What To Eat Before A Triathlon

Whether you are racing a sprint triathlon or a full Ironman distance triathlon nutrition is going to be the determining factor for how well you finish. If you’ve researched or been around triathletes long enough you’ve more than likely heard a horror story about cramps, gastrointestinal issues or dehydration. Poor nutritional planning can lead to low performance and worse yet DNF (Did Not Finish). However, for this post we are focusing on the start of a race and what to eat before a triathlon.

I would love to end the post right here and say, “Take this and you’ll finish your race with no GI issues!” However, that’s not possible, I’m a firm believer that just because one nutritional product works for one triathlete that doesn’t always mean it will work for another. Therefore, at The Triathlon Hub, we’ve compiled a few products that can be used before a race. We will detail what ingredients are used, overall value and flavors. This way you can make the best decision when trying out a few of these to find out what works best.

Why use Pre-Race Nutrition –

Have you ever gone on a training ride and realized that you’ve dropped your nutrition? Instead of turning back you continue on, thinking you’ll be fine. However, come to find out you start to feel fatigued or even begin to cramp. Starting a race without calories or any nutrition in your body will lead to a poor swim start or even having to break on your swim because you have a cramp. Considering most triathletes try and get a solid meal the night before their race. They may go 10-12 hours before the race starts. Hence, without a small meal before the race, it can lead to no nutrition till after the swim, when you finally can grab something in your transition.

You typically won’t need many calories, this isn’t Thanksgiving dinner, but to start a race I usually try and consume 200 calories before any swim start that is longer than 1000 meters. However, it took some experimenting to find that caloric intake amount.

When To Try Pre-Race Snacks –

Usually, as an age group athlete, you have anywhere from 2-5 races a year. Meaning most of the year is spent training. So when going for an open water swim or weekend long ride, this is the perfect time to experiment and find out what snack works for you. It’s the time to find out what tastes good, doesn’t give you GI issues, and ultimately gives you the needed calories to start your workout. You may have a few poor rides or swims before you find that ideal nutrition that works. However, it’s always best practice to find that out before race day. This way you know what to eat before a triathlon, that won’t give you any issues.

When To Eat Your Pre-Race Snack –

Usually eating a small snack before your race needs to take place within an hour before your wave starts. If you take your pre-race snack too soon you risk the calories being digested too soon. And on the other side, if you eat it right when you start the calories and nutrition won’t get absorbed until after the swim. So, giving yourself an hour window before your wave start is a great rule of thumb. In the event, you wake up race day hungry a small bagel with peanut butter is a great idea.

What to Eat Before a Triathlon – Whole Foods

Picky Bars Real Food Protein Energy Bars –

What to Eat Before a TriathlonIf you’ve been around the triathlon world long enough you’ve probably heard of the Aviator wearing triathlete Jesse Thomas. He’s hard to miss with his senses of humor articles in Triathlete Magazine, or his athletic driven family photos. He turned pro in 2011, winning multiple triathlon events in various distances. However, before he even went pro he started PIcky Bars with his Wife and friends with the goal to create an energy bar that is made of real food. Not just a repackaged candy bar. The company started in their home kitchen trying to come up with ingredients that would sit well for endurance athletes. And that’s just what they’ve been able to do, they have 20 plus athletes who have joined their mission and team.

Picky bars are perfect for a pre-race snack. They are packed with 200 calories, 7 grams of protein, and 28g of carbohydrates.  Plus they have 9 unique flavors so you can easily find something that tastes good before your race. They are super easy to stash in your tri-bag or tri-kit on race day. I think my favorite thing and the reason why these bars tend to cause limited GI issues, is that they use whole ingredients. Making them gluten/dairy/soy free. Plus they are 100% NON-GMO, and 94% Organic.

Ingredients – To Name a Few

  • Dates
  • Agave Nectar
  • Rice Crisp
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Sea Salt
  • Sunflower Oil

The Finishline Results –

Picky Bars are a great pre-race snack that is worth trying to see if your stomach has no issues with them. They taste great and are packed with a great source of nutrition which is why they have never given me any issues. Plus they make a great non-race day snack as well! Careful though they’re flavors are addicting! Which is exactly why it’s made our What to Eat Before a Triathlon article.

What to Eat Before a Triathlon – Liquid Foods

CARBO-PRO Energy Drink Powder –

Best Triathlon NutritionCARBOPRO Nature Smart is one of the lesser known endurance nutrition companies on the market. This was recommended to me by a fellow triathlete coach after I told him about the GI issues I was having. He simply recommended it because Nature Smart offers some of the best dietary supplements formulated with pure ingredients. They don’t put fillers or additives on their formulations. They put their supplements through Microbiol and quality testing to ensure each production has no contaminators. With 16 years in the business and sourced from the USA, they strive to create quality products.

The biggest reason why I love this stuff so much and it’s perfect for athletes susceptible to GI issues, is that its simple calories. What I mean by that is each serving is packed with 200 calories and 50g of carbs. No sugar, fillers, protein, or fats. It doesn’t even have a flavor when mixed with water. Now I would recommend taking salts with this as it doesn’t have any sodium or potassium. However, being that it’s so simple and has the need carb nutrition it’s worked perfectly for a pre-race meal.

Ingredients –

  • Glucose Polymers Extracted From GMO-Free Corn
  • Contains No Preservatives
  • Non-Dairy
  • Gluten Free
  • Soya Free
  • Yeast Free
  • No Sweeteners

The Finishline Results –

If you are more into drinking or sipping nutrition before a race this is the perfect solution for you. It’s a very simple and has nothing flashy about it but sometimes that’s what works the best when it comes to triathlon nutrition. This is why its made our What To Eat Before A Triathlon post.

What to Eat Before a Triathlon – Gel Foods

Huma Chia Energy Gel –

Best Gels for TriathlonsHuma has a pretty interesting story, started in 2012 by a USMC veteran that was looking for an alternative to the more common gels on the market. Ian McCollum was reading the very popular title Born to Run, a book about a tribe in Mexico that used chia seeds for nutrition. With those ideas in mind, Ian came up with Huma a tool for glycogen supplementation. Huma gels rival the nutritional ingredients that other gels offer such as GU and Clif.

Huma is a 100 calorie gel filled with 23g protein, 45mg of potassium and 105mg of sodium. Each pack is made in the USA and is Gluten Free, Caffeine Free, and Vegan-friendly. They strive to create great flavors and yet keeping them 100% all natural. Currently, they have 8 different flavors to match your taste buds. They also have Huma Plus gels that offer added electrolytes, with the same flavors.

Ingredients – To Name a Few

  • Sea Salt
  • Milled Chia Seeds
  • Cane Juice
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Strawberries (Changes based on flavor)

The Finishline Results –

If you are someone that enjoys gels these are great Huma has great flavors. However, make sure you experiment with gels. They have a unique texture and consistency that isn’t for everyone.


Don’t forget your swim goggles and wetsuit before your race. If you are looking for a great set of goggles check out our recommendations here. Lastly, I’m by no means a nutritionist or a dietitian, but rather a triathlete that has had to experiment with my endurance nutrition.

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