Many coaches and athletes joke that nutrition is the fourth sport when you’re training for a triathlon.
In many ways, it’s true. If you’re prepping for an endurance event, you’ll need to get your body ready in many ways. You'll need to train for the specific sport, as well as the time, and distance it will take you to race. You’ll also need to practice your nutrition during your long workouts to ensure that your plan will work on race day.
There are lots of different options you can use to fuel during a long workout or race, and many athletes swear by products like gels, chews, or liquids to power through.
But, if you’re like me and prefer to eat real food when your logging long miles, you might be searching for suggestions. These are personal favorites that are tasty, easy to store and transport, and give you the fuel you’ll need to have a great sweat session.
Long-Distance Nutrition Basics
When you exercise, the farther and longer you go, the more calories and carbohydrates your body will need to keep you moving.
Carbohydrates help to maintain the glycogen stores in your muscles, which are one of your body’s primary energy sources when you train. Even if your glycogen stores are full, you’ll still need to replenish by eating and drinking every 15 to 20 minutes during your long ride or run.
When you pick snacks for your training session, look for options that deliver a concentrated source of carbohydrates to keep your energy high for the duration of your workout.
Best Real-Food Training Snacks
Everyone’s palate is different, so here’s a list of eight delicious nutrition options that are portable and perfect fuel for a ride or run.
1. Bananas: They’re the basic you-know-what of endurance nutrition and for a good reason. They are loaded with potassium and easily digestible carbohydrates, which means they’re fast fuel for your muscles when you start to fatigue.
2. Pretzels: They’re carb-dense and salty, which makes them a nice break from a sweet sports drink, gels, or chews. You can eat them right out of a ziplock bag - just make sure that you have water on hand to wash them down.
3. PB&J: A favorite of 5-year-olds everywhere, the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich gives you a boost of carbs, protein, and healthy fats that can help you power through a tough workout. Don’t eat it all at once, take bites every 15 minutes or so to get the calories down without upsetting or overfilling your stomach.
4. Oranges: Slice them up and store them in a baggie and you have a quick, juicy snack that gives you a boost of sugar, a dose of Vitamin C, and a bit of hydration too.
5. Pickles: They’re a food that you either love or hate, but if you’re a fan, there’s something about a salty bite of a pickle in the middle of a long, hot workout. Be sure to choose a type that doesn’t need refrigeration so that you can eat them when you’re ready.
6. Dried Fruit: Dried fruit or trail mix gives you a concentrated dose of carbs in just a few bites. If you choose a mix with nuts, you’ll also get some additional minerals like potassium and magnesium, which get depleted during distance training.
7. Oreos: Sure, they’re unconventional, but this sugary treat can give you a boost when you start to feel fatigued during training. I like using these as a special treat when I hit the half way mark to both congratulate and fuel myself for what’s left of the workout.
8. Salt and Vinegar Chips: Sometimes only something salty will do the trick, and it doesn't get much more intense than salt and vinegar chips. They help replace some of the sodium lost from sweating while also giving you a dose of fat and carbs for energy.
Practice Makes Perfect
Nailing down your nutrition is key to having great training sessions and conquering your race. Make sure you practice your race-day fueling plan early and often and make adjustments as you go to find what works for you.
Don’t just practice what you’re eating - make sure also to practice how you’ll eat it. Look for kits and apparel that have convenient pockets where you can store and reach your food, and think through how you’ll take in nutrition on the bike and run.
You might need to practice your bike handling skills to master riding one-handed or pick a cycling or tri suit that has extra storage space or back pockets to carry your snacks during the race.
Remember, race day should be just like any long training session. Execute what you practiced and don’t try anything new, and you’ll have a good chance of having great results.
Written By: Nicole Picard Kurz, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Nicole on Instagram @nicolemkurz
Do you have a favorite real-food training snack? Tell us about it in the comments below!