Getting your nutrition for triathlon right can be tricky: how do you eat enough to race fast, without gaining a ton? Kevin Currell from the English Institute of Sport, and a regular Triathlon Plus contributor, explains.
If you’ve just started training for a triathlon, or you’ve increased your training lately, the chances are your body is craving more food than ever.
It might come to you in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, or a couple of hours after your supper, but one thing’s for sure – hunger will come knocking when you least expect it. All that extra exercise leaves your body demanding more fuel, and it makes sure you know about it. Yet many triathletes struggle with knowing how much to eat. Should you give in to constant cravings, or stick with three square meals a day? Here I’ll tell you how to get your food intake spot-on so you don’t ruin your nutrition plan for triathlon.
The goal is to eat enough to support training without picking up excess weight: matching what you eat to your training and timing your food intake correctly. To achieve this, stick to these five simple rules.
1. Straight after training
Eat 10-20g of protein and 20-50g of carbohydrate as soon as possible after training. This is the most effective and important nutrition process you need to do. This will maximise recovery, refuel the tank and ultimately support the adaptation process. Research has shown that if you eat straight after training you are less likely to overeat later on in the day. If you are training twice a day or more this process is essential to make the most of the second session. The range of nutrient intakes are large to take account of different training intensities; the harder the training the more you need. To put this in real food terms, one slice of bread contains around 12g of carbs, and an egg contains 6g of protein.
2. Before training
If you have had a meal within three hours of the start of a training session you do not need to eat any more. If it has been longer than three hours, have a simple carb snack within one hour of the start of training. This is important if you are going to do an intense training session like intervals on the running track. For these sessions it is absolutely imperative you start fully fuelled. Following this rule will make sure that you start training in the best shape possible. This simple rule also makes sure you do not overeat before training, feel bloated and can’t train properly because you are too full.
3. The right proportions
A plate of food should be one-third energy foods, one-third health foods and one-third function foods. Get your plate of food right for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you will get all the nutrients you need. Energy foods are slow-release carbohydrates like brown rice. Health foods are fruits, vegetables and salad, whereas function foods are proteins like meat, eggs and fish. Good fats are in all three groups, so make sure you include some oils, fish or nuts on your plate.
4. On your bike
On long bike rides aim for 60g per hour of carbohydrate. This is about starting the recovery process on the bike. Think of it as a rolling buffet, where carbohydrates are your friend. During training it doesn’t matter where you get it from – you can use drinks, gels or make a sandwich to take with you. Two or three energy gels will be the equivalent of 60g of carbohydrates, depending on their size.
5. The bigger picture
Your overall diet should contain 5-8g/kg body weight of carbohydrates, 1.5-2g/kg body weight of protein and 1-2g/kg body weight good fats. If you follow rules 1-4 you shouldn’t be too far off these targets. They are proven to support training, enhance recovery and help you get faster.
I truly believe that you should listen to your body – it is a clever thing. If you are hungry, there is probably a reason. Have a think what nutrients you might be missing. If you have a craving for a certain type of food, what might your body be telling you? Listen to it and you’ll find the answer.
This article originally appeared in Triathlon Plus magazine – subscribe today from just £1
Dr Kevin Currell is a performance nutritionist at the English Institute of Sport.