Episode 38 - 3 Nutrition Rules Every Triathlete Should Abide By

3 Nutrition Rules Every Triathlete Should Abide By

When it comes to triathlon nutrition, there is a lot of crap out there! My passion is to cut through all the noise and give you practical, evidence-based information that actually works. To fasttrack your success as a time-poor triathlete.

Triathlon can be a very expensive and tech-heavy sport. You don’t just need stuff for one sport, you need stuff for three! There are lots of gadgets and everything is upgradable - costs that can add up quickly if you’re not careful.

But when it comes to nutrition, people don’t value investing in their nutrition because it isn’t tangible. You don’t get a shiny new object for your money. But I would argue your body is the thing you need to spend the most on. You have it for life!

There are so many things that can affect your long term health if you’re not putting the right things in.

Listen in to episode 38 of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast where I give you 3 nutrition rules every triathlete needs to abide by…

Triathlon Nutrition Academy Podcast

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Episode Transcription

Episode 38 - 3 Nutrition Rules Every Triathlete Should Abide By

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   00:45
When it comes to Triathlon Nutrition, there is a lot of crap out there! I'm not going to lie. But my passion really is to cut through all of that noise to give you practical, evidence-based information that's actually going to work. Triathletes are time-poor, and I really want to try and fast track your time so you're not wasting it going down weird rabbit holes.

Taryn Richardson   01:05
Triathlons are a very tech-heavy sport. There's lots of gadgets. We all like shiny objects. And it's also very expensive because there's so much equipment that you need for three disciplines. Rather than just, say, a runner who needs new shoes every few months. And with our stuff, everything is upgradeable. You can get better watches, you can get better bikes, you can get faster wheels, you can get carbon soled shoes. You can get really high-end sunnies as well -  polarized lenses, not polarized lenses. All of those costs can add up really quickly if you're not careful. So I totally understand when you want to invest in something, you want to make sure it's really good quality, and it's going to last forever.

Taryn Richardson   01:43
But when it comes to nutrition, people don't value investing in their nutrition, because it's not tangible. You don't get a shiny new bike for your money. But I'd argue that your body is the thing that you need to spend the most on because you have it for life. If you do the wrong things with your nutrition, then that could impact you further down the line. You could increase your risk of injury. You could have osteoporosis as an old person. There are so many things that can affect your body if you're not putting the right things in. And nutrition is a very noisy space. Like, should you do keto? Should you go low carb, high fat? Should you go vegan? What's actually the best for performance? But no matter what style of eating you follow, I think there are three nutrition rules that every triathlete needs to abide by. And we're going to go through that today.

Taryn Richardson   02:30
Now number one - every single triathlete needs to understand that you can't eat the same thing each day. It's called periodisation. Just like you periodise your training program, with your coach or whatever your program is, you also need to layer in your nutrition in a periodised approach as well. If you have a full-time job, you might have a bit of a structure in the week that is a really clear routine for food and training. You might have the same breakfast every day, you might have the same snacks because it's easy, you keep them in the desk drawer, or you just pack the same things. You might also have the same lunches for those five days of the workweek, as well.

Taryn Richardson   03:07
And then come the weekends - where we lose that structure from work. And often this is where our big long training sessions are as well if you work full time. So weekends can go one of two ways. Either people don't eat enough because you've lost that structure and the rhythm and packing your lunch for work. Or it can go the complete opposite way and you overeat in a big way. This is often where we eat out more or get takeaway or are social or a drink. We've got plenty of access to our cupboards at home. And we spend much more time nibbling rather than actually sitting down and preparing a meal for ourselves because we're wrecked from the week.

Taryn Richardson   03:45
But unless you train the exact same way every day - like someone that goes to the gym, potentially or somebody that's quite sedentary - they can eat relatively similarly each day. You, as a triathlete, that trains for three disciplines in a week, you should never eat the same thing each day. You need to learn to scale your nutrition up and scale it back where you need to. And that's something I spend a lot of time teaching my athletes to do and understand and implement in a really practical way so that you understand what to do for a light training day - so that you're not starving, but you may not be fueling as aggressively as (versus) something like a heavy session day where you've either got two hard performance type sessions on it, or you're doing long rides or long runs. Those types of days need to look completely different with your nutrition. Because those long training days shouldn't be a free for all - you still need to eat strategically. And I think that's probably the keyword here is that you need to be strategic with the way that you fuel your body and you recover, depending on your training load. So the number one rule is you can't eat the same thing each day as a triathlete.

Taryn Richardson   04:54
Now I've worked with hundreds of triathletes from complete beginners, very fresh to the sport - don't even know how to clip in - all the way up to our Australian Elite Triathlon Team as part of my consulting work for Triathlon Australia. And this is a mistake that triathletes make across the board. It doesn't matter if you're new or well experienced. I've seen Ironman athletes that have got 10 Ironmans under their belt still make this mistake. So it doesn't matter what level of athlete you are - this is something that you need to focus on. Doesn't matter what sort of diet you follow or way of eating that you follow. You need to have strategic placement of your food around training, where it matters the most! That's where you're going to get the best bang for your buck out of it.  

Taryn Richardson   05:34
I know it can be challenging for some people that have more of a dieting mentality, or maybe have come from a gym-style program where carbohydrates are evil, right? Everyone is trying to scale back carbs or take carbs away from you. But carbs are your friend as an endurance athlete, you need to make peace with eating them. But the message is not just go and eat more carbohydrates. You need to understand where you need to eat more carbohydrates and where you don't necessarily need to eat more carbohydrates.

Taryn Richardson   06:02
So if you struggle with that - if you are very rhythm and routine and you're eating the same things day in day out, that's one of the first things I do to shake up with an athlete, whether it's one on one, or within the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program. That is one of the things we spend a lot of time on upfront. Because I need you to understand how to include carbohydrates strategically - where you need them, where they come from in your diet. And, how much you need for you as well - because it's very individual. We're all super unicorns. Nutrition is not a one size fits all approach. And I like to teach you to understand what you need for you - because it's completely different to your training buddy.

Taryn Richardson   06:40
And that's I guess another mistake (side note) that people get caught up in - they go and follow (blindly) either elite athletes - what they're doing. Or some other people in their squad - what they're doing. Or their coach is trying to direct their nutrition - let's not go down that rabbit hole!  But you need to understand specifically what you need for you. And then you're going to get the best bang for your buck out of your training. Because you spend so much time training. And you want to do as best as you can, right? That's why you've got a coach, you've invested in a bike. So start to think about layering your nutrition into that approach as well. So that is the number one rule for Triathlon Nutrition - you need to periodise your intake to your training load.

Taryn Richardson   07:20
Okay, the second rule is really trying to nail your recovery nutrition. What I see a lot of athletes do is they have absolutely no plan for their recovery nutrition - whether it's after a session or race. And they're not organized with that, so by the time they actually get to eat something, it's way too late. Or it doesn't have the right building blocks for you as well. In the Triathlon Nutrition Academy, we spend a whole week going through recovery nutrition, and we calculate an individual plan for you to make sure you're ticking all the right boxes and within the timeframe that you need, depending on the session. We need to understand when it's really important to be aggressive with our recovery and when it's maybe not so important. But also to know exactly what you need to tick the right boxes. Because again, your individual nutrition needs to be for you, not the person sitting next to you.

Taryn Richardson   08:14
So some signs that your recovery nutrition is not dialled in is feeling absolutely exhausted by the end of the training week. That can be one of the key red flags. And also just feeling really tired in the afternoons - like 3:30pm comes or even 2:30pm. And you're either trying to hunt down the packet of lollies or you're going to get a Mars bar from the shop down the road. Or you just feel like you need a nap. Sometimes it's recovery nutrition in the morning session that is letting you down for that entire day. And potentially it's because you're trying to scale back - you're trying to drop some body fat. So you're like “I won't eat now because I'm not hungry. I don't feel like I need it.” But your body is really smart. It's going to catch itself up by sending out all those hunger hormones or making you feel so tired because you haven't actually fueled properly that you're like “Okay, I can't have a nap because I'm at work right now, so I'll go and find some quick pick me up simple sugars, like lollies, cookies, biscuits, junk food”, right?

Taryn Richardson   09:14
So even though you've been scaling back through the day to try and drop body fat, you've just gone and overeaten by eating crap in that afternoon window. Does that sound like you? It's very, very common. If you're doing a really good job with your recovery, and you know exactly what boxes you need to tick to repair your muscles, refuel to go again and make sure you’re rehydrated as well - then you'll be able to back up and go again, so much better and faster for that next session - whether that's in the afternoon or the next day. You'll also kind of relax your immune system a little bit. We go into, like, this transient inflammatory state after exercise. You know, exercise is good for us. I'm not saying let's not exercise, but it's just understanding that you can relax your immune system a little bit and get everything to quieten down by actually giving your body the right recovery building blocks when it needs it.

Taryn Richardson   10:05
So you decrease your risk of getting sick, injured, and affecting your overall energy availability, which we're not going to dive into today. But if you're a female that's lost your menstrual cycle or it's becoming really light and short, then chances are your energy availability is not optimised. And for a male, like your male sex hormones can be affected by not eating the right things at the right time, too. And you don't have that same visual monthly reminder that things are working or not. But you can go and get your female and male sex hormones checked with your GP and just make sure that everything's okay, nothing's going on.

Taryn Richardson   10:40
Now, recovery is so important, because we only adapt from the sessions that we recover from. So you can train your ass off. And if you're not doing a good job of recovery, then you're not actually going to get fitter and faster from that session. So many triathletes smash themselves at training, with no regards for layering in the nutrition building blocks to support that. You know you invest in a coach, you invest in a training program, you probably upgrade your bike to go faster, but your body is what's going to make you go faster. And you need to decide whether you're driving a high-performance machine, or a beat up Honda on cheap economy fuel.

Taryn Richardson   11:22
And the third rule that every triathlete needs to abide by when it comes to nutrition is … understanding how to fuel your longer training sessions. These sessions are so metabolically different to what you do in your shorter, sharper type sessions. Some red flags, or some indicators that you're not doing a good job here, is if you literally bonk or hit the wall! Like, that's a pretty big red flag that you're not fueling properly! That's when you've completely used up your glycogen fuel tank. Now, it's never completely, completely empty, otherwise, you'd die! But it is so empty to the point where the body's, like, “Boom!”. Smashed into a wall. You can't go at that pace anymore. And you're going to need some really fast-acting simple sugars to peel yourself off the bitumen.

Taryn Richardson   12:04
If you've ever experienced that, you will know exactly what I'm talking about. And it is not pretty. It is not fun. It's not something you really want to experience. Although, side note, there are some metabolic adaptations to running on low glycogen but that is definitely an advanced strategy. And I wouldn't do that solo - I wouldn't do that on your own. You'd get help from a Sports Dietitian to understand how to do that and when to do that. So I'm not going to talk about that here - because I don't want to teach you how to do that. Let's not play with that.

Taryn Richardson   12:34
Another indication that you're not feeling those long sessions very well, is if you can't peel yourself off the couch for the rest of the day after them. You know, you're absolutely smashed, you can't do anything. Like, you can't function. You can't spend time with your family and your friends. You're literally watching Netflix, reading books in bed, having a nap after those long training sessions. And hey, if you've got a family and a wife or husband, that you need to spend some time with - that's your high-risk point for getting a divorce! Particularly if your partner doesn't do a triathlon - because they just don't understand. So it's not ideal. That's not what we want - you to be absolutely useless after long sessions. So you really need to understand how to fuel them properly.

Taryn Richardson   13:14
Because if you don't, also, like, other than feeling absolutely wrecked for a day or two, it takes 24 to 48 hours to top up our glycogen stores if we've used them. But then the hunger monster is going to absolutely wreak havoc the next day, or for a few days, after that as well - to try and catch you up. The body's very good at homeostasis this steady, stable level it likes to maintain - it doesn't like to shift from that very much. So it'll work against you and send out all of your hunger hormones and make you just ravenous for a few days to try and top your fuel back up again.

Taryn Richardson   13:47
Now, if you're trying to drop body fat, which is potentially why you've under-fuelled in those long sessions in the first place, that's again, not going to help you get to your goals. Because all those calories that you've lost and burnt in that session are going to be put back on, and then some, by not fuelling them properly in the first place. So it is a hard mindset shift to be more aggressive with your fuelling  - something we talk about in the Academy a lot, because I know that a lot of people have a bit of carb phobia. Now not saying everyone needs to suddenly go out and smash all this stuff - we actually need to understand what we need, how much we need for us individually, then you can drop more body fat. It doesn't make a lot of sense, I know! “Eat more, lose more fat”, but I've seen it time and time again - understanding what you need from a fuelling perspective can actually help to drive body fat loss if you're doing a good job there. So the message is not scale back, try and drop body fat, I'm going to eat less! Sometimes eating more can help you get to your goals faster.

Taryn Richardson   14:45
Now when it comes to fuelling long sessions, your fuelling strategy depends on a few things. It depends on the duration - so how long are you going for (cycling/running)? The intensity of that session as well - like, is it very aerobic? You've got plenty of opportunities to have a chat and breathe? Or is it quite long but then still intense? Or it's got intense efforts in it?  You might do some 20-minute high-intensity race pace efforts, or it might be a long ride with lots of hills in it - there's some intensity in there as well. So you would fuel differently for those different types of durations and intensity. I also like to teach my athletes how to eat depending on the season, whether it's on season or offseason. So we've got a periodised approach to our fuelling as well.

Taryn Richardson   15:29
And of course, your goals as well. Are you just happy to participate and get to the finish line? Or are you trying to win this thing? Are you trying to drop body fat? Or do you need all the calories you can get because you really struggle to hold on to your weight? So again, your fuelling strategy might be different depending on those sorts of body composition goals, and also performance goals. And having that flow to your year. You know, you're not fuelling on long rides and long runs to the same level that you will be in your off-season versus your on season. We need to do some other things when we're ramping into a race like gut training. And then in our offseason, do we need to be so aggressive with our fuelling? Some people, no. Other people, yes. Nutrition is very individual, there's no one size fits all. But you need to understand what you need to do for you.

Taryn Richardson   16:14
So those are my three nutrition rules that every triathlete should understand. And implement. So, not eating the same thing each day. Making sure you have a periodised nutrition plan that lays in and intersects with your training. I talk about this sweet spot like the supercharged zone. It's like a Venn diagram, right? You're listening in, so think about nutrition being a big circle, and training being a big circle. And they intersect. That little sweet spot in the middle where they overlap and intersect - that's the supercharged zone!! You need to get amongst that.

Taryn Richardson   16:50
When you understand how to layer in your nutrition to your training program, that's when you're really going to get ahead as a triathlete. And that's one of the key things that you'll learn if you invest in a Sports Dietitian - is how to do that properly. And then the second one is recovery nutrition - making sure you're ticking the right boxes for you. You know exactly what you need to replace your fuel, make sure your muscles are happy, and all of your hormones and enzymes and getting the whole body to go, “We've got this. Nutrition is coming. Let's adapt and recover from that session. So we can become better athletes”. So that's number two.

Taryn Richardson   17:26
And number three is - you really need to understand how to fuel those longer sessions. If you're doing the same thing during the week with your shorter sessions to your longer sessions in a weekend - that's not going to work. And if you're doing the same thing all year round as well, off-season vs on season, that's also not going to work. Like yeah, sure you're probably, like, faking it 'til you make it. Could you be doing a better job here to actually get the most out of those training sessions? They're time-intensive, they take you away from family, from friends, from doing things. So you really want to maximize that time spent out doing long rides, and long runs, so that you can become a better triathlete from doing them.

So many triathletes go and do the hours - you know, you make training peaks go green, to tick off all of those sessions. But you really need to lay your nutrition into that. And you can even chuck it into training peaks and tick it off each day. Like yes, I've done my recovery. Yes, I've got my periodised meals for today, and the next day and making that go green every day. That's when you're really going to be firing on all cylinders.

Taryn Richardson   18:29
There are way more nutrition rules for triathletes than these three, but these are three that I think everyone should start with if you're not doing them already. These are three best 'bang for your buck' strategies that I will implement with everyone that I work with because you will notice the difference straight away. And if you're sitting there listening, thinking, “Oh crap, I don't do any of them”. Then just pick one and really try and focus on that. Dial it in, get a plan, before you start tackling the others rather than being overwhelmed and trying to do all the things all at once.

Taryn Richardson   19:00
And if you need help, doors to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy are open right now. They're open until Sunday night, 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. So Brisbane time. And Phase One, we're spending a lot of time on the fundamentals of our nutrition. So really making sure you have a plan for what you're eating day to day. We go through building out your meal plan, teaching you how to periodise that. We talk about ride fuel and run fuel so that you are fuelling those long sessions. We build a specific plan for your pre-training nutrition and recovery nutrition so that you know exactly what you need for particular types of sessions and also specifically for you.

Taryn Richardson   19:40
And there's a few key nutrients that we talk about as well that every triathlete needs to make sure you're getting the right amount every single day because it's a huge part in your performance - in training, but also in life. There's no point smashing yourself in training now and then having osteoporosis as a sixty-year-old. Like, let's not do that. I also don't want you to struggle with low iron and feeling tired and lethargic and fatigued all the time because that's not conducive to training for three disciplines either. So if you're ready to finally understand exactly what you need to be eating for you, come and join us inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy.


Taryn Richardson   20:21
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 could 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 at @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 smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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