Episode 55 - Triathlon Training Nutrition 101

Triathlon Training Nutrition 101

When it comes to triathlon nutrition – there is A LOT you can do to maximise your performance.

You probably don’t even realise how much there is you can do.

My goal with this podcast is to get you to start thinking more about what you’re putting in your mouth. Because nutrition really is the fourth leg of triathlon.

Once you’ve figured out the basics of swimming, cycling and running all together – nutrition is the next thing you need to turn your attention to, BEFORE you drop $20,000 on a new bike! 

This is your permission slip to invest in your health. After all, your body is what’s going to get you to the finish line faster. And the right nutrition NOW, will set you up for long term health in the future. So that when you’re old and can no longer do triathlon anymore, you haven’t done long term damage to your body.   


See how well you score and what areas you need to focus on to be better. Take the quiz on my Triathlon Nutrition Calculator 

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Episode Transcription

Episode 55: Triathlon Training Nutrition 101


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  00:44

Hello, and welcome to this episode of the podcast. Today I'm going to talk to you about Triathlon Training Nutrition 101. When it comes to triathlon nutrition, there is a lot you can do with your nutrition to maximise your performance. You probably don't even realise how much there is to do and how much there is to know. But my goal with this podcast is to get you to start thinking more about what you're putting into your mouth, because nutrition really is the fourth leg. Once you figured out the basics, how to unclip, how to swim without drowning and how to put one foot in front of the other when it comes to running, get a bit of fitness.

Taryn Richardson  01:25

After you've done those basics, then nutrition really is the next thing that you need to turn your attention to - before you drop $20,000 on a new bike. Because your body is what's going to get you to the finish line faster. It is what's going to make or break your event. Because success from triathlon in a non draft legal format comes from being minimally affected by the swim and the ride. It's about getting to the run in the best possible shape that you can, so that you can continuously run without stopping or bonking or hitting the wall or vomiting your guts up and trying to keep a nice even pace on the run. You will have a faster race if you can do that compared to having to stop all the time for some sort of nutrition mistake that you've made earlier on. 

Taryn Richardson  02:13

So today I want to walk you through a big picture look at Triathlon Training Nutrition 101 - the things that are most important. And after you've listened to this episode, I want you to go and take our quiz, the Triathlon Nutrition Calculator Quiz. It's 50 steps to achieving triathlon nutrition mastery. And I want you to see how well you score and highlight some areas that maybe you need to focus on to do a better job in this space. So head to https://dietitianapproved.com/triathlonnutritioncalculator. And don't go and do that yet! Do that after you've listened to this episode.

Taryn Richardson  02:48

So let me run you through some of the foundations of what you need to be doing, if you want longevity in the sport. Now, I believe that you get the best bang for your buck out of what you do around your training session. So pre training nutrition and recovery nutrition. Those two things are really key. When it comes to pre training nutrition, do you have a plan for different types of training sessions? Or you're doing the same thing all the time? Do you have a fueled strategy? And do you have potentially a not fueled strategy? Do you know how much you need to have before a session? And what types of foods are good there? And do you know what you can do in that pre training window to make sure you're not losing so much calcium and you're not doing weird things to your iron pathways? Do you dive a bit deeper into some of the micronutrients that you might want to include pre training? Like calcium - so we don't lose so much in our sweat? Particularly important for our masters athletes, but also females and growing bodies, and anyone that is maybe following a vegan diet where they don't have those dairy based sources of calcium.

Taryn Richardson  03:06

Okay, can you see where I'm coming from now? There's more to your nutrition than you probably even realise. So that is some basics around pre training. You need to have a plan for different types of sessions, rather than doing the same thing all the time, and then understand how much and when to consume those things to try and maximise your performance in those training sessions. Recovery nutrition. Do you know what the four R's of recovery are? Do you know what types of foods we need to be ticking the right boxes for here? Do you know the right timing for you - to make sure you're doing a really good job of your recovery where it counts, particularly when you're backing up and training again in less than 24 hours?

Taryn Richardson  03:55

Do you focus on real foods in this window to give you the nutrients that you need? Or are you somebody that goes for convenience options and pills and powders all the time and are potentially missing some of the other boxes by doing that? Do you plan ahead to make sure you've got a plan for your recovery nutrition? Or do you dig around at the cafe and chat to your mates and just grab a coffee and then don't do your recovery nutrition for hours after the fact? And do you have a different recovery strategy for different types of sessions? Do you have a different recovery strategy for a strength-based session, whether it's in the gym, or if it's a strength based ride, or run? Do you have a different strategy for those bigger, longer endurance sessions?

Taryn Richardson  05:25

These are things you need to start to understand why it's so important, and then how to do it to maximise your performance in training. Because training for three sports is so much more complicated than just training for one. You have to try and fit swimming, cycling and running into a week as well as potentially work full time, hold down family commitments, and your training sessions are not the same on a day to day basis. They are different. So it's really important in your general training week nutrition that you have a strategy for different types of training days. And that's one of the things that I want you to check in the calculator - how well you're doing in this space? Because it's one of the key things you need to get your head around. What's your strategy for a rest day? What's your strategy for a double session day? What's your strategy for a long endurance based training day?

Taryn Richardson  06:15

When it comes to food, they need to look differently because your total energy expenditure is different. But those metabolic adaptations that we're trying to drive with that type of training session is different as well. And nutrition can layer in those performance adaptations that we're trying to achieve by doing those sorts of training sessions. Most triathletes are pretty good at smashing themselves and following a training plan or a training program. But I want you to start to think about nutrition being that extra layer that lays over your training program, so that you've got a strategy that goes with that - it's periodised to your training program. And that needs to evolve over time as well. Think of a sports dietitian as your coach, but for food.

Taryn Richardson  07:00

When it comes to your day to day eating, do you know where you get carbohydrate from? Do you know where you get protein from? Do you know where you get fats from? And what are the good sources of fats? How much we need to include? And all those sorts of things. Do you have that basic knowledge or not? Because what I see when I work with triathletes is that they've spent all the money on all the things - like the latest helmet, they've got the latest Garmin, they've got an expensive bike, but they can't tell me where you get protein from in your diet. My passion is to try and shake that up and educate the masses, so that nutrition becomes one of the earlier things you do when you start the sport. And then you learn how to evolve that over time. The more experience you have in the sport, too, because it does evolve as you become a better athlete.

Taryn Richardson  07:45

Do you know how much calcium you need in a day and where to get it from? I did do an episode on calcium. So you'll need to go back and listen to that if you have no idea what I'm talking about. Iron is another key nutrient that you need to understand as a triathlete, and somebody that does endurance exercise, because iron has many roles in the body. But one of its main ones is transporting oxygen around the body. You can't exercise very effectively if your iron levels are low. So that's something that you need to understand - why it's so important, how much to have in a day, and where to get it. 

Taryn Richardson  08:19

Do you eat enough fruit and vegetables in a week? A lot of athletes (throwing everyone under the bus here), understand macros, protein, carbs, protein, carbs, protein, carbs. But they have no regard for the little micronutrients that are super important when you exercise a lot. We actually have higher needs compared to somebody that sits on their butt all the time. But we tend to forget that in our day to day eating when we're trying to just focus on those macronutrients of protein, carbs all the time. So it's one of the things that you need to understand - where to get them, how much to include, and making sure you are ticking off that box every day - because your needs are higher. 

Taryn Richardson  08:57

And if your general training week nutrition is dialed in, you should have energy by the end of the week. You should be able to get to Friday, and be like, alright, I still got this. I can still smash out some really good long endurance sessions on the weekend. I'm not absolutely exhausted and ready to just curl up in front of Netflix. And you shouldn't, also, be starving all the time. I totally get it when you exercise a lot, your hunger hormones can wreak havoc. And particularly if you're not doing a good job of matching your fueling to your training load. But they can be two key indicators that you need to do a bit of work in this space. So those three things - pre training nutrition, recovery nutrition, and what you're doing on a day to day basis, that forms a massive foundation of where your nutrition needs to be. And that is where you're going to get the best bang for your buck out of your training and your body. 

Taryn Richardson  09:55

So many triathletes start with like the shiny pills and potions and one-percenter things first. Like, I heard about a cycling group the other day that roll on bicarb, but you know, needed to lose 20 kilos. But we're not going to go there. You know, think about your body. It is a thing that's going to get you to the finish line - the fastest, in the best possible state, uninjured, healthy for the rest of your life, as well. Like if you do a crap job of your nutrition in your younger years when you're training for triathlon, you can do long term damage that's going to affect your health, when you're 60, 70, 80. Do you want that? Probably not.

Taryn Richardson  10:35

So those three components are something that you need to get across ASAP, if you're not already. So do the Triathlon Nutrition Calculator after we finish this episode, and see where you score in that space. If there's a little bit of room for improvement there, then that's what I want you to focus on fixing first. And then once you've got those foundations nailed, then we need to look at what you're doing for your bigger weekend sessions - whether it's the weekend, or it's another time, depending on your life. But those big long endurance sessions, your long ride, your long run days - you need a different strategy for those compared to what you do on your other training days. And that is going to give you so much more energy to push through the back end of those sessions. And that is where the magic happens, my friend.

Taryn Richardson  11:22

In the back end of sessions where you're hurting, you're in pain, you don't feel like you can keep going, pushing through that is going to make you a fitter, faster athlete. And nutrition is a big piece of that puzzle, to make sure you're fueling those sessions appropriately. And that starts before we get to the session itself. It can be what you do the day before, the night before, the morning of, as well as what you do in those sessions as well. So I want you to have a specific strategy for your long rides, and a specific strategy for your long runs. And I want that to evolve over time. I don't want that to stagnate and stay the same. Because it will need to evolve. You'll need to do some gut training, heading into races. That can back off in the offseason.

Taryn Richardson  12:11

You will get better at fueling - the longer you do it for. But it's just like you train your muscles to exercise. You have to train your gut to take nutrition on board while you're training as well. Do you test out your race strategies in training? and early? So many triathletes do this way too late. They're just mucking around still practicing different products or changing products in like, the weeks before an event. Or I've also seen people completely wing it on race day and have no plan and just use whatever they feel like. Also not good. There is actually a good paper around athletes that went into a race with a plan versus those that didn't. And, of course, the people that had a plan performed better.

Taryn Richardson  12:57

So I want you to use those longer sessions to practice race nutrition, but keep in mind that they're probably way more aerobic or lower intensity compared to what race day will be. So that's something that you'll need to talk to your coach about around doing some race simulation type stuff. But your nutrition for those sessions, the big weekend or the longer endurance stuff, needs to have a plan. Okay, this is the foundations of triathlon nutrition. You need to know what you're doing on those days. And you need to not be doing the same compared to a single session day or even to a double session day, but more intense or shorter - very different metabolic adaptations from those long enduro sessions compared to the shorter, sharper, faster ones.

Taryn Richardson  13:39

We also need to understand our personal hydration needs and they are very individual - your sweat rate. And if you're doing long core stuff like Ironman, then you need to have an understanding of sodium losses as well. But do you know what happens to your sweat rate in the winter, in the summer, in the offseason, the on season, after heat acclamation? Do you know how much to drink when you're training? Do you know how much to drink when you're racing? Do you monitor your hydration on a day to day basis, and make sure you're keeping pace with those losses in sessions and then rehydrating after sessions?

Taryn Richardson  14:14

Dehydration negatively affects performance - we know that. Depending on the duration of the event, it's probably a little bit different. The longer we go, we can potentially weather a little bit more. So somebody doing an Ironman can probably go into a little bit of a deeper hole compared to say, a sprint race or an Olympic distance race. But again, it's really personal and you need to understand what type of sweater you are and how that evolves over the seasons of the year -so summer and winter. And then also what happens when you're fitter versus not. All of those things change what's going on. So you can do a sweat test. And I love to do these heading into a key event for somebody replicating the environmental conditions of the race. But that is one data point. And it's likely to change for the next event. So it's just trying to dial that in more and more specifically for you, which is something that you can spend a fair bit of time playing around with.

Taryn Richardson  15:19

One of the things I teach the athletes inside the Academy is how to actually test things like this themselves, so that they have a plan for how to do that continuously forevermore. And gather data so that they understand what happens for them across those different things that will change your sweat rate. So three key things to start with first - pre training nutrition, recovery nutrition, what you're doing on a day to day basis. And then we want to layer into that a different strategy for your longer endurance sessions, wherever they are - your long rides, long runs. We also then need to do your hydration and make sure you know what's going on for you in that space. That is Triathlon Nutrition 101. 

Taryn Richardson  16:04

Once you've done that, then we can layer on a bit more advanced sports nutrition strategies around racing. What are you doing for sprint distance racing? What are you doing for Olympic distance racing? 70.3 Ironman? Whatever it is you're doing. Because those modalities are so different, you will actually need a different race strategy for each of those events. You can't double your 70.3 race nutrition plan for Ironman. You also can't halve your Ironman plan for 70.3. What you do on a sprint will look different to an Olympic distance event. And you need to understand that so that you can practice and perfect and tweak your race nutrition for each of those events depending on what you're doing.

Taryn Richardson  16:46

Do you know how to carb load properly? It is not just eating a bowl of spag bol the night before your event. It's not going to come anywhere close to what you need to effectively top up your muscle glycogen fuel tank, and super compensate it so we're shoving extra fuel in there for our race. Do you know what type of products are the best for you and your event as well? We can get away with it - making a few mistakes in the shorter distance stuff - sprint and Olympic. 70.3 as well. You can probably you know muck around and fail forwards a little bit. When it comes to Ironman though, there is no room for error. It is an expensive way to test and trial stuff in an event. Like think about how expensive Ironman is. And particularly these days! It's like they're trying to recoup all the costs that they lost over COVID. Kona this year is costing so much more than it ever has. But that would be a very expensive way - to go and wing it with whatever's happening on race day.

Taryn Richardson  17:48

I think that your products for each of those distances of events, probably needs to differ. You know, what you do for a sprint and Olympic distance - those sorts of sports nutrition products, will need to look different when you step up to longer course racing. Are your products that you use safe? Have there been third party batch tested by another company to make sure they don't contain, WADA prohibited substances? Is that important for age groupers? Yeah, probably. They do drug test age groupers. So it's something that you need to be mindful of. But do you know that? And understand what you're looking for in that space? Do you have a plan for your recovery nutrition after a race? Super important. Nobody ever remembers to do this. They're just like, yep, tick, done! Muck around at the finish line, take some photos for the gram, wait hours for a burger and chips at the cafe. 

Taryn Richardson  18:40

Recovery nutrition is something that you need to focus on after a race. Just as importantly, as you do in your training week. Do you know how to rehydrate after a race as well? There's so many things that you can do. Now this is just scratching the tip of the surface. Like I said, this is Triathlon Training Nutrition 101. There are so many more things that you can do to dial in your nutrition. But these are the big picture things that I need you to have an understanding about why you need to be doing it and how to then specifically do that for you. That's what I want you to focus on. 

Taryn Richardson  19:15

So now that you've listened, I want you to go and take the quiz. Head to https://dietitianapproved.com/triathlonnutritioncalculator. Pause me here if you like and come back. I'll wait - but I want to know what your score is. And if you're not across a bunch of these things, then I would definitely suggest seeking help when it comes to your nutrition because it's what's going to make you a better, faster athlete. We are on the on ramp to opening doors to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy for the last time of 2022. Doors open on September 4th - and they're only open for a week and they're not opening again until January 2023. So go and check that out dietitianapproved.com/academy. If you haven't got your name on the waitlist yet, click on the little button to do that because I am sending out a special bonus to those people that are on the waitlist for the Academy.

Taryn Richardson  20:10

The other thing that you can do to start upskilling yourself in this space - if you are based in Brisbane, Australia or are happy to travel, I'm hosting a Triathlon Workshop with Huw Darnell - our resident Exercise Physiologist who specialises in strength training and injury rehab for triathletes. It'll be on September the 3rd. And if you want to go and learn more about that, or come along, head to dietitianapproved.com/triathlonworkshop. It's going to be so much fun and a chance to meet some other triathletes that you may not know yet, in real life.

Taryn Richardson  20:46

I'm going to walk you through recovery nutrition. We're going to take a deep dive into exactly what you should be doing, why it's so important, how much, and when. And I'm going to show you how to pull that together into food in a practical session.

Taryn Richardson  21:00

Huw is going to show you how to build an unbreakable body so that you have the best performance yet. He's going to talk you through some of the key pillars of movement that you need to start taking advantage on and help say goodbye to injuries. He's going to give you a little bit of the theory, but we're also going to get really practical and get amongst it in the gym because it's being held at Perform 360 at Coorparoo. We have lucky door prizes, a free goodie bag, free infrared saunas, and it'll be from 1 - 4 o'clock in the afternoon, so that you have time to go and do your morning session, have a shower, grab some lunch, do a really good job of your recovery nutrition. And then we'll have you home in time for an early dinner and bed.

Taryn Richardson  21:46

So if you're interested in coming along, make sure you go and register - it's dietitianapproved.com/triathlonworkshop. All right, thank you so much for hanging out with me today. I will speak to you next week.

Taryn Richardson  19:40

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 www.dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 

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