Beginning tri training, week 13: Focus on nutrition

Credit: Robert LaBerge/Allsport
You're in the "middle" of your training, and by that I mean all sorts of things. You might've plateau'd a bit. Or even gotten occasionally stale or bored or tired or frazzled or haggard.

My point in writing what I wrote during the past three weeks -- and in giving you a rest week last week -- is that triathlon is more, in its execution, than just running, swimming and cycling. It is a lifestyle. It is a life change. It will mean more to you than you know, and you won't know what it means until you've lost it for awhile (through whatever hiccup may befall you).

Hopefully, you're dealing with that "fourth" and most important aspect of multisport, which is the ability to successfully integrate the other three sports into your life and relationships.


Hydration. Fuel. What's up with that?

There are just a few things you need to know. First, you need to replenish what you use. So you'll need more than just a bottle of water on a long bike ride. You'll need to drink as much fluid as your body wants. Take two bottles on your bike. Refill partway through your rides if you're going for more than a couple of hours. Take a bottle with you during any run of more than 45 minutes. My wife just carries a bottle in her hand -- a bicycle water bottle -- when she runs. I have a little water bottle carrier belt thingy for my runs.

But you need more than water. You need to replace electolytes and carbohydrates. So you need a fluid replacement. We have places on Slowtwitch where we review these products, specifically in this case the nutritional products section. My wife and I use G-Push for fluid replacement, but Cytomax, Gatorade, Ultima, E-load, all sorts of products work well.

Then there's gels and bars. I'm partial to GU, but other friends of mine favor Powergel, Carb-boom, Leppin, Fireball and so forth. There's even a new one, Sharkies, that is like a Gummi Bears. Then there's the energy bars. But I don't like energy bars while I'm training. Perhaps after or before, but I don't like them as much during (except perhaps for the occasional Clif bar).

All these products work. But here's rule two. You can eat as many calories as you want, but it's not going to do you any good. Your stomach can only function at a certain rate. That rate -- at exercise -- is 350 calories per hour, more or less. That's all your stomach can absorb. So if you stuff 600 calories an hour into your mouth, a lot of it is going to just sit there in your stomach. So don't ingest too little, don't eat too much.

The next rule is don't eat without drinking. The successful operation of your stomach requires a certain osmotic pressure to be maintained, and if you just stuff your face with gels and Powerbars and Snickers bars during your bike ride without drinking water, the stew you're brewing in your stomach is going to be so concentrated you won't absorb anything. So drink a half-bottle to a bottle of clear water for every energy bar or gel that you consume.

I have been known to take a couple of bottles of G-Push on the bike, along with three or four GU gels. After I'm done with the bottles I'll stop and refill with clear water, and start in on the gels and water, keeping to the 350 or so calories-per-hour rule.

One physiological tip: "Fat burns in a carbohydrate fire," as they say. If you totally run out of carbs, your fat won't burn efficiently, and you "bonk." That is not pleasant. The harder you work, the more your body burns carbs instead of fat. When you're going almost all-out, you're burning almost entirely carbs, and no fat.

So if you go too hard for too long, you'll run out of carbohydrates -- you won't be able to replenish them fast enough during exercise, because while you can ingest 350 calories per hour, you'll burn perhaps two or three times that much -- and you'll bonk. So ride and run moderately, and you'll preserve carbs longer (and you won't bonk).


Let's get back on the long runs and rides. Let's use some of that fitness you're developing.

  • Swimming: 2 or 3 sessions x 1,000 - 3,500 yards per session
  • Cycling: 1 or 2 sessions of 60 minutes each, 1 session of 2 - 3 hours
  • Running: 2 or 3 sessions x 25 - 35 minutes per session, 1 x 60 minute run
  • Ready to catch the swim-bike-run bug? Check out our Give it a Tri section

    Find and register online for your first triathlon!

    Check out the full beginning tri-training guide

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