Whole-food fuelling for Triathlon & Ironman
Whole-foods or sports nutrition products – what’s your preferred way of fuelling?
When it comes to nutrition and sporting performance, there’s no right or wrong way. Both
options are effective when done well, and both can be ineffective when there is a lack of
planning and consideration.
The whole-food fuelling approach is becoming more popular among triathletes, particularly
those who are competing in longer events such as 70.3 and Ironman. Many of my athletes
complain that they get sick of having the same sticky, sweet sports gels, but struggle to know
what else to have..
Whether you’re taking the whole-food approach, or using sports nutrition products, the key
factor to consider is consuming a combination of different carbohydrate sources . This provides
both fast and slow acting carbohydrates, and a range of carbohydrate types (such as glucose
and fructose). Meaning our muscles can utilise more fuel, and faster.
– Sports drink
– Honey, maple syrup, jam, etc
– Dried fruit
– Fruit juice
– Soft drink
Slow acting carbohydrates
– Sports gels & sports bars
– White bread
– Fresh fruits
Most of my athletes who have transitioned to a whole-food approach, still occasionally include
energy gels and sports drinks. They find it helpful to have back up nutrition options for when
they’re feeling full or don’t have time to prepare foods for a long training session.
If you’re keen to transition to a whole-food approach, it is best to trial combinations of food in
training before race day. This helps you identify which foods you tolerate well, how much you
need, and how to prepare/ transport them.
My top tips for choosing whole-foods for fuelling:
– Aim to find alternatives that are easy to take with you in a race. For example, you’re
probably not going to take cereal & milk to eat on the bike – so perhaps a homemade oat
or rice cake bar would be better?
– Make sure foods provide enough carbohydrates. Most athletes usually aim for 20-40g of
carbohydrates per hour (or more if you’re faster or have a larger percentage of muscle
mass). I recommended discussing this with an Accredited Practising Dietitian or Sports
Dietitian to determine your individual requirements to optimise your performance
– I find portioning foods into 15g, 20g or 30g carbohydrate portions helps (depending on
what your carbohydrate needs are)
– Include a variety of fast and slow acting carbohydrates – especially if you are
training/racing for more than 4 hours. Think of pairing honey, sugar, and dried fruits with
sandwiches, potatoes and rice
– If exercising for more than 3 hours, include foods which naturally contain salt, or add salt
to foods (e.g. Vegemite sandwich). This will help replace sodium loss from sweat.
Sipping on electrolyte drinks will help too .
My* go-tos for whole food fuelling include:
*I have to thank a few of my athletes for inspiring me with some of these options, but that’s what
I love about being a Dietitian – you’re continually learning from your clients!
**Recipe in my recent Pre-training Snack Ideas article:
Accredited Practising Dietitian & AUS AG Triathlete