Importance of Nutrition for Triathletes


Triathlon is a relatively new sport on the endurance-sporting scene, but it is growing rapidly in popularity.   This multi-stage sport involves three separate and sequential endurance disciplines, swimming, cycling and running.  Regardless of whether you are training for and competing in short sprint triathlons like the Trinity Sports Series. Currently underway in Gauteng or a seasoned IMSA competitor and competing in PE and Durban this year, it is critical to manage your nutrition intake and energy levels effectively during each of the three stages.  wtsabudhabi2

During each stage there are a number of different energy and nutrition factors to consider. The most important nutrition considerations are however hydration, replacing lost minerals to avoid cramps and ensuring sufficient energy throughout the event.

In reality, whilst there are three sporting disciplines, there are actually five stages if you include the two change-over periods, where your body and mind must transition from one discipline to the next. When planning for energy supplies, one needs to take into account changes such as the position of the body, the muscles involved and the intensity of muscular effort in the coming stage. By taking these into account, you are able to plan effectively for maximum energy in the next stage.  During each changeover stage,consider consuming an instant energy booster that contains a mixture of liquid carbohydrates, such as fructose and maltodextrin, with a small amount of caffeine, to give you a boost and help with the availability of energy in the next stage of the race – the Enervit Sport Cheer-pack is a good example of such a product.


In our warm South African climate, it is essential for triathletes to know about the correct fluid-electrolyte supplementation before, during and after training or racing, so that they don’t damage or impede their performance by not hydrating properly. Hydration is particularly important during the cycling stage, where it is recommended to take regular small sips of a well diluted supplement drink that contains minerals, maltodextrin and fructose (check out Enervit G Sport, available in 420g cans or as single use 15g sachets).  If you are cycling a long distance, plan to have at least two water bottles available, potentially having one bottle of plain water and the other a diluted drink supplement.

Training or racing in full sunlight can lead to dehydration caused by excessive sweating,which in turn leads to the loss of important minerals, in particular sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium. The loss of calcium is not too much of an issue, as the amount lost will be negligible in relation to the overall percentage present in the body.  The other three however must be replenished. The amount of potassium in body sweat is approximately one seventh of the sodium present and magnesium is about one hundredth of this.  When your body doesn’t have enough sodium you run the risk of developing cramps and/or hyponatremia (i.e. too little sodium in the blood), which is why it is essential to constantly replace any lost sodium. After the race your body will crave sodium and you will probably subconsciously chose to eat saltier foods (like cheese and meat) or add more salt than usual to your food, which will then replenish the sodium that your body craves.  It is not so easy however to replace lost magnesium and potassium reserves and if you are sweating excessively for a few days in a row you may need a supplement to boost your levels of these important minerals.

“Those who sweat a lot tend to be much more prone to cramping than those who sweat less,” says Fulvio Massini, training consultant and Equipe Enervit contributor.  Fulvio is a leading expert on racing and accompanies and studies groups of runners competing in major marathons around the world – “In addition, another recognized cause is the lack of training, in particular specific training to run at a given pace and for a given distance.”


According to recent research, carried out by Benjamin Rapoport of Harvard Medical School in Boston, marathon runners of the world – therefore those who are well trained and very thin – need to eat fewer carbohydrates before and during the marathon.  Everyone else, however, needs to consume carbohydrates both before and during an endurance event if they do not want to have a shortage of glycogen in the muscles, or “hit the wall” at some stage (usually after about 90 minutes of strenuous activity). There are several recent studies that suggest the best approach. Starting with before, you should ideally consume an easily digestible combination of fructose and isomaltulose, such as Enervit Pre Sport.. Thanks to it’s “jelly” form it is digested quickly but, due to it’s low GI contents, it gives you just the right boost of energy before intense training or competitions and releases energy gradually for sustained performance. During the endurance activity stages however, you should be consuming carbohydrates that absorb rapidly and enter the bloodstream as quickly as possible. Try to find solid format supplements that also contain minerals and consume them regularly (every ten kilometres) in small amounts. Again, hydration is vital, and you should be consuming more liquid than the fluid your body is losing in sweat – this is different for each individual. At around the half way mark in time, you may need to provide your body with a supplement that contains more maltodextrin than fructose, like Enervitene Sport Gel (also available with caffeine), which provides a very rapid absorption of carbohydrates for an instant energy boost.

The final stage of the race, the running stage, is often understandably the hardest for a triathlete.  Energy has been depleted and muscles are tired and it can actually be difficult to take in supplements at this stage. In addition to drinking, for all important hydration, chose a supplement that is easy to digest, for example an easy to chew fructose and maltodextrinEnervit GT Sport Tablet, which dissolves quickly in your mouth and helps to reduce fatigue and cramping through replacing essential minerals.

Correct supplementation and diet for recovery is extremely important, especially if you are planning to participate or train again in the near future. Alexander Fabian, an Olympic and top international triathlete says: “Recovery after the race starts at the table, where it is important to adopt a balanced and healthy diet and make sure you are including minerals and omega 3. For immediate recovery, however, I make sure that I drink an appropriate recovery drink within half an hour of race completion.  The drink needs to contain carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index, including maltodextrin, sucrose, fructose, glucose, protein, branched chain amino acids, vitamins and minerals. ”


Recovery means, among other things, restoring your muscles glycogen stores, repairing your damaged muscle fibers (inevitable after a very long session) and replenishing lost water and mineral salts, particularly those lost through sweat. Research conducted in recent years has shown that for optimal recovery it is particularly important to replenish depleted glycogen stores in the muscle fibers in the immediate half hour following exertion, preferably through glucose circulating in the bloodstream.  Daniel Fontana, winner of the 2014 Los Cabos Ironman, confirms in his thesis (and proves “in the field”): “I learned that the secret to a more rapid recovery lies in restoring the body’s fuel in the half hour immediately after training / racing, referred to as the famous golden window.  This is the time when the additional supply of fuel is most useful to my muscles and metabolism in general”

The quickest way to get glucose circulating in the bloodstream quickly is to consume quick release, or high GI carbs.  These are carbs containing the glucose compounds maltodextrin and sucrose (refined sugar). Even better is to combine these carbohydrates with protein and a few grams of branched chain amino acids. Products such as Enervit R2 contain carbohydrates, proteins and amino acids in the correct proportions, as well as other substances that promote rapid recovery.

So whatever your skill level, make sure you plan your nutrition intake and energy levels effectively before taking part in a triathlon. Remember to always train on supplements before the big day to ensure compatibility with your body and to work out what is best for you at each stage of the race – never try a new supplement during a race!  As explained, the three biggest nutrition considerations are adequate hydration; enough quick and slow release carbohydrates to keep you going and replenishing minerals, particularly sodium to avoid cramping.  There you go!

More information

Enervit Sports offers a complete line-up of endurance sports nutritional supplements, providing specific products for every step of an athlete’s performance strategy: before – to increase the availability of energy; during – to combat fatigue; and after – for a quick and optimal recovery. For more information, visit

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