It's hard to break bad fuelling habits if you don't even know they're affecting your performance. That's why mistakes are repeated. Sports dietician Suzanne Girard Eberle says a lot of triathletes form bad habits "because they don't think about food". By recognising your errors you can develop a routine that ensures optimum energy every time you train. Here are five common mistakes and ways to avoid them.
Some people aren't hungry in the morning. Others skip breakfast to trim calories, says Eberle. Neither is a good strategy, because undereating in the morning usually leads to increased calorie consumption later in the day. Also, eating breakfast replenishes your liver's glycogen stores, which typically dip while you're asleep. An ample supply of liver glycogen will stabilise your blood sugar as you train, keep your levels from spiking and ensure you don't run out of all-important energy.
Change it: If time is your problem, stock up on just-add-milk breakfasts such as cereal and porridge. If solid foods seem unappealing in the morning, whip up a fruit and yoghurt smoothie.
Experimenting at the wrong time
Trying a new food or drink during a race usually spells disaster, but training sessions are a great time to discover what fuels you best. "Training rides are prime opportunities to practise race-time eating and drinking strategies," says Eberle. Once you discover a winning formula, you'll approach your next triathlon with a foolproof plan.
Change it: Test new foods on shorter rides before eating them on longer rides or during races. Designate one day a week as a new-foods day. You'll never discover your ideal fuelling combinations until you mix things up a little.
Under-fuelling on long runs and rides
Eating on the run or bike can be tricky. Eberle says athletes often fail to take in enough energy during tough workouts to realise their potential.
Change it: Fill your drinks bottle with a sports drink rather than water and set your watch alarm for every 15 minutes to remind you to sip. On a ride, make a game out of eating all the snacks you've stashed in your jersey. You lose if you end the ride with uneaten food.
Missing the recovery window
If you eat within 30 to 60 minutes of ending your workout your body will fast-track nutrients to muscle repair and glycogen replacement. After that, you'll still benefit, says Eberle, just not as much. If you put off eating, you're more likely to feel tired from the effort, not stronger for the next one. That's a crucial difference when you're training in three disciplines, back to back.
Change it: Prepare your recovery foods before you train so they're ready for you to eat when you most need them. Far from home? Pack a sandwich or an energy bar.
Not drinking after bike training
Too often, triathletes stop drinking when the ride ends, but because it's almost impossible to take in enough fluids while riding to fully replace what you've lost, triathletes end workouts dehydrated, which compromises recovery.
Change it: Refill your bottle after a ride and aim to drink the contents within an hour.