Do Triathletes Eat During A Race?

Suppose you are anything like me, just your average 15 km a week jogger that walks, runs and stops to check the view. In that case, you may find yourself wondering how do triathletes maintain their energy levels when facing three different sports in one race and whether they eat during the race?

Triathletes need to maintain high energy levels during a race. They ensure this by upping their carbohydrate intake as this is a source of instant energy. Energy bars, carbohydrate gels, sports drinks, and flapjacks are examples of what a triathlete would consume during a race. 

A triathlon takes over several hours to complete, and as we take a closer look behind the scenes, we learn the importance of consuming the right things during the race to keep us moving at a reasonable speed. Let’s examine what to eat before, after, and during a triathlon and why overeating or stocking up does not count in our favor.

How And What Triathletes Eat During A Race

If we have been preparing for a race by building upon our carbohydrates, our body should naturally have energy stored for approximately 90 minutes of exercise.  But when we start participating in races that are longer than 90 minutes, we have to start taking a good look at putting back the energy we are putting out from the start of the race to maintain a good and happy pace throughout the race.

Carbohydrates are essential to consume during a race like a triathlon or any other longer distance exercise or training because carbohydrates are quickly broken down by the body and then released as fuel or energy to our muscles.  During a challenging workout, a triathlon, for example, it is recommended to consume between 30 – 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

A triathlete generally burns between 500-1000 calories per hour during a race which means their job will make up 30 – 50% of those calories.  Because there are three different sports, you can pick and choose what worksbest for you.  

  • Swimming is typically the first sport in triathlon, and most triathletes should be well carb-loaded at the start of any race.  What may be a good option at this point, triathletes use this often, is a sports drink or a sports gel right before or after the swim, ensuring you are getting in those calories and staying up to date.  It is easy to lose track, so see what works to keep on top of your count.
  • The second part of a triathlon is the bike part of the race, which is considered the easiest part for refueling. Therefore this is an excellent place to take the opportunity and get in those solid snacks such as sandwiches, flapjacks (baked bar), energy bars, and fruits.  Again, you can be creative here.  There is no rule, but you want to have as high as you can carb intake.
  • Running is the final leg of the race and the hardest for the apparent reason that it is the last part, and most of the triathlete’s energy has been spent at this point of the race.  It is slightly tougher to find ways to get those carbohydrates in than on a bicycle, and triathletes have opted for more accessible options such as energy drinks, gels, sweets, and dried fruit.  Take your pick. 

Here are a few examples of foods and drinks and their carbohydrate count.   

Food/Drinks:Carbohydrate Count:
Bowl of oats16g
Cheese and ham sandwich32g
Bowl of whole-grain cereals27g
Quinoa bowl39g
One medium banana27g
Energy bar7g
Energy drink12g

What Does A Professional Triathlete’s Nutritional Requirement Look Like?

A triathlete’s nutrition should be simple and easy to develop into away of life that promotes consistency.  It has been suggested that triathletes find healthy breakfasts and lunches that seldom change yet have all the necessary nutrients that are needed on both a regular and daily basis.

Breakfast:Calorie Count:Lunch:Calorie Count:
Gluten-free pancakes and syrupPer 2 (no syrup): 28.2 g Carbohydrates 6.7 ProteinBroccoli and cauliflower cheese bake with brown rice.One serving: 31.5 g Carbohydrates 15 g Protein
Muffin and a banana.Per 1 (including banana): 45 g Carbohydrates 3 g Protein  Chicken stir fry with rice.One serving: 45 g Carbohydrates 39 g Protein  
Peanut butter on toast.Per 2 slices: 32 g Carbohydrates 11 g ProteinBacon, avocado, and feta pizza.Per serving: 35 g Carbohydrates 11 g Protein

What Do Triathletes Eat Before, On The Day, And After A Triathlon? 

A triathlete’s diet does not change much.   A triathlete’s breakfast on race day is not much different from yesterday’s breakfast or the day before that.  The focus is mainly oncarbohydrate intake because athletes need instant energy.  But this doesn’t mean that we must forget about protein and fat intake to help avoid muscle damage. Let’s look at what triathletes eat before, on race day, and after a triathlon.

  • In the week preceding the race day, the triathlete’s diet should focus on calories being 55 % carbohydrates and the remainder equally split between protein and fats.  A couple of days before the race, triathletes will up their carbohydrate intake to over 70% to boost glycogen stores for an optimal energy resource on race day.
  • On the day of the race, the triathlete will try to eat 1 to 2 hours before the race starts.  So, for early morning races, we could try to take a look at having a breakfast that includes oats, cereals, toasted cheese sandwiches, omelets, or a combination.  We may retain any lunch for races that start later, such as sandwiches, pasta, wraps, or any other choices you may prefer.
  • For a triathlete, a post-race or a post-training session is when adaptations to training occur, and it has been suggested that you primarily take care at this point to make sure you get in enough nutrients.  It is essential to focus on consuming the right balance of protein and carbohydrates to replenish your energy levels.

Why Overeating Or Stocking Up Does Not Count In Your Favor

We learn to up our carbohydrate intake the closer we get to a race, and if we do it well, at the outset of a race, our body should have enough energy stored to last us up to 90 minutes.   However, if we uptake our carbohydrate count too much, it can lead to unhealthy weight gain and ultimately slow us down.

When you do the proper research, you will become knowledgeable about the right amount of carbohydrates to consume.  Watching how much exercise you are doing and staying up to date with what’s happening to your body will help you maintain a good and healthy weight.

The problem is that if we overeat carbohydrates, our body will only use what it needs to at the time. The rest will be turned into fat and stored as long-term energy.  If we don’t watch the diet aspect of race preparation, we will be putting on unnecessary and unhealthy weight.


Well, there you have it.  In my opinion, anyone whose keen and willing can complete a triathlon, not just the elite.  I personally loved discovering that “good” in triathlon terms does not necessarily mean “fast.” It’s all about finding the right balance with regards to nutrition.

A little bit of a commitment and becoming conscious of your energy input and output will ensure a fantastic experience of physically and mentally challenging yourself and consuming the right foods before, during, and after a race makes a world of difference!


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