Triathlon nutrition 101 by Zoe Wilson

Running shoe

Just starting out in triathlon? Not sure what to eat or drink on race day? What you eat on race day will affect how well you perform and shouldn’t be ignored. Different distances require a very different race plan due to the differing demands of the races. This article will focus more on shorter distances (Olympic and Sprint) as that’s what I love. You can, however, apply most of these general rules no matter the race you’re competing in:

Be prepared.

It may sound simple, but make sure you’ve got what you need for race-day prepped and ready to go when you pack your bag the day before.

Practice, practice, practice.

You wouldn’t start a big race riding a bike you’ve never ridden before – you’d use it in training so you felt comfortable. Same goes for your nutrition plan. Practice your race day nutrition in training so you know what works and what doesn’t – the last thing you want is to be stopped in the Porta-loo while everyone else is crossing the line…

Find your mojo

Everyone has their own opinion on nutrition for triathlon, but the only person that you should worry about is you – what works for you will be different to the triathlete next to you. So don’t worry about them – tread your own path!

Please note that if you’re one of those who are going down the low carb route, this advice won’t be the best option for you (see above the part about finding your mojo!).


The 24 hours before

Focus on eating a carbohydrate-rich meal in the lead up to your event. Aiming for 7-12g carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight and tapering your activity should be enough to fully stock your muscle’s glycogen stores. It’s also a good idea to go for foods that are lower in fibre to avoid any gut trouble during the race – white bread, low-fibre cereals, fruit juice and sports drinks are good examples. Also drink a little more than usual to optimise hydration. Make sure you have a drink with every meal and sip throughout the day.

The morning of the big day

The idea on the morning of the race is to further top up carbohydrate stores and hydration levels so you are fully fuelled and rearing to go.

If you can, have breakfast 2-3 hours beforehand for a morning race and a small snack to top up 1-2 hours before your race. In the case of a very early start, another option is to have a larger supper the night before and a lighter snack or fluids only 1-2 hours before the start. Examples of lighter snacks might be a banana, muesli or sports bar or a liquid meal replacement. If your race is later, eating your normal meals in the earlier part of the day and then having a light snack 1-2 hours prior to the event works for most people. 30-60 minutes before the race, take your final bit of fuel/liquid on board, a gel or sports drink is a good option here.

During your race

Aim to take on board 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour during your race, starting the refuelling process around the 20 minute mark. Make the most of aid stations so you don’t need to carry too much with you, but find out what you can about lap length and who might feed you a few weeks before so you can practice your nutrition plan in training. As racing is during the summer months, the best way to get your carbs in is in fluid form, so you keep dehydration to a minimum as well. Sports drinks or flat coke are great options. Gels and even lollies are also useful as they are light and easy to carry, but be sure to continue drinking throughout the race.

Before the celebrations begin

It was a great day out, but before you hit to town to celebrate, make sure you think about your recovery plan so you can be back into training for the next race sooner. It’s important to try to get in a mix of fluids, carbohydrate and protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing for the day so your body can begin repairing damaged muscles, replenishing fuel stores and rehydrating. If you’re lacking appetite after racing, go for something light or a drink with a mix of carbs and protein like a flavoured milk or fruit and yoghurt or a sandwich with a protein and a piece of fruit.          


Zoe Wilson is an Elite Energy Ambassadors, and is a dietitian that loves all things triathlon. She specialises in nutrition for the every day athlete as well as weight loss, food intolerances and other clinical issues. You can find her at

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