Rookie In Training: Nutrition

How important is nutrition? Very, as triathlon rookie Jason Devaney found out while training for his half-Ironman.

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Every Wednesday in “Rookie in Training,” beginner triathlete Jason Devaney will share training advice he learns as he trains for his first half-Ironman.

True or false: A triathlon has three legs.

False! A triathlon really has five legs: Swim, bike, run, transitions … and nutrition/hydration.

Transitions tie everything together and save you time in between each leg. Staying fueled and hydrated keeps you going.

And, just as it’s important to get in your swims, bike rides and runs during the week, along with practicing transitions leading up to your race, knowing what to eat and drink—and when—is just as important.

“Proper race nutrition is the single most important part of any race plan,” said AJ Johnson, Education Specialist for TrainingPeaks and coach for D3 Multisport. “If you’re cramping, dehydrated, have stomach pain or worse, you can’t swim, bike or run to your potential. Without proper race nutrition you can’t be at your best.”

That’s where training comes in. On my long bike rides, for example, I’ve been experimenting with a few different foods as I prepare for my half-Ironman next month. Sometimes I eat a few bars (one per hour), while other times I mix in some energy chews. I’ve even tried some real food, like rice squares with peanut butter and jelly (trust me, it tastes good).

Hydration-wise, I’ve been sticking to a brand of sports drink that contains carbohydrates, sugar and sodium.

For long runs, I go with gels and energy chews for food and a combination of water and the aforementioned sports drink.

“Beans, blocks and gels are good for quick digesting calories,” said Johnson, who has completed 13 Ironman races. “Since they require less to digest, they are usually easier on the stomach. The only drawback is that their sugary taste can lead to palate fatigue and upset stomach if taken too early and too often.”

RELATED – Rookie In Training: Practice Your Triathlon Transitions

Here’s a funny story that completely goes against everything I know now. Two years ago when I was training for my first (and so far my only) marathon, I went out for a long run that was supposed to be about 20 miles. It was a hot day and we brought some water and a few gels.

It wasn’t nearly enough. And to make matters worse, I had the dumb idea to want to experiment with eating less on that run to see how my body would react. Turns out it wasn’t such a smart move.

After about 17 miles I was completely out of gas. The needle was buried and the light was on. I stopped and since there was nobody else around, I sat on a rock and waited for my now fiancé to loop back around and find me. She finally got to me and we found someone to drive us back to the car. I felt really, really terrible.

During the short ride home I downed a Cliff Bar and a sugary sports drink, and at the house I had a bowl of the saltiest chicken soup you’ll ever have, which was exactly what I needed.

I learned a pretty good lesson that day: You need to stay hydrated and properly fueled. The next day, just to prove to myself that I was fine, I hammered out a 6-mile run and it felt great.

Jason Devaney is a freelance contributor to, and A resident of Virginia, he spends way too much of his free time training. When he’s working, he’s typically dressed in either sweatpants or a cycling kit. Follow him on Twitter @jason_devaney1.

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