Triathlon nutrition: 10 common mistakes triathletes make

Jon Hodgkinson, nutritionist for Triathlon Coaching UK and founder of Real Food Function, explains how to avoid 10 common nutritional mistakes triathletes often make

Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images for Ironman

1. Failing to prepare 


You’ve signed up to a new training programme, swim sets are pencilled in, long rides have been okayed with your other half (sort of!) and that threshold run is looming. GREAT but what are you fuelling these sessions with? What will you use to recover? How does your daily routine impact the times you can eat and foods you have access to? Nutrition is often the missing link in any good training programme. It’s time to make a plan. My top prep tip for success: batch cook and freeze. With winter rides, a hearty soup will do the trick for post-ride recovery; warming and nourishing at the same time.

2. Changing nutrition strategy on race day

The feed station doesn’t have a bar or gel you’ve used on all those hard fought training miles… what do you do? Pick up the nearest option and hope for the best? What’s the worst that could happen? It’s all just energy, right?  This is one detail you may want to pay more attention to if you’ve ever had a turn for the worse during a race. Your body, under race day tension and physical exertion, is a different beast to the one you normally find yourself in. A late change to unfamiliar ingredients could come back to bite later in the race. Here’s where you need to work on consistency. Where possible control the food you have on the bike, store what you can on your person for the run and stick with what you know when the pressure is on.

Ironman nutrition: what to carry on the bike

Energy gels: 10 of the best reviewed, test and rated

3. Making it harder for the body to recover

Hard training creates an inflammatory response from the body to help kick-start recovery. This is quite natural, however from a nutritional approach we often consume foods that also add to this inflammatory load leaving the body in a more degenerated state making recovery for the next session much harder. Try cutting out refined and processed foods. Cook with saturated and mono-unsaturated fats such as butter, coconut oil and olive oil as they don’t degrade too quickly when heated. Up your Omega 3 levels with nuts, eggs, oily fish and consider a good quality fish oil capsule or liquid.

How and why to fuel up for a top recovery

Triathlon recovery: what to eat post-race

4. Seeing food purely as fuel

It’s all too easy to see food as a means to an end. Often, when your training load is high, you may grab anything just to keep going. This is where we need a little more insight to help aid both performance and recovery. My top tip? Get ahead and plan your meals for the week or at least a few days, batch cook in the evening and have leftovers ready to go the next day. Always be one step ahead.

5.Using triathlon to lose weight

The age-old mantra of move more, eat less is slowly starting to be picked apart within the research community when it comes to weight loss. However, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of expecting your triathlon training to be the driver for dropping a few pounds. In some instances this works but don’t be surprised if your training goes up without a correlation in weight going down.

Jon Hodgkinson is a nutritionist for Triathlon Coaching UK and founder of Real Food Function


6. Training through the fatigue

Alarm set for an early morning swim, bike or run and hit the snooze button more times than you’d like to admit? Sleep is a vital component of your recovery routine and shouldn’t be overlooked. Here’s where you could be going wrong. Too much caffeine throughout the day, relying on stimulants and sugary-based foods to give you a boost, using your smartphone late at night and disrupting your body’s natural down regulation process.

7. Overusing stimulants during the day

Caffeine and sugar definitely give a boost BUT do you know how much you’re actually consuming? Could it be that our constant micro dosing of such stimulants is inhibiting training performance? The answer is probably yes but in order to see that in action we need to start reducing them (sometimes slowly) within our daily routine allowing the body to become more sensitive to their effect when we really do need them.

How – and why – to bin the sugar

8. Forgetting the bigger picture

We’ve all succumbed to some savvy supplement marketing But in reality most benefits sold in supplements whether it’s improved energy levels or reduced recovery time can be obtained via advanced planning and good sourcing of the foods we consume. A simple way to achieve this would be to control blood sugar levels for improved energy, stop watching your phone late at night and get to bed earlier for better recovery. This may sound simple, but it really does work. At Triathlon Coaching UK we’re all about the bigger picture, especially when it comes to nutrition.

9. Losing focus in the off-season

Your main event is done and the training diary is much more manageable. Your foot is off the gas, but your nutrition should not be. Those extra pounds you lost in training will reappear! Why not view the off-season as the perfect opportunity to hone your nutritional skills? Practice meal prep technique, work on routine, get your partner on board, improve your cooking skills. Keep it simple at first, maybe scramble some eggs, throw in a few peppers and toast some sourdough before trying to set out on the quest for a Michelin star!

How to overhaul your diet this autumn

10. Ignoring that Gut Feeling

Studies of the gut are increasingly prominent and we’re now realising how important this complex part of our digestive system really is. Fermented milk products, such as natural yoghurt containing probiotic bacterial strains, can have a positive impact on gastrointestinal wellbeing and digestive comfort. When your body’s under stress it’s not so easy to absorb the foods you’re feeding it and the last thing you want on the start line of your next race is an upset stomach, or even worse halfway through a long ride! Build in some natural probiotic containing foods to your daily routine, full fat natural yoghurt is a good start.

How to ease gastrointestinal distress when racing

Dealing with the dreaded ‘runner’s trots’

You can subscribe to 220 Triathlon magazine here



What and when to eat before an Ironman

12 sports nutritional tips for the perfect triathlete diet

Jon Hodgkinson is a nutritionist for Triathlon Coaching UK and founder of Real Food Function