We like to think of triathlon training as 3 disciplines: swim, bike, run but in reality, the best triathletes recognize a key 4th discipline - fueling (nutrition and hydration).

There are hundreds of articles that you can read on the proper amount of nutrition you should be taking in during a race so we wanted to take a slightly different approach in this article Over the years, we’ve actually found that the athletes who take the time to experiment and track what works with their body during training have the best experiences on race day.

The longer your race distance, the more important your fueling strategy becomes.

We say fueling rather than nutrition or hydration because it really is about what you need to take in over the course of the race to fuel your body for a successful race.

You should take several often over-looked factors into account when thinking about your fueling strategy: race distance (or time), your body, the temperatures on race day, and your bike set-up.

Race Distance (or time)
The longer the race, the more important it is to dial in your fueling strategy. If all other factors are dialed in (proper training, sleep, stress), then your fueling strategy will help you have a successful race. However, if you get your fueling strategy wrong (especially on a long-course race), you’ll really know it!

For a shorter distance race (sprint), you probably don’t need to take in any additional calories during the race and a minimal amount of water. However, if you are an athlete who knows you'll be on the course a bit longer or you are in a much later race wave (you start 45 min - 1 hour behind others) you may want to add some kind of nutrition to your race bag.

As your race gets longer, you will need a more strategic approach to when and how you take in water, electrolytes, and calories.

Your Body
Everyone’s body is different and your race day fueling plan should be tailored to the needs of your body. This comes from a lot of practice in training.

How does your body process sugar? Carbs?

Can you handle the taste/texture of gels?

Do you do better with solid food?

Do you need a little time after you come out of the swim to settle your stomach before you start to drink much water?

How does your race day plan fit in with your overall nutrition plan?

These are all great questions to ask yourself.

The best way to learn is to practice in training and in racing. If you’re working toward an “A” race (one where you want to perform at your best), then use other races to try different nutrition strategies.

We often hear nothing new on race day but as you start to get to know your body, you'll know what it needs on race day and what foods/liquids you can add to help you. Most of us have never had chicken broth in training but on the run of an Ironman your body may really be craving sodium. The chicken broth they put on the course is a great way to get it - especially if you can't stomach anything else sweet by that point.

Race Day Temperatures
The weather on race day can have a big impact on your fueling strategy. Unusually hot temps will mean that you need to take in more water and electrolytes (and you may not feel hungry because you’re hot). Cooler temps can mean you don’t ever feel thirsty. Know exactly how much water and nutrition you should be taking in on race day and follow that plan. Some people write their fueling plan on their arm or mark their bottles for how much they should be drinking each hour.

Races, especially long-course races SHOULD provide adequate water on the course but when temperatures soar, races have been notorious for running out of water on the course. Plan ahead and add extra water to your transition area or special needs bags if you have a concern about the temperatures. Be self-sufficient and you won’t have an issue when problems like this arise.

Your Bike Set Up
One issue that athletes often overlook is their bike set up. This happens to newer athletes or athletes who spend a lot of their training time on the trainer. It’s important that you are able to access your nutrition.

If you are not comfortable reaching for water bottles or into your jersey pocket for nutrition, make sure you have a set up that allows you easy access. This is where a front-mounted water bottle and a nutrition pouch on the front of your bike come in handy.

Often people stop pedaling on a trainer ride or take a little break on the side of the road to eat when on an outdoor ride. Practice eating and drinking while riding in training - even training indoors. Practice will help you feel more comfortable on race day.

No doubt, you’ll get plenty of advice on race day fueling from coaches, friends, articles and even in the store when you visit. The most important thing is to experiment so you really understand what works best for your body.


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