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Fueling Tips for Long-Distance Triathlons

By Jess Kolko

fuelHaving spent the last six months of your life training for your Ironman or other long-distance event, you have also spent countless hours eating and drinking during workouts, and many more hours fueling for recovery. Let’s face it—eating is just as much a part of long-distance triathlon training as is swimming, biking and running. But, there is one time that the ultra-distance triathlete has difficulty eating — race morning.

The morning of your race is probably one of the most difficult times to eat, but we know that it’s a critical meal in preparation for your big day. Here are a few tips to help make race-morning breakfast as pleasant and productive as possible.

First and foremost, everything you eat and drink the morning of your race should have been tested and tasted many times over the course of your training. Don’t wait until the morning of the event to try a new breakfast combination. Try it prior to different workouts to get a feel for how it will settle with you. I have found the best test is a long open-water swim followed by a short bike. Testing at a 70.3 or other shorter race can be a great indicator of how you will feel race day. Any testing is better than no testing.

While every athlete is going to be different here are a few pointers for carbohydrate intake. Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes suggests a breakfast containing 150-200 grams of carbohydrate (3-4 grams per kilo of body weight) 3 to 4 hours prior to your event. For this meal, aim for more “real” foods that are easy to digest. Bagels, breads, fruit and oatmeal are very popular as are meal replacement drinks like Ensure or Boost, if you have trouble taking in solids pre-race.

Carbohydrates for Pre-Race Meals

Bagel (2.5oz)       


Rice (1 cup)          






Oatmeal (1 cup)


Noodles (1 cup)


One strategy for eating this much pre-race is to first set an early alarm and eat as much of your planed meal as you can, then go back to sleep for an hour or so. Additional carbohydrates (1-2 grams per kilo of body weight) can be taken in 1-2 hours prior to the race start. Even a gel or some sport bar just before entering the swim can help get you in gear. As you get closer to race start time more “sports” foods are appropriate — bars and sports drinks 1-2 hours prior and a gel or block 15 minutes pre-race. (Ryan, 2012)

Being nervous and excited on race morning can cause dry mouth and an anxious stomach making it even more difficult to eat. So no matter how you end up taking in your calories make sure you give yourself plenty of time to eat, digest and hydrate prior to hitting the transition area. With your muscle glycogen topped off you will be fresh and ready to conquer your day.

Eberle, S. G. (2007). Endurance Sports Nutrition. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
Ryan, M. (2012). Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Boulder: velopress.

Jess Kolko is currently the Healthy Eating Registered Dietitian and Culinary Educator at Whole Foods Market Global Headquarters. When she is not knee deep in nutrition, Jess also enjoys training and competing in long distance triathlon and running events. She can be reached at

Athletic Foodie LogoThis article originally appeared on, founded by Olympic gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale and his family, who believe that good taste and healthy food really can go together.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.