Nutrition, Triathlon’s Fourth Discipline


Triathlon, when it comes to long distance racing, is really not very accurate. It presumes that there are three disciplines that you compete in. While that may be technically true I believe that nutrition is a discipline that is as important to practice and master and the other three.

I’ve been doing long distance triathlons (1/2 Ironman and Ironman) now for five years and I’m still not 100% comfortable with a nutrition strategy. However, I’ve done lots of testing and will be testing my latest strategy on Sunday. The intent of this post is to lay out that strategy. Hopefully it helps me think it out again and helps others racing long distance triathlons.

I’ll preface the “menu” below with the fact that I’m a huge fan of Hammer Nutrition products. They don’t have any junk, offer a full line of products for endurance athletes and most importantly are a great company that offers all the help you need. If you haven’t ordered before and you’d like to try them out you can receive a 15% discount on your first order by using this link.

Pre-race: With the race starting at 7am my goal will be to eat at around 4am. Breakfast will consist of 3 scoops of Sustained Energy mixed in 24 ounces of water along with 2 serving of Hammer Gel (I like to mix the apple cinnamon and banana). That will be about 500 calories made up of about 120 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protien.

I’ve also been using a product from Hammer called Liquid Endurance. You can read about the product on their website but I’m using it to help minimize fluid depletion.

Swim: 15 minutes before the swim start I’ll have 1 serving of gel (about 90 calories or 23 grams of carbs)

Bike: After going through the first transition and getting on the bike, I’ll start to take in 100 calories every 20 minutes. I’m planning on a 6 1/2 to 7 hour bike. The calories for the first 4 hours will be from Sustained Energy which is a mix of complex carbohydrates and some protien. Having some protien mixed in for long distance events helps to prevent your muscles from cannibalizing on themselves when they run out of glycogen for fuel.

For the 5th hour I’m planning on having a Hammer Bar which is about 220 calories and has a mix of carbs, protien and a little fat. This is a new addition for me but after trying an all liquid nutrition strategy during my Ironman in 2006 and feeling hungry, I’m trying to add some fat to help feel more full. Fat can tend to slow the absorption of nutrients during the digestive process which has the potential to slow delivery of fuel to my muscles, but I’ve tested it in training and I still seemed to feel OK.

For the balance of the bike I’ll only take in Hammer Gel. I respond very well to the gel and in anticipation of 5 hours of running I want my stomach to be feeling good by the end of the bike. I tried Sustained Energy during the run in 2006 and the slower absorption of the protien didn’t agree with my digestion during the run.

Run: My plan for the run is to try and stick with Hammer Gel. I’ll drop my caloric intake to 25o calories per hour and will also be bringing another Hammer Bar with me in case I get that hungry feeling like I did in 2006. It may prompt a little walking with the fat and protien content but the change in flavors and fuller feeling stomach will outweigh the walk and help me to run the balance of the race faster.

I’m planning on relying more on the aid stations this year for water. In past years I’ve worn a fuel belt with water for the entire run portion of the race. My plan this year is to wear the fuel belt for the first of two loops and then drop the belt in my special needs bag before loop 2. I tend to feel like I have a bloated stomach deep into a long race and I’m hoping that getting rid of an elastic belt around my waist will help make the 2nd loop more comfortable. Once I hit the bike I’ll be shooting for taking in 20 – 30 ounces of water per hour, depending on how I’m feeling. The forecast right now is for muggy weather so I’m going to try to shoot for 30 oz.

Two other things I’ll have with me on the course.

1. Endurolytes – these are electrolytes and I’ll be taking in 2 – 3 per hour to avoid hyponatremia and muscle cramps
2. Tums – Just in case I get any stomach distress, these will hopefully help to provide some temporary relief.

Post Race: While I’ll try to each some high quality protien and carbohydrates to try and replenish the 10,000 – 13,000 calories I’m expecting to burn, what I’ll likely reach for are potato chips and pizza. For whatever reason this is what I crave post race 🙂

That’s it! I’ve tried to keep it relatively simple so that I don’t have to do a lot of thinking about while on course. And, most importantly, I’ve tested everying during training to get as sure as possible that I’ll respond well to the plan.

I’m just a regular Hammer customer who really believes in their products. I don’t receive any compensation from them. I actually spend quite a bit of money on their products. So, if you decide to give them a try please mention my name or use this link and they will provide you with a 15% discount on your first order and give me a referral credit based on the amount of your first order. Me and my wallet will really appreciate it.

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