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What Does a Triathlete Eat Before a Race?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
What Does a Triathlete Eat Before a Race?
The race begins before you even get in the water. Photo Credit DAJ/amana images/Getty Images

After thousands of laps in the pool, hundreds of miles on your bike and hours on your feet, you're ready for your race. If you fail to fuel correctly before and during the competition, all that training could be for naught. While you should follow a healthy, carbohydrate-rich diet during your entire training season, immediate pre-race nutrition begins the day before the triathlon and continues into race morning.

24 Hours To Go

Nutrition the day before your race can affect your performance on race day. No one set of meals matches every athlete's needs and tastes, but certain overarching rules apply when it comes to eating the day before the race. Hydrate well, but don't go to the point that your urine is clear -- this could upset your electrolyte balance come competition. Choose foods that you know sit well with your digestion -- high fiber, extremely spicy and overly fatty foods are some things to avoid. Aim to finish your last large meal about 12 hours before start time. This gives your body time to fully digest. Carbohydrates do provide energy for the race; however, the pasta gorge the night before isn't necessary and could leave you feeling bloated race morning. Eat regular-sized portions and your body will store what it needs.

Morning of the Race

What you choose to eat the morning of the race really depends on what you've eaten in training. For most people, finish this meal no later than two hours before race start time, but three or four hours before is optimal. A meal high in carbohydrates and low in fiber is the best. Some athletes wake up extra early, eat and then take a catnap until it's time for to head to transition. Examples of good morning meals include toast with peanut butter and banana, yogurt with fresh fruit, oatmeal with raisins and milk or pancakes with fruit and honey. Some triathletes prefer liquid meals because they tend to sit better on a nervous stomach and the food digests more quickly. Liquid meals may even be eaten in the two-hour pre-race window, if you've tested it in training. A smoothie made with fresh fruit, yogurt and a bit of protein powder is an example of a liquid meal.

Before the Gun Goes Off

Some athletes like to top off their energy stores with a small snack in the 10 to 30 minutes before their wave starts. This might be a banana, an energy bar or a sports drink. Triathletes who eat three to four hours prior to the race and have a longer distance race, such as a 70.3 or 140.6, are more likely to have this last, pre-race snack.

Smart Strategies

Include nutrition as part of your training. Have a breakfast similar to what you'll have on race day before one of your longest brick workouts, for example. Leave the same time between the finished meal and the workout. Never try a new food in the days before your race because you never know how your system will react. If you're traveling to the race, bring back up food with you. You can't be sure the hotel, especially if it's in another country, will have foods with which your body is familiar. You could bring bread and peanut butter, bananas, your favorite energy bars or packets of oatmeal -- all of these require minimal preparation and no refrigeration.

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