The volume of training that is typically completed by a triathlete, whether elite or age group, is high. Therefore, ensuring a suitable energy intake throughout the day is crucial to any sports nutrition strategy. The basis of this is a platform of regular meals. It is normal for many athletes to have three regular meals throughout the day, but for those training hard, it might be advisable to increase the number of meals to 5/6 per day through the inclusion of suitable snacks.
Classically, many documents refer to a specific percentage of carbohydrate, fat and protein that is required in the diet. This is hard to do, and more current guidelines prefer to suggest amounts of carbohydrate and protein based on individual body weight. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not easily transferred into practical meals, so for most participants, it is much easier to emphasise that they should be consuming carbohydrate and protein within all meals. Low glycaemic index carbohydrates are better consumed at main meals, whilst high glycaemic carbohydrates should be consumed in the immediate periods before, during and after training.
Endurance athletes are traditionally sensitive to protein in their diet, based on the myth that it will make them ‘big’. In reality, it is specific training methods (resistance training) that will increase muscle mass, rather than protein intake per se. Protein is crucial in the diet 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 can make improvements.
Hydration is another area that requires focus for triathletes. The amount that any individual will sweat is highly individual and dependent on several factors e.g. weather, intensity, duration. Dehydration is known to reduce training intensity, so maintaining a regular fluid intake throughout the day is something that should be maintained. Urine colour is the simplest way to monitor hydration status, with urine that is yellow/colourful suggesting a dehydrated state. Electrolytes (or sodium) are another area that have received significant press in the triathlon world. Consuming a sports drink with electrolytes is recommended practice, whilst for longer events (Ironman) and/or in hot climates, higher electrolyte drinks may be appropriate.
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