With April already upon us, triathlon competitions will start as early as this month (wetsuit, anyone?). Whether you're planning to do a sprint triathlon or take a leap into the work of 1/2 or full ironmans, there are 3 key nutrition "to-do's" that you need to take care of ASAP to ready your body for competition.
1. Start focusing on your daily plate: breakfast, lunch, & dinner
Triathlons aren't won in only the days leading up to the race, but in the weeks and months of preparation and training. Along with the effort you put into your workouts, put effort into making sure your meals meet all of your body's needs.
-If you are planning to do mainly sprint-distance triathlons this summer, your plate should consist of 1/4 carbohydrates, 1/4 protein foods, and 1/2 fruits/veggies. Add a glass of water on the side and incorporate healthy fats into the three areas of the plates (think olive oil on your veggies, nut butters for protein, and omega-3 enhanced butters on your whole wheat rice or pasta).
-If you are training for Olympic-distance or longer triathlons, the increased training calls for an adjustment from a sprint-distance plate. Your plate should consist of 1/3 carbohydrates, 1/3 protein foods, and 1/3 fruits/veggies. Add a glass of water on the side and incorporate healthy fats into the areas of the plate (see above).
2. Start training your exercising stomach
Many triathletes complain that they get to race day and can't tolerate gu's, gels, chomps, or sports drink. The problem is often a lack of training...of the stomach. Decide now how you are going to meet your body's carbohydrate and electrolyte needs during the race. Pull up the race course and check out where the aid stations are and what will be handed out. If you know you can't tolerate what they are providing, it is time to invest in a good-quality fuel belt so you can carry your own fuel. Your race plan should include a nutrition plan too. This can be as detailed as you want, but you gotta have one. Remember, you need and typically can metabolize ~60gm carbohydrate per hour of endurance exercise. With training, some athletes can metabolize up to 90 gm of carbohydrate per hour. Most gels and chomps are ~25gm/pkg; mini Clif bars are ~20gm each; sports drinks are ~15gm/8oz. Create your nutrition plan and start using those products in training now.
3. Address special issues
Do you experience muscle cramps the last few miles of the run or the bike? Do you suffer from indigestion or diarrhea during the race? Do you often experience a drop in energy in the afternoon on a daily basis? Do you frequently get headaches or have trouble sleeping more than a few hours at a time? These are just a few of what I call sports nutrition special issues. Their causes are often rooted in poor nutrition habits; their solutions are often an easy fix or tweak. If you have a special issue that is affecting your training, see myself or another sports RD ASAP and address it. Don't wait until two weeks before your big race. By then you have already wasted good training time.
You spend a lot of money and time to be a triathlete, so don't sell yourself short by not tackling that final area of training: nutrition.