Triathlon nutrition: Here's how to with Laura Philipps "game changers"

Laura Philipp_Ministry of Nutrition

What matters in triathlon nutrition

Specific challenges of triathlon nutrition

Triathlon is a very particular sport – and its optimal nutrition is equally particular.

By combining three disciplines, the amount of training required increases rapidly. Depending on their tier, athletes train up to three times a day. This not only calls for a great deal of discipline but also results in an immense energy requirement.

Further peculiarities of triathlon include the necessity for sub-discipline nutrition to be adapted accordingly as well as the strain which is laid on nearly all muscle groups. The latter fact entails that after a day of training, all muscle groups are exhausted and require “repairing”.

This is where nutrition comes into play. Through appropriate training nutrition and optimal subsequent regeneration, the body can be supported. This not only results in an improved training performance but also reduces the risk of injury and increases motivation.

Optimize your workout nutrition for sub-disciplines

In order for you to be able to rely on your body to provide constant energy, you should support it in the process. Simply put, you can achieve this by supplying a sufficient amount of carbohydrates.

Many athletes underestimate this factor and do not provide their body with enough energy. In doing this, the probability of an energy deficit occurring is greatly increased. In this case, the body will start drawing on its own muscles’ energy reserves, which in turn leads to a loss of muscle mass and significantly impairs regeneration.

But not only will your muscles be adversely affected by an energy deficit. Your performance will decline equally significantly and you could lose precious time. 

While all three triathlon disciplines are very different, they are still all classic endurance sports. This implies that a high oxygen intake, an optimized muscular functionality as well as a high metabolic and exercise economy are essential.

Nutritionist Robert Gorgos reveals: If you supply energy every 20-30 minutes, you are on the right track. Obviously, the nutriton must be adapted specifically to the individual discipline.

Swimming

During a swimming competition, nutrition cannot be provided in a sensible way – which, unfortunately, cannot be changed.

Nutrition during training is also quite challenging. A bottle with a carbohydrate-loaded drink can be placed at the edge of the pool to provide an in-between nutritional supply. However, if the extent of training is not excessive, a previously well-filled glycogen store is quite sufficient – the energy drain should, of course, be well compensated for directly after swimming.

This can ideally be done by combining carbohydrates and proteins. According to Beelen et al., the optimal combination would be 0.8 g of carbohydrates per kg body weight and 0.2 – 0.4 g of proteins per kg body weight. Important note: If possible, those nutrients should be consumed within one hour after training.

According to this recommendation, a 70 kg athlete should consume 56 g of carbohydrates and between 14 and 28 g of proteins. This could, for example, be achieved by adding 40 g RECOVERY SHAKE to 400 ml of oat milk and having 2 fresh dates with it. This meal provides the athlete with about 60 g of carbohydrates and about 20 g of protein.

The shake could, of course, also be prepared with water. In this case however, 5 dates should be added as the carbohydrate content of the oat milk is omitted.

Cycling

Cycling is the triathlon discipline which offers the best scenario for carbohydrate intake. Athletes should definitely make use of this opportunity!

While during a competition the carbohydrate intake should be as high as possible – about 80 – 120 g of carbohydrates per hour –, in training, carbohydrate ingestion should ideally be adapted to the training goal.

If your goal is to improve your fat metabolism or lower your lactate formation rate, it is most advisable to use carbohydrates which are slowly absorbed by the body. The simplest solution here is to rely on products which have been designed specifically for this purpose.

Our SLOW CARB – respectively SLOW CARB HEAT – would be best suited for this type of training. On account of the particular carbohydrate formulation in SLOW CARB carbohydrates are released into the bloodstream slowly. In practice, you could ingest about 30 g of carbs per hour via SLOW CARB. A maximum amount of 90 g/h should not be exceeded (therefore, for longer training sessions,  60 – 80 g/h POWER CARB can be incorporated to avoid an energy deficit).

By the way, SLOW CARB is one of the favorite drinks of world-class triathlete and MoN athlete  Laura Philipp. Laura Philipp Slow Carb

If an intense workout such as HIT or threshold training is on the schedule, it is preferable to provide the body with quick energy in order to get through the workload and train the carbohydrate metabolism. A significantly larger amount of carbohydrates can be ingested here – about 80 – 100 g/h, for example via FAST CARBPOWER CARB  or GEL 40

You can learn more about optimal nutrition while cycling HERE.

Running

Due to the constant impacts, the provision of energy while running is rendered a little more difficult. Depending on the athlete, however, about 60 – 70 g of carbohydrates per hour can be supplied. 

As is the case with cycling, you can support your training goal through your nutrition when running. Similar to cycling nutrition, the following also applies to running:

Slow energy for slow runs – fast carbohydrates for intense workouts! 

It is also important to know that when it comes to nutrition, intensity is much more important than duration. This is accurate in relation to running, but also for any other sport.

When training casually, energy should be supplied during the workout from 60 minutes onwards. For an intense session however, nutrition should be provided regardless of training duration.

Regeneration – the End All Be All in triathlon

Even if energy can already be supplied while running or cycling, nutrition while regenerating is considered crucial as well.

Essentially, the recommendations for nutrition after swimming can also be applied here. However, subsequent regenerative nutrition should also be adapted to the stress invoked during training. For example, if a session was particularly intense and therefore “damaging” to the muscles, it is advisable to resort to an exceptionally high-quality source of protein.

Generally spoken, the more essential amino acids a protein source contains, the higher its quality. Essential amino acids are crucial because the human body is unable to produce them on its own, bringing about the need for supplementation through food in order to optimally nourish the muscles.

Our RECOVERY 8 has proven particularly popular among professional athletes for that very reason. R8 contains all eight essential amino acids in an ideal ratio. Additionally, the amino acids are absorbed in the shortest possible time in order to speed up your regeneration process. Combinedwith the natural potency of MANGO, this makes R8 the perfect shake after particularly intense competitions and workout sessions. 

For any other workout we recommend the aforementioned RECOVERY SHAKE.

Triathlon nutrition: All things competition

Ideal preparation 

From a nutritional point of view, ideal nutrition during a triathlon commences way before the starting signal. As soon as the competition starts, glycogen stores should be as well-stocked as possible.

To achieve this, a number of different possibilities exist, as explained in more detail HERE.

The preferred method is to empty the glycogen stores during the final demanding workout session 3 to 4 days before the competition. This can be accomplished by including fewer carbohydrates in the last two meals before that workout.  

After completing the workout, the process of replenishing the glycogen stores commences. Food should accordingly be as rich in carbohydrates and nutrients as possible. An intake of easily digestible carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, porridge or pasta combined with fruits and vegetables at three-hour intervals would be considered ideal.

On the day before the competition particularly, high ratios of fat, protein and fiber should be avoided.

The day of the triathlon, the concluding meal should ideally be consumed 3 – 4 hours before competition kickoff. High-carbohydrate, easily digestible food would be optimal.

Just like nutrition during the competition in general, the meal before the competition should preferably be tested and optimized in advance during the training phase.

In practice, meals could look like this:
– Porridge (cooked with water)
– Toast/bagel with small amounts of jam/peanut jam/almond jam (best to use white bread to increase tolerability).
– Rice/Rice Cake
– A bowl of cereal or well tolerated grains  

Varying distances and their characteristics

Differing athletes – differing strengths – differing distances. Makes sense.

But it makes just as much sense for differing athletes to require differing types of nutritional supply. Thus, personal data such as VLamax, VO2max, etc. should be considered in order to maximize individual strengths.

Once an athlete is aware of their individual capability (VLamax, VO2max…), a pacing strategy can be developed by combining both training science and nutritional science. Making use of that strategy, the energy supply can subsequently be adapted to energy depots as well as the individual capability – which results in an ideal provision all the way to the finishing line.

Generally speaking, Ironwomen or Ironmen should be particularly efficient and ideally be equipped with a well-trained fat metabolism. Sprinters, on the other hand, can afford to be a little more “wasteful” with their energy reserves.

This is a result of an increased ratio of FT fibers (fast-twitch fibers) as well an increased lactate formation rate in sprinters. VLamax tends to be above 0.5 mmol/sec for sprinters – compared to Ironman/-woman with a VLamax rather below 0.35.

Nutrition for medium and long distances

Proper nutrition is a crucial factor for medium and long distances – the reason being that the body’s own glycogen stores cannot last throughout the entire duration of the competition.

In order to avoid a depletion of stores and thus a decline in performance, it is important to provide nutrition accordingly.

The following is a concrete example of what mid-distance nutrition might look like.

Cycling

  • 80 – 120 g carbohydrate drink per hour. Suitable provisions would be our POWER CARB  or RACE CARB X (90 – 120 ml/h), which Laura Philipp has labeled “rocket fuel”. 
  • Depending on the temperature, 0.5 to 1.0 liters of fluid should be ingested per hour
  • In extreme conditions (high outside temperatures), up to 2.5 liters of liquid per hour can be required. In this case, water can be consumed in addition to the carbohydrate shake
  • The combination of gels and/or bars with water is also a possibility

Running

  • 60 – 80 g carbohydrates / h (e. g. via POWER CARB  or RACE CARB X)
  • 30 minutes before finishing the distance, about 1 mg/kg body weight of caffeine (e. g. as a  Gel) can be added.

After finishing line

  • Immediately after finishing: 0.4 liters RECOVERY8
  • 30 minutes later: 0.3 liters RECOVERY SHAKE
  • Subsequently: A piece of dry cake or a pretzel stick/pretzel
    a sandwich with mozzarella and tomato
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids: Mineral water
  • Avoid fatty/spicy foods and caffeinated beverages

Dinner:

  • Vegetable soup, rice, possibly fish, small dessert (e. g. semolina porridge)

Sources
[1] DOSB (German Olympic Sports Confederation, Competitive Sports Division) brochure “Food Supplements”, 1st edition June 2014.

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