Race-Day Nutrition for Sprint and Olympic-Distance Triathlons

The key verb in that sentence above is process. Right now, sitting on the couch, your body can easily process that pizza on the coffee table because you're not asking it to do anything other than sit on the couch. But the harder you exercise, the more scarce resources become for processing food, as blood is shunted from the stomach to the limbs that are hard at work doing the triathlon racing thing.

The lesson here is that the fewer calories you eat and ask your body to process during a race, the more resources your body has available to continue to swim, bike, and run very hard. When we combine the 2-hour gas tank with our less-is-more philosophy, we find that the best nutrition strategy for short course racing is a minimalist, take-in-as-few-calories-as-I-can-get-away-with strategy.

More: Proper Fueling During Exercise

Now that we've set the stage for you, here is our nutrition plan for short course triathlon racing:

Pre-Race

The conditions you are trying to create before your wave hits the water at 7:25 a.m. on Sunday are:

  • You are well-hydrated
  • If it's going to be a hot race, you've pre-loaded your body with sodium.
  • You've topped off your glycogen stores and you have a full tank of gas
  • Your stomach and digestive tract is relatively empty--you are now in complete control of everything that goes into it.

Day Before the Race

  • Lunch: your largest meal of the day. No need to go crazy or eat anything special (a sandwich or pasta is fine), but eat a bigger lunch so you can have a lighter dinner, giving your body time to do it's thing. Lightly salt your food. Drink water all day or, if tomorrow's race is going to be hot, drink a sportsdrink instead of water. Don't go crazy, no need to drink gallons of Gatorade!
  • Dinner: light, high in carbs, easy to digest.

More: Top 10 Super Foods for Endurance Athletes

Race Morning

While you sleep your body will burn about 800 calories, tapping into that gas tank. Also, it's likely that your stomach will be doing flip flops as you deal with race day-nerves. This will slow down your digestion. So we need to top off your gas tank, but give your body enough time to process your food so you can start the race with a relatively empty stomach and clean digestive tract.

In order to top off your gas tank, and allow enough time to digest the food, we highly recommend waking up at 2 a.m. and eating a very easily digestible breakfast of 600-800 calories. A liquid fruit smoothie is a good example. Then simply go back to sleep and wake up at your normal time. That is a plan that thousands of our athletes have followed since 2002: Wake up, eat, go back to sleep. It works!

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