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How Triathlon Nutrition Plans Work


Whether in training or in a race, a triathlete needs to eat more than the average person.
Whether in training or in a race, a triathlete needs to eat more than the average person.
Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

There's no way around it, 140.6 miles is a long way. Even in a car. On human power alone, it's a long-distance triathlon, and it requires long-term preparation and a highly specialized training program. Part of that program involves nutrition.

Triathlons are races that combine swimming, cycling and running in a single event, each for a different distance. Triathlons come in a variety of distances, but the most common are:

  • Sprint: 16 miles/25.75 kilometers
  • Intermediate or Olympic: 32 miles/51.5 kilometers
  • Half-Iron or simply "70.3": 70.3 miles/113 kilometers
  • Iron or Long Course: 140.6 miles/226.2 kilometers

The famous Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii is an ultra-distance triathlon. The race has a 17-hour time limit, but the top athletes typically take between eight and nine hours to finish (see How the Ironman Works).

Just as different types of cars have different fuel needs, triathletes, and endurance athletes in general, have different nutritional requirements from the rest of the population.

The good-eating basics are the same: a variety of foods from the different food groups (carbohydrates, proteins, dairy, fruits/vegetables), not too much saturated fat, a good supply of all the necessary vitamins and minerals, enough fluids to keep the body going in optimal condition, and an appropriate number of calories going in to cover the amount expended throughout the day.

That's the first place where a triathlete's nutrition plan is going to veer off the common course. Whether in training or in a race, a triathlete needs to eat a lot more than the averagely active person.

A lot more.


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