What Should My Nutrition Plan Be For a Sprint Triathlon?

Do you need calories, caffeine, and electrolytes during a sprint-distance triathlon? Nutritionist and coach Marni Sumbal provides the answer.

Race Morning

At least 2.5-3 hours before the race, aim to consume around 80-100g (320- 400 calories) of easy- to-digest carbohydrates, like a bagel, pita bread, waffle/pancakes, granola, or oatmeal with around 5-10g (20-40 calories) protein/fat (think: nut butter, egg, yogurt), along with ~16-20 ounces of fluid. Your pre-race meal should be very similar to what you have practiced before your longer workouts in training. While a cup of coffee is standard for caffeine lovers, avoid pre-race energy stimulants if you’re not used to them, since they can cause a rapid heartbeat, an increase in blood pressure, or an altered mental state. Instead, sip 8-12 ounces of sport drink (~80-120 calories) throughout the 90 minutes before the event to give your body an energy boost—that’s in addition to the 16-20 ounces you had at breakfast.

On Course

Research shows that during exercise lasting an hour or less, you won’t fully deplete your glycogen stores (the at-the-ready fuel in your muscles and liver) enough to sabotage your performance. That said, ingesting carbs during shorter events may still boost performance. Sipping on a sugary sports drink—even if swished in your mouth and spit out—may reduce your perceived effort and delay fatigue.

Race day tip: On the bike, liquid nutrition will be the easiest to digest and absorb compared to gels, energy chews, and solid food. Stock your bike cage with one bottle of about 200 calories of sport drink with ~400-600mg sodium and plan to sip 3-4 ounces (1 gulp equals roughly 1 ounce) every 10-15 minutes of riding. It’s ok if you don’t finish the bottle. Off the bike, take a few gulps of sport drink (or a swig from a gel flask) every 10-15 minutes to perk yourself up on the run.

RELATED: 9 Nutrition Rules for Beginner Triathletes

The Munchies

From the editors

Chew your way to a caffeine jolt. All of the benefits of your favorite legal drug— reduced perception of fatigue, better focus—minus the wait.

Run Gum
Boost factor: 9/10
Created by 2x Olympic runner (800m) Nick Symmonds and his coach, Run Gum comes in three flavors: fruit, cinnamon, and mint. We liked fruit best, and felt the effects immediately so we could go coffee-slosh-free on a morning run. 50mg per piece.

X8 Energy Gum
Boost factor: 10/10
The packaging makes it fit in with other “performance enhancers” you’d find at a gas station, but X8 gives a reliable punch through B vitamins and 50mg of caffeine per piece designed to keep stoking your fire for four to six hours, though the flavor doesn’t last long.

FIRST Athletes Energy Gum
Boost factor: 9/10
From Olympic speedskating champion Mark Tuitert (1500m) comes FIRST, the only of these three gums with a liquid center. With 80mg of caffeine per piece, you’ll only need one to get you going. Spearmint flavor only.

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