Nutrition - the fourth discipline in triathlon

My biggest fear is having a nutrition malfunction on race day and not being able to finish my race before the official cutoff.

Figuring out how to get enough calories without eating too much and feeling nauseous is a delicate thing and that's why it is known as the fourth discipline in triathlon.  Swim. Bike. Run. Nutrition.

Estimated calories needed

  • I have some calories stored as glycogen in my muscles and liver and fat but I will need to replenish calories during the race.  This race calculator says 300 calories per hour but I already know my stomach can only handle digesting 250-275 calories per hour.  
  • I weigh 130 lbs.   My goal is to "just finish."
  • My time estimates are: Swim 2h (700 calories) + Bike 6-8h (4200 calories)  + Run 6h (3800 calories = 16 hours (8700 calories) to finish the race so I will burn about 9000 calories during the 16 hours of the race.  

Nutrition, hydration and electrolyte sources

  • Cliff shot gels = 100 calories 
  • Cliff blok chews (6 pack) = 200 calories
  • Luna lemon zest bar cut into 3 pieces = 190 calories
  • Cliff organic trail mix bar (gluten-free) cut into 3 pieces = 180 calories
  • Hydration: Carbo Pro (2 scoops) + Ultima electrolytes (2 scoops) per 750 mL water bottle = 200 calories
  • Salt: Pink Himalayan salt when I feel nauseous or full
  • I bring my own gluten-free bars and drinks because Gatorade makes me nauseous.

Nutrition plan

  • Breakfast 3 hours before the start:  toast with honey, yogurt, coffee.
  • Sip water before the race.
  • 1 gel before the swim (100 calories)
  • Swim 1.5 - 2 hours.
  • 1 gel after the swim in T1 or getting on the bike (100 calories)
  • Bike 6-8 hours
  • Nutrition on the bike: 200-250 calories per hour.  80 calories every 20 minutes.  
  • (⅓ of a bar = 60 calories, or 2 chews = 66 calories
  • plus the Carbo Pro in my water bottle  
  • One gel if I feel low every couple of hours.
  • Salt as needed
  • Run 6 hours
  • On the run: 200 calories per hour.  
  • 2 chews every 20 minutes = (200 calories per hour) 
  • One gel if I feel low every couple of hours.
  • Plus plain water.  
  • Salt as needed.
  • Post run:  recovery drink, eventually a hot meal.

Head games

  • I have tested this on the bike and it works for me up to 150-60 km.  The last 20 km will be hard.  
  • I can handle bars, chews and gels on the bike and will work from solids to gels as time goes on, but around 150K on the bike I get nauseous.  
  • I get dizzy, woozy, shaky, lose my peripheral vision and lose my grip on my handlebars.  I make poor decisions like going on a yellow light.  
  • This could actually be my brain fooling me, trying to trick me into thinking I'm tired, when I am actually famished.


  • I realized during training that I might be short-changing myself in the calorie department by keeping an eye on the "time" on my bike computer and fuelling at :00, :20, and :40.  It only counts moving time, not total time since the start.  
  • I will need to keep an eye on my watch instead, which is important since the bike and finish cutoffs are based on the time of day, not when I started.

Tips from friends

  • Keep fuelling.  Think of this as a "rolling buffet."  -Keith
  • If you ever feel like crying or are getting emotional make sure you eat something as it might be from calorie deficit. - Leana
  • Too many calories is bad.  - Richelle
  • Take salt if you feel nauseous.  It helps empty the stomach.  - Gord
Ah.  Eat in moderation?  LOL.

Salt / electrolytes

  • In addition to Ultima for electrolytes in my water bottle, I carry some pink Himalayan salt in a little container for electrolyte balance, appetite stimulation and nausea suppression.  
  • Some swear this is just as good as the more expensive products you can buy for races.  It works for me.   Taking some on my tongue can help with that nauseous full feeling.

Now that I am armed with a calorie estimate, I am working on a time estimate.  Just how slow can I go and still finish?  Just how fast might I be if everything goes well?  What are the fastest, slowest and average times of others on this course?  What are the cutoff times I need to make and paces I need to maintain to get there in time?

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