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  • Writer's pictureCamille Chief Funlete

Ultimate Guide to Fueling for Triathletes and Cyclists!

For the best performance during a triathlon or cycle race, having the right fueling strategy is key. It’s important to be aware of your calorie intake and to make sure you’re eating the foods that will give your body the energy it needs in order to perform at its best. Learn more about how to fuel up correctly for an endurance event here.

"How do I fuel on race day?" is a common question among athletes. You don't want to start a race with too much food in your stomach. If you do, you may experience severe gastrointestinal distress. You also don't want to go into a race under fueled, with insufficient energy to finish. So, how do you strike a balance between too much and too little (which can result in bonking)? Let's talk about race fueling for performance. (click to go straight to video below)

In training, we encourage you to experiment with various fueling options and combinations, noting how each affects your body and performance. Athletes frequently believe that race day nutrition only applies to longer distances, but consuming calories especially before and in some cases during a sprint can have significant benefits.

There is no absolute answer for how many carbs or proteins a triathlete or cyclist "should" consume and use during exercise or race morning, but studies have shown that with time and practice, we can train our systems to best utilize our fuel.

Coach Marni of TriMarni Coaching & Nutrition, a 3x Author, Board Certified Sports Dietitian, Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, 2017 IM CHOO Amateur Female Champion, 19xIronman finisher including 6xIM World Championship finisher, and an active Triathlon Coach, put together this fueling video guide as a tool for triathletes and cyclists to devise their on personal fueling plan based on their activity, intensity, time of day and covers all race distances.



Create a Nutrition Plan That Works For You.

Creating a consistent nutrition plan is essential for your success as an athlete. Keeping track of what you’re eating, when you’re eating it, and how much fuel you’ve consumed in relation to your activity level allows you to plan ahead and make adjustments as needed. Experiment with pre-race meals, timing strategies, and food alternatives until you find a plan that works for your body type and which helps you perform at your best each time.

Experiment with different food and drink combinations during your swim, bike, run, brick workouts, and races to see how your nutrition works across sports and transitions. Determine what fuel will be available on the course and purchase and test it out in advance.

For starters if it works for you - less hassle and coordination you have to do for fuel on race day. Secondly, just in case something happens to your preferred stash - you have already tested it out and can use it on race day with confidence - because you know what to expect or won’t be surprising your gut with “foreign substances”.

Generally, on race morning you should aim to eat your breakfast about 3 hours before the start of your event to allow for optimal digestion and to handle elimination duties pre-race. Stick to the basics when it comes to food; (see video for suggestions) bananas, oatmeal, bagels, waffles, nut butter, juice, and coffee are all good choices.

Dairy and high fiber products should be avoided because they can cause stomach upset. You can snack on an energy bar and sip on some water during the hour before your event to help you stay topped off in the nutrition and hydration departments. (We highly advise this - even for sprint. Half a bar or a few brevita’s will help get you cross the finish line)

During training, you should practice your pre-race meal a few times. On a weekend, get up early and pretend it's race day. Eat what you think you'll eat on race day, knock out your training plan or a brick then assess how your meal affected your performance.

Felt great? Then you have a winning combo. If you didn't feel right, try again one more time or make a tweak to the contents and timing. (see video for fueling combos suggestions based on race distances.)

There is no single answer for how many carbs or proteins a triathlete or cyclist "should" consume and use during exercise or race morning, but studies have shown that with time and practice, we can train our systems to best utilize our fuel.

Assuming your event is in the morning, your dinner the night before should be simple and served at a reasonable hour, say 6:30 p.m. This dinner should not be a "carbo load," but rather a well-balanced meal. This is not the time to experiment, so avoid introducing anything new into your diet. Nothing is worse than waking up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache.

Pizza (Yes Pizza but not the greasy oil run down your arms kind) along with Chicken and pasta are always good go-to foods, and pizza can provide a consistency that is relatively balanced in both carbohydrate and protein (just don't eat the whole thing!).

A higher heart rate combined with jostling a full stomach while running will almost certainly aggravate GI issues, so make sure you get in more calories while riding the bike. Remember that your nerves will most likely affect your digestion on race day, so familiar products will go in, stay down, and be better absorbed.

Athena Triathlete Ashley Miller, done over 100 multisport events. 2x IM finisher, 11x 70.3 finisher, 4x national champion
📸 Ashely Miller, 2x IM finisher, 11x 70.3 finisher, 4x national USAT champion

New Athletes Fueling & Training Tips

Newer cyclists and triathletes may be unsure of their bike handling abilities, and opening packages or grabbing water bottles can be intimidating while in motion. If this is the case for you, practice these skills (particularly drinking) in controlled environments or over soft surfaces. When possible, open your fuel packages ahead of time. Include nutrition and hydration stops in your training & race nutrition plan if necessary!

Gear Tip: Invest in an aero water bottle if possible for ease of access (even for Sprint Triathlons/Duathlons)

Partner Tip: The Feed is perfect website for buying sample sized everything when it comes to nutrition and hydration options.

Final point.....

When it comes to fueling - it should go without saying - if it can be avoided - nothing new on race morning or race day.



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