Why Nutrition is Essential to Performance

By Lauren Mitchell | Feb. 18, 2020, 4 p.m. (ET)

why nutrition is important

There is so much commitment, time and energy that goes into each of the three disciplines of triathlon. But what about nutrition? Is this something you think about prior to beginning your training cycle or something you think about right before the race? 

You follow a periodized training plan, so why wouldn’t you have a nutrition plan also? Understanding the importance of nutrition throughout your entire training cycle can enhance and improve performance. That is why nutrition is often referred to as the fourth discipline of triathlon.

Time and time again, triathletes tend to put their nutrition on the back burner, only to think about it in the moments leading to race day. Here are three reasons why nutrition is essential to your performance this season.

Nutrition and Recovery

Recovery is the key to performance. Nutrition along with sleep and proper hydration can help optimize recovery and performance. Recovery weeks are built into training plans, but how are you planning your nutrition to enhance your recovery? Eating the right number of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) through proper nutrient timing practices can help enhance recovery, energy levels and performance, while also improving sleep and body composition. Many triathletes make the mistake of not considering how nutrition impacts their recovery. Consuming the proper amount of energy and ratio of macronutrients can improve your recovery and lead to better race outcomes.

Nutrition and Periodized Training

Just as your training plan is periodized throughout the year, so should your nutrition plan. Each training cycle creates different energy output challenges and some days/weeks may be greater than others. Energy intake should be changed to match your body’s needs based on the specific goals during training cycles. For example, your energy intake would be different during a taper versus a higher intensity block of training. For more information on this topic, refer to Bob Seebohar’s Nutrition Periodization concept.

Race Day Nutrition

Your race plan should be well planned and trialed numerous times in the months prior to your races. Longer and more race specific training sessions are perfect for trialing your before-, during- and after-nutrition strategies. The biggest mistake a triathlete can make is trying something new in the week leading up to race day. Nutritional intake before and during your event can help make or break your race, especially if it is a half or full IRONMAN distance. Be sure to try the foods, beverages and sport nutrition products at least a handful of times in race simulation training so you can determine the proper nutrient timing strategies that will work for your individual physiology.

Nutrition is indeed the fourth discipline of triathlon and the good news is that a bit of planning and preparing ahead of time can be your missing link to improved performance this upcoming season. Allocate the time to plan some of your meals and snacks and be methodical with your simulated race day nutrition plan during training in the months leading up to your races. Your nutrition plan should be individualized to your specific goals and may be different than your training partner or competitors.

Of course, checking in with a qualified Sports Registered Dietitian who specializes in working with triathletes can greatly enhance your understanding of nutrition periodization, nutrient timing and eating for overall health.

Lauren Mitchell is a Registered Sport Dietitian at eNRG Performance. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences with an emphasis in Sports Nutrition and Wellness. Contact her at lauren@enrgperformance.com or www.enrgperformance.com.

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.