Market Watch: The Triathlete’s Grocery List

By Mackenzie Lobby Havey | July 12, 2016, 2:05 p.m. (ET)

This article originally appeared in USA Triathlon Magazine.


Grocery shopping can be an intimidating endeavor for a triathlete looking to fuel for optimal performance. Your nutritional needs differ from the larger population, so you can’t simply toss anything that catches your eye in the cart. In fact, many coaches will tell you that nutrition is a discipline in and of itself. Miss the mark on fueling and it won’t matter how good of shape you’re in on race day.

The most important action you can take prior to grocery shopping is to come up with a plan of attack. Committing to weekly meal planning and shopping accordingly will keep you from bending to the whims of cravings. “Planning is paramount for busy triathletes,” said Kim Schwabenbauer, a registered dietitian, pro triathlete and coach. “The already time-crunched athletes planning for success in all areas of life will benefit from having healthy foods readily available and on hand when they go to make a meal or snack.”

Regina Hammond, a registered dietitian and coach for Trismarter in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said every athlete she works with has a predetermined shopping list. “It isn’t set in concrete, but it helps to stay on track in making food purchases that fuel an athlete, versus impulse foods that athletes can easily grab and regret eating,” she explained. “The list should include sweets and treats that the athlete is comfortable eating in small portions too.”

One of the best ways to start recipe planning for the week is to look at some of the foods you should be eating in the three macronutrient categories: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Each of these is important when it comes to providing energy to the human body. Strike the right balance and it’ll pay off in training and racing.


This is the macronutrient that gets the most press in the annals of endurance sports literature. Rightly so, as it is the body’s main source of fuel. “Carbohydrates are the keystone of a triathlete’s diet,” Schwabenbauer explained. “Athletes rely on stored carbohydrates in the muscles and liver for energy during workouts, especially as the workout exceeds one hour in duration.”

What to Put on Your Grocery List:
Sweet potatoes
Leafy greens and other colorful vegetables
Berries and other colorful fruits
Whole wheat pasta and bread
Beans (black and kidney)
Brown rice
Whole grain cereal


While fat has gotten a bad wrap, most triathletes know that it is a necessary part of their diet. “Healthy fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — protect your heart, support your overall health and even reduce inflammation produced by training stress,” Schwabenbauer said. “It is important to include a mix of good fat and omega-3 packed foods in your diet to keep you feeling full and satisfied so you can make good choices throughout the day.”

What to Put on Your Grocery List:
Natural almond or peanut butter
Extra virgin olive oil and olives
Sunflower seeds
Low-fat cheese


Protein is another macronutrient that triathletes need to focus on, both in terms of intake and timing. Hammond points out that one of the big roles that protein plays is in the “replication of DNA and RNA for repair and recovery.” This is why you often hear coaches and dietitians preaching the importance of taking in protein immediately after workouts. “Triathletes require more protein than the average adult because we are constantly tearing muscle fibers through training and we need to rebuild, maintain, and promote additional muscle growth to power swim, bike and run workouts day after day,” Schwabenbauer added.

What to Put on Your Grocery List:
Chicken breast
Lean beef
Greek yogurt
Organic free-range eggs

For more nutrition for triathletes, visit, and

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.