Race day food and drink

What to eat and drink before a triathlon race

What should you eat and drink before a triathon race? Here Will Clarke explains how you can fuel your body correctly.

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.



Before a race

I’m sure I speak for most triathletes who read this in saying that our races are in general very early and that usually means it’s hard to get in a decent meal before competing. That’s normally because it’s just not available but also because you don’t really fancy eating a whole heap of food at 4:00am, especially after a huge feed the night before. I pack porridge oats and a banana as well as my trusty aero-press coffee maker, so I’m sure to have what I need at any competition.  

Triathlon swimming


I occasionally race in some strange places, so by doing it this way I always have something standard that I know will get me through a hard race in good shape. If we have a slightly later race I usually like to hit the hotel breakfast buffet and I’ll eat some baked beans on toast and some cereal as well as a good strong coffee. From when I wake up till I’m on the start line, I drink a Etixx Carbohydrate drink to top up my calories and I also take a caffeine gel so I know I’ve done my best to fuel up. 

During the race

At the moment I’m racing long distance triathlon and this is when it starts to get complicated and also very personal in terms of what you choose to refuel. On the bike I take 5 energy gels. 3 isotonic gels and 2 gels with a high dose of caffeine to give me an extra boost towards the end of the race when the big dogs come past me on the bike! I also drink 2 bottles of Isotonic and once I’ve got through those, I’ll try to grab another bottle of water at the aid stations if I manage to take it when going 40kph. It’s a lot harder than it looks! It might not seem very scientific but on the run is where my nutrition plan goes out the window.

I have two more gels on me which I take every 20 minutes or so but I also take anything else I’m craving. In Ironman races you often have water, coke, isotonic, gels, sponges, ice and all sorts. You never quite know what you’re going to get so often you just take it all and get it down! Most times I’ll ask for water, it’ll end up being coke and I'll throw it all over my head! After all that it is no wonder why your stomach is a mess at the end of a race!

After a race

This is the bit we all look forward to! After you’ve slogged your way through a hard race, this is the time to enjoy getting in the calories that you’ve lost. I’ll always have a protein shake and a bar packed in my bag so I can replace some of what I’ve lost straight away. There is usually another race around the corner so recovery is important! I’ll usually opt for a good piece of steak for lunch and plenty of starch and veggies. My iron levels tend to dip quite low unless I’m very proactive, so the steak will really help after a hard workout. Once all that is done and dusted I love to have a beer to celebrate with my family and friends. They’ve gone through the preparation with you so you owe them that down time to enjoy what you’ve accomplished. You’ve worked hard for this moment and it’s the time to enjoy it. If you’re lucky and you win a race then champagne could also be on the menu!

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