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How to fuel the sprint triathlon

Hydration is especially key when it comes to fuelling a sprint triathlon, but how much will depend on your bodyweight. James Witts explains…

Because your glycogen levels should be topped out, you don’t technically need breakfast before a sprint race. Still, you can’t go physically or mentally wrong with around 100-150g of slow-releasing carbs around 2-3hrs before you race.

Good examples could be 50g rolled oats with 350ml skimmed milk and one bagel with 30g light cream cheese, says Fran Bungay of Goal Specific Coaching.

Hydration’s more important for a sprint than fuelling, especially if you’re racing in hotter conditions. So sip 5-7ml fluid per kg of bodyweight.

For an 80kg athlete, this equates to 400-560ml of fluid, which you can measure out in a water bottle. Focus on electrolytes to replenish lost minerals, including sodium. Racing up to 90mins means, technically, you don’t really need to fuel during your race.

But in reality, a gel on the bike and run shouldn’t do you any harm, and will certainly help psychologically.

The short(-ish) nature of sprint means you could benefit more than you would at longer efforts with proven ergogenics such as beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate/citrate (try in training first).

Beta-alanine can potentially delay, and reduce perceptions of, fatigue. Around 3-6g a day is recommended, though research has shown an increased performance effect when ingested with sodium bicarbonate.

Many journals have also shown sodium bicarbonate alone can boost shorter-term exercise like sprint-distance triathlon, though it’s been known to cause stomach issues.

When it comes to recovery, a 20g protein hit straight after the race accelerates muscle repair, and consume an 80g carb hit, too, like pasta or rice. But the nature of sprint means you shouldn’t be too concerned about recovery; just make sure you don’t overeat and end up putting on weight!

Race breakfast swap

On race morning, make this smart food choice and avoid stomach problems!

Many of you will eat wholemeal toast with jam on race morning, but its fibrous content – twice that of white – means it increases the chances of gastric problems. Then again, you might have trained on wholemeal bread and never had an issue. If so, another argument is the fluid-retention properties of fibre, whether it’s specifically water-soluble fibre.

Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrains, nuts and vegetables, and doesn’t break down in water. Instead it helps to absorb toxins while adding bulk to waste in the digestive system. This bulk helps to keep the triathlete regular and prevent constipation.

Water-soluble fibre absorbs water to create a gel-like substance inside the digestive system that helps food flow down. It also binds to cholesterol and sugar to regulate blood-sugar levels.

But the fact both types, especially wholemeal, retain water rather than ‘donating’ it to your working muscles actually adds physical weight. This may not be huge on a flat course but if you face a hill/mountain or two, it soon adds up. So, for race day, white it is (with jam, obviously).

Illustration: Daniel Seex

Profile image of James Witts James Witts Freelance sports writer and author


Former 220 Triathlon magazine editor James is a cycling and sports writer and editor who's been riding bikes impressively slowly since his first iridescent-blue Peugeot road bike back in the 80s. He's a regular contributor to a number of cycling and endurance-sports publications, plus he's authored four books: The Science of the Tour de France: Training secrets of the world’s best cyclists, Bike Book: Complete Bicycle Maintenance, Training Secrets of the World's Greatest Footballers: How Science is Transforming the Modern Game, and Riding With The Rocketmen: One Man's Journey on the Shoulders of Cycling Giants