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NutritionSkills & TechniqueTriathlon

Race Day Skills: Nutrition

By August 25, 2015 No Comments

If you are new to longer distances or have had nutrition issues in prior races, here is a simple way of validating the essentials, preferred products aside.

In a basic nutrition plan I focus on the essentials for the distance and push preferences aside for validation. Flavor, minerals, and consistency are preferences, yes these make things palatable, but don’t effect performance significantly once consumed. For validation, I ignore these.

The essentials are Hydration (Water and electrolytes) and Carbohydrates.

Water: plan to consume a minimum of 750 ml to 1000 ml per hour, especially on the bike.  Count Sport Drink in this volume.

Sodium: Plan to consume a minimum of 500mg of sodium per hour. Again read the labels and do the sums. Less could mean cramp or gastric stress, or at least a significant performance drop. Sports drinks can provide most of this, running on gels or bars alone could leave you short. Salt tablets can cover deficits at 200 to 600 mg per tablet

Sodium demands are highly individual. For longer races I would err on the high side rather than risk becoming sodium deficient. If you suspect you lose more sodium through sweating than average, I would recommend having a sweat test to establish your sodium loss rate in conditions similar the planned race climate (heat and humidity).

For fat adapted athletes, who have trained to be less carbohydrate dependent for fueling, sodium will need to be replaced through electrolyte drinks or salt tablets due to not getting a sufficient supply for the commonly used sports drinks and gels.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrate demand is highly dependent on your training. There are two primary camps, these being the Fat Adapted and the carbohydrate dependent. Carbohydrate demands differ significantly depending on where you fit on this scale, as such where is no magic grams of carb per hour recommendation. Recent studies have shown that the maximum carbohydrate absorption, regardless of body weight, is around 65 grams per hour, more can lead to gastric stress and a gut shut down of energy absorption.

For the non Fat Adapted and sugar dependent you will need to a strong fueling plan and know, though training, your maximum absorption rate over the race distance. A difficult task as most will last up to 7 hours before gastric stress starts to impact performance noticeably.

For the fat adapted, your primary fuel is fat so the carbohydrate demands are significantly less. A plan is still essential to ensure you cover the deficit, however it will be well within absorption rate limiters. A word of warning, becoming fat adapted takes months of training and a change from the now common carbohydrate fueled training regime.

It is extremely important have a fueling plan for race day. Check the labels of your sports drink, Sport bars and gels, adding up carbs and sodium to form a per hour plan. Beware if you add in solids on top of sports drink as you can easily overdo it and cause gastric stress.

The most important points:

  • Nothing new on race day, try out and prove your nutrition plan in training, including your lead-up days and your contingencies.
  • There are great nutrition products that can provide some edge, but on race day focus on carbohydrate grams, sodium water volume per hour adapted for heat and humidity conditions, these are the make and break factors.


  • Stay hydrated, but don’t over do it. Too much water alone an strip out electrolytes from you system, consider electrolytes or and adding a couple of pinches of salt in your water. Light coloured urine is a good sign.
  • Try stay with simple meals with clean carbs, stay clear of complex restaurant meals with unknown content. (No takeaway Kababs/Asian curries)
  • Saturday 4pm: light meal, don’t overdo sugars grain including pasta and rice. Root carbs like potato are good. High volumes of grain/sugar can disturb insulin levels.
  • Saturday 9:00pm: Take on a light meal to top up your system.
  • Avoid heavy carb loading. My recommendation is to eat as you usually do in training. The smaller calorific demand due to taper will ensure you have sufficient glycogen stores for race day.


  • 2:30 before race start: Breakfast, same as you trained with. e.g. 500ml recovery sports drink with protein. Take on some fluids, then no drink until 15-20min before start.
  • 0:30 before start: pee
  • 0:15 before start: 200-350ml sport drink.
  • Swim exit: slug of water
  • Bike: 750ml to 1 litre per hour of fluids. Drink evenly, a minimum of 15min intervals. planned carbohydrates per hour (65 gr for non fat adapted which should be around 6-7% of fluid intake)
  • Run: drink as desired, target even drinking over course. I.e. Small slugs per table rather than full cups every 2nd/3rd. Sports drink / Bars at early tables progressing to coke later. (Try mix 1/2 coke 1/2 water to reduce stomach stress).
  • If your body needs savoury later in the race, take it on. vegemite, pretzels, chicken soup etc. Your body is telling you it needs salt.
  • Post race. Eat solids within an hour of finish, include protein.


  • Over strength mixed sports drink (should be around 60 grams carbs per litre.) Effect – nausea, bloating
  • Solids without adequate water. Effect – nausea, bloating
  • Inadequate electrolytes. Effect – cramp, impaired muscle efficiency
  • Water without electrolytes. E.g. Water and solids/lollies. Effect – cramp, poor performance.

Key Points:

  • Choose you products and your plan well before race day. Train with them. Keep the plan simple, things go wrong, a simple nutrition plan is easy to adjust.
  • Have a contingency plan. What if you lose a bottle on the bike on the speed humps? What if you miss an aid station? What if you special needs bag can’t be found?
  • Expect some gut stress during the day, when it happens, try recall the volumes you have consumed and adjust accordingly.
  • If you are not Fat adapted, consider this for your next A race as it significantly de-risks your race day nutrition, but takes months of adaptation, not something to rush.

Next post: Mental tenacity coming soon…

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