So you’re finally doing it. You’ve had friends that have done it, and you’ve thought to yourself, “it can’t be that hard, I can do that.” Heck, you might even shave your legs…okay, let’s not get carried away. But here you are, signed up for a triathlon, and the clock is ticking until that inevitable early morning when you’ll be lined up, shoulder to shoulder, swim cap on, goggles pulled tight, toeing the line of an open water swim, possibly questioning your own sanity. But you’re not a quitter, and you’re certainly not going to act scared, so the only thing left to do is prepare!
Many newcomers to triathlon think of the sport incorrectly as three sports crammed into one, and this can lead to an overwhelming feeling that it is unconquerable. But the simple premise of this approach is wrong, it’s a single sport combined of three disciplines, and the name of the game for any level of triathlete is to maximize your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses to achieve the result that you want.
If your goals are to accomplish something new and challenging, earn a sweet medal you can post on Instagram, and get a sweaty kiss from your significant other (or find a significant other!) at the finish line, then efficient preparation for race day should be your focus. If, on the other hand, you want to win Kona, I hope you’ve got a very flexible schedule and the mental toughness of a pit bull. Most of us are probably somewhere in between.
For most triathletes, the swim is the most intimidating / foreign part of the race. But right off the bat, there are two truths about triathlon swimming working in your favor: you can wear a wetsuit and it is the shortest part of the race! If you have the option, we highly, highly encourage you to pick up a wetsuit (most tri shops rent them if you don’t want to buy or borrow). Not only will it make your swim more comfortable, wetsuits provide buoyancy and stability in the water. There are few things you could do to make your swim easier than wear a wetsuit, and it’s 100% within the rules.
If you are newer to swimming, we highly encourage you to find a good group to swim with leading up to the race. Masters swim programs are all over the place, and having a coach to give you some pointers and people to swim with for motivation will provide you invaluable confidence on race day. If you happen to live in the LA / SoCal area, it’s even better if you can check out a good friend of ours’ open water swimming program at Tower26.com. They meet weekly for open water swims for a nominal fee, and the experience and workout get there is quite honestly world class.
Next up is the bike, something we all know how to do and are usually pretty comfortable with, but keep in mind that you will be hopping on your bike after what can be a somewhat disorienting swim, and it may take a few minutes to get settled in. If you are doing a sprint distance race, you will be able to finish the bike, and you’ll probably feel pretty strong. Just make sure to leave some in the tank for the run.
If cycling is something that is somewhat new to you, be sure to spend a good amount of time on your bike before the race getting used to your riding and hand positions, working up to about a 10 to 12 mile ride. We all want to go fast, but don’t forget about your brakes! Sometimes in the heat of the moment when adrenaline is pumping and tons of people are out on a crowded bike course things can get a little bit hectic. The more familiar you are with your machine, the more confidence you’ll have out there and the less likely you’ll be to have a race-ending mishap. The only thing worse than a bad race is a bloody one.
One other thing to keep in mind about the bike…unless you are doing a really long race, one bottle mixed with a sports drink, maybe two, will be plenty to get you through the race. The last thing you want to do is overload your body / system with a bunch of calories you don’t need for fuel, or worse yet, be hauling around a bunch of extra weight you simply won’t use. If you think you may need a little extra fueling, carry a gel or two and pop one on the bike and one on the start of the run.
And then you’re at the run. Focus on efficiency, pace yourself, and the finish line will be there before you know it. The transition off the bike may feel a bit awkward, but keep that first quarter to half mile modest, get some life back into your legs and in short order you’ll feel great. If you push too hard at the beginning of the run, you may pay for it. During your training leading up to the race, if you can finish off a few of your bike rides with a short run (also known as a “brick” workout), you’ll have a lot more confidence coming off the bike in the race, and you’re body will be much better trained at dealing with the transition from bike to run.
It is often said, and professional triathlete Heather Jackson can attest that, “Nutrition is the fourth discipline in triathlons. You have swim, bike, run, but everything you’re putting in your body determines how your next session is going to go.
What you’re putting in before, during and after really sets you up for consistency.” This is particularly true on race day.
See how Herbalife24 works with Heather Jackson and other elite endurance athletes:
Another American triathlete sponsored by Herbalife, Lukas Verzbicas, shares Jackson’s commitment to good nutrition as part of his training regimen.
“Nutrition is huge for an athlete. It’s what fuels you. It’s what gives you results,” said Verzbicas. “It’s also huge in injury prevention. What you do after your training, which is sometimes even more important.”
See his video here:
So what does this mean for you, and should you do anything fancy with your nutrition leading up to race day? For most people, proper fueling during your workouts and immediate recovery after will take care of the most of your additional calorie needs. “If you consume 2000 calories a day on average, you may add an additional 500 or so via your during-workout sports drink and post-workout recovery shake,” said Dr. Luigi Gratton, vice president, nutrition education and development, Herbalife.
“The extra calories provide energy and muscle repair around your workout, which is most crucial. If you are feeling hungry throughout the day while in training, you may want to bump up your overall calorie intake by a few hundred calories, but be careful not to overdo it and splurge. Focus on high quality carbohydrates and lean proteins from plants sources including rice, soy and nuts or meats like turkey, fish and chicken.”
You should also avoid “bad” sugars when training, like the high fructose corn syrup found in sodas and those “fake” fruit juices made with a low percentage of real juice. Gratton said fruits, vegetables, beans, rice and pasta are sources of the good carbs you need to fuel your training.
Gratton said protein is vital to athletic performance because it supports lean muscle mass and helps to repair muscle so you feel better the day after you’ve trained. On average, women need about 75 grams of protein a day and men need 100 with half of those
Proper nutrition before a big race is consistent with general dietary recommendations for anyone, said Gratton. You need to consume 1/3 of your total calories from healthy fats from lean meat, fish and fruits and vegetables and avoid trans fats found in fried foods. The “old-school” idea of carbo-loading is generally not recommended for most people the night before a race. Just eat what you normally eat, maybe a little extra, but try not to go overboard. It’s more important that you fuel your body with high-quality nutrients that it is used to.