Eating During Race

author : Team BT
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A Quick Guide to Race-Day Nutrition Options

Nutrition and hydration are both important aspects of triathlon, but the vast array of products and terms can be overwhelming. In this blog we’ll take you through the main products and give you some simple tips about race-day fuelling.

Nutrition - The Very Basics

During a triathlon you’ll use two main types of fuel - carbohydrate and fat. The shorter the triathlon, the faster you go and the higher the ratio of carbohydrate versus fat you use. We all have enough fat in our bodies to get us through a triathlon, so there’s no need to eat more on race day. However, our carbohydrate stores deplete after 70-90 minutes of intense exercise. Getting to this point is not recommended as it’ll feel like you’re running with a bear strapped to your back. Thankfully you can avoid this by eating properly the night before, on race morning and during the race itself. Here’s how.

First up you’ll need to eat a carbohydrate-based dinner the evening before you race - something like pasta and sauce. Avoid having lots of meat and vegetables. The meat won’t provide any meaningful race-fuel and fibrous vegetables can give you stomach problems when you run. Don’t eat more than usual, just your normal plateful is fine.

On race morning consume a carbohydrate-based breakfast 3-4 hours before the start, such as a big bowl of oatmeal porridge and honey, or three to four slices of toast. You could also sip a carbohydrate energy drink throughout the morning.

If you’re racing super-sprint or sprint triathlon, you don’t need much carbohydrate during a race as it’s so short. You might benefit from sipping an energy drink on the bike and having a gel on the run. Evidence suggests that even swilling your mouth out with one will give you a worthwhile boost.

For events longer than Sprint distance, you’ll need to sip water regularly (particularly if you’re sweating a lot) and consume 40-60g of carbohydrate per hour. For example, by having an energy gel every 20 to 30 minutes. The best way to consume carbohydrate is little and often. Try setting a countdown alarm to remind you every 10-minutes so that you don’t forget in the excitement of the race.

Energy Products Explained

There’s nothing magic about energy drinks, bars and chews - you could probably make your own. However, they do offer a convenient and well-packaged way to stay fuelled. Here are six common types:

1. Energy Gels

A sweet gel in a convenient packet, typically containing 100 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrate. Some contain salts, vitamins and caffeine, although the carbohydrate is the important bit. Gels labelled “isotonic” are more watery and easier to consume with a dry mouth, but contain less carbohydrate per gram.

2. Energy Drinks

Powdered or pre-made drinks containing predominantly water and carbohydrate. Some contain electrolytes, vitamins, caffeine and even protein. On race day your main requirements are water and carbohydrate, although for long races or hot days, electrolytes (salts) may prove beneficial.

3. Energy Chews

These are chewy sweets or jelly blocks containing mostly carbohydrate. They are often more palatable than energy gels and don’t leave you with sticky fingers.

4. Recovery Drinks

The main ingredients in a recovery drink are carbohydrate and protein. Some also contain fat, electrolytes and vitamins. Research indicates that the optimal ratio for a post-endurance recovery drink is four parts carbohydrate and one part protein. Interestingly, plain milk contains a similar ratio.

5. Energy Bars

These are pre-packaged bars, containing mainly carbohydrate. These are great on race morning or while training, but can be difficult to digest during a short, fast race. Some bars have relatively high fat contents, so read the labels first.

6. Recovery Bars

Tasty bars containing a mix of carbohydrate, fat and protein. These often taste as good as chocolate bars like Snickers and Mars, so it’s tempting to eat lots in the name of sport. Eating foods with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein straight after exercise is shown to heighten recovery.

by Phil Mosley
Coaching Editor of Triathlon Plus magazine (UK)
Ironman Certified Coach
Head Coach at
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date: May 30, 2016

Team BT