my marathon running and triathlon training).

    April 13, 2012 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tri-Hard Rick

    Nice article. I like the spaghetti dinner the night before. I usually have a fried egg with my spaghetti. Would this be ok?

    April 13, 2012 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cleopatra Mordue

    Very interesting. I feel you have made helpful and good points with this writing. Certainly with you 100 and am glad I had the chance to see this.


    September 10, 2017 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. nike sb paul rodriguez 7 high premium

    nike air jordan 32 black cat aa1253 003white huarache sneakersnike air force 1 low black and white suedelebron james nike lebron 15 black white
    nike sb paul rodriguez 7 high premium http://www.ozkanerkekapart.com/outlet-brands/nike-sb-paul-rodriguez-7-high-premium

    February 25, 2019 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Ariana Evers

    I thought we had to drink a lot of water.

    April 26, 2019 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ariana Evers

    I thought we had to drink a lot of water. Don't we need to eat some healthy foods?

    April 26, 2019 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Alva Taymon

    Easy Online Enrollment


    November 2, 2019 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Travel

    I found your blog web site on google and examine a few of your early posts. Proceed to maintain up the excellent operate. I simply further up your RSS feed to my MSN Information Reader. Looking for ahead to reading extra from you afterward!?


    November 26, 2020 at 21:00 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.