Essential Sports Nutrition


Simple sport nutrition tweaks for hot weather training - run


I feel many triathletes need a constant reminder that they are not runners. Certainly, runners do not need to be reminded that they are not triathletes.

Runners absorb a completely training stress than the multisport athlete. Furthermore, the race day effort of a triathlete is based on the race distance, which determines what time of the day a triathlete runs and what type of mechanical fatigue the triathlete brings to the run. Thus, the pacing and fueling strategy for run training and running are very different than the single sport athlete.
(Note - even for runners, I still find it valuable to set up aid stations or bring nutrition and hydration with you during long runs)

For the triathletes, you can not think like a runner when you train for triathlons.

For example, if you are doing a brick run, you can not think of your run off the bike as "only" a 20-minute run. I see it all the time - a triathlete is out on his/her bike for 3, 4, 5+ hours and then comes the run off the bike and no fluids are consumed during the run.  If you ride your bike for 3 hours and run 20 minutes off the bike, you are completing a 3 hour and 20 minute workout - you can not think that you are "only" running 20 minutes. Sure, a solo 20 minute run does not need calories or fluids but your body still requires and deserves fluids, electrolytes and calories to finish off your workout.

Once this new fueling strategy is ingrained into your head, you will notice that you are running better off the bike (not barely surviving or suffering), you are more energized and thinking clearly during a run off the bike, you are protecting your health (allowing you to train more consistently), you can reduce risk for injury and you can reduce your overall training stress, thus allowing you to recover faster. I can't tell you how many athletes that I have worked with who consistently underfuel and underhydrate while running all because it doesn't seem natural or needed to bring nutrition and hydration on a run.  By fueling and hydrating properly, not only do you build confidence for race day, train your gut and improve performance but you protect your health AND you can function better in life (your family can thank me for this advice).

-There are many hydration belts and packs on the market so take your pick. Just please carry something with you that allows you to run with good form (I advise to not carry anything more than 6-8 ounces in your hand as it can throw off your gait and cause muscle tension in the neck/back). A hydration pack/belt allows you to hydrate and fuel consistently when YOU want to fuel and hydrate. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable at first but just like running with a HR monitor, wearing a hat/visor, running with a watch or wearing an ankle strap or race belt around your waist, you can get use to it.

-In hot weather, you need to plan for 1 x 10+ ounce flask with 70-100 calories of a hydration based sport drink with at least 250-400+ mg sodium for every 30 minutes of running - this is for any length brick run or long run. If you run on the treadmill, the same strategy applies but you can use a sport bottle instead of a flask.

-You also need to plan for 1 x 10 ounce flask of cold water for every 30 minutes of running for any brick run or long run. This will be a lifesaver as you can now use this cold water for sipping and for cooling to help control core temperature. 

-Plan your run routes accordingly so that you can make quick stops for easy refilling of sport nutrition powder (ex. baggies or single serving packets) and use water fountains or bottles for water. Many sport nutrition companies (ex. Scratch, Tailwind, Clif Hydration, EFS pro) provide single serving packets so you can carry refill powder with you when you need to refill. 

-To reduce the risk of GI upset and to optimize digestion and absorption, I suggest to sip your drink every 8-10 minutes and as needed. Never ration your hydration when you run because you don't want to stop or your  next stop isn't for an hour - sip when you want and when you are finished, refill. It's ideal to best understand when you prefer to drink.

-If you are using a hydration beverage (ex. sport nutrition product that provides calories and sodium, which is recommended), you will reduce the risk of overdrinking on plain water, as it is typical for athletes who run without a sport drink to either overdrink on water when they stop or get to a water fountain/gas station or only consume water during a long run (or after a long bike) thus depleting sodium stores.

-If you prefer gels or chews over powder, you still need to carry water with you. However, you can replace a sport drink powder with bloks/chews but it's important to still consume your calories consistently (and make sure your gel/chews contain sodium).

-If you prefer gels, use a gel flask (1 gel mixed in water in a small flask) for easy sipping. It's recommended to use a gel flask instead of consuming a gel every 45 minutes as a gel is properly digested and absorbed with 12-16 ounce of water. Using a gel flask dilutes the gel for easier digestion.

-Incorporate walk breaks into your run training regime to get more comfortable consuming fluids and calories when you are running. It can take up to 6 weeks to train your gut if you are not yet comfortable (or tolerating) consuming nutrition when you run. 

Example; If you are running for 30 minutes off the bike, bring 80-100 calories of sport nutrition in a     10-ounce flask and a 10-ounce flask of ice cold water.
If you are running for 2 hours, start your run with 1 flask of sport nutrition and 1 flask of water and refill your flasks every 30 minutes.

(This is recommended for hot weather training).
IMPORTANT - Please DO NOT ration your sport nutrition or water because you don't want to stop or because you think it is cool to underfuel.
You will gain fitness, train more consistently, build confidence in your sport nutrition plan for race day and protect your health by fueling and hydration adequately.

TIP: To prevent taste bud fatigue, vary your flavors of sport drink throughout your long rides and runs so that you are not always consuming lemon-lime flavor (as an example) every time you train.

Also, if you feel that your mouth gets tired of the "sweet" taste of a sport drink, have a sip of a carbonated drink, consume something sour or take a bit of a savory bar (ex. peanut butter, chocolate, bacon-flavored, etc.) to excite the taste buds so that you can return back to your routine fueling regime. 


Simple sport nutrition tweaks for hot weather training - bike


It's unfortunate but many athletes underfuel in training and overfuel on race day.
Why do triathletes do this?

Underfueling can be from many reasons - fear of gaining weight, wanting to lose weight, trying to be more "metabolically efficient," not knowing how to fuel, not feeling that (more) calories are needed, thinking sport nutrition is bad/unhealthy, not bringing enough energy/fluids, not planning stops accordingly, poor planning/feeling rushed to get in a workout or not knowing how much energy/fluids are needed. Certainly, underfueling does not enhance performance and consequently, not meeting energy and hydration needs can sabotage health. 

Overfueling on race day is often out of fear of not having enough energy. Sadly, no amount of calories on race day can make the body perform at an intensity that was not established in training.  And if you are an athlete who underfuels in training, not only are you missing an opportunity to boost fitness in training but a body that has been underfueled in training will underperform on race day. Additionally, an overfueled body on race day can increase the risk for GI issues which is often more performance limiting than lack of energy. 

In peak training, your longer workouts require calories, electrolytes and fluids. If you are performance minded, you can not be scared of consuming calories when you train.

Every time you just "get by" to check off a workout to say you did it, these are the workouts where you are not training smart. Consecutive long workouts where you just get by will not make your body prepared for race day. 
Yes, you may be checking off workouts thus making you think that you are getting yourself ready but you are not becoming physiologically prepared for race day.
If you feel limited by your bike fitness, do yourself two favors.

First, learn how to ride your bike.
Get a good bike fit from an experienced fitter, improve your bike handling skills, learn how to sit on your saddle properly, ride comfortably and relaxed and improve your posture. By doing all of this, you will ride more efficiently, thus expending less energy.

Secondly, learn how to fuel for your longer workouts. Your body will thank you by giving you great health in training and a fitter, faster, stronger and more powerful body on race day.

-In cooler temps, you will find it easy to meet energy and fluid needs. In the winter months, you will find it super easy to digest and easily absorb almost any type of solid or sport nutrition food. But come hot weather, your gut becomes much more sensitive to what you put inside the belly (substance, volume and concentration) as the muscles and gut are competing for the same blood (and most of the time, the muscles win). Most athletes will find it necessary to consume less calories than normal in hotter temps but in order to ensure a steady effort, pacing must be appropriate. 

-The first tweak in regard to summer fueling/hydrating is more of a change in routine than a change in habit. And boy oh boy, I know that triathletes do not like change. With the hotter temps, you will need to stop more frequently to refill bottles. Rationing your fluids so that you don't have to stop during a 5+ hour ride (because it takes times or will affect your overall speed/pace) is not ideal, yet time and time again, triathletes don't make the effort to stop. Limit your stops to no more than 10 minutes as you do not want your body to switch to recovery body. Make your stops quick - bathroom, refill bottles with sport nutrition powder/ice/water and then get back to doing work on two wheels. Be sure to plan your routes accordingly  - if there are no places to refill bottles (water fountains or gas stations) consider loops or out and backs. 

-The second tweak is making sure that you have enough easy-to-reach cages/hydration systems on your bike. There are many different set-ups as to where to place your cages but no matter where you put your bottles on your bike, you should have one primary bottle that you use to meet your fluid/energy/electrolyte needs (rotate bottles to keep this primary bottle stocked). Every triathlete should be skilled enough to grab, sip and rotate bottles (if this scares you - practice in a safe parking lot, not on the trainer, until this skill is mastered). If you are resorting to a straw-based hydration system because you are not comfortable grabbing bottles - you still need to know how to grab bottles to refill your straw-based hydration system. Grabbing bottles should be a skill that every triathlete is comfortable with in training, well before race day. You need to carry your nutrition with you so be sure to invest in 3-4 cages on your bike.  

-Although I have seen all types of haphazard fueling strategies by all types of athletes, here is the most simple of sport nutrition advice to help you meet your needs during workouts over 90 minutes (or intense workouts over 60 minutes): 
-->Bring 1 bottle sport drink for every 1 hour of riding. This could be anywhere from 150-300 calories depending on your hourly needs - be mindful that the concentration, carbohydrates in a specific volume of water, is extremely important in hot weather - less concentrated = easier digestion but this may require you dialing back your effort so you don't run out of energy too soon. As you may know, I prefer and advocate sport drinks/powders over solid food + electrolyte based-bottles for optimal digestion and absorption and a more simple execution. 
-->Each sport drink bottle should have at least 400-600+mg of sodium. While there are several ways to monitor your electrolyte needs (pre/post weighing, sweat rate, urination, etc.), many athletes fall short on electrolytes (specifically sodium) by either taking in too much or too little but not always staying consistent. You can simply add salt to each bottle (1/8 tsp salt = ~290 mg) to increase your sodium intake, without a large bolus of salt being consumed all at once, per hour. Salt tabs may have a place but should be discussed with a sport dietitian on proper usage. Also be mindful that there are good salt-based electrolyte tabs/sticks on the market but also some that are not used properly by athletes due to being misinformed on how to use them. 
-->Lastly, you need to add 1 bottle of ice cold water to your bike for sipping and cooling. Whereas in cooler temps (or the fall/spring) you may be just fine meeting your hydration needs each hour by finishing a 24-26 ounce bottle of sport drink each hour, in the summer heat, there's a good chance that you need up to 32-36 ounces of fluid per hour (this additional fluid does not have to be calorie-based fluids - water is just fine). Adding in the extra water can make a huge difference in terms of how you feel, absorb nutrition and hydrate during a workout. When you finish your water, this is typically a sign that you should be stopping soon to refill your bottles. 

Example: If you are riding 3 hours, bring 2 bottles sport drink + 1 bottle ice cold water. Sip every 10-15 minutes, 3-5 big sips at a time. If you fall short on this or your terrain doesn't allow you to follow this regime, you can also do 2-3 sips every 7-8 minutes but never overchug to "make up" if you go too long without fueling/hydrating. Slowly catch up. Plan to stop around 2 hours to refill bottles to last another 2 hours. 

-Your best fueling and hydrating plan in the summer is one that can be easy to execute, over and over again in training - hour after hour. Simple is best! Don't make your fueling and hydrating more complicated than it needs to be. Frequent and consistent intake is extremely important for optimizing digestion and absorption. In the case that your stomach is not accepting a drink, stop consuming calories for 10-15 minutes, sip occasionally on water throughout the next 10-15 minutes and back down on your effort/pace to let the gut settle. 

-Tip: To prevent taste bud fatigue, you should have multiple flavors of your sport drink each hour. If you like eating a little solid food as you are training/racing, compliment the sweetness of a sport drink with something savory, like a peanut butter, chocolate, bacon or rich and bold-based food as opposed to something sweet, on top of your already sweet drink. 


Simple sport nutrition tweaks for hot weather training - swim

Hopefully by now in the season, you have dialed in your fueling and hydration regime to help you adapt well to training and to keep your body healthy. 

While there can be several pronounced and noticeable symptoms to let you know that you are not meeting your energy, electrolyte and fluid needs during your longer or more intense workouts, like headache, not feeling the urge to urinate during a long workout or for hours after the workout, nausea, bloating, fatigue, muscle aches/throbbing and dizziness, you may notice that even without a health or performance-related issue, with the intense summer heat, something is still off with your fueling and hydrating strategy.
Important note: the symptoms I mentioned are not "normal" just because you are an athlete, training hard, wanting to get faster or leaner or training for a long distance event.

Over the next few blogs, you will learn a few simple tweaks that you can make to your current fueling and hydration regime.

As a Board Certified Sport RD, if it takes you more than a few weeks to put together a solid fueling and hydration plan or you are constantly struggling to get through workouts due to improper fueling/hydrating, reach out to a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition, to help.


-Simple enough, always have a bottle of water on deck. Although many triathletes train in a competition pool where the water temperature is cool, most pools (ex. YMCA) are not cool...they are warm or even hot. Regardless of the water temperature, you are generating heat and sweating in the water. Sip fluids between sets.

-For newer swimmers who are building endurance and stamina in the water and find that form falls apart as the workout continues over 20 minutes, consider adding 50-100 calories of a hydration based sport drink to your bottle. While you are burning way more calories than you are consuming, keep in mind that the purpose of sport nutrition is to help delay fatigue. If you train with poor form, you will keep swimming with poor form. A sport drink during the workout may also help your appetite post workout as many athletes finished a swim extremely hungry and tend to overeat after the workout is complete (or notice extreme carbohydrate cravings later in the day).

-If you are a believer that you shouldn't have a water bottle on deck during a swim practice because you can't drink during a triathlon, this is not smart training. Why do you train? You train so that you can be as fit, fast, strong and resilient as possible on race day. In training, you are doing anything and everything possible so that come race day, you are in the best shape possible with a healthy body.
Remember, you are also not a competitive swimmer - you are a triathlete. This means that you are likely not swimming more than 2-4 times per week so every swim workout counts. Plus, you are bringing fatigue to your workouts from a previous run or bike session. The better and more consistently you can train, the better you will perform on race day. It's likely that you do a dozen or more things in training that you don't/won't do on race day (and vice versa) so you have permission from me to have a bottle on deck for all swim workouts.

-If you tend to feel nauseous when you eat before a swim, you'll benefit from having a sport drink during the swim (if swimming on an empty stomach) to ensure that you are well hydrated throughout the workout but also using those calories to help postpone fatigue (~50-120 calories in a bottle will work just fine for a 60-90 minute workout).

-Many triathletes complain of cramps in the legs when they swim. From my experience, this is less related to sodium/dehydration but more related to muscle tightness (especially when a swim follows a run or a hard bike workout). If you tend to suffer from cramps in your legs when swimming, use neoprene shorts or a buoy to take the stress off your lower body. Additionally, avoid using fins when you run/bike before a swim (or when you feel a cramp coming on). Lastly, be sure to start your swim workout with mobility work on dry land to loosen up the ankles, calves, hips and hamstrings (ex. dynamic stretching, light foam rolling). Although having a hydration beverage when you swim is recommended, tight calves, hamstrings and ankles while kicking are often the source of cramping when swimming.