Episode 109 - The Best Triathlon Meal Plan

The Best Triathlon Meal Plan

If you google triathlon meal plan, hundreds of results come up with generic, cookie cutter plans you can follow for free.

These are problematic for so many reasons! Generic meal plans in no way take into consideration your individual requirements, your lifestyle, budget, or needs.

So what makes for a good triathlon meal plan?

There are a few key elements you need: a foundation in whole foods, variety, periodisation to meet your training needs, flexibility and simplicity

Every body is different. Every training program is different.

It’s easy to fuel your body to perform at its best with a little know how. Let me show you :)

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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 109: The Best Triathlon Meal Plan

Taryn Richardson  0:00

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 straxegies 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  00:36

If you do a quick Google search of triathlon meal plan, you will pull up loads of generic meal plans off the internet. It's actually a little bit overwhelming. There's things called the 7 day meal plan for triathletes and a 3 week meal plan for triathletes in 70.3 training. And it's really problematic because if you look into them, they are highly, highly specific. So it's got things like you need two eggs and you need one wrap or you need half a cup of breakfast cereal. And in all honestly, those plans like that will not meet 95% of the people's requirements that would follow them. You can't do generic because it's not specific enough to you and your needs and your training demands. Those sorts of things might be okay for someone like a 50 kilo female, but it's not going to suit everyone else's needs.

Taryn Richardson  01:38

And it makes my blood boil. If I look into things like that, I had a look at one of them, none of the breakfasts have enough protein. It was ridiculous. And it might be something that you can stick to for two to three days because you can focus for that period of time. And then you can't, and you completely go off the bandwagon and then you're back exactly where you started in a hole, probably deficient, probably with not very good muscle glycogen stores and running the risk of low energy availability.

Taryn Richardson  02:10

I also get requests to send people just a generic meal plan. I don't have time for a consult, or I can't wait for the Academy to open or I don't have the finances to invest in that. Can't you just send me a generic templated plan? It's those athletes that are looking for a quick fix and not actually looking to put in the work? And the answer is no, absolutely not. There is no way that I'm going to do vanilla for you. I'm not going to do generic. 

Taryn Richardson  02:38

There is no black and white when it comes to nutrition because you won't get very good outcomes if you follow something that is generic. It in no way takes into consideration your individual requirements, your lifestyle, your access to food, your budget, any of those sorts of things if you're trying to do generic. Do you go to your physio or your strength and conditioning coach and get a templated generic training program for triathlon? Sure, you can pull one of those off the internet as well but it's not going to actually fix your problems. It's not custom enough to you and how your body functions and how your body works and your weaknesses that you need to train or the strengths.

Taryn Richardson  03:22

So why do we think that way when it comes to our food? You want what you eat to be specific and custom to you and your individual needs and your lifestyle. Okay, rant over. Sorry, I feel my blood boiling. But I think it's really important to bring this up because a meal plan is what you think that you want or think that you need because you're a triathlete, and you're like, just tell me what to do Taryn and I'll do it. Give me something to follow and I'll follow it. I've spent many, many years writing custom meal plans for triathletes. And let me tell you, they work and they work wonders, but only with regular accountability and support every sort of one to two weeks and over the long term. They don't work if I hand someone a meal plan and go, okay, cool, good luck. They have no idea about all of the thought that's gone into the back end of that and why I specifically did the things that I did at that time point. And so they have no way of knowing how to adapt it and change it.

Taryn Richardson  04:31

The athletes that were really successful are the ones that worked with me over the longer term, regular check ins and don't undervalue the value of education to go with something like a meal plan. So you understand all the intricacies about why we do the things that we're doing so that you can manage that for yourself a bit more and be accountable. Because the challenge with a set meal plan is that it's rigid and that it's set. And what do you do if training changes, or you're sick, or you go on holidays, or God you have a birthday and you just want to eat whatever the heck you want? If you have no idea how to adapt your plan, then it's only as good as the days that you follow it.

Taryn Richardson  05:19

The real value to a meal plan is that ongoing education that goes hand in hand with it to increase your knowledge and your skills so that you are taking ownership of what you're putting in your mouth. Inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, I actually show my athletes how to build their own meal plans. And that's based specifically on them and their individual needs. It's fluid, it's adaptable, and they have the knowledge and skills to change and adapt things based on what's going on with them - they're training, they travel, sickness, family coming to visit, whatever it is. And so they're able to be more consistent with their nutrition long term because they are adapting and adjusting things on a daily basis.

Taryn Richardson  06:10

And that's really important because you want to eat differently as you head into a really key race build. Your nutrition there needs to look different to when you're in your offseason, you know that elusive offseason? But if you only had one meal plan, and you tried to stick to it all season, it's not going to serve you very well in the lighter weeks or the really hard, high intensity, big training volume weeks or if you step from say sprint distance training up to Ironman distance training. A set meal plan is not going to work particularly well in any of those situations. One of my favourite sayings is give a man a fish and he eats for a day or a woman or teach a man or a woman to fish and they eat for a lifetime. And that's how I like to teach triathletes how to meal plan, so that you can meal plan and have a meal plan to follow for the rest of your life that doesn't have to be dictated to you by someone every time something changes.

Taryn Richardson  07:15

And after many years of writing multiple meal plans a week until I was blue in the face, I actually don't really write any specific meal plans anymore. And it is awesome, because my athletes are getting even better results than what they were when I was. So you won't find a generic downloadable meal plan on my website for a triathlete because I don't do vanilla. But I also want to encourage you not to go looking for things like this yourself either because they aren't going to serve you. Instead, I've built lots of other tools and resources to help triathletes eat better and be consistent with their nutrition on a day to day basis.

Taryn Richardson  07:59

So things like my Recipe Database. It's got over 150 dietitian developed recipes to help fuel the active body. I also have my Weekly Menu Planning Service which is your meals mapped out for dinners only, the shopping list to get everything that you need, and the recipes from the database to follow to cook and eat well across the week. You have full flexibility to adapt and change what nights you eat what based on your training, as well as having leftovers on at least two nights a week because I know that there's times where you just want to come home and have something ready on the table when you're training late, or you've got a work meeting late, or you don't have the energy to cook. You need to look after future you by cooking and batch cooking or stocking a freezer or something like that so that those nights when you do get home exhausted and you can't be bothered or you don't have time, you have something nutritious and delicious  ready to go.

Taryn Richardson  08:58

So I think tools like this are so much more valuable because they tick the right boxes and make your life simple and easier without having to make it more complicated. So what actually makes for a good triathlon meal plan? I could talk about this for hours and hours and hours but at the end of the day, it is really simple. We want key foundations in whole foods. We do get caught up a little bit in eating packets and convenience options. So things like protein powders and protein bars and gels and sports drinks and all those sorts of things which do have their time and place, but we want the foundations and the majority of our food to come from whole foods and to come from real foods. We're going to get so many more nutrients out of whole foods than we are from something that's processed and manufactured and comes in a packet.

Taryn Richardson  09:55

The other foundation of a good triathlete's meal plan is Is variety. Now variety is the spice of life. We want to think about good plant based diversity and variety in all the fruits and vegetables and plant based foods that we have. The more variety, the better. But also variety in the day to day. We don't want to be eating the same thing constantly over and over on repeat. And a lot of triathletes eat that way just out of rhythm and routine and convenience. But you might have the same breakfast meal every single day, you might pack the same work lunch every day, the same snacks just because it's easier, it's one less thing to think about. And then dinners might have a good bit of variety but you tend to get stuck in a rut with that as well. And you're cooking the same things that you like or a quick and easy or the family will eat and less goes to waste.

Taryn Richardson  10:49

But we want to think about variety in all of our different types of foods so we get a huge range of vitamins and minerals. And we also want to think about the variety on a day to day basis so that we are meeting the demands of training but also make sure we're maximising our nutrient needs, too which are higher for us as a fairly active person. Okay? I say this all the time but you can't eat the same shit all the time. You need to change and manipulate your nutrition based on so many different factors and that's one of the key things that I like to teach my athletes is that periodisation concept. Food for the work required and portions to meet your training needs for you as an individual because your needs are different to mine. And your training program is different to mine. As well as the training buddy that might do the exact same program to you, they have a completely different body composition or a body type metabolism, hormones, sleep, all the things. We can't stick with the same things that might work for one person that won't serve us to the maximum of our ability. And why are we doing this if it's not to perform at our best?

Taryn Richardson  12:02

Another key principle in a meal plan for a triathlete is having some flexibility. We love control. We are a little bit OCD, a little bit type A personality. And we need to not stick with the same thing all the time and have some flexibility in our plan. If you are going out for dinner with friends, you want to have the flexibility to choose what you need, not just go guns blazing and go, I'll stuff it, I'm eating whatever the heck I want and it doesn't matter what it is and I'll deal with that on Monday. If you have such a rigid, controlled, structured plan through the week, you are more likely to make not great choices when you do get let loose. But if you do have that flexibility to know what you need and make choices based around that, then you're more likely to be consistent over time because you have that flexibility. You haven't got someone constantly raining you in or constantly trying to control you, which makes you just want to act out.

Taryn Richardson  13:07

If it's your birthday, eat cake, have a beer, do whatever it is that you want because it's your birthday. The athletes that are successful go okay, that was my birthday and that was a great time and I loved every minute of that. Tomorrow, I'm back to fueling this high performance engine to the best of my ability. We need to lose the all or none mentality. We're all in. We're constantly on task and we are focused and we're eating clean (I hate that word) because we don't wash our food, well, we did through COVID actually, but you know what I mean. And then all hell breaks loose when you go out for dinner or you have a social occasion or you crack a bottle of wine and go, I'm just going to have a glass and then you end up drinking the entire thing yourself. Or same as a block of chocolate, I'm only going to have two squares, I'm only going to have one row, and then you look down and while you're watching TV and the whole thing's gone and you're like, what happened? I didn't even like recognise that I ate all of that. What a waste. 

Taryn Richardson  14:05

And finally, a key guiding principle to a triathlete's meal plan is that it's simple, it's not complicated, and it's not convoluted, and it's not something that you do in triathlon days that you don't do outside of triathlon days. Yes, you are a triathlete but you also need to think about fuel and nutrition to set ourselves up for long term health, which is something I'm so passionate about teaching you because we forget that when we are trying to gear up for a big key race. We forget about all the other things that are important to make sure we live a long and prosperous life and don't break. So remember, every body is different. And every training program is different so you want your meal plan set up and designed specifically for you. You can't pull something generic off the internet. And if you have someone write your meal plan, you need to keep in touch with them regularly so that you can adapt it and evolve it as you change and evolve, too. It's never going to be set and forget because even if you are new to the sport, your nutritional needs are different to somebody that's been doing the sport for a few years, or somebody that's been doing a sport for 30 years.

Taryn Richardson  15:21

So your nutrition needs to adapt and evolve with you over time. It's not something that you can just set and forget, which is why I like to teach my athletes how to manipulate their meal plans based on whatever's going on so that it is something that sets themselves up for life. It's not just for the next 4 weeks, it's not just for this 8 week challenge, it is for life. It's really easy to fuel your body to perform at its best, no matter what that looks like for you, with a little know how. So if you do need some tools to help you meal planning and understanding what you should be doing, you've got the option of the Dietitian Approved Recipe Database, which has got over 150 recipes in there now and counting. You also have my Weekly Menu Planning Service, which includes everything to eat for dinners, the shopping list, and the recipes to follow for an entire year if you want it. There's actually four seasons so you could do summer, autumn, winter or spring or go the full hog and do 52 weeks.

Taryn Richardson  16:26

And the other place to get some good foundational advice would be the Triathlon Nutrition Kickstart course. We go through the basics of fuelling for performance for triathlon, including recovery nutrition, fuelling training 101, some sports nutrition products to get you started, and getting yourself organised with food because it is one of the key things. And key pillars to your success is having a plan and looking after future you so that you can actually action it and implement it. So I'll link all of those three things in the show notes. But if you go to dietitianapproved.com, you should be able to find all of them by looking at the Recipes tab and looking at our Online Courses or Work With Us tab.

Taryn Richardson  17:11

So apologies for a bit of a rant today. I knew I wanted to talk to you about meal plans for triathlon but I always forget how much my blood boils when I see people doing things in a generic way. There is no black or white when it comes to fuelling you for triathlon. You need to understand all the intricacies of you and your body and how you work to maximise your performance and long term health - two things that I'm super passionate about as a sports dietitian for triathletes.

Taryn Richardson  17:43

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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