Food provides six essential nutrients for optimal triathlon performance – carbohydrates, protein, fat, water, vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates, protein and fats are known as macronutrients. They are the only nutrients that provide the body energy, which is measured in calories. Water, also a macronutrient, does not supply energy but is needed for proper metabolic function, joint and muscle lubrication and core body temperature regulation. Vitamins and minerals are referred to as micronutrients since they are only required in small amounts. They are found in all foods and play a critical role in the breakdown and utilization of macronutrients into energy.
The athlete’s body requires over 40 different essential nutrients every day to maintain general health and support the demands of training. Since each food differs in its contribution of macronutrients and micronutrients, athletes should be encouraged to maintain a diet that provides:
• A variety of foods from all food groups – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy, beans and legumes, and meats that are low in fat.
• Sufficient energy/calories to maintain a healthy body weight and body composition.
• General health recommendations, such as low saturated fat, low salt and high fiber – in some cases, such as with the morning of a race or hard training session, cutting back on fiber may be advised. Some athletes may need to increase sodium in their diets when preparing for hot and humid training or racing conditions.