Ironman Triathlon bike nutrition tips

For your first few Ironman Triathlons what to eat and drink can be hit or miss during the bike portion of the race but perhaps these Ironman triathlon bike nutrition tips will give you some food for thought.

This is a crucial part of the Ironman and if you screw up on the drinking and eating during the 112-mile bike it won’t matter what sort run training you did.

You will most likely be part of the Ironman Death March and the entire marathon will be a painful struggle.


I’ve said this in other pages on my IronStruck website and it’s worth saying again.

Set the timer on your watch to beep at regular intervals during the 112-mile bike.

Let’s assume that when the guns sounds to begin the swim that you have reached optimum hydration and you have been taking on fluids on a regular basis since about Wednesday before your Sunday Ironman.

Lets assume that by Saturday your urine is clear and copious which means you are exactly where you want to be.(**remember to stay out of the hot sun the day before the race)

The whole idea is to maintain your optimum hydration through-out the entire race day. It’s a tall order, but the closer you can get to this goal the better your Ironman experience will be.

Once you get out of the water, give your body time to adjust to the new demands of the bike and take on your first food and drink after about 15 minutes on the bike course.

That’s when you press start on your preset watch to begin a countdown and beep on a regular basis.

Personally, I had good success with setting it to beep every 30 minutes and after I took that first food and drink at the 15 minute mark of the bike, I would drink every beep at 30 minutes and eat and drink every two beeps.

The goal is try maintain the optimum hydration you began the day with. So in other words, as fluid disappears from your body from your 30 minutes of exertion you are replacing it on a regular basis.

You would be surprised how fast time goes by on the bike course.

Early in my career I never payed attention and in one race was two hours out on the Ironman Canada bike course in Penticton before I took my first drink. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already doomed and relegated to the death march.

Most people feel great in those early bike miles and it’s easy to lose focus. In the Ironman you can go from feeling great to feeling like death in a heartbeat.

If you are taking along a replacement drink as well as water you can mix and match them at your drinking intervals.

Try setting your watch like this in one of your long training rides and see how it works for you.

Ironman Triathlon bike nutrition tips

What fuel will your bike carry?

When I had my best result in an Ironman I was using Cytomax as a replacement drink and every 30 minutes took on water and every hour took on some water and Cytomax.

It’s far better to take on a smaller amount of fluid every 30 minutes than it is to drink large amounts every hour or 90 minutes.

There is also a danger in over-hydrating and this method of drinking controlled amounts at regular intervals is the best of both worlds. You are drinking just the right amount of fluids to replace what you lost. No more…no less.

If you are doing it right you should never really get thirsty out on the bike course. If you do, chances are you are dehydrated and it’s almost impossible to catch up if you let yourself reach that point.


As far as eating there is no need to get too technical about it.

There are so many choices out there that I truly believe many new triathletes are getting confused.

Every year the latest and greatest supplement bars and drinks hit the market and add to the dozens of brands that are already out there.

I suppose I was lucky to be in my prime in the sport in the 1990’s when the choices were more limited.

I truly believe the key on the bike when it comes to food is not found in those gels and bars, but rather in a complex carbohydrate that you eat often in training and assimilate well.

A complex carbohydrate you have trained with and eaten often and has proven to give you the energy you need in those long training rides without causing stomach upset is what will serve you best on race day.

One pro told me that if he could find a way to do it he would take a couple of baked potatoes with him on the bike course.

I had my very best Ironman result ever by taking whole wheat bagels with peanut butter and honey as my food of choice on the bike. I cut them in half and wrapped them individually. They were perfect for me.

They tasted good, were easy to chew, and were effective. Plus I trained with them as my main food source all year.

It’s important to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates early on in the bike.

Late on the bike course I grabbed a banana and a few gels for added instant energy and that’s all I needed to run a 3:34 marathon without ever walking.

Whatever your food of choice, the key is to take on complex carbohydrates early in the bike as it takes time for your body to assimilate them(hence complex carbohydrates)as opposed to gels(simple carbohydrates) that are absorbed quickly into your system.

The bagels I ate during the first third of the bike powered me through the late stages of the 112-mile bike and on into the marathon.

If you eat too many complex carbohydrates late on the bike course you are not giving your body enough time to assimilate them so they really don’t do you much good.

Also, you risk an upset stomach once you begin the run if you take on too much food late in the bike.

If you eaten properly through-out the bike leg of the Ironman you will require little or no food for the entire marathon.

All I took at the marathon aid stations during my best marathon ever was a glass of water at each one.

No food……no bars, gels, grapes, bananas, cookies, chicken soup, oranges, or flat pop.

Just water….

That’s when you know you got it right.


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