- Nutritional requirements of triathletes
- Regular or non-vegan diet for triathletes
- Vegan diet for triathletes
- The relationship between sporting performance and diet
Best Diet For Triathletes: Vegan and Non-Vegan
Whether you plan on competing in a regular sprint triathlon or a demanding Ironman, your training program will require you to use your body at its maximum capacity. So, expect to burn more energy than usual during your training sessions and on the actual race day itself.
To refuel the energy you lose and ensure that your body is in its best condition, you need to eat the suitable types and right amount of food. Following the best diet for triathletes will make way for smooth recovery and refueling.
In this guide, we’ll all help beginner, intermediate, and professional triathletes craft an athlete’s diet that will work for them. Find the best athlete’s diet based on your training requirements, body condition, preferences, and even philosophy.
Nutritional Requirements of Triathletes
There are various factors and elements that contribute to proper refueling and hydration, and the most important of them are macronutrients and micronutrients. The right amount of these elements should be consumed for better health and performance. Start planning your athlete’s diet with these imperative nutrients:
Carbohydrates for Triathletes
Carbohydrates are the primary sources of energy for the body, so they should take up a huge portion of your nutritional requirements as a triathlete. The carbohydrate requirements of a triathlete depend on the gender, height, and weight of the individual. To determine your needs, according to non-profit organization Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention (STOP), you must consume 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight during regular training and 7 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight during endurance training and competition.
The timing of eating carbohydrates also plays a role in proper refueling for triathlon, said STOP. Triathletes should follow the 1 to 4-gram requirement one to four hours before regular training and the higher nutritional requirement every day during endurance training and actual triathlon races.
Protein for Triathletes
The body only loses or uses up 5 to 10% of protein when an individual is moving or doing intense physical activity, but its importance can be found during growth and recovery. The amount of protein you need depends on the level of physical activity you intend to engage in and your rates of growth and healing.
The recommendation for daily protein intake in athletes is 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Athletes who are in a serious growth period during puberty or in a recovery period after an injury need more protein.
Fat for Triathletes
Fat can be an additional source of energy. It provides metabolic fuel for muscles during endurance exercise and supports other essential functions in the body. In general, the right amount of fat for every individual should be between 20 to 35 percent of the total calories consumed. Less than 10 percent of the total should come from saturated fat. All types of athletes, particularly triathletes, should follow the same range, according to the combined recommendations of the Nutrition and Athletic Performance position paper of the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Dietetic Association, and the Dietitians of Canada.
Vitamins for Triathletes
Vitamins come in many forms. Although carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes are the most important elements needed for refueling and hydration, triathletes can supplement their bodies’ energy production, immune system protection, and muscle repair by consuming vitamins B6 and B12, D3, and C, as well as probiotics and iron in any form—fruits, vegetables, dietary supplements.
Fluids for Triathletes
The amount of fluids triathletes should consume depends on the intensity and duration of the physical activity and the weather conditions. Water is the most essential fluid for hydration and everyday activities, while sports drinks should supplement instant hydration.
Triathletes should consume at least 16 ounces of fluid at least two hours prior to exercise. During the actual race or physical activity, the recommended amount is 5 to 10 ounces of fluids taken every 15 to 20 minutes. For recovery, triathletes should drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or fluids for every pound they lost during intense physical activity, so it’s best to weigh yourself before and after race day or training.
Regular or Non-Vegan Diet for Triathletes
For regular triathletes, the best diet should contain the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and fluids from various sources, preferably any healthy source. Here’s an example of a nutrition plan that represents the best diet for non-vegan triathletes:
Eating before a long workout or race satisfies hunger, prolongs energy, and prepares the body for what’s to come. But it also tops off your energy stores. Make sure to eat a pre-workout or pre-race meal that is high in digestible carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat or fiber. Carbohydrates are essential for energy refueling, and protein is best for recovery. Meanwhile, low consumption of fat and fiber can prevent various gastrointestinal issues during the actual training or race, such as bloating.
Here’s are examples of pre-workout nutrition that you can incorporate in your breakfast, lunch, or snack:
- Fruit smoothies
- Waffles with fruits
- Bagel with cheese or peanut butter
- Lean turkey
- Scrambled eggs
- Sweet potatoes
- Grilled chicken and rice
- Ground beef
- Avocado toast
Fueling and Hydration for Training or Race
During the actual training or triathlon, your main nutrition concerns should focus on hydration or electrolyte consumption since you’re actually moving. You can drink water for long periods during training or on race day. Alternatively, you can instantly boost your electrolyte consumption through commercial or homemade sports drinks. For fueling energy, the best option is to prepare ready-made snacks that are rich in digestible carbohydrates and vitamins but are less in fiber to prevent bloating.
Fuel and snacks, of course, come from many sources. But here are examples of healthy sources that you should include in your training and race-day nutrition pack or mid-run snack:
- Sports drinks (healthy commercial brands or homemade)
- Pulp-free fruit juices
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Shot blocks
- Vitamin or electrolyte-infused gummy bears
- Energy bars
- Coconut water
Triathletes should replace all the fluids and energy they lost from training or the actual triathlon race during the recovery period. Triathletes should specifically focus on more carbohydrates this time, regardless of the form—digestible or rapid-acting carbohydrates. You can allow your stomach to feel bloated from time to time, too, so add all the fiber-rich food you missed. And, of course, for muscle repair and growth, increase your protein intake.
Here are the best food sources for your post-race nutrition that you can incorporate in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
- Grilled chicken with rice or roasted vegetables
- Salmon with rice or root crops like sweet potato and broccoli
- Tuna on plain crackers
- Hard-boiled or scrambled eggs
- Protein powder
- Lean turkey
- Yogurt and milk
- Nuts or seeds
- Whole wheat or rye sourdough bread
Vegan Diet for Triathletes
The non-vegan athlete’s diet contains the best load of carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients. Can the same be said for vegan diets? Contrary to popular belief, vegan options for athletes can also bring loads of nutrients necessary for improving sporting performance. A plant-based diet can also be diverse if one looks for the best vegan options and recipes.
If you’re still in doubt, a published study from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that plant-based athletes can also benefit from improvements in heart health, performance, and recovery.
“The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection….these features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes,” proved the Physicians Committee.
What’s in a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet for vegan athletes is high in carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants but low in fat. Depending on the individual or athlete’s vegan philosophy, a plant-based diet doesn’t include food sources from animal products, such as meat, eggs, milk, or honey. Based on these nutritional requirements, the diet would mostly include fruits and vegetables, oils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and other leafy vegetables. Therefore, a plant-based diet can not only boost one’s immune system, but can also significantly reduce the risk of various cardiovascular diseases.
Since fat is mostly out of the picture, vegan triathletes should lean on carbohydrates and proteins for their pre-workout or pre-race diet. Eating lots of nutritious and whole foods can fill in the gaps for carbohydrates and fats that are mostly found in meat and dairy products. Carbohydrates are present in various whole foods, while protein is present in all plant foods, although in small quantities. It’s best to increase your intake of protein powders to supplement the small amounts of protein found in plants.
Here are examples of vegan pre-workout nutrition that you can incorporate in your breakfast, lunch, or snack:
- Protein oatmeal
- Avocado toast
- Raw vegetables
- Raw fruits (bananas and berries)
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
Fueling and Hydration for Training or Race
The vegan options for training or race-day hydration and refueling are heavily similar to what non-vegan athletes consume. After all, we need the same amount of body fluids, regardless of our way of living or philosophy. For vegans athletes who are worried about the ethical production of the food they consume, it’s best to bring homemade sports drinks or snacks to race or training.
Here are examples of healthy vegan sources that you should include in your training and race-day nutrition pack or mid-run snack:
- Trail mix
- Peanut butter
- Fruit or nut bars
- Roasted beans
- Homemade sports drinks
- Coconut water
- Vegan or plain sports gels
Post-race recovery for vegan triathletes should remain reliant on high-quality and complex sources of protein and carbohydrates. Further, post-race nutrition should also help replace all electrolytes, such as sodium, calcium, and potassium lost in sweat.
Here are the best vegan food sources for your post-race nutrition that you can incorporate in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
- Soy, almond, pea, or flax chocolate milk and regular milk
- Leafy greens
- Fruit smoothies
- Nut or almond butter with healthy fats
- Vegan protein shakes
- Watermelon and other water-rich fruits
- Vegan cottage cheese
- Turmeric-based soup or drinks
- Oatmeal with fruits and nuts
The Relationship Between Sporting Performance and Diet
An athlete’s diet is just as important as training sessions when it comes to improving sporting performance. So, yes, the connection between good health and good nutrition is already there, but how can an athlete’s diet drastically improve sporting performance?
At the most basic level, good nutrition is essential for fueling, recovery, and growth. Engaging in various physical activities burns lots of calories, so it’s important to follow a nutrition plan that matches one’s body’s demands.
Food taken before and after a physical activity are the most important meals in sports nutrition because they aid the refueling and recovery process. Aside from timings, the proportion of meals is also important. An athlete’s nutrition should be balanced with the right amount of protein, fats, vitamins, carbohydrates, and electrolytes, regardless if it’s vegan or non-vegan.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, “a number of factors contribute to success in sport, and diet is a key component”. So, whether you’re a vegan triathlete or not, your primary concern should still focus on the amount and value of micro and macronutrients you consume. Your diet is just as important as your training, and your needs should come first before your preferences, especially if you’re in the recovery phase. Eat based on what you need and be wise in choosing the best food sources for your meals and snacks.
All the tips and nutrition information on this blog work for both vegan and non-vegan athletes and even regular individuals. However, know that the actual requirements for each triathlete vary. You will benefit from the advice of a health professional like a registered dietician or nutritionist if you want to optimize your diet and performance.