I am getting excited for my first Olympic. What are your thoughts on nutrition for a 3 to 3 1/2 hour Olympic triathlon? I'm 5'9", 225 and my goal is roughly 30 minutes swim, hour and a half bike, and a one hour run. They have Gatorade and water at the run aid stations and gel available at the 10K turnaround. I have trained with all of the above nutrition and aside from drinking right before I start the run I don't ever have any stomach issues. Any nutrition I'm missing? Should I be taking something right after the swim? More on the bike? I have done a sprint distance in training with only water but I had a bad experience at my first half marathon where I crashed at 10 miles due to nutrition.
Great questions! In general, (and I hesitate to use that term because everyone is different!) any race or training session less than an hour and a half doesn’t really require any nutrition, but may require water. For racing, this is almost always the case. For races longer than that, the athlete should plan on taking in nutrition. Here are some “General Rules of Thumb”:
WHEN? Obviously, we don’t take in anything in triathlon on the swim (unless it’s an Ultra Tri). That leaves the bike and the run. Typically the run, with it’s pounding and higher producing heart rates, is more difficult than the bike. So, the majority of your nutrition should be planned for the bike segment.
HOW MUCH? There are many ways to quantify nutrition. I count calories as one method. For a total event time of less than 4.5 hours, I typically recommend men of average weight and ability experiment with taking in 100 to 250 calories an hour on the bike. For the average woman, maybe 75 - 150 calories an hour. For the run, due to the issues mentioned above, I recommend about half of that.
WHAT? Nutrition comes in all forms: liquid sports drinks, gels and gooey “chomps” and solid foods. For the bike, due to the lower heart rate and non-impact, an athlete can choose from all of these types. The only issue to consider is what can be carried and accessed safely on the bike and what might be accessed on the course. For the run, typically, solids don’t work well as the body prioritizes energy systems and sends blood away from the gut thus preventing good digestion that’s required to breakdown solid food. This is something that each athlete has to experiment with BEFORE the event.
HYDRATION! No matter what the athlete decides for nutrition, hydration needs to be at the top of the priority. Athletes should plan based on the race length, weather, body sweat rate and experience during training. This is something that is essential to a successful race, so work with your coach to come up with a plan!
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