Training for a triathlon is grueling, often requiring two workouts a day. In addition to the training, work and family, triathletes also need to find time to eat. Whether this is your first triathlon or your tenth, what you eat plays a major role in helping you gain the strength and endurance you need for training and competition. While you may be tempted to eat protein bars and drink shakes to keep you going, a meal plan for triathletes should center around whole foods with an emphasis on carbs.
If you're having a hard time finishing your workout, you might not be getting enough carbs in your diet. Carbs are your muscles preferred source of energy, so depending on how hard you're training, you need anywhere from 2.3 to 5.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds and train a minimum of four hours a day at a high intensity, you need 4.5 to 5.5 grams of carbs per pound, or 675 to 825 grams a day. Ideally, these carbs should come from real food, such as whole grains, fruits, beans and vegetables. These foods not only supply your body with energy, but also provide essential nutrients your body needs for recovery and health.
Protein supplies the amino acids your muscles need for recovery and growth, and as a triathlete athlete, you need more protein than a non-athlete. Like carbs, proteins needs vary depending on the intensity of your training, and range from 0.55 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, a 150-pound person training heavily needs 0.9 grams of protein per pound, or 135 grams a day. To maximize your nutritional intake, make your protein choices healthy by including lean meats such as poultry and fish, beans, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy products.
As a triathlete, you might be weary about getting too much fat in your diet because you want to stay lean; however, adequate fat intake is essential for training. Fat provides energy, fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Most of the your fat should come from healthy sources, including fatty fish like salmon, vegetable oils, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Training Meal Plan
Now that you know what to eat, it's important to know how to put it all together. Your training meal plan should include three meals and three snacks, recommends the Millenium Institute of Sport and Health. Two to four hours before you train, you should eat a high-carb, low-fat meal such as whole-grain cereal with fruit and nonfat milk. To improve muscle recovery after you work out, eat a high-carb meal with a moderate amount of protein, such as spaghetti with turkey meatballs and broccoli.
Race Day Meal Plan
How you eat on race day differs from how you eat while training. The night before your competition you need to eat a low-fiber high-carb meal, such as grilled chicken with white rice. The morning of your race, eat a light high-carb breakfast such as toast with egg whites and diluted juice. Drink a carb-containing sports drink one hour before the race. If your race lasts longer than an hour and a half, drink another carb-containing sports drink during the cycle portion of your race. Immediately following the race, eat a carb and protein snack, such as cheese and crackers, to help with recovery. To help maintain blood sugars throughout the day after the race, eat a high-carb snack or meal with protein every two to three hours, such as cheese and fruit or fish with vegetables and rice.
- Millenium Institute of Sport and Health: Triathlon Eating for Your Sport
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Tips to Eat Right for Endurance
- Triathlete: How To Fuel for Your First Race
- Journal of Sports Sciences: Nutrition for Endurance Sports: Marathon, Triathlon and Road Cycling
- Nutrition411: Eating for Endurance