Time to Read

6 minutes

Points of Interest

  • Triathlon training principles
  • Fuel for training
  • Post-training nutrition
  • How much to eat
  • Hydration

“Workouts don’t make you stronger.

Recovering from workouts makes you stronger”.

Training for a Triathlon is undoubtedly a huge athletic endeavor and should not be a decision taken without thought. With either of these pursuits, it’s about your preparation leading up to the day of the competition. If you have mapped things out correctly the day of the race should go pretty smoothly. Your performance on the big day boils down to the months of preparation where you are following the principle of progressive overload and building your fitness.

As you move through the season, your training needs to look more and more like the race you’re working towards. With a triathlon, in particular, you are looking at different disciplines that require different energy systems and muscle use.

Specific training workloads will need to be adapted and focused on to achieve your necessary endurance and strength improvement goals.

Triathlons are remarkable events and training is a fine balance between working out effectively and building in proper recovery time. A helpful adage is that

“workouts don’t make you stronger. Recovering from workouts makes you stronger,".

With that in mind we need to look at the other big part of the equation for triathlon training; nutrition and hydration.

Nutrition Principles To Follow For Triathlon Training

You need to approach nutrition in the same mindset as your focused training preparation.

Consider and plan for:

  • Fuelling your training sessions
  • Adapting to training
  • Recovery between sessions
  • Energy during the race
  • Getting the right amount of nutrients

Fuelling Your Training

Upon rising, you’ll want to have a glass or two of water as you’ve been dehydrated over the course of the last 7-8 hours. When training calls for intense sessions, you’ll also want a combination of clean carbohydrates and protein. This meal should be consumed 2-3 hours beforehand for proper digestion and utilisation of the nutrients.

It might not always be possible to eat this far before training and that will change the food choices and portions sizes.

Here’s a quick breakdown on how to plan this and a few options for each:

If Your Workout Starts Within 2-3 Hours

  • 1 cup Steel-cut oats with almond milk, sliced almonds and a banana
  • Or, egg omelette with whole grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of mixed berries
  • Or, lean protein, brown rice, and mixed vegetables

A Workout Starting Within 2 Hours

  • Protein smoothie with a scoop of protein powder, a handful of spinach, almond milk, banana, and mixed berries
  • Or, whole grain cereal with almond milk
  • Or, whole grain sandwich with almond butter and organic fruit preserve

Within 1 Hour Of Workout

  • Greek yogurt and a green apple
  • Or, Banana or orange
  • Or, Simple protein shake and a piece of fruit

Race Day

On the big day, you should take the same approach. Think of your race day nutrition like it’s a normal day of training. This will help give it some familiarity and a sense of routine. This is important for athletes at it will help you focus and can also ease your potential nerves.

Make a point to have the larger size meal 2-3 hours before the race, then a lighter snack within 30-60 minutes before the start.

The approach and preparation you take during training should not change on the big day and this will help set you to have plenty of energy for success.

You may need to experiment with what works best for you regarding the meal timing before training and races.

Before training, the main thing to point out is how studies still advocate eating carbohydrates since reduced carbohydrate availability impairs acute training intensity.

Journaling race days can provide a helpful tool to see what nutrition approach has worked best for you. It takes a few races to get things dialled in with training and diet. The more you compete the more info you will have to determine the best course of action.

Post Training Nutrition

This may be your most important meal of the day as it’s when recovery really starts. Effective refueling strategies will help you get the desired training adaptations from your workouts.

Muscle glycogen is the major source of carbohydrate storage in the body. A strong relationship exists between muscle glycogen depletion and fatigue. There’s risk of suppressed immune system function from high-intensity training if you have low glycogen levels. This can put you at risk of illness and injury giving your training a severe setback.

Replenishing this glycogen store post-workout is paramount.

Protein is important post-workout to promote muscle protein synthesis. This is the repair and building of new muscle tissue following your training.

Combining protein and carbohydrates will help in optimal recovery especially if training has been high-intensity or high volume.

Start with a “snack” for faster utilization then wait an hour or so before eating your main meal which could look like this:

  • Snack: ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt + 1 cup strawberries + 2 tbsp granola + 1 tbsp ground flax
  • Meal: 1 medium sized sweet potato, 4 ounces chicken, 2 scrambled eggs, veggies/dark leafy greens, ¼ cup smashed avocado

How Much Food Per Day Is Needed?

It’s hard to narrow this down as every individual is different. The best thing is to keep a journal of your meals, training, and how you feel after each session. This can help you narrow things down further but here are some rough rules of thumb:

  • Calories are tricky as counting them is far from a perfect science but to get a general estimate, women can aim for 18-20 calories per pound of body weight and men 20-22 calories per pound. Again, this is where tracking your meals and training will give you better insights on if you need more or less.
  • Carbohydrates can vary from 5-10 grams per kg of bodyweight per day with training that ranges from 1-5 hours a day or more. The more hours of training, the more grams of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight will be needed
  • Protein can be 1 gram per kg of body weight for recreational endurance athletes and 1.5 grams per kg for serious competitors


Everyone knows the importance of water in-take, but it goes much further than just staying hydrated. Water is crucial for:

  • Digestion
  • Absorption
  • Transport of nutrients
  • Temperature regulation
  • Cognitive function


And as it pertains to this article; athletic performance. Proper hydration has been shown to sustain, and enhance, athletic performance. Dehydration however is linked to significant decreases in performance.

Regarding training, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking

  • 16-20 ounces (0.5-0.6 litres) of water at least four hours before exercise
  • 8-12 ounces (0.23-0.35 litres) of water 10-15 minutes before exercise


Take this same approach on the day of your race to make sure you are prepared and fully hydrated. In hotter weather, fluid requirements increase and consuming some sodium along with your water will help you retain and balance your fluid levels.

You will need water during training and races. It’s better to sip it rather than chug it. Downing too much water can lead to cramping. Think of it in the same way you would water a plant. When watering a plant, you sprinkle it on and when you pour too much, it floods the plant. The same situation can happen to your body leading to cramping, discomfort and bloating - all things you obviously want to avoid while competing. So, remember to sip slowly.

Over To You!

Nutrition and hydration for triathlons and marathons go hand-in-hand with your training plan. In the same way you track and journal you training you need to take the same approach with nutrition and hydration.

There isn’t a cookie cutter plan to always follow, but it’s about testing and adjusting to find what works best for you.

About the Author

Jamie is a personal trainer, nutritionist and author of the Amazon #1 ”Taking Back Your Health”.

Further Reading

If you want to know more about properly fuelling your body so it performs at it's best for you, take a look at some of our other blogs on nutrition and hydration

How much protein do we really need?

Fuelling you for a Marathon

Hydration for sport

April 15, 2019 — Jamie Logie

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