What to Eat on Race Day

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  • Matt Cook
  • |
  • Mar 14, 2017 9:00:00 AM

What-to-Eat-on-Race-Day.jpgTo prepare for a triathlon, you’ll have bought the right gear, trained the right amount, and eaten the right things for weeks leading up to race day. Triathlon training is an ongoing effort, and improper nutrition can overshadow all of your hard work. You also want to avoid the rookie mistake of overloading on expensive gels and sports drinks where they are not needed. 

Eating right is an obvious goal, but here are some tricks passed down from fellow triathletes who have found what works for them. There is no “one size fits all” mealplan for eating on race day, but by following these tips you can ensure you are fuelling your body, making your best times, and feeling your best.

Wake up, Top Up

The goal of eating directly before a race is to maintain glycogen (energy) stores in your muscles and liver for later. Though the meal you eat the night before will have some effect on your performance, more important is replenishing the calories burned while sleeping so that your body does not begin to process those glycogen stores. You also need to give your body time to process that food. 

One suggestion is to wake up between four and five hours before you intend to rise, drinking a fruit smoothie, and then returning to sleep. This will refuel those lost calories while allowing you to rise to a relatively empty stomach for your pre-race meal. It will also help you maintain those fuel stores for when they really matter.

Focus on Your Pre-Race Meal

The jury is still out on what you should eat immediately before beginning your triathlon, but veterans can agree that there are a few ground rules to follow going into a race. Firstly, hydration is paramount to success and forgetting to top off your fluids before a race is a recipe for disaster. 

In terms of solids, the general consensus is “less is more,” though how little to eat is up to you. Some suggest as little as a few bites of a sports bar, others, a bagel, some juice, and a coffee.This will be a place to explore what works best for you. The key is eating this meal at least two hours before the starting pistol and making sure that what you are eating is easily digestible. The last thing you need is your stomach to be wrestling both a full English breakfast and triathlon nerves.

Fuel for Distance

Just as a car needs more fuel for a longer trip, matching diet to distance is another surefire way to ensure triathlon success. For a shorter race like a Sprint Triathlon, your pre-race intake should cover the calories you will need to make it through, and hydration is going to be the real battle. Take in a bit of fuel on the go for an extra boost Many triathletes may pop a gel or a barwhen biking or running. 

For longer races, you will want to fuel more on both the running and biking portions of the race. You will want to top out between 300–500 calories over the course of the race, with about half of that coming from a sports drink and the rest from gels or energy bars.


No matter the length of your race or your experience level, one thing remains true for all endurance athletes: avoid dehydration at all costs. Hydrating right will protect your cells and help in transferring the energy in those glycogen stores throughout the body. 

Keeping your fluid reserves topped up with both water and sports drinks will help maintain a proper electrolyte balance and performance. Drinking water or sports drinks before, during, and after your triathlon is imperative. Sports drinks are also an easy way to introduce calories into your system without the need to digest solids, allowing you to fuel without filling up.

Topics: Triathlon Training


Matt Cook

Matt Cook

Father of 3 and former competitive swimmer, Matt completed his first Ironman 70.3 in 2013 in Muskoka. He has since completed another 70.3 and is planning on doing a full Ironman in 2016 or 2017. Matt took up triathlons for the challenge, to relax and to just to stay in shape so he can enjoy life with his family.

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