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Nutritional Demands of a Triathlon


The Sport

Triathlons are becoming an increasingly popular sport and combines individuals sports, such as swimming, cycling and running, into a single continuous race. Triathlons vary in distance overall, and the distance of each individual sport varies as well. 

With three sports to train for, as well as general conditioning training, athletes usually train between 18-22 sessions per week. The volume of sessions require structure nutritional practices to support training, adaptation and recovery and so, the endurance nature of training and racing means that age-group athletes training less than than this can also benefit from following nutritional guidelines. 



The volume of training that is typically completed by a triathlete is very high, therefore, ensuring a suitable energy intake throughout the day is important to any sports nutrition strategy. The basis of this strategy is regular meals. For those training hard, it might be advisable to increase the number of meals to 5-6 per day, through the inclusion of snacks. For athletes not training so hard, it is normal to have 3 meals a day. 

Protein is crucial in the diet of these endurance athletes and should be consumed regularly throughout the day to help aid repair, regeneration and general protein balance. Although, the overall protein requirements are unlikely to be as high as strength based athletes. A focus on protein in recovery from training is an area most triathletes could put more effort into in order to make improvements. 

Hydration is another area in which triathletes must focus. Dehydration is known to reduce training intensity, so maintaining a regular fluid intake throughout the day is something that should be maintained. In order to monitor hydration status, urine colour is usually the simplest way. Urine that is yellow/colourful often suggests a dehydrated state. Consuming a spots drink with electrolytes is recommended practice, whilst for longer events and/or events in hot climates, higher electrolyte drinks may be appropriate. 



Training diet is largely about ensuring that the timing of food is good enough to prepare and then subsequently recover from training. Typical guidelines begin with a high carbohydrate meal before training, the use of carbohydrate during high intensity and/or long duration training, and the combination of protein and carbohydrate in the immediate recovery period after. Due to busy schedules, triathletes need to think on their feet and find snack solutions and pre-prepared meals to over come situations where they are training in meal times. 



Theoretically, routine can be practiced in advance because competitions have pre-determined start times. Triathlons usually have early starts, so there is emphasis on a high carb meal the night before and breakfast that may consist of porridge, orange juice and a banana. The importance of practicing race strategies in training first cannot be over looked as stomach discomfort can potentially be high. The bike sport is where nutrition is either lost or won, where as after the swim, the use of energy bars, gels and a sports drink provide the energy to recover from the swim and prep the athlete for the run. 


Other Suggestions

Carbohydrate Loading

Carb loading prior to events is probably a strategy of the past. You can saturate the carb stores in the muscles with 24 hours of a high carb diet, so eating well before the race is logical. Many athletes tend to eat too much in one go, whereas those who manage to load effectively will spread their meals out into 5-6 across the day. 

Gastro-intestinal distress

It is not uncommon for many athletes to suffer from gastro-intestinal distress, which is basically an upset stomach, when trying to consumer carbs during competition. It is suggested by those working with athletes that can train the stomach to better tolerate carbs, further emphasising the need to practice race strategies during training. 


Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and endurance capacity in athletes. Some athletes may wish to use caffeine in their pre-race nutritional plan and if they choose to do so, it is suggested that 1-3mg per kg body weight is consumed 60 mins before competition. Check out our best selling caffeine supplements here.


Most athletes who are eating a well-balanced diet will consumer sufficient vitamins and minerals to meet nutritional requirements without the need for additional supplements. However, a good multi-vitamin can provide a useful insurance policy, particularly during the winter months. Find some great multi-vitamins here.