The food you eat before a triathlon has a big impact on your performance. Ideally, your body should have between 90 minutes and two hours’ worth of stored energy before you start any race. This energy is stored in the body in the form of glycogen and it is what powers your muscles during the race.
Importance of race day nutrition
Your liver glycogen stores and blood glucose concentration has to be high on the race day. This has the effect of lowering cortisol levels in your body to increase insulin production. Insulin delivers a steady supply of carbohydrates to the muscles to help maintain your endurance. Some of the negative effects of poor pre-race nutrition include:
* Low blood sugar – hypoglycemia.
* Over hydration resulting in an electrolyte imbalance – hypernatremia.
* Stomach bloating from consuming too many high-fiber foods.
* Early depletion of fuel reserves leaving you feeling weak, dizzy and light-headed.
Remember that you may need well over 5,000 calories per day if you have been training heavily.
Foods to eat before a triathlon
Carbohydrates are the main source of glucose. This is the primary nutrient that fuels your cells and muscles. It is recommended that you eat a high carb diet for two to three days before an intense event like a triathlon since your body would need the stored carbs both during exercise and the race itself. Endurance cycling, swimming and running are activities that demand that you eat a diet consisting of 70% carbs. For best results, consume whole food sources such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is because they are also rich in other nutrients that promote stable blood sugar and high energy levels. These nutrients are vitamins, mineral and fiber. For instance, have a breakfast of oatmeal made in low-fat milk, fruits and a slice of whole grain toast on the last few days before the triathlon.
This is the second most important of fuel. To ensure that you have enough stored fat, ensure that healthy fats make up 15% of your diet. Some of the sources of healthy fats include olive oil, oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.
While seldom provide any fuel needed for athletic performance, your protein needs are slightly higher than a non-athlete’s. The American academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming about 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Exceeding this limit can deprive your body of more ready fuel while increasing your oxygen and fluid needs. Try to incorporate protein from natural sources such as beans, fish, and quinoa into your snacks and meals I the days leading to the big race.
The pre-race meal
Since triathlons usually start during the early morning hours, it is likely that your body won’t have the time to digest a heavy meal beforehand. For the best performance, consume a snack consisting of 50 grams of carbs (500 calories) within 2 hours before the race. Examples of what you should eat before triathlon include a plain bagel, an English muffin with 5 ounces of apple juice or a 1/2 a cup of cooked oatmeal and a banana. In the event that you are strapped for time, a smoothie is the most convenient option. For optimal hydration, drink 2 cups of water an hour before the race in addition to the 3 cups you should drink with the pre-event meal.