Your triathlon diet during your training and especially leading up to the big event is crucial to your success. This is where some sports nutrition education will help.

There are plenty of diet mistakes you can make in the final week and during the race that can lead to disaster.

Personally I could never understand how people could train hard all year and stay with a proper training diet for months and then come to the race and stay in a hotel and eat restaurant food everyday.

It’s especially crucial in the final 2 or 3 days leading up to the race, yet it’s probably the number one triathlon diet mistake one can make during the week leading up to the Ironman.


I’m all for supporting the restaurant industry of the host city, but many years ago became accustomed to restricting visits to restaurants to the days following the race.

If you have no other choice besides restaurant food, at least try and stay as close as possible to the diet you followed the months leading up to the race.

If the mainstay of your training diet was pasta, then go to a restaurant that serves pasta instead of heading over to the seafood restaurant.

I made a major triathlon diet mistake early in my career. It was pretty devastating at the time but ultimately it was a good lesson to learn and it never happened again.

In one careless moment I came down with food poisoning and an entire year of training was lost as was my race and all the expense of getting there in the first place.

In my teens I started having severe allergic reactions any time I ate shell-fish of any kind and would have flu-like symptoms for days. From that point on I never ate anything associated with oysters or clams.

However at a pre-race carbo dinner I had pasta with a clam sauce.

I didn’t realize what it was at first and didn’t ask the chef who was serving it and that was the crucial mistake.(yes, there were chefs as it was Ironman Hawaii 1986).

I didn’t have to eat very much before realizing what it was, but by then it was too late.

Nausea set in within minutes and I was sick right up to race morning and within sight of the swim finish the medical staff pulled me out of the water and out of the race as I was sick through the entire swim and vomiting all the way.

They reasoned that even if they let me try and finish the swim that I would be way too dehydrated to make it through the 112-mile bike course.

If you have ever done the Ironman Hawaii swim you will be well familiar with the rising and falling swells and the constant up and down motion and that just added to the problem.


Every race I’ve been entered in since that day I made sure I had a motel or condo with a kitchenette.

My first day at the race venue I would go shopping for food I was accustomed to eating and cooked all my own meals without straying from the diet I’d been on for the past 6 months.

triathlon diet  -a motel kitchenette

Perfect choice for a triathlete

It only took that one triathlon diet mistake to have a huge impact on the type of food choices I made in the week preceding a race.

I just can’t put into words how important this is.

It’s absolutely vital that when that gun goes off for the swim start that you do not have a queasy stomach from screwing up your diet in the last few days. What might seem like a small diet mistake could have serious consequences out on the race course.


Know exactly what your menu plan is before you even leave home. Know what you plan to eat the day before the race and race morning.

Also know what time you plan to eat these meals. Personally, I always finished my last meal on race eve by 4 p.m. I always finished my race morning breakfast three hours before the race start even though it was very light and consisted of whole wheat toast, a banana, and tea sweetened with honey.

Sure it means being up at 3 or 4 a.m. but I found it well worth it. I just made sure I went to bed early the night before. Besides, it was always a night of tossing and turning anyway with the start of the race so close.

This worked perfectly for me over and over again and I never had any sort of digestive problems when I stuck with this program.

Also, be careful at the carbo pre-race dinner. Choose your food carefully. In the later years of my career, I just stuck with salads and rolls and bottled drinks or else I didn’t go to the dinner at all.

That final week make a point of being aware of what you’re consuming at all times.


Making careful food choices also applies to the race course itself. When you get to those aid stations(especially on the run).

You will find cookies, oranges, soda, sports drinks, power bars, power gels, grapes, chicken soup, cantaloupe and any number of things depending on the location of the race.

In my case it was Ironman Canada in Penticton ten times and this is what they had at the aid stations.

You might do great right up until race day and then end up making triathlon diet mistakes out on the course.

On the run course when you feel you just can’t go on the natural instinct is to try everything at the aid stations. triathletes desperately try to find the right combination that will make them feel better and provide some much needed energy.

triathlon diet  -triathlon water station

Have a plan for eating and hydration

This is a recipe for disaster and usually the opposite happens and you just end up feeling ill and in the worst possible scenario you may be unable to keep going and have no choice but to drop out.

My suggestion is to stick as close as possible to what you trained with. To avoid any serious triathlon diet mistakes out on the course go with what got you there.

If you took power bars and gels on your bike and run training days, then stick with them.

It’s a misconception anyway that you have to keep eating all the way through the entire race. I believe the most important time to eat is in the early to middle stages of the bike leg.

The key is to take in complex carbohydrates at this time that will be assimilated by your body slowly and provide you with a constant source of fuel with the idea of keeping a steady balance of fuel for the entire 112 miles and into the marathon.

Eating too late in the bike can be detrimental to your marathon as your body does not have time to digest it properly to do you any good.

triathlon diet  -ice cream desert

For "after" the race

Often at this point in the race(late in the bike or early in the marathon) many people will have an energy crash due to a poor race nutrition plan.

It’s been proven many times that if you fuel yourself properly in the bike you most likely require little food in the run.

In my best ever Ironman marathon I kept a steady pace without walking for the entire 26 miles and never ate a thing during the run.

All I took was 5-6 ounces of water at every aid station. That was it. My marathon time was 3:34 and I never remember feeling better out on the run course.

The best way to avoid eating the wrong thing on the run course is to not eat anything or else eat very little. Choose whatever complex carbohydrate(solid food)that worked best for you in training and that’s what you should consume during the first half of the Ironman bike course.

My complex carbohydrate of choice was two whole wheat bagels with peanut butter and honey and I made a point of eating them before the halfway point of the bike. That year I was also using Cytomax as a electrolyte replacement drink along with plain water and I had set my watch time to go off at regular intervals to remind me it was time to drink.

Your triathlon journey can be far more enjoyable and successful if you take the time to think through your diet in training, the week leading up to the race, the eve of the race, and race day itself.

Proper nutrition can play a big role in your energy levels and endurance and if you start passing people by the dozens or perhaps by the hundreds in the Ironman marathon you’ll know you got it right.


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