Hey guys! Today is my final post in my series about triathlon training. Here are my previous three posts if you missed them:
- First sprint triathlon recap
- What to include in a training plan
- Triathlon gear needed for the race
- Race day tips for your first triathlon
I originally wrote this post about my nutrition and triathlon training as a guest post for Jen at Pretty Little Grub, but I wanted to repost it here because I felt like it really wrapped up all of the pieces of training for my first sprint triathlon. If you haven’t checked out Jen’s blog, she is an awesome marathon-running, makeup-loving dietitian in Canada- definitely check her out!
I’m a registered dietitian but I’m not a sports dietitian (I work in a hospital seeing inpatients) so I definitely had to brush up on my sports RD skills prior to the start of training. Lack of proper nutrition can lead to fatigue, decrease in athletic performance as well as muscle cramping issues, so I definitely wanted to be on my A game during training! I think my overall nutrition plan worked out pretty well for me in the long run and I would follow the same general ideas if I ever decide to do another race (or a longer race!).
Before I start talking about my nutrition, I wanted to give you a basic idea of my training plan. This is important because I think nutrition, fueling and refueling really depends on the length and intensity of your workouts.
I basically did the “Couch to Sprint Triathlon” training plan because I started out with little stamina and endurance. Most of my workouts for the first month or so were less than 30 minutes. Wednesdays were my brick workouts where I did a cycle and then a run back-to-back. These also started out fairly short (ex: 30 minute cycle, 10 minute run).
As the weeks progressed, so did my workouts. But even so, most things stayed under an hour or so except for Wednesdays. My brick workouts eventually progressed to a 60-90 minute cycle followed by a 20-30 minute run.
I did not feel the need to go crazy with making any major dietary changes throughout the 3 months of training because I don’t really consider training for a sprint triathlon to be endurance training. The actual race itself is definitely an endurance event, but most of my workouts were not (again, because they were so short). The exception to this was my Wednesday bricks during the last month of training, and I will get to the importance of that in a minute!
My main priority with my diet throughout training was balance. To me that means getting lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins. I typically do well with balance but I definitely “cleaned up” my diet a bit during race training.
I always see a lot of emphasis on the importance of protein intake but really most people get enough protein in their daily diet. You see a jump in recommended protein intake when you go from the average workout to endurance workouts, and I think I fell somewhere in the middle there towards the very end of training.
The average person needs 0.8-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and endurance athletes need around 1.2 to 1.4 gram of protein per kg of body weight. (side note: if you want to calculate your protein needs, be sure to convert your weight into kilograms by dividing your weight in lbs by 2.2)
I didn’t tediously track my protein intake but I generally tried to stick around 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight (about 59 grams of protein for me) for most of my training, and maybe bumping that up a little bit during the last 4 weeks. I knew already from previously tracking my intake that I was definitely meeting my protein needs and getting a little extra, so this was something I didn’t really worry about too much.
Distributing protein intake
My priority with protein was making sure I was evenly distributing my protein intake throughout the day. Studies show your body can only use so much protein at one time, so it’s beneficial to spread it out between breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Like the average American, breakfast is generally where I have the lowest protein intake, so I knew I needed to pay special attention to this meal. I have a lengthy commute for work and don’t have a ton of time to prepare and eat something, so the easiest breakfasts for me were ¾ Cup of either greek yogurt or cottage cheese topped with fruit. This is a simple meal that packs some great carbohydrates, fiber and protein.
The recommended amount of fluid when working out really varies from person to person because we all sweat differently. If you want to get technical, you’re supposed to make up for 125%-150% of your fluid losses after a workout, and this can be calculated by weighing yourself before and after your workout.
Dehydration can lead to a decrease in athletic performance so staying hydrated while triathlon training was important… especially considering I was doing a lot of outdoor workouts during the summer.
A key to hydration is to take in adequate fluid throughout the day rather than being dehydrated and trying to catch up with water intake right before a workout… and then taking in enough water after a workout to make up for your losses.
Drinking enough water is sometimes a struggle for me because I work in a hospital and am on the go a lot of the time.
In an effort to make sure I was staying hydrated, I drank 1 cup of water first thing in the morning and kept a water bottle with me at my desk throughout the day. I also opted for water instead of other beverages whenever I was drinking anything, and made sure to drink plenty after my workouts. I found that the caffeine in a cup of coffee was not enough to dehydrate me, so I still enjoyed my morning cup of coffee
Fueling Before Workouts
Going back to the thought that I didn’t really consider most of my workouts to be endurance workouts (again, because they were so short) meant that I didn’t really need to worry about “properly fueling” prior to my workouts. I always did my workouts right when I got home from work, so just having a balanced diet between my lunch and afternoon snack was good enough for these shorter workouts.
However, having something to eat prior to working out was a great opportunity to figure out my breakfast routine that would work for me on race day.
I found that my preferred snack prior to a workout was a piece of whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter. I know this goes against the pre-race fuel recommendation of a simple carbohydrate that can be quickly digested. Whole wheat peanut butter toast has fiber and fat, both of which slow down digestion. But I found that I could eat this and almost immediately go on a run or bike ride with no issues. This is a perfect example of how nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. Many sports dietitians recommend trial and error, and sticking with what works for you!
Fueling During Workouts
It’s important to take in fuel during a workout when you’re doing endurance workouts because that is when your body starts tapping into its glycogen stores for energy. I see online a lot that it’s recommended to consider refueling if your workout is longer than 60 minutes, but some of my favorite sports dietitians really don’t say it’s necessary unless you’re doing a workout that is 90 minutes or longer.
Either way, I knew my triathlon was going to take me somewhere around 2 hours and that I would need a fueling strategy for the race. My plan was to start refueling once around the 45-minute mark of the race (while on my bike) and then again 30 minutes later (somewhere around the end of the bike or beginning of the run).
I used my Wednesday brick workouts (longest workout in my training plan) as a chance to see what type of carbohydrate would sit well on my stomach. I decided almost immediately that I did not want to try to consume whole food during the race. It was my first tri and worrying about whole food was something I didn’t want to think about!
I thought I would like gels the best but tried several different types and they all made my stomach feel crampy. In the end I found that I tolerated Gatorade the best, so that’s what I went with on race day. This also ended up being convenient because the tri organizers told us that they would be offering Gatorade at the hydration stations during the race.
It probably took me 4-5 weeks of brick workouts to decide on the best type of carb for me, so I’m glad I used my training time to play around with this.
Fueling After Workouts
After all of my workouts, I followed the same nutrition routine:
· Snack within 30 minutes after workout: I generally tried to stick with the recommended 3:1 carb to protein ratio for these. My favorite post-workout snacks were banana with peanut butter, dates with peanut butter and chocolate milk.
· Meal within an hour or two after workout: this worked out well for me because I generally worked out right after work in the early evening. So I would work out, have a snack, shower and then cook dinner.
They say never try anything new on race day and this seemed like good advice to stick with during my first race.
Before the race: I ate a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread about 2 hours before the race.
During the race: I sipped on a 12-oz bottle of regular Gatorade during my bike ride (my total bike time was 52 minutes, and that was following a 12-min swim and 2-minute transition) and drank another cup of Gatorade at mile 1 of the run.
I am glad that I used my trainings as a way of figuring out what would work for me on race day. There are lots of moving pieces to a triathlon, and taking the guesswork out of my carbohydrate intake was just one less thing I had to worry about during the race.
I am hoping to do an Olympic triathlon next summer, which would be double the distances of a sprint triathlon. This means that my training workouts will end up being much longer than my sprint training workouts. So I think testing the waters with a solid nutrition plan has set a great foundation for what works for me and my body.
I hope this information has been helpful to you! As an example of how nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, I would love for you to leave a comment below telling me what nutrition tips work for you for training and on race day!