Using Nutritional Supplements to Train for and Race a Triathlon
As a seasoned athlete, I can say with confidence that “no two races are alike.” A former competitive swimmer at a Division 1 college, I turned marathon runner and then triathlete in my mid-20s.
My training and races have spanned a variety of training seasons, health/mental statuses, distances, and environments (East coast to southwest).
Add to that a plethora of different gear, nutritional products, and pre-race nights’ sleeps, and there are endless variables that have impacted my race-day performances. But with each passing year, I gain the experience and knowledge of what works for me and what doesn’t.
A nutrition plan for you should be well formulated, be adequate in calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, and be consistent. For me, I focus on total daily calories, protein, fats, vitamins/minerals, and probiotics, coupled with sufficient good sleep to physically prepare my legs and mentally prepare my brain for the daunting 5:00 am alarm.
But it’s not just the amounts of these nutrients, it’s also their timing that really aids in my strength, recovery, and maintenance of my immune system on the days I’m dragging.
The following is a list of several of my favorite nutritional products and foods that work for me. As a disclaimer – I am not a vegan, vegetarian, nor do I follow any special diet, but I am a registered dietitian. I love to “taste” and therefore I enjoy iron-distance endurance triathlons and other exercise hobbies to offset my watering mouth.
Thorne’s FloraMend Prime Probiotic®
I take this probiotic every night, just after dinner. One of my favorite things about this probiotic is that it doesn’t require refrigeration – so it’s very convenient for travel. Anecdotally, I can say I feel a little more “regular” and have noticeably not been sick (common cold) since I started taking it, which helps me stick to a more regular training plan too.
This is an electrolyte powder that’s lower in calories (low sugar), it has no artificial sweeteners, and it's higher in sodium than other options, which I Iike because I sweat a lot. I love its tart lemon-lime taste, and I think it helps my ability to concentrate when I’m on the bike or on a run. I find myself drinking Catalyte around the house for regular hydration, since water alone can get real boring.
Clif Organic Energy Food – Beet Banana Ginger
A pure energy food mix. I love the convenient packaging for ease of consumption when I’m on the bike. I freeze these before a race and let them cool my back as they melt in my jersey pocket. I try to take in about 100-200 calories an hour while training, plus these don’t leave a sugary coating on my teeth.
Smuckers Uncrustables® sandwiches
Another option I love to freeze that also conveniently fit in the pockets of my bike jersey. Yes, you can make your own PBJ sandwich, but you know that when one of these tastes like a million bucks that you just had a great workout!
I don’t usually have trouble sleeping, but this pre-sleep recovery blend helps me fall asleep when my muscles ache, and it helps me stay asleep through the noises of the world outside. I have always been the type to eat at night (especially in college before a 5:00 am swim) and RecoveryPro is a perfect nightcap to top off my tank and jumpstart recovery.
I drink this most nights whenever I’ve exercised, and sometimes on recovery days before a next-morning workout. On those nights I forget, I notice my legs feel like dead weight and my body feels a little drained, which is enough to keep me sticking to my evening nutritional routine.
On race morning, I start with 12 ounces of black coffee and three-quarters of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Just enough to coat my stomach, get me hydrated, and get the blood sugar flowing, but not too much volume that it will feel like a rock in my stomach during the swim.
This is my strongest leg of the event. I take no nutrition while swimming, but at the transition and by the start of the bike I have chugged a disposable bottle of double-strength Catalyte (~24 ounces) to maintain hydration and replace lost electrolytes. I ditch the bottle and eat something like half a banana in the first 10 miles.
My weakest (mentally and physically) leg. My goal is to maintain consistent nutrition; not too much or I could end up puking, and not too little or I ruin the run. I consume at least 200 calories an hour and try to drink a full bottle (22-24 ounces) of water every 45-60 minutes. Food as tolerated.
My second-best leg. In most iron distance races there is an aid station every mile, and I take full advantage of this. I switch every other mile between water with pretzels or a banana and a high-calorie drink provided at the aid stations so I don’t have to carry anything with me. I lick BASE electrolyte salt every 30 minutes.
That night, I usually lie in bed with aches and burns, but have found Thorne’s RecoveryPro to be a savior for my body. The combination of tryptophan, magnesium, and GABA helps my muscles and brain wind down after the excitement, and the protein helps initiate recovery.
Within about 48 hours and after as much hydration from water/Catalyte/and anything fluid I can get my hands on, I am ready for some slow, very low intensity exercise, and within 72 hours I am back to my favorite spin classes and boot camps for some social excitement – and the training routine and nutrition plan continues full circle.