The good news is most gas stations these days are large and offer a variety of options for a good post-race meal that’ll aid your body in the recovery process. Let’s first take a look at what that means.
Extensive stress is placed on the body during a triathlon, which induces muscle damage, an inflammation response and a compromised immune system. From a nutrition standpoint, the main goals for an athlete post-race are the three R’s: replenish, rehydrate and repair.
Replenish glycogen stores with high-glycemic carbohydrates
Rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes
Repair muscles by facilitating protein synthesis with high-quality lean protein
Immediately following the race, head back to transition and have a recovery drink while packing up your gear. Ideally this 4-to-1 ratio (carbs to protein) drink should have about 75 to 125 grams of carbohydrates and 20 to 30 grams of protein. Most races have cold water once you cross the finish line, so it’s easy to mix up a drink with that 4-to-1 ratio if you bring your favorite recovery powder to the race. (Keep in mind you may need more than one scoop of it to get enough carbs.) Grab the cold water and mix it with your powder in a sports bottle rather than mixing your drink before the race for a refreshing boost.
Next, you’re on the road and ready to eat! The gas-station meals on the right all help replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles. Grab one, then pick up a few snacks if you’re going to be on the road longer than 2 to 3 hours. Snacks help fill the gaps between meals by providing extra nutrients to help the body heal from racing. And be sure to hydrate with lots of water.
1 ounce (or ¼ cup) of walnuts provides more than twice the adequate daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, thought to combat inflammation
Raisins help to restock muscle glycogen
Pumpkin or sunflower seeds are a rich source of cramp-fighter magnesium
1 medium-sized orange provides a full day’s dose of vitamin C, which can boost the immune system
Top Meal Picks
Bumble Bee Sensations canned tuna (3 ounces of tuna with six crackers) and 1 banana: 18 grams protein, 46 grams carbs, 2.5 grams fat, approx. 280 calories
Cumberland Farms breakfast sandwich (Canadian bacon, egg white, Swiss cheese on English muffin) + 1 apple: 18 grams protein, 50 grams carbs, 6 grams fat, approx. 325 calories
Barilla Italian Style Entrée (tomato and basil): 8 grams protein, 63 grams carbs, 4.5 grams fat
This option is a little low on protein, so make sure to pick up a protein source such as hard-boiled eggs, beef jerky or Greek yogurt—all found at gas stations.
Jaime Windrow, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, a four-time Ironman, and the nutrition director at The Core Diet (Thecorediet.com)