Ultimate guide to triathlon nutrition
(Image: Remy Whiting)

Triathlon nutrition – our ultimate guide (2/4)

Your fuelling strategy should be a shifting picture, reflecting your training and the time of year. We unlock the secrets of periodised nutrition…

We continue our ultimate guide to triathlon nutrition...

The build phase

You’ve laid your aerobic foundations and refined technique. Now, it’s time to add speed and that comes from raising the intensity of your sessions. To fuel that extra effort, you need to tap into more instant fuel reserves – which means an increase in carbs.

“During the build phase, carb intake should rise to 8-12g per kg,” says sports nutritionist Drew Price. “Protein intake also increases to around 1.5g-2g per kg. Fat remains around the 1g per kg mark.” 

Warning: for those who haven’t reached their goal triathlon weight, don’t fall into the trap of keeping carbs down as per the base phase. As chef and athlete Alan Murchison says, increasing intensity on a diet based on few carbs “leads to lethargy, feeling heavy and potential illness”.

That increase in carbohydrates derives from three key areas: general meals (including more pasta and rice), an increase in healthy snacking (to keep your glycogen levels topped up to maximise training efficiency, especially as many of you will be training twice a day) and a focus on sports foods (helping you to maintain high levels through the session). You should also look at different protein drinks for recovery… 

“We used to think protein was just for muscle-heads, but it’s not,” says professor John Hawley. “I had a bodybuilding workmate down the corridor who used to stink of tuna. He’d be feeding protein throughout the day. But we did a study last year and these guys are right: it’s far better to take your protein in small 20g doses. However, it’s also beneficial to front-load protein early in the day, as it’ll help repair muscle damage from the day’s hard training.”

Triathlete eating an energy bar

Protein increase

You should also think about increasing protein intake after running, because of the greater impact causing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is especially true of downhill running, which accentuates the eccentric contraction of your gait. 

With seasonal temperatures rising along with training intensity, hydration also becomes a greater issue. What you drink before, during and after your session influences the effectiveness of your efforts, with the traditional model of weighing yourself pre- and post-session still one of the more reliable methods of gauging how much you should consume. Just note that energy drinks aren’t needed for sessions of less than 60 minutes.

Finally, don’t ignore sodium requirements. “Think about salt tablets,” says coach Bob Seebohar. “Depending on the race environment and distance – definitely for long-course triathlon – these could be of benefit. Try them during long bricks to see how you cope." 

Triathlete taking salt tabs

Build advice

Now’s the time to increase quality complex carbohydrates and protein. Experiment and find the ones that are easy to consume in high volume, and not too difficult to digest, and ensure that you’re matching your increased calorie expenditure.  

“During this phase, my calorie count probably increases by 300-500 through the addition of extra snacks between sessions,” says athlete Alex Lawton. “Typically this would be either a banana with peanut butter, wholegrain brown rice cakes (again with some peanut butter and maybe two bananas if really hungry) or a small mug of muesli with milk.” You also need to remain hydrated, which can be achieved by not only drinks but foods too.

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