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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

Post-race

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.”


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