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Simple Nutrition Tips For Your First Triathlon

Simple Nutrition Tips For Your First Triathlon by Jackie Hendrickson RD, MPH for Run Tri Bike Magazine

Congrats, you just signed up for your first triathlon! You are probably wondering what you need to do to train properly for your event. Many athletes also wonder what they should do to improve their nutrition as they are pursuing athletic goals. Here are 5 simple nutrition tips for you to follow as you get started with your first triathlon.

Simple Nutrition Tips To Help You With Your First Triathlon


#1 Commit To A Purpose Behind Your Fueling

It is not uncommon for me to work with athletes who ask for a fueling plan that helps them perform at the best of their abilities AND lose weight at the same time. While combining these two nutrition-related goals seems like a logical thought process, the unfortunate reality is that performance nutrition and weight loss typically don’t coincide very well.

In simple terms, weight loss requires some sort of deficit in your diet. That same deficit can be the cause of poor performance, injury, hormone imbalances, among other issues in athletes who are not meeting their energy needs on a day to day basis. Just as your phone doesn’t function at full capacity when it is on “low power mode,” your body will not function at its very best when it is low on fuel.

Commit to a purpose behind your fueling. If you really want to nail your performance in your upcoming event, you have to learn to eat enough to support your training needs. Don’t get caught up in the number on the scale during your training block. 

#2 Color, Carb, Protein

Eating a balance of nutrients is one of the most important things you can do to improve your performance & have more stable energy levels throughout the day. A simple formula I like to challenge my athletes to follow is to include at least 1 color, 1 carb, and 1 protein at each meal. For snacks, choose 2 of those components. This allows you to make simple meals more complete & geared towards performance. If your typical breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal (carb), consider adding berries (color) & a scoop of greek yogurt and peanut butter (protein) to fit this formula.

#3 Pre & Post Workout Fueling

Prioritize your fueling pre & post workout to get the most out of your training. Fueling before your workout will give you energy to complete the effort feeling strong and capable. It will also put your body in a state where it feels safe & able to focus on performance. Fueling ASAP after your workout will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover from your training. That recovery is the key to helping you be stronger, faster, and injury-free.

Before your workout, focus on eating simple carbohydrates. Most athletes need about 30-60 grams of carbohydrate within 1-2 hrs of working out to feel their best. Some quick ideas include 1 cup of applesauce, 2 ½ sheets of graham crackers, 3-4 dates dipped in peanut butter, ½-1 bagel, or 1 full banana.

After your workout, focus on refueling with both carbohydrate and protein. A very general target fueling range would be between 20-30 grams of protein and about 60 grams of carbohydrate. Some quick ideas include 2 cups of chocolate milk, Corepower protein shake + banana, or a breakfast burrito with eggs, veggies, cheese, and a bowl of fruit on the side.

#4 Practice, Practice, Practice

Learning to fuel properly surrounding your workout takes practice. In order to get your body used to what you will be doing on race day, make sure to practice it during your training. It takes a few trial and error options to find what sits well in your stomach. It also takes time for your gut to adjust to eating while working out. Be patient with the process! It may take time, but it is well worth it.

If your competition (or training session) is longer than an hour, you will benefit from fueling during your workout. For endurance events, you will want to fuel with simple carbohydrates. Start by taking familiar foods (such as an applesauce pouch or fruit snacks) with you during your training sessions. Aim for at least 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour to start with. Feel free to experiment with a variety of gels, chews, and sports drinks. My most recommended fueling options at the moment include: Spring Awesome Sauce gel, UCAN pineapple gel, Maurten gel, Naak fueling + hydration drink, and the Clif Shot Bloks.

#5 Adopt A “For The Most Part” Mentality

There is no such thing as a perfect diet! So no need to keep chasing it or feeling guilty for ‘falling short’ of it day after day. Instead of aiming for perfection, instead work to have good nutrition habits “for the most part.” You may have noticed that you feel best when you include more vegetables in your meals. Perhaps you make a goal to include a vegetable with every lunch and dinner for the most part. This allows you to still be intentional about getting vegetables into your day, but allows for flexibility if it doesn’t happen from time to time.

Wrapping it up

Improving your nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated. As you begin to take training more seriously, these simple tips will help you get started on the right path. Focus on fueling for performance, include a color, carb & protein at most meals, prioritize your pre & post workout meals or snacks, keep practicing, and adopt a “for the most part” mentality when it comes to making sustainable nutrition changes. These simple nutrition tips will help you through your first triathlon and beyond.


Jackie Hendrickson RD, MPH Enduura Nutrition Run Tri Bike Magazine Tips

Jackie Hendrickson RD, MPH is a registered dietitian with a Masters Degree in public health nutrition from Utah State University. Jackie is the owner of Enduura Nutrition and loves coaching her athletes to their athletic potential through sustainable training & nutrition principles. She is an avid road & trail marathoner with a background in collegiate track, cross country, and competitive swimming. Jackie and her husband, Adam, were teammates in college and continue to pursue their running goals together. They live in beautiful Ogden, Utah with their 2 year old son, Lincoln.