Fuelling a Sprint and Olympic Distance Triathlon

Fuelling a Sprint and Olympic Distance Triathlon
Victoria Jones - sports dietitian. Nutrition support at Sports nutrition wales
Written by Victoria


For a Sprint, Standard Distance or Olympic distance Triathlon the key is not to leave your nutritional planning to the last minute, Preparation is key!

Read on for some Sport Dietitian tips on how to get your Nutrition and hydration plan spot on in preparation for Race day.

Fuelling tips for a Triathlon


    1. Fuel up Your Tank!
      Your Body will use a combination of carbohydrate (CHO) and Fat as fuel on race day. It’s essential that you prepare you fuel tank in advance of race day. This means tapering and starting to top up your CHO stores 48hrs before race day. Do this by consuming regular meals and snacks containing good quality CHO. Opt for easily digestible meals and snacks and steer clear of fatty foods. Remember to stay well hydrated.
    2. Race Morning
      The morning of your race should be a CHO top up if you’ve fuelled well the 48hrs beforehand. Aim to have a good breakfast at least 2-3hrs before the start of your race. Slow-burning CHO foods are best e.g porridge and banana with honey or a bagel with peanut butter and Jam. Some athletes are able to tolerate some protein e.g Baked Beans on Toast. What you choose is a matter of personal preference however avoid trying any new foods on race day and go with what you know works well for you and what you can tolerate and digest easily.
    3. Sprint Distance
      For a sprint triathlon It is advisable to have a carbohydrate ‘top up’ 30mins prior to the race start – this can be in the form of a CHO gel or isotonic sports drink. Providing you have Fuelled well before the race, carbohydrate is not essential during the race however fluid is key with the bike offering the best opportunity to drink although this can also be quite a challenge! Some athletes find aero bottles useful as they allow them to maintain their aerodynamic position while maintaining their hydration. If you are likely to be competing in warm weather adding electrolytes to your fluid can help to replace losses. If you are likely to be cycling for > 60mins you may need to consider taking on board some fuel to see you through to the run either in the form of a CHO gel, CHO blocks or isotonic sports drink. Aim for at least 30g CHO.
    4. Olympic Or Standard Distance Triathlon
      For an olympic or standard distance triathlon the same applies with race day preparation. Quick re- cap – Remember to to top up CHO 48 hrs pre race and stay hydrated, consume a good breakfast 2-3hrs before the start of the race and have a CHO top up 30mins pre race. Fuel is essential  during this race as the length of time racing is longer and hydration is also important. As a rule aim to consume 30-60g/hr CHO and 400-800ml fluid /hr. E.g if you were aiming to complete an  Olympic Distance Triathlon in 3 hrs you would need approx 90g CHO and 1200mls fluid. A nutritional Plan might be x 2 500ml CHO + electrolyte drinks on the bike (Total 60g CHO) then a CHO gel in the last mins before T2 prior to the run (30g) CHO + water at each aid station during the run. During an Olympic Distance triathlon your opportunity to fuel and hydrate is on the bike. The bike offers the ideal position to absorb and digest CHO. Taking a gel in the last 10-15 mins on the bike aids  digestion and allows it to work in preparation for your run. If your run is likely to be over 1hr you may want to take additional CHO with you while running n the form of an isotonic sports drink which will meet your hydration needs, replace electrolytes and provide additional CHO.
    5. To perform at your best on race day practice your nutrition strategy on a few training sessions beforehand to see what works best for you. When it comes to race day even mastering the art of hydrating effectively on the bike or adapting your bike to enable you to maintain your hydration effectively can make the difference between a good performance and beating your PB so don’t leave your nutrition and hydration until the last minute, give it due attention and you will reap the rewards!
    6. Don’t neglect your Recovery! After completing your race make sure you recover well  – Rehydrate, aim to consume at least 1g/kg CHO and 20-25g protein. Recovering well makes sure you replenish you glycogen (CHO stores) and helps to repair your muscles.

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