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You scour the internet, pore over magazines and pester your triathlon friends to soak up every ounce of nutrition advice that might help you come race day. After all, nutrition (often referred to as triathlon’s “fourth discipline”) can be the easiest thing to fix in your triathlon training yet can have the most disastrous consequences if executed improperly. While no two bodies or fueling needs are the same, learning how the nutrition experts approach their own triathlon fueling can provide some useful insights that may make a big difference when put to use in your own nutrition plan.
Ready to learn more about triathlon? Check out our complete beginner’s guide.
Kim Mahoney, R.D., C.S.S.D.
The first triathlon Mahoney signed up for was an Ironman, which she completed in September 2012. A longtime runner who had picked up cycling, she decided to go all-in with triathlon (of course, she did a few sprints and half-Ironmans leading up to the big race). The Chicago resident fits her training in between working full-time as a clinical dietitian specialist for bariatric (weight-loss surgery) patients — helping them change their diets both pre- and post-op.
“Of all the specialties within dietetics, with this one your role is very valued in the practice,” she says. “Your job is essential to the patients … you really help them through changing their lives.”
It’s most rewarding when her patients start taking up endurance sports — marathons, half-marathons and triathlons: “That’s fun, for me especially, because that’s my main interest — seeing them do things that are more active and that they really enjoy.”
“The most important thing you can do is plan ahead for the week. You should know your workouts, your work schedule and your eating schedule. Make a list once or twice a week of foods you need for training (gels, bars, sports drinks) and foods you need for meals or snacks. … Make sure you are using your training rides or runs as opportunities to practice your nutrition plan for race day.”
“My favorite product for fueling during runs is PowerBar Energy Gel, in the tangerine flavor. It contains multiple carbohydrates and caffeine, and has higher sodium content than most other gels — and the consistency isn’t as syrupy as other gels.
My other favorite is Salt Stick caps — they provide the essential electrolytes that are lost in sweat, in particular sodium. I don’t like sports drinks very much, so these are a great way to get in the electrolytes I am losing in my sweat.”
“I usually have a starch and a protein. I stay away from any whole grains, vegetables or fruits because I don’t want to consume a lot of fiber the day before a race. In previous races I find a Noodles and Company [restaurant] and have macaroni and cheese with chicken. It may not be the healthiest option, but it does the job! Also, I will sometimes have a beer if at a restaurant.”
“I always eat a plain bagel at least two hours prior to the race. … I also always have 20 ounces of caffeinated coffee with skim milk and drink around 16 ounces of water. Right before the start of the swim I consume a PowerBar gel with water.”
“I love my crockpot! It’s the perfect tool for a busy triathlete. It doesn’t require a lot of prep work — you can throw in a few ingredients in the morning and have a delicious dinner waiting for you.”
Jennifer Lentzke, R.D., C.S.S.D.
First-year Canadian pro triathlete Lentzke’s athletic background includes about a decade of dancing with a professional ballet company and walking on to Baylor University’s cross-country team. When she went to grad school to become a sports dietitian at the University of Florida, she considered herself a runner — then she met her now-husband, an Ironman triathlete.
It was a slow progression from taking up cycling, to racing triathlon, to winning her age group as an amateur, racing in Kona and Vegas, and finally becoming a pro triathlete.
“I’m kind of at the bottom of the totem pole again, racing professionally but working my way up slowly but surely,” she says.
Now living in Austin, Texas, she owns her own company, Toro Performance Nutrition, and works full-time hours in between her training. A vegan, Lentzke views her nutrition as not only a way to improve her athletic performance, but also as something to keep her healthy while racing long-course triathlon.
“What I do is very extreme,” she says, “and I want to make sure that what I’m putting in my body is not only going to help me with the here and now, but it’s also going to carry through so that I have longevity and I’m healthy for long periods of time and I can stay active.”
“One of the most important nutrition principles to remember is ‘eat whole foods.’ Your day-to-day diet should include little to no processed or packaged foods. When in doubt I always tell my clients to ask themselves before they eat something, ‘Is this food going to give me quality energy, or is it going to zap my energy?’ You can’t go wrong, generally speaking, if you are eating foods in their most natural, unaltered form.”
“Large smoothie with fruit, greens, cooked sweet potato (my secret smoothie ingredient), plant-based protein powder, sea salt, cinnamon, non-dairy milk, scoop of all-natural seed or nut butter, spoonful of ground chia seeds, ice.”
“Undoubtedly I reach for my beloved mixed nuts. A handful of salted nuts is always just enough to leave me feeling satiated and energized. The mix of protein, fiber and healthy fats keeps my blood sugar steady until I can get around to eating a proper meal.”
In Her Pantry
“As a vegan, I rely heavily on nutritional yeast, which is a great source of B12, the only vitamin that vegans cannot get from eating a plant-based diet.”
“My husband and I are obsessed with our Vitamix. Not only do we make our post-workout smoothies in it, but I can also make homemade nut butters, fruit purées for training and other delicious creations in it.”
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., C.S.S.D.
A longtime triathlete and nutritionist, Antonucci is the owner and director of Nutrition Energy, a private nutrition practice in New York City. What originally drew her to sports nutrition was growing up a competitive swimmer and runner and figuring, “There’s got to be more to this than bagels and pasta.”
She received her clinical master’s degree in nutrition from New York University, and opened up her practice 10 years ago. She now balances her time between being a mom to her three kids (ages 7, 5 and 2), training for triathlon, seeing clients three days a week, and consulting and writing for companies and publications (you may recognize her as our own “Nutrition Q&A” writer).
She’s been racing triathlon since 1999, when she signed up for a half-Ironman on a whim through Team in Training (it must have been fate — her now-husband signed up for the same team). She was hooked and has raced everything up to Ironman, but she’s waiting till her kids are all in school before she attempts the distance again. Meanwhile, she races shorter events and loves that she can share her experiences with her clients.
“I think it’s really important that someone who talks about food and nutrition and health all the time that of course you practice what you preach,” she says.
“Balance! I have worked with countless triathletes, endurance athletes and non-athletes who come to me confused about what to eat when. Either they are trying to eat 100 percent ‘this’ or 100 percent ‘that’ — such as gluten-free or all-natural. They’re putting more pressure on themselves than is natural or healthy, or eating way too much of one macronutrient (carbs, protein or fat) at the expense of the other. If we focus on getting in mostly good quality foods from a variety of food groups, and not perfection, food trends or fads, we will end up eating a fun, balanced, nutritious diet — and setting a good example for our kids.”
“I know I want to feed my body carbs and extra sodium, and I really want to keep it pretty simple, whether at home or away. Bread, pasta with a basic marinara sauce, small salad or small side of veggies. … If I am away and can’t find pasta — or, as has happened to me before, all local Italian restaurants are full with other race participants — I’ll eat pancakes with 1–2 eggs and a side of fruit.”
“If I’ve already worked out, I’ll grab a 2 percent Greek yogurt with my homemade granola, or a Kind Bar if on the go. Fruits are always snacks for me, but I generally pair them with some cheese, like Grana Padano or a good honey chèvre. … Pirate’s Booty [baked rice and corn puffs] often sneaks into afternoon snacks when I am craving salt and the kids are snacking. For pre-workout snacks, I grab a banana, homemade banana or pumpkin muffins (always with chocolate chips!) or some graham crackers.”
In Her Fridge
“I love and always stock Better than Bouillon veggie stock in my fridge. It is a paste bouillon, so it can be added in small amounts as you desire. I use it to add flavor to grain dishes and soups when I don’t have time to make (or have an already frozen) homemade stock.”
“I love my To Go Ware stainless steel food containers. I pack dinner leftovers in them to bring for lunch (for both myself and my kids), tote my morning oatmeal to work in them, and pack cut fruits, veggies and cheese in them for family trips and picnics. They are lightweight, never leak and they are dishwasher safe.”
Kim Mueller, R.D., C.S.S.D.
San Diego resident Mueller has always been fascinated by how nutrition impacts the body, and when she started finding success in running cross-country, she became even more interested in how nutrition could help her own sports performance. After completing an internship to become a registered dietitian, she was drawn to the triathlon community in 2000, when her first client at her new nutrition practice (now called Fuel Factor) did an Ironman.
“I wanted to experience what my clients were experiencing,” she says.
Her first Ironman was Coeur d’Alene in 2003, and from there she raced in 70.3 and ITU races. While she advises all types of athletes, Mueller is most active in the endurance arena — she’s involved with the local track club and tri club, has worked with different cycling communities in the area, and she’s part owner of Infinit Nutrition, a line of custom sports drinks. After giving birth to her daughter earlier this year, Mueller’s now targeting a spring marathon to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon.
“There is an influx of bad nutritional information out there and a ton of trendy diets that recommend eliminating foods or food groups. Good nutrition shouldn’t be about restriction of food groups, rather making wise choices from each food group. This, along with meeting the nutritional demands of training, as in consuming enough calories, will help fuel peak performance and optimal health.”
“Pure Fit Nutrition Bar, banana and sports drink. It’s easy to digest, simple and works for me.”
“Two slices of sprouted grain bread spread with hummus and topped with turkey breast, cheddar, spinach, tomato and avocado. One sliced apple with organic peanut butter, baby carrots, water.”
“Greek yogurt with almond milk, fruit, chia seeds and granola.”
In Her Pantry
“I add a sprinkle of cinnamon to a lot of my foods, such as baked sweet potatoes, butternut squash and oatmeal.”
Jamie Marchio, R.D.
A former college distance runner, Marchio started researching nutrition to see how he could maximize his performance. This inspired him to study nutrition in school, and he became a registered dietitian almost 20 years ago. He’s since worked as a clinical dietitian in hospitals, but he’s now in St. Augustine, Fla., working as a medical device sales representative, which still incorporates his nutrition experience. He works with the clinicians who are taking care of ostomy and wound care patients on how nutrition can play a role in their recovery.
He started racing triathlon in 1996, after his body began breaking down as a result of his running career. To rehab after injuries, he’d swim and bike, and was inspired by fellow athletes to try triathlon.
“It just kind of clicked,” he says. “I could be a more fit athlete than I was as a runner, and I wouldn’t be breaking down all the time.”
He’s raced everything from sprint to Ironman, but still loves the all-out nature of sprints. Outside of work and training, he’s a husband and father to two kids, ages 6 and 8, and his personal nutrition helps him get through each day.
“I don’t think I could have the energy to do what I do without proper nutrition,” he says. “It just helps every facet of my life.”
“My goal is to obtain as many nutrient-dense foods as possible whenever I eat. A plant-based diet has allowed me to do that and has eliminated my desire for snack foods. When you eat foods that are higher in nutrients such as nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you start craving these foods more often and adopt better dietary practices naturally without much effort.”
“Honey Stinger gels, bars, wafers and chews are my favorite. I love the fact that they are organic products and meet the nutritional profile necessary for sustained energy during intense exercise. The carbohydrate component — honey — is more natural and breaks down quickly and easily without any major G.I. side-effects.”
“Our family has pizza night for Daddy the night before a race. This is part tradition, part superstition. It includes 3–4 slices of whole-grain thick crust, dairy-free cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pesto base, olives, mushrooms and extra sauce with one Blue Moon beer. Before bed, I have 6–8 ounces of natural juice. … It provides a nice combination of carbohydrates, some protein, and is generally low in fat so it is not heavy on the stomach. It also gives me enough staying power to last until my pre-race breakfast.”
“I couldn’t live without my Omega Juicer. I juice on a daily basis and make about 32 ounces of all-natural juice, which supplies my needs for an entire day (3–4 servings of about 8–10 ounces).”
In His Pantry
“My favorite ingredient to use in cooking is garlic. It is tasty and versatile and very healthy. We use it as a spread on crusty bread, add it to our tomato or pesto sauce, in pizza, in oil for dipping, and to make hummus.”
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