How to Find Foods that Work Best With Your Training Program

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What triathletes eat in the months, days and hours before a race is just as important as their fitness routine. With the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon less than one month away, participants are ramping up their training in anticipation of this demanding event.

While every athlete’s needs are different, registered dietitian and certified clinical nutritionist Karen Raden says making sure athletes eat the right amount of macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats – is most important.

If triathletes want to use nutrition to improve their athletic performance, they need to experiment with food choices in the weeks leading up to the event. By the time they’re at the starting line, they’ll have identified patterns in their eating and know which foods to eat or avoid for their best results.

Scott “Hootie” Hutmacher is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach and has participated in triathlons for fifteen years. He encourages triathletes to practice like they play, meaning eating and training like they would on the actual day of the triathlon weeks in advance.


“It [sports nutrition] will never be 100 percent exact science, you have to keep experimenting and the experimentation comes in how you train,” says Hutmacher, who is the brand manager for Life Time Tri. “Your training should personify what race day looks like.”

For example, it’s best not to “carbo-load” the night before the triathlon if athletes aren’t used to that type of dinner. If athletes want to increase their carbohydrate intake closer to the race, Raden said that’s perfectly fine but they should start increasing the amount of carbohydrates they consume four or five days in advance.

“You don’t want to try anything new the night before,” says Raden, who owns Karen Raden LLC, her nutrition practice in Northbrook.

Months before the race is when triathletes can experiment with foods and find the ones that work best for their bodies. Raden suggests athletes track their food consumption with an app like My Fitness Pal, to help them determine which foods leave them feeling great and which leave them lacking energy.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to be in touch with your body during your training and find what foods work best for you,” says Raden.

In the days leading up to the race, Raden suggests athletes eat balanced meals such as chicken with a sweet potato and broccoli or a quinoa salad with salmon for dinner.

“You want to have a third to a half of your plate coming from starches or carbohydrates,” says Raden.

The morning of the race, Raden suggests eating a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter and a banana or a bagel with peanut butter or almond butter. Whatever athletes choose to eat, it should be something they are familiar with and have tried before.

Hutmacher also stresses the importance of hydration and using aid stations along the course, especially for first time triathletes.

“Prior to and then during the race you need to put anywhere from 18 to 20 ounces of fluid in your system every hour and that should be a concentration of both sports drinks and then water because they’re [triathletes] losing sodium and electrolytes that you really need for your nerves and neurons to fire properly and think coherently as an athlete,” says Hutmacher.