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10 Nutrient-Packed Foods for a Triathlete’s Plate

By Chrissy Carroll | Jan. 18, 2023, 12:08 p.m. (ET)

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We all know that when it comes to triathlon, there’s a fourth discipline that often gets brushed to the side – and that’s nutrition.  A proper training diet and strategic fueling, however, can be essential to a great performance!  Discover why these 10 foods are excellent options for triathletes of any level to include regularly.

1. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a potassium-packed source of healthy carbohydrates, ideal for fueling your body on a daily basis.  They’re also loaded with Vitamin A.

Think outside the box when it comes to mixing sweet potatoes in your meals.  While a simple side dish is great, you can also make a sweet potato breakfast bowl or make taco-stuffed sweet potatoes for dinner.

2. Grapes / Grape Juice

Grapes are not only delicious, but they are also a healthy source of carbohydrates and rich in certain antioxidants.  Plus, research suggests grape juice may be beneficial for athletes.

For example, a 2015 study found that runners who drank grape juice for a month experienced a 15% increase in time to exhaustion (compared to a group drinking a non-grape beverage with the same calories who saw no improvement).  Another study found that grape juice improved certain biochemical markers in a group of triathletes.

Try including frozen grapes as a nutritious dessert, mixing roasted grapes into a quinoa and butternut squash salad, or using 100% grape juice as an ingredient in smoothies or popsicles.

3. Fish

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Fish is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with protein and health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids.  Not only do these omega-3s have possible benefits for mental and cardiovascular health, but they may also impact exercise related metrics.

For example, a 2019 journal article in Research and Sports Medicine reported that omega-3 supplements may improve endurance capacity and promote recovery from eccentric-based exercises.  This article was focused on supplements, but it’s certainly plausible to think that regular fatty fish consumption (which contains those omega-3s) may have some beneficial effects.

4. Chocolate milk

When it comes to the post-workout phase, it’s wise for competitive and long-course athletes to focus on proper recovery.  Consuming both carbs and protein soon after a workout helps replenish the energy stores in your muscles and kickstarts the muscle repair process.

Chocolate milk is an easy way for you to get down those carbs and protein quickly – especially after an intense workout when you may not feel like eating.  Many people question the added sugar content in chocolate milk, but that is what gives it the ideal blend of both carbs and protein for the recovery time frame.  (For everyday nutrition, though, stick with white milk).

Don’t feel comfortable with that added sugar?  No problem!  Take the time to blend up white milk with a banana, greens, and cocoa powder for an easy, nutrient-dense “chocolate milk” smoothie.

5. Beets / Beet Juice

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Beets are rich in dietary nitrates, which are compounds found naturally in certain vegetables.  These nitrates act as a vasodilator—in other words, they open up the blood vessels a bit and allow blood to flow easier.

For athletes, this can be extremely beneficial.  In fact, several studies have shown that drinking concentrated beet juice before an endurance event may improve performance in the 2-4% range.

In the everyday context, consuming beets regularly is a smart choice too.  They’re low in calories, contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, and also have phytochemicals (plant-based compounds) that have different beneficial roles in the body.

6. Nuts

From peanuts to almonds, walnuts to pecans—nuts are wise to include in any athlete’s diet.  They provide a nice balance of both healthy fats and protein, which are key for a satiety (aka helping you stay full after a meal or snack).

Nuts are also rich in antioxidants, which is particularly important for athletes who are frequently stressing their bodies with heavy training regimens.

Consider snacking on nuts, adding them to your salads, spreading nut butter on a sandwich, or using crushed nuts to coat chicken or fish.

7. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a dynamite snack option for triathletes.  You’ll find a blend of both carbohydrates and protein, and a bit of calcium to support bone health. 

Try comparing flavor varieties at the store to look for versions with lower amounts of added sugar.  Or, use my favorite trick for making plain Greek yogurt taste good:  microwave frozen fruit until it starts to warm up and release some of its juices, then mix it into the plain Greek.  Yum!

8. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries are the smaller, sour counterpart to the bigger, sweeter ones frequently found at the grocery store.  Some research suggests tart cherries may help reduce inflammation and improve recovery among endurance athletes.

Though fresh tart cherries may be tough to come by, you can usually find frozen ones or tart cherry juice.  Use either in your post-workout smoothies to promote recovery, or at bed time for possible sleep benefits.

9. Eggs

The incredible edible egg got its nickname for a reason—it really is incredible!  Not only are eggs inexpensive, but they also provide high-quality protein in the whites and satiating fats in the yolk. 

Eggs are also one of the only foods that are a natural source of Vitamin D, which can play a role in physical performance.  Get creative with your eggs by using them in new ways, like making shakshuka for breakfast or creating a healthy beef, egg, & veggie frittata for dinner.

10. Leafy Greens

Non-starchy veggies are a key component to any triathlete’s plate.  Leafy greens are an easy way to bulk up a meal, providing tons of nutrients in a low-calorie package.  And similar to beets, they can be an excellent source of dietary nitrates.

To increase your leafy green intake, try stocking up on different types of lettuce for side salads to go with your meals.  You can also make kale chips or add kale to your smoothies.  Collard greens also make a delicious side dish – or even a “wrap” for sandwich ingredients.