16 Aug 2016


Nutrition is often labelled the fourth discipline of triathlon – after swim, bike and run – but it could be argued that it’s the most important. During training, feeding correctly is vital to not only maximise the physiological gains from each session, but also to recover proficiently for the next session. And this being triathlon, where many of you will train twice a day, that’s vital. But it’s during racing that your nutrition strategy becomes even more important as, get it wrong, and the chances of either recording a new personal best, or even finishing, diminish.

Race-day nutrition actually starts the week before via an oft-used technique called carboloading. This is where you pack your body with carbohydrates, which are then turned into glycogen – the body’s method of storing glucose. And as glucose is your substrate of choice when it comes to delivering energy during high-intensity exercise, the benefits are clear when performing to your peak.

How much carbohydrate you should consume depends on many factors. As your race approaches, you should taper, which means cutting back on training volume but maintaining intensity. Because you’re burning fewer calories than when training, you could continue to consume the same amount of carbs as normal – which should be around 7g per kg bodyweight. However, for those whose tapering training week still registers 6hrs-plus, it’s advisable to increase carb intake to anywhere up to around 10 per kg bodyweight for the fastest iron athletes, like Vision’s legendary Cameron Brown and Paul Ambrose. 

Take inspiration from highly successful professional triathletes such as Cameron Brown

Carbs should derive from foods like pasta, potatoes and rice, but choose white over brown as you’re looking to cut fibre intake with your race on the horizon. It’ll reduce the chances of any gastro-distress on the day.

60g per hour
On race day itself, aim for around 2-3g of carbohydrate per kg bodyweight around 2-3hrs before your start. Try out options in training first, but porridge with honey; toast and jam; and banana sandwiches are tried-and-trusted options. Also consume an espresso or two as caffeine is a proven performance enhancer.

On your way to registration and transition set-up, sip on a water bottle containing around 60g of carbohydrate. If you’re racing in hotter climates, it’s a good idea to choose a drink with a reasonable sodium content to replace sodium lost through sweating.

This 60g-per-hour of carbohydrates is a template you should follow throughout your race, if you’re racing for over 90 minutes. There’s an argument that the fastest sprint-distance athletes simply need water as they’re done in around 55 minutes. But, for the majority of triathletes, aim for around 60g per hour. (Science says up to 90g but that’s for highly trained athletes and via two carbohydrate sources – glucose and fructose.)

There are numerous methods of energy delivery, whether it’s by fluid, gels, energy bars or ‘real foods’ like rice cakes and jam sandwiches. When it comes to the bike, Olympic-distance and above should go for two water bottles – one containing a carbohydrate solution, the other water or an electrolyte drink. Vision’s Metron High Grip Cage is a good stowage choice here. 

70.3 and beyond
When it comes to 70.3 racing and above – though this method is chosen by some Olympic-distance racers, too – you should increase your options because of the extra energy expenditure via a front or/and rear hydration system. Vision’s Metron Front Hydration System sits between your aerobar extensions, accommodates up to 700ml of fluid and means you don’t need to get out of the tuck position when feeding. Vision Metron’s rear Hydration System fits two further bottles and attaches to your saddle.

The Metron Front Hydration System is Vision’s newest generation top-of-the-line hydration system. This new sleek and light-weight design is easy fill, refill, clean and assemble for any usage

If racing 70.3 or above, the bike’s also the perfect place to consume energy bars. The combination of a relatively still body and lower intensity ensures this is the ideal platform to digest food.

When it comes to the run, again aim for those 60g per hour, especially if racing 70.3 or over. Dispense with the bars as the oscillating action of running means they’ll give you a stitch; instead, go for gels. These are easily absorbed and assimilated, and you can store in the rear of your trisuit. Feed stations should deliver your fluid needs, whether that’s energy drink, water or even coke. 

And when you cross that line, it’s time to recover. Aim for around 1.2g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight in the hour or two after the race, alongside around 0.3g protein per kg. You should also consume a large glass of red wine. It’s packed with antioxidants – and tastes damn nice!