Eat Right – How to eat for a triathlon

If you were to Google, right now – “how to eat for a triathlon” you would no doubt be inundated with an overwhelming amount of information.

Some of that info is from well-reputed, educated sources. Some is well-researched, some not as much but still has practical applications.

And, there is some information that is just garbage (but hey it’s the internet). “How to eat for a triathlon” is probably actually a dangerous question to be asking Google if you’re a beginner.

It wasn’t as complicated when I first started racing triathlon, you just ate whatever gel was thrown at you and got on with it. But we realised that most of the race-fuel products were pretty nasty so we sought better alternatives. You can now get vegan-friendly, or gluten-free, low sugar sports fuels. So that space has changed a lot. 

I think that’s a good thing. We have better options to suit a variety of requirements.

But the reason why it got so out of hand in the first place is that I just don’t think athletes were eating right in the first place. I am talking about daily nutrition, not training or racing. My evidence for that is the body types that were getting around the race courses.

We are not going down that rabbit hole, but if you are carrying more weight than you need, from a general health perspective, then you are certainly going to put a lot of additional and unnecessary stress on your body when you race. That’s called making life harder than you need to.

I know a lot of people start endurance sports in an effort to lose weight and improve their health. That is a very very good thing and should be encouraged. 

Back then, and now still, there was a big misconception that because you were training lots, you needed to eat lots and that it really didn’t matter what – knowing how to eat for a triathlon meant as long as you got that energy into the body, it would take care of the rest.

Wrong.

If you overload the body poor nutrition every day, because you “will burn it” anyway, and then go race and eat all the racing snacks you can, you have a recipe that explains why so many age group athletes have gut issues.

Yes, there is a percentage of the population that have underlying, unknown issues that exacerbate stomach health, but there is also the very big portion of athletes who simply think that they can get away with eating shit food while expecting to perform well. They think they know how to eat for a triathlon, because they sometimes get results. But what did it cost?

There is a reason that many athletes tend to not perform well, never really making progress as the seasons go on. There are other factors that determine how big the rut is, but your daily nutrition is a large consideration.

I will make this very clear: you must be healthy to do well in this sport. Knowing what to eat pretty much decides this.

From that, two other things: doing well in endurance sport is interpreted however an individual wants; some chase Kona, others a PB, some just do better each day. And health can sometimes be a broad stroke, but there are clinical assessments that help shape what that looks like for the general public.

I once had an argument at a race with someone who was of the opinion that because the sport encouraged a healthy lifestyle, that they were healthier than the general public, and therefore he could eat whatever he wanted. Unfortunately, a lifestyle is only such if you accept that you need to live it completely. You cannot get around the fact that you need to eat right, all the time.

What does eating right even mean?

Again, googling that will throw some pretty crazy stuff at you. But let’s just use my favourite thought process: common sense.

We know excessive sugar is bad (come at me with a lot of good intel if you plan on disagreeing), we know that fresh fruits and vegetables are good. We know that protein is important, as are good fats. It’s not within my pay grade to tell you the exact mixture of fats, proteins and carbohydrates you need each day, and especially during big training blocks. But common sense would tell you that you should be looking for the cleanest sources of those macronutrients. 

Most of those do not need to come from a packet or tub. You can get all the nutrient density you need from eating good clean fresh food, and lots of it. That’s it. You don’t need to overcomplicate this. Just eat real food, all the time. Hey, have a pizza on occasion (72-hour aged sourdough is amazing!), but not every week. Eat some chocolate if that’s your thing – just make the effort to source some good stuff, which is not that hard to do. And don’t overdo it.

You have to put some thought into it, but mindless eating is partly to blame for the obesity and heart disease epidemic that we now face, despite all that positive influence from the “health” industry, and all of the diet books out there.

So, if you are struggling with what you should be eating to be healthy (remember, health comes before athletic pursuits), and train and race like a machine, then you need to take a step back. Look at what is inside your fridge and pantry. If there is stuff in there that isn’t working for you – get rid of it. Permanently.

Don’t blame the spouse or kids – you are in control of goes in your mouth (and really, eating right absolutely can and should be a family experience, not a burden).

You owe it to your health, and your racing. KNOW how to eat for a triathlon.