Episode 2 - 5 Nutrition Mistakes Triathletes Make (and how to avoid them)

5 Nutrition Mistakes Triathletes Make (and how to avoid them)

Today's episode is all about the mistakes I commonly see clients make with their nutrition. Over the last 13+ years of practice, I’ve seen it all! But there are definitely common themes in what triathletes tend to do before they’ve had evidence-based sports nutrition advice (from someone that knows the ins and outs of the sport). 

They are:

  1. Eating the same thing each day
  2. Doing a poor job of recovery
  3. Underfuelling hard/long sessions
  4. Don’t have a race plan
  5. Get their nutrition advice from the wrong places

In this episode you will learn:

  • 5 of the most common mistakes I see Triathletes make with their nutrition
  • My top tips for how to avoid them and feel like a Supercharged Triathlete!
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Episode Transcription

EP 2 – 5 Nutrition Mistakes Triathletes Make (and how to avoid them)

Welcome to Episode 2 of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. This is so exciting!
So today's episode is all about the mistakes I commonly see clients suffering with in private practice and unfortunately, it's all the time! And it's not just our age group athletes. I also see these same mistakes made by the elite triathletes when I was working with Triathlon Australia. So I think that these things need to really just become your every day. The things that I'm going to talk about in this episode are the foundations that you really need to get right first. Okay? I always talk about nutrition as being a cake or a pyramid, and we want to put these foundations in place, they're like the sponge or the base of the pyramid, we want to put those in place first before we ice our cake and then put the sprinkles on it. But unfortunately, people tend to start with the sprinkles first.

So these mistakes are things that I go through with all of my clients and you'll learn all about them if you join us in the Triathlon Nutrition Academy. It's really going to set you up for success, right from the start. So you can stop trying to wing it yourself or fumbling around on the internet or downloading training plans or meal plans, just come on into the program and I'll teach you the framework for exactly what you need to do without wasting so much time.

  1. Eat The Same Thing Each Day

The number 1 mistake I see athletes make is that they eat the same thing each day. And unless you train the same way each day, you shouldn't be eating the same thing. Now, triathletes aren't like just normal gym-goers. Training for them is pretty much the same. Like, yes, you might have some smaller muscle groups and some bigger muscle groups, but really it's very similar compared to triathlon where you've got to train for and balance three sports. So, you know, we're high achievers. We're trying to balance swimming, riding and running. And they all use different muscle groups. And I guess you also have different adaptations from those different modalities of exercise too. So it's having an understanding of that and making sure that your nutrition matches that.

Because you definitely don't train the same thing each day. You might have a day where you just have a recovery swim - you want to eat differently on a day like that. Compared to a day where you've got a massive ride + run off the bike, your nutrition on a day like that should be completely different because your fuelling needs are different and also how much energy you expend during those different types of training sessions too. But it's really common for me to see people undereating carbohydrate on those big, heavy training days. And then I see them play catch up later on particularly lighter days when you've got more time to think about food or the hunger hormones have kicked in. Or often I see under-eating training weeks and then weekends just become a free for all. Okay, hands up. If that's you.

So I like to get my clients to know and understand and learn to eat differently on a rest day versus a double or triple session hard day and potentially if you've got to balanced work in the middle of that as well. And then also have a different plan for what the long weekend days look like. So it's called Periodisation where your nutrition ebbs and flows and matches training load and you're going to get better bang for your buck out of your training if you do that.

So it's worth going through your program with an experienced Sports Dietitian who actually specialises in triathlon. I think that's quite important because you need to get an understanding of what your fuel needs are on different training days and develop a custom plan that's for YOU. It's not something they've pulled off the internet and you’re just trying to fake it till you make it, get something for you based on your training, what you like to eat and the goals that you're trying to achieve. You'll feel so much better for it, anyway. You'll have so much more energy. You decrease your risk of illness and injury. And you're not playing catch up all the time. So that helps you to better manage your body composition.

So if you make some major tweaks here, you'll benefit from more energy, less tiredness and fatigue, decreased risk of injury and illness and better bang for your buck out of training. So I want you to nail the basic foundations right across your week. I think it's a huge factor in getting your triathlon nutrition right and having that adaptability too. So I like to teach people how to do that so that you know how to then adapt and change your training program as it evolves over time.


  1.  Poor Recovery Nutrition

I commonly see athletes doing a really poor job of their recovery nutrition. It is so easy to get right. But I commonly see people do a really poor job here and particularly females. I'm sorry to throw you under the bus, I feel like I'm going to do that a bit, men do it too, for sure. But there's something in our psyche that kind of makes us hold back or scale back with our nutrition after training. I do get it, but you know, like it's an easy fix. So a little bit of a kick in the bum is usually good in this space. So we really want to tick off the 4 R’s of recovery. And that’s something I go through in much more detail with my clients. But it's trying to plan a perfect recovery meal for them. So they've got targets that they're hitting for certain macros for carbs, for protein, and it's perfectly formulated for them. Because again, I don't think you should eat the same thing each day. Your recovery meal can have some adaptability too.

It's important to know when you want to be aggressive with your recovery. And also when it's not so important to be aggressive with your recovery. So we talk about a window of opportunity where you really want to get your recovery nutrition in, and sometimes you don't need to do that. But you need to understand where you do and where you don't to get the most out of your training sessions. Because we get fitter and faster from the training that we adapt from.

So if you fix this mistake, you'll have so much more energy to get through your second or maybe third training session for the afternoon. You'll adapt better from training and you won't fall into a heap either in the afternoons. Like if you're the type of person that craves sweet in the afternoon that tells me you're probably not doing a good job of your nutrition. If you feel like you need a nap after lunch, you’re probably also not doing a very good job of your nutrition. And if you find that you get to Friday's, the end of the week and you’re just wrecked, then again, that tells me you're not doing a very good job of your nutrition.


  1.  Underfuelling Long Training Sessions

The third really common mistake I see athletes do is under fuel long training sessions. So many triathletes avoid or don't know how to fuel properly their long training sessions. Now, if you bonk on long rides, you know, hitting the wall where you've just got to peel yourself off the bitumen, then you probably not fuelling your long sessions very well. Also, if you just can't get off the couch after long training sessions, like if you go for a big session and then that's it, you're done for the day, then chances are you're not doing a very good job of nutrition during that session either.

I don’t know what it is, but the mentality is always just to scale back. Like not eat during training because you think you'll do a better job of burning fat or losing weight. But honestly, if you throw more fuel at a session, you can train harder and then you'll go faster and you're likely to get fitter and better from doing that anyway. And if you're going faster and you're pushing yourself, then overall, you're going to burn more calories. So the result of that means more fat loss.

So I like to teach my athletes to scale up strategically and also scale back strategically where it matters. So you want to try and get a set plan for long rides, like things that are 3-4+ hours long, you need a different nutritional strategy for sessions like that versus an hour and a half sort of short sharp intensity session, like a speed session or hill work. So completely different types of training. And also, I guess it depends where you are in your build for a race too. So your strategy for during training nutrition, it needs to adapt over your season. So what you do heading into a race might be totally different to what you do in your off season.

Long rides are one of the specific topics that we're going to tackle in the Triathlon Nutrition Academy. So I'm going to help you develop a specific plan for your long rides depending on where you are in the season. And that way you're going to get a better bang for the buck out of your training. You got to be able to back up and go again in the afternoon if you have maybe a swim or something. Or peel yourself off the couch, if that's you, if you’re stuck. And you're also not going to get taken over by the hunger monster on those lighter training days or come Monday. Generally you’ll have just an easy swim on Monday morning or you won't swim until Monday night. The hunger monster takes over on Mondays when you've got more of a lighter training day and that again is an indicator that you're not doing a very good job of fuelling and recovery for those longer sessions on the weekends.

If you're the type of person that has to scrape themselves off the bitumen or pull into the service station and get a Slurpee or a Coke to get yourself home, then chances are you haven't done a good job of your long session training as well.


A quick recap because I think those 3 are major mistakes I see triathletes make and fixing them will have huge advantages to your training and nutrition:

  1. Eating the same thing each day – I bang on about this all the time but you need to have a periodised approach
  2. Poor recovery
  3. Under-fuelling long sessions

Fix just those 3 things and you'll be a better athlete for the long term.

If any of those 3 things resonated with you, then definitely I'd suggest getting some advice from a sports dietitian. Because there's no need to keep fumbling around through it. It's really a quick and easy fix with the right information from somebody that knows what they're doing. You'll see so much benefit from fixing each of those 3 things.


  1.  No Race Nutrition Plan

Don’t have a race plan. My #1 rule of racing is never try anything new on race day. But I hear about it all the time athletes just completely winging it. I've got an Ironman athlete that I worked with who had a specific detailed Ironman Race nutrition plan. We worked together for 20-weeks leading into it. And on the day she saw an older athlete, more experienced, eat bananas, and she's like, “Oh, maybe I need to do that too.” So she started eating bananas on the bike and she'd never done that before. She'd never practised with it. She didn't know what it felt like or what it would do. And she spent the whole run vomiting and that’s someone with a plan. So please, make sure you've got a plan and stick to it!

Now you can fake it till you make it in things like sprint distance and Olympic distance a little, but if you’re stepping up to 70.3 or Ironman, then you're going to get found out. So I'd really encourage you to have a race nutrition plan. Be methodical and systematic, rather than just trying to follow what works for your training buddies. It drives me nuts when I see that because they're not you. Okay? You might feel like it works, but there's probably a tweak that will work better for you. I'd really encourage you to get some focus and structure around racing. Now, if you haven't raced before, that's totally fine. It's a bit of a journey to get to your ideal perfect race nutrition plan, but you need to start with one and then test it and tweak it. Do you think that elite athletes completely wing it on race day? They definitely don't.

I see so many triathletes without a race nutrition plan. Then they try and follow just what works for someone else. They don't try things in their training. They completely wing it on the race day. Like another example is an Ironman athlete I spoke to the other day and she has absolutely no Ironman race nutrition plan. It just boggles my mind! It's such an easy fix, but she just wings it with whatever's on course. She's never practised it before. And you know, she doesn't have a very good race but it's an easy fix.

If you put yourself into too much of a hole in a race, you actually increase your risk of getting sick and injured. You'll be fatigued for at least the next week, maybe two, depending on how much of a hole it was. You could have horrific gut upset on the run, you know, think about all the people vomiting in Ironman. And generally your performance is not going to be great. Right? Worse than you're capable of. You spend so much time training, why would you waste that by completely winging it on race day?


  1.  Get Their Nutrition Advice From The Wrong Place

My 5th and final mistake that I see triathletes commonly make – they get their nutrition advice from the wrong place. Now don't get me started on this topic. This is one of the major reasons why I started this podcast. I'm so passionate about trying to promote sports dietitians as the experts in our space. I'm sick of seeing crap online.

So here are the common places I see athletes get their misinformation from:

  1. Older, more experienced athletes
    You know, that's fine, but what works for them may not work for you.
    They've also had years of experience trialling and testing different things to try and perfect their plan. And they've probably made a whole heap of mistakes along the way that you haven't seen. But they're pretty vocal about telling you what works for them and that you should try it too, or you see it and you think I've got to do that because they're an awesome athlete. But you've got completely different metabolic needs to somebody that's been in the sport for a long time, particularly if you're fresh to the sport, your body is going to work completely different to a big old diesel engine that's been doing the sport for 10, 15, 20+ years.

    They could be a different age to you too, and so somebody that is younger is going to have different metabolic needs to somebody that's a bit older or a masters athlete and also male vs female have differences. So don't just kind of follow along with what an older, more experienced or fast athlete is doing. You're completely different to them, particularly if you're a beginner, you’re new to the sport, you're slower. You're a girl vs boy. So making sure that you’re not just blindly following what someone else is doing because you need to work through something that's going to be perfect for you.

  2. The internet – which is a huge chasm of rubbish, irreputable information. Let’s be honest!

    It's also one of the major reasons why I founded the Triathlon Nutrition Academy. I really want to try and make expert nutrition advice cost-effective so it gets in more people's hands because I'm sick of, you know, dealing with all these mistakes in private practice on the one-to-one model, it's going to take me forever to get to the world. So I started the program to try and get that information into more hands and people that can't necessarily afford the one-on-one consultations as well.

    Anyone can post on the internet. You don't know their background, you don't know what their qualifications are. They probably haven't read the original research papers. They have probably just Googled and got some information off other people's blogs to put together their blog. So I guess just be careful with stuff on the internet, check the resources, have a look at where they've come from. Are you getting nutrition advice from an influencer or a supplement company? Just be mindful of that when you're downloading stuff off the internet.
  3.  The Wrong Kind Of Dietitian Or Sports Dietitian

Now you may not necessarily know this, but it's part of why I'm here. If that sports dietitian doesn't specialise in your area, then you’re going to slow track your success. You want to try and get somebody that works day-to-day in the type of sport that you do to fast track your success. It'd be like trying to see your GP for knee surgery. Okay? We seek medical advice from the expert in that area. I don't understand why people get nutrition information not from the experts too.

So if you haven't listened to it yet, listen to the last episode where I explain what a general Dietitian is versus a Sports Dietitian and a Nutritionist, and where you go for the different type of nutrition advice that you're after. I'd encourage you to get advice from a professional – but the right kind.

  1. Their Coach or Supplement Companies

    This probably irritates me the most. So I’ve just got to be careful to keep my blood cool because it boils very quickly. Unless your coach has a degree in sports nutrition, they are not qualified to give you nutrition advice. Good coaches know their limitations and will refer you to an expert that they trust. Okay? Rather than trying to wing it themselves. I can't stand this one! I told you my blood would boil. Again, they're probably an athlete. They've discovered what works for them and they've probably spent years perfecting that too. So that's not necessarily going to work for you.


And don't get me started on supplement companies offering ‘free’ advice. They're trying to sell you shit, right? Keep your wits about you.

Avoid any company that offers a free consult to advise you what you need. Based on the products that they have to sell you, so you buy more shit! Get an independent person to review the products and how to use them properly. I will never get sponsored by a supplement company because I want you to be confident that if I recommend something it's because I believe in it, not because I'm getting paid to recommend it. And don't worry. I get asked all the time and it's a quick delete and a no thank you.

So, if any of these mistakes resonated with you, don't stress! They're an easy fix. You just need the right advice and some guidance on specific strategies for you. If you want to check how well you're doing with your nutrition, download my free 50-point Triathlon Nutrition Checklist and see how well you're mastering it. Go to dietitianapproved.com/checklist.

And if you're ready to put these foundations in place now join the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program and reap the rewards for so many years to come. To join us, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy.

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