This is What You Should Eat the Week of a Triathlon

By Jeff Rothschild | Aug. 06, 2018, 11:58 a.m. (ET)

Plan race week nutrition

Nutrition is often referred to as the fourth leg of triathlon, and indeed a smart nutrition plan is vital for success in both training and racing. Though most of us spend time figuring out how to fuel during our race and through training, race week nutrition is something that is often overlooked!

You probably know about carb loading, but how long before a race should you start? What about salt loading? Should you reduce fiber? Drink beet juice? Let’s take a day-by-day look at how your nutrition could look during race week. 

Six to four days before race

You’re likely tapering your training, and not too much needs to change from your typical diet during these few days. For carb intake I usually suggest 2.5-3 grams per pound of body weight per day. If you are someone who suffers from gastrointestinal (Gi) distress during races, eating a low-FODMAP diet throughout this week may help to reduce Gi symptoms on race day, so that is definitely something to consider. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that are poorly absorbed by the body, resulting in abdominal pain and bloating.

Please note, not everyone needs to follow a low-FODMAP diet! However, it is a good place to start if you suffer from IBS symptoms during extended exercise. Also, if you like to use beet juice or beet powder, it would be good to start a loading phase one to two weeks prior to racing. Of course, be sure to drink plenty of water all week, too.

Three to two days before race

Carb intake should be ramping up here. Though there is some research showing a one-day carb load can be sufficient to fill your glycogen stores, it requires a lot of carbs! That study had participants consume 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body mass which is actually very challenging for many people to do. For example, 150 pounds multiplied by 4.5 grams of carbohydrate = 675 grams of carbohydrate.

A better option is to consume a slightly lower amount (about 4 grams per pound of body weight per day) for three days. In addition to the well-known benefits of carb loading relating to increasing your muscle glycogen stores, some research has also shown increased cycling efficiency after three days of a high-carb diet.  

Another important note about carb loading is that you should reduce your fat and protein intake so that calories can be controlled and you don’t get too full. Aim for about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight and reduce added fats where possible. For example, naturally occurring fats in things like eggs and salmon are fine but snacking on nuts during a carb load is not advised. 

I also suggest reducing fiber during the last few days before a race, as it is associated with Gi distress during exercise and can assist with weight loss by reducing water being held in the gut. However, due to their nitrate content which can improve exercise performance, I like to make exceptions for things like green veggies (especially arugula), as well as radish, beets and celery. 

Day before race 

Continue what you’ve been doing over the past two days, except you can crank up the sodium intake. I’m hesitant to give a number without individual consideration, but add salt liberally to food, consume salty things like pretzels and soups, and feel free to add soy sauce to your food (eggs with soy sauce are surprisingly delicious)! For the heavy (and salty) sweaters I also typically suggest “salt loading” in the evening with a commercially available electrolyte drink. 

Race Day!

Breakfast should be something you typically eat prior to training sessions, and really can vary based on your individual preferences. The amount you take in will also vary depending on how long before the start you have to leave your house/hotel and how long before exercise you prefer to finish eating. Aim for 0.75-1.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body mass during the three to four hours prior to the race. Many athletes prefer to have a good-sized breakfast two to three hours before the start, and then something small like a pack of chews or a gel right before the swim.

During the race you should be following your pre-set nutrition plan, which would typically include 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour but it is also critical that you know how and why to make adjustments on the course as needed. 

Following a smart nutrition plan during race week should allow you to race with a full tank of gas, and without feeling bloated. Of course, there will be individual exceptions and consulting with a sports dietitian to create a personalize plan is often one of the best investments a triathlete can make to see improvements.

What should I eat?

 A sample of FODMAP foods to choose and to limit: 

Choose

  • Gluten-free rice, potato products 
  • Lactose-free dairy
  • Bananas, oranges, strawberries 
  • Blueberries, cantaloupe, pineapple
  • Almonds, peanuts
  • Bell peppers, carrots, celery, spinach 
  • Cheddar and swiss cheese 
  • Marmalade jam 

Limit

  • Wheat, rye 
  • Dairy
  • Apples, cherries, watermelon 
  • Nectarines, plums, white peaches
  • Cashews, pistachios
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms
  • Beans
  • Honey, dates, sorbitol 

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.

Jeff Rothschild, MS, RD, CSSD is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutritional Science and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. He has helped hundreds of triathletes across all ages, all levels, and all distances train with confidence and race with certainty by creating an individualized nutrition plan. You can work with Jeff at TriFit in Santa Monica, CA, a USA Triathlon certified training center, as well as online. Get in touch at www.EatSleep.Fit.