Episode 102 - The No-BS Guide to Triathlon Nutrition

The No-BS Guide to Triathlon Nutrition

There are a million things you can easily get distracted by as a triathlete, but at the end of the day there are 3 key pillars to your success in the sport:

  1. Structured Training
  2. Nutrition
  3. Sleep / Recovery

These 3 pillars are more important to get right first, before dropping $20K on a bike or $400 on the new Nike Vaporfly and hoping to break a record.

My job, as an Advanced Sports Dietitian, is to help you harness the power of pillar 2, nutrition. After working with hundreds of triathletes,just like you over the last 15 years, I developed my Supercharged Triathlete Formula. It includes 8 key elements, to help you reach your goals and fast track you through the minefield that is triathlon nutrition.

If nutrition is the missing link for you, tune in for my no-BS guide to Triathlon Nutrition. Wrapped in a warm hug and smile of course ;)

⚡Learn More About the Triathlon Nutrition Academy⚡


Check how well you’re doing when it comes to your nutrition with our 50 step checklist to Triathlon Nutrition Mastery: dietitianapproved.com/checklist

Start working on your nutrition now with my Triathlon Nutrition Kickstart course: dietitianapproved.com/kickstart

It’s for you if you’re a triathlete and you feel like you’ve got your training under control and you’re ready to layer in your nutrition. It's your warmup on the path to becoming a SUPERCHARGED triathlete – woohoo!

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Episode Transcription

Episode 102: The No-BS Guide to Triathlon Nutrition

Taryn Richardson  00:00

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  00:41

Hey friends and welcome to Episode 102 of the podcast. We are well on our way to Episode 200! Woohoo!

Taryn Richardson  00:53

I hope you're having a great day where ever you are and whatever you're up to. I am in the middle and the thick of Triathlon Nutrition Academy open week this week and oh my goodness, I'm having so much fun! I get to connect with lots of triathletes all over the world, throw some nutrition knowledge bombs, and most excitedly welcome new athletes into the program. This is honestly what I live for. And it is the last time I'm opening up the program this year. I won't reopen it again until January 2024. So this is just a gentle reminder that you have less than two days to join us if it's something that you're considering.

Taryn Richardson  01:34

Now, we're having lots of conversations all week and one of the things that keeps coming up is I don't have time for this. Now you are busy, I know that. You fit a lot into your week, lots of training, working, family, all the things and I 100% empathise with you. But my question is, are you ever going to have time?

Taryn Richardson  02:00

No, probably not. You're going to have to make time. We have a nine month program. You get an extra three months on the back of that access because I know that you need it to give you some time to catch up if you do get behind but also just to go back and cement that knowledge, too. It's 12 months of your life. It's a very short period in the grand scheme of things. And it's a time where you're going to want to prioritise working on your nutrition to set you up forever.

Taryn Richardson  02:32

You only have to do this once. This is not something that is ongoing, long term, like going to do a four year university degree. It is nine months, we switch on, focus on nutrition and that will honestly set you up forever. So if you want to hit your goals this year and achieve something and do better and be better, now is a great time to get started. You can just keep flooding along in mediocre gray land hoping that one day you just wake up and be the better triathlete that you want to be. Or you can make a commitment to yourself and do something about it. We are halfway through the year, which is just absolute madness. Like how do we get to this point so fast? So it's a really good time to check in and see how you're going.

Taryn Richardson  03:22

Are you the type of person that in January, you set your goals for the year and you've been religiously ticking them off and systematically going through them, tracking them and you're on target for achieving what you want to? You know, the Erins of the world. If you haven't listened to Episode 99 yet, go back and listen to Erin talk about her awesome methodology for setting goals. I'd love you to have a go at implementing that sort of strategy when you are setting yourself up for success and goal setting. Or the other type of person is maybe you've set some goals in January and you've lost momentum, you've lost your mojo, you've just gone completely off track. Maybe it's because you're really not sure how to do it, you don't have a plan, or you're trying to just do it yourself and it's not really working. And the third type of person is you didn't set any goals to begin with, you are completely winging it, and you'll get to 2024 and you're still in the exact same position as you are now. And it's okay if that's you.

Taryn Richardson  04:28

Now, the best time to work on your nutrition was 6 to 12 months ago, but the second best time is now. So wherever you're at, I want you to keep moving forwards. Let's get you some momentum so that you can avoid getting to the end of the year and regretting not doing anything or not doing enough or setting goals and then not actually doing anything about them. Because you are time poor, I get that. But you need to think about what's important to you. And if nutrition is something that is important to you, then you need to move it up your priority list. Make the time, prioritise that thing that you do want to work on because if you don't, it'll never happen. You're never going to have time, you're never going to get an extra five hours in a week, you're never going to get an extra two hours in a week. You have to just wiggle with your priority list and figure out what's most important to you. Because you will always get busy doing stuff. Work is always going to be hectic. There's always going to be lots going on at home. Life is going to throw you curveballs. It's never going to slow down.

Taryn Richardson  05:42

So some key things that I think are really important for you as a triathlete, if we turn off all the noise, the things that are most important are some structured training, so that you're not wasting your time doing sessions that aren't actually pushing the needle making you better fitter, faster. We can do a lot of junk miles. So whether that looks like having a coach to structure your program so that it fits in with your lifestyle, or using one of the training platforms, or managing your own training. Whatever it is that works for you, make sure you're doing it in a structured periodised strategic way, so that you're getting the best bang for your buck out of the time that you put into training. That is really important as a triathlete, when you want to train for three sports, you have to do it strategically.

Taryn Richardson  06:33

Now secondly, the other key thing that is really important, yes, I'm heavily biased, but there's a reason I'm biased - and it's your nutrition. It is the fourth leg of triathlon and when you figure that out, you listen to this podcast, you're probably starting to think that way. But when you figure out that those two things are really key, that's when you will start to become a better triathlete long term. I call that sweet spot where we can intersect our training with our nutrition. Like a big Venn diagram, two circles, when they come together and join in the middle, that sweet spot where they cross over is the supercharged zone. That is where we're layering in all of our training principles and our nutrition principles to go with that. And that's really key. Because you can be doing the training and they're not backing that up and supporting that with the right nutrition. So you're not actually getting all those beautiful adaptations that we're looking for. You could be doing nutrition and not doing training in the right way either. So when we get them both right and layer them on top of each other, that is where the magic happens.

Taryn Richardson  07:42

And the third thing that's really important is getting enough sleep and recovery. All of those three components all intersect and interlace and work well with each other. If you're dropping the ball in one area, we're not going to be reaching our goals in the most effective way possible. You can't burn the candle at both ends. You need to eat, train, sleep, repeat. There are a million other things that you can get really easily distracted by. Things like continuous glucose monitoring, ketones, low carb, high fat. I've even heard of athletes going vegan for not ethical reasons but for performance reasons. Like there are so many things out there being thrown at your face that you can get distracted by. I call them shiny objects, stuff that maybe it might work, a lot of them don't. But you're getting distracted by these one percenters, these things that don't really make us better triathletes if we don't have these key pillars in place first. You can't get four or five hours of sleep at night and take the latest, greatest supplement and expect to get anything from that.

Taryn Richardson  08:56

So at the end of the day, your three key pillars for success are training, nutrition, sleep/recovery. You only adapt from the sessions that you recover from. So if you're undoing your recovery, you've just wasted that session in a way. So my no BS guide to triathlon nutrition is all about helping you reach your goals faster. And I'm gonna fast track you through the absolute minefield that is triathlon nutrition. I'm very well known for my no BS nature. I'm gonna give it to you straight, wrapped in a warm hug and a smile of course. I'm not militant, but we don't do fluff around here. I'm very practical, strategic, efficient, and I will give you step by step action plans to help you reach your goals in the fastest way possible saving you time and saving you money, saving you energy and all of that confusion and overwhelm that comes from trying to navigate the stuff that's on the internet.

Taryn Richardson  09:56

So there are 8 key elements to my Supercharged Triathlete Formula. Now, these are the things that you need to focus on, first and foremost, quieten down all that extra noisy stuff coming at you and these are the things that I need you to work on. You need a plan for every single one of these. And once you've got that you are smooth sailing.

Taryn Richardson  10:21

So the first thing and the most important thing I would argue is what you do around your training sessions. You're going to get the best bang for your buck out of your training session if you have strategic nutritional interventions for what you do before it and after it. There is a reason that we cover recovery and pre training nutrition as our first two modules inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program. You need a plan for what you're doing specifically for you for recovery and understand all the building blocks required to adapt from that training session. If you're taking a supplement or a pill or trying to do continuous glucose monitoring, and you suck at recovery, then you are not going to feel like a supercharged triathlete.

Taryn Richardson  11:11

The same as pre training, you can make some pretty bad mistakes with what you do before a session. You could be doing the same thing all the time, you could be just fasting, you could be just fueling, but you're not quite fueling enough or you're not hitting the right targets for you. You need to understand how to do that properly. Because then you can really harness the energy of your pre training nutrition. Get that right, you'll have a better session than somebody that doesn't have a plan. Because what I want for you is I want you to feel the energy in that session. I want you to feel like you can push yourself harder and go faster, particularly in the back end when you're starting to run out of energy. That, my friend is where the magic happens. Back end of sessions where you're maybe usually hitting a wall or bonking or running out of fuel, or your heart rate's really high and you've done all of that work early on in the session.

Taryn Richardson  12:08

That back end, you need to support with nutrition. And we do that with our pre training nutrition strategies. And then also importantly, you need to then recover to adapt from those metabolic changes that are happening by doing that training session. So they are the first two elements of my Supercharged Triathlete Formula - my no BS guide to triathlon nutrition. You have to do those things first and foremost, and get them right for all of your training sessions across your week.

Taryn Richardson  12:36

The third thing that is super important and I bang on about it all the time is eating for the work required. You need to periodise your nutrition to your training load. So I set my athletes up with a day to day nutrition meal plan for what you do on different types of training days. And every day is different, we're not doing the same type of training sessions day in day out like other sports. You might have run days, you might have two hard sessions on a day, you might have a really long session on a day, or you might just have a recovery swim, or a social coffee ride. Your nutrition on those days needs to look completely different. And that is one of the biggest things that you need to get right if you want long term success in this sport without getting sick all the time, without getting injured, without getting to like a Friday and being absolutely smashed and not sure how you're going to get through the weekend.

Taryn Richardson  13:37

And also, another key thing about getting those first three elements, right, is how you feel in the afternoon. If you get to after lunch and you just wrecked, you need a bit of a nap, but you probably can't because you're working and so you start searching for those fast acting sugars, the sweet things, or going to have 'snaccidents' in the pantry or the cupboard at home. That tells me really quickly that your nutrition sucks because you should feel energised throughout the day. And it should be relatively stable without having to drink like six cups of coffee a day as well. I call that person the tired triathlete. And it is not normal to feel tired all the time.

Taryn Richardson  14:21

I've had quite a number of athletes in the program tell me that they didn't realise they could feel this good. That they just thought being tired and exhausted was part of being a triathlete. And it's not. We need to not normalise that as a badge of honour that we wear on our shoulders. We should be able to function like a normal human being. And often the more you train, and the better you eat, the more energy you have and people like how do you do it all? Why are you an energiser bunny? And it's because you've got everything right and it's all dialed in for you. So your body is just functioning like it should. Not dragging yourself to training in the back end of the week, or struggling through the back end of those long rides, worried and fearful that you're going to get dropped, or you're going to hit the wall and gonna need to run into a service station and grab a coke to get your butt home. All of those things are not normal. You just don't know how good you can feel until you feel it and you're like, oh, this is my new normal.

Taryn Richardson  15:27

The fourth and the fifth element that you really need to focus on when it comes to triathlon nutrition is what you're doing on the bike and what you're doing on the run. They are both two very different modalities when it comes to fueling and for performance. You can tolerate so much more cycling, when your tummy is still unstable, then you can when you're running, and it's jiggling up and down and that blood flow is not in your tummy helping with that whole digestion process. It is in your working muscles, it's in your lungs. So we need to understand the types of foods to have during both of those, the timing, the amounts, and a key thing here is gut training. So strategically training your gut to absorb nutrition while you're exercising. It is super trainable. But you just need to understand how to stimulate it in the best possible way, so that you're not vomiting your guts up when you get to the run or running for the portaloo as well.

Taryn Richardson  16:28

And I like to set my athletes up with a framework for how to do the foundations of both of those things, first up in Phase 1 of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, we just need to get some groundwork done. And then as we go through the program, we actually build on that knowledge and understanding and kind of take things a bit more advanced and step it up to the next level so that we are learning and implementing strategically and systematically so I don't overwhelm you with really high end top tier strategies when you're not ready for them yet. And I think that's really important because there's no point being more confused and overwhelmed when it comes to the minefield of nutrition. So that's our first five. If you get those things right, then you are going to be on fire.

Taryn Richardson  17:18

Now we want to layer in some more advanced strategies like carbohydrate loading. Now, let me tell you eating a bowl of pasta the night before your race is not carb loading. It comes nowhere close to what you need to effectively super compensate your muscle glycogen stores. Now you can't carb load the same for each race distance either. You will need a separate plan for an Olympic distance event versus a 70.3 versus a full distance Ironman event. You can't just double your 70.3 to get to Ironman and vice versa, because they're completely different beasts. And you actually need a race nutrition plan for every single distance for that reason. A sprint is so different metabolically, nutritionally to an Ironman. Same as sprint, Olympic, they are so different. And then again, Olympic distance to 70.3.

Taryn Richardson  18:15

So we need to understand the physiology around what is actually happening in those types of events. The type of athlete you are as well, whether you are somebody that is looking to win or hit the podium. Or if you're somebody that is looking to just be a completitor, you just want to complete the thing. And my goal for you is that you complete it with a smile on your face. You're not absolutely hating life and wondering why on earth you spent so much money to do this sport in the first place.

Taryn Richardson  18:45

So carb loading is something that we do walk through in Phase 2  of the program. It is more of an advanced strategy. And like I said, there are so many things and so many foundations you need to do first, before you get the advantage of doing something like that. If you don't have your race nutrition sorted, then there is no point carb loading because you're going to run out of energy in that event even with carb loading if you haven't got your race fuel sorted. Or you are using the wrong types of products and it doesn't sit well with you and you end up having horrific gut upset for the whole race, vomiting your guts up in the run, running for the portaloo in the run, typically it always happens on the run, which is our biggest stressor for our gut. So I'm going to step you out with an exact plan for carb loading and it is very individual to you. You can't just pull one off the internet and go and follow it. You also can't follow what you've seen someone else doing as well and particularly don't follow what the pros do. As an age group at the year are a different beast to them. And so you can borrow and steal some ideas, but you need a specific and custom plan that is for you.

Taryn Richardson  19:56

Our seventh element of the Supercharged Triathlete Formula - my no BS guide to triathlon nutrition. I'm going to fast track you through the things you actually need, not the stuff that you don't, is understanding supplements. What has evidence behind it that it actually does something, what is going to be effective, what is going to work and spending money on those things rather than pouring your money down the toilet on things that are not effective and are a complete waste of money and are those one percenters that may work if you've got some of the foundations right, but are definitely not going to give you any form of advantage if you don't do things like recovery nutrition, or you don't have your ride and run fuel sorted.

Taryn Richardson  20:38

If you haven't listened to it yet, one of my favourite episodes was Episode 101. Go back a week and listen to it with Chris and Kelly who are Academy athletes and they blew my mind with how much money they are saving on useless supplements now that they're in the program. They have both paid for their entire Triathlon Nutrition Academy program plus some with this savings that they're making. Ah, just blows my mind! And it's because you get marketed to very heavily by things and I know you because I am you but you don't want to miss out. Like you don't want to not have the latest thing if it's going to do what it says it does. But we need to get these eight key elements of the Supercharged Triathlete Formula right first before we start to tackle that.

Taryn Richardson  21:32

And there are definitely some performance boosting supplements that I can teach you about. But they're not until later on in the program where I know that you've got the foundation's right first, so that they've got something to stick to. Because I talk about supplements being the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. If you haven't baked your cake base, the sponge, and then iced it, there is nothing for those sprinkles to stick to. And often triathletes do do that, they bake their cake sprinkles first, but that is honestly pouring money down the toilet.

Taryn Richardson  22:04

Now, our eighth and final element of the Supercharged Triathlete Formula, the things that I know that are going to set you up for success is hydration. We know that dehydration negatively affects performance at around 2% body weight. But the longer distance events, we can probably weather a little bit more than that. And hydration honestly, is the first thing that I will tackle with somebody if they suffer from cramping. It is often not related to anything else other than dehydration and fatigue and not having strength in that muscle. Typically, if you get those things, right, cramping miraculously disappears without having to take magnesium or anything crazy. But you need to understand your individual hydration needs. And they are very individual and they do change on a day to day basis.

Taryn Richardson  23:02

So I teach my athletes how to assess their hydration for themselves and come up with a plan that again is specific and customed to them because there's no one size fits all with nutrition, particularly hydration. We all sweat very differently depending on where we live in the world and the type of sweater we are. But also having an understanding of the factors that change our hydration. It is not a single data point. It evolves constantly. But we need to understand what our story is and then how to develop a plan to make sure we're meeting our hydration needs. Because you can do everything right, and be hydrated and still suck and have a horrible race. It is another key foundation to triathlon nutrition that you need to work on.

Taryn Richardson  23:54

Now if you get all of these things right for yourself, you're gonna be feeling pretty supercharged. That is why I call it the Supercharged Triathlete Formula. I don't want you feeling tired. I don't want you putting the cheap economy fuel in your high performance engine. We need to really treat our bodies with respect because it is the one thing that's going to get you to the finish line faster. And we also have our bodies for life and we forget that. So when you're thinking that you don't have time to work on your nutrition, for your health and for your body, then here's my no BS answer - you have your priorities wrong.

Taryn Richardson  24:33

So my action step for you today after this episode is to set some goals for your back end of 2023. Particularly if you haven't set any yet. Now they don't have to be big. They could just be simple. There could be something like eating an extra server fruit in a day, okay? Think things that are achievable and manageable and stack one thing at a time - habit stacking. It's really important that you do that because otherwise, if you throw everything at yourself in a day, or in a week, and you try and do too many things at once you are setting yourself up to fail. So habits stack one thing at a time, because your health is your wealth. You only have one body, right? You have to look after it.

Taryn Richardson  25:19

And as a sports dietitian, I take a very holistic approach in getting you to understand that. Like I said, right in the beginning, you need to exercise you need to eat properly, and you need to sleep and recover. It is not one thing that is going to make you a superhuman. So set a few goals for yourself for the back half of 2023. Bring it home strong for the last six months but think about creating sustainable change for yourself. Stop thinking about health and nutrition as something that you stop and start. It's not time sensitive. It's not something that is on and then it's off, like a yoyo. So if it's too hard, and you're setting yourself up for things that are not sustainable, then you're going to suffer. Like think about putting yourself on a calorie restricted diet. It's hard and you hate it and you don't feel that good, and it's not going to make you happy. And so what's the point?

Taryn Richardson  26:22

We want to think about small, achievable goals for ourselves that are a no brainer. And then once you get that momentum of feeling successful in achieving that every day consistently for months on end, then layer in the next thing, rather than trying to do it all at once. I would love for you to share your goals with me. If you're up for it, send me a DM on Instagram @dietitian.approved. I'll drop the link in the show notes for my Instagram account if you aren't on there already. But keep yourself accountable. If you don't want to send it to me, that's totally fine. But find another accountability buddy that you can talk about your goals with and make sure that someone else is aware of what you want to achieve so that you can get to the end of the year and reflect on actually achieving it with somebody.

Taryn Richardson  27:13

Go and have a celebratory ride or a swim in the ocean or whatever it is that you want to do but no food rewards, remember? And please don't get distracted by the millions of other things being thrown at you all the time. There are really only a few important things to get right first, and like I said habit stack them so that you are focusing on your nutrition for this block. And then once you've got that right and you're comfortable and confident with it, then focus on sleep. But if you try and tackle training, nutrition, sleep, all at once, then you might overwhelm yourself and set yourself up to fail.

Taryn Richardson  27:51

So that is my no BS guide to triathlon nutrition, the things that actually matter, the things that are important for you. And if you feel like you don't have time, you'll never have time. You just have to make time. You have to prioritise it in your life if it's something that you want to work on. So hey, if you need help with your nutrition, you know where to find me.

Taryn Richardson  28:13

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 

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