Optimal nutrition

It’s important that you don’t let your nutrition practices let you down at the critical time. Here's Andy Blow's proven advice...


With all your hard training in the bag, by the time race day comes around, it’s important that you don’t let your nutrition and hydration practices let you down at the critical time.

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Carbo overloading

Research has shown that having well-stocked glycogen stores is beneficial for endurance athletes before competition. However, you should bear in mind that it’s also possible – if you go too crazy with the pasta and potatoes in your pre-race dinner – to hit the start line overweight, lethargic and with race-unfriendly stomach issues.

Instead of cramming in huge amounts of extra carbs on the day before the race, just subtly increase your consumption of them during your meals in the final two or three days leading up to the big day. This way, you‘ll avoid shocking the body with an excess of energy, as well as avoiding that bloated, over-full feeling come race morning.

Trying new foods

On race day, it’s ever so tempting to try a new energy bar, gel or drink that promises to boost performance. However, there’s always a risk that your body won’t react well to a product you’ve not sampled before. There is one easy rule to follow here: if it ain’t tried and tested in training, don’t use it anywhere near the race day. This holds for ‘normal’ meals and snacks, too. Suddenly breakfasting on Kenyan ugali instead of your normal porridge just because it helps East Africans run sub-2:05 marathons doesn’t mean it will work for you…

Over-consuming fluids

Many athletes are aware than optimal hydration is beneficial for performance. However, few realise that there are some pretty disastrous consequences to drinking too much fluid. If you drink excessive water, you dilute the electrolytes in your system and feel very bloated. To avoid this, have plenty of fluids available in the final few days pre-race, but just drink to thirst. Make sure you that when you pee, it’s not too dark in colour. If you’re peeing very frequently and it’s clear in colour, slow down on the consumption. If it’s hot and you think you’ll sweat a lot, add some sodium with an electrolyte sports drink to your water or extra salt on your food to stock up for the race.

Missing breakfast

Nervous stomachs don’t always want food, but you’re going to burn a lot of calories during a triathlon, so you need to make sure you don’t skip the most important meal of the day when racing. If you’re not keen on the idea of eating much beforehand, make sure you get up in plenty of time to graze and get the calories in. Focus on easily digestible – and even semi-liquid – foods like porridge with honey, smoothies or meal replacement drinks. Avoid foods high in fibre, as you don’t want too much of it sat in your stomach adding weight and increasing the likelihood of needing toilet stops during the race.

Post-race re-fuelling

After the race, how you re-fuel and re-hydrate will influence how quickly you can recover and get back into training again. Here’s how a post-sprint/Olympic race routine could work for the first 24hrs.

Sunday 11am

Finish the race. Consume water (to thirst) and either a sports drink or a carbohydrate-rich snack within the first 30mins. An energy bar, banana or a piece of malt loaf all work very well for this.

Sunday 2pm

Having attended the prize-giving and collected your trophies, break up the drive home with a stop at a pub for a roast dinner containing protein, more carbs and some fresh veg. Assuming you’re not driving, balance that out with a pint of ale (alongside a glass of water).

Sunday 7pm

Dine on another well-balanced meal of protein and fresh vegetables with some additional carbohydrates if you are feeling hungry. Continue to drink water to thirst.

Sunday 9pm

If you’re still peckish, have a small carb-based snack, such as a banana or piece of wholemeal toast, before an early night.

Monday 8am

Breakfast on an omelette made with some chopped veg for plenty of high-quality protein and plant-based nutrients. Also have a couple of portions of fruit if you’re still hungry. Drink water with your morning cup of tea or coffee.

Monday 11am

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Mid-morning snack of fruit and a handful of raw nuts.