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Thu 29th Sep 2022
Nutrition: Recovery for Olympic Distance
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 13th August 2014

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The Olympic or Standard Distance of triathlon is a very popular one, with many athletes racing the format almost weekly over the summer months.

Given the stresses involved, how should you approach nutrition for recovery in the Olympic Distance triathlon, to make sure you are ready to get back into training for the next one? In this feature, sports nutritionist and triathlete Emma Barraclough addresses that question.

Nutrition for Recovery in Olympic Distance Triathlon

Racing Olympic distance triathlons places a strong demand on the aerobic energy system to cover the whole distance, but each of the elements are often performed at threshold pace, placing a high demand on anaerobic energy production as well.

The first opportunity to take nutrition on board will be after your 1500m swim and onto the bike. With a 40km time trial to do, if you took no additional energy on board you will have completely depleted your glycogen stores at 90 minutes, and probably sooner. To avoid this you need to take in around 60g of carbohydrate per hour, probably in the form of energy drinks and gels.

60g of carbohydrate is equivalent to 240kcal. You could be burning up to 800kcal per hour so even with an optimized nutrition strategy you will burn more calories than you are able to process as carbohydrate. You will be using some fat for energy as well, but carbohydrate remains the primary fuel source for high intensity exercise. This means you will be running your glycogen stores down and these need to be replaced post-race.

The 30 Minute Window

Your body's metabolism is elevated for at least 30 minutes post-exercise and to recover effectively you should take on carbohydrates and proteins within this window. Liquid forms of carbohydrates and proteins such as those found in recovery drinks are the most quickly absorbed.

Solid food options such as recovery bars will take longer to digest and absorb, and for prolonged events such as Olympic distance triathlon, your gut can be sensitive immediately afterwards so liquids may be easier to digest – you should aim to drink 150% of the fluid you lose during the event.

Types of Protein

Whey protein-based products are particularly well-suited to triathlon recovery as this type of protein can be absorbed at 8-10g per hour, much quicker than egg and milk proteins. Whey protein also has a high leucine content – a good fuel for muscle rebuilding which also stimulates the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Remember though that you can only absorb 20-25g of protein in one serving - any extra will be excreted in your urine, so be sure to take protein on in small amounts.

The Three R's

It all comes down to the three R's of recovery which apply to whatever distance of triathlon you are racing; rehydrate, replenish (muscle glycogen) and repair (muscle protein). Always remember these and you'll recover strongly.

Emma Barraclough is a Sports Nutritionist at SiS ( She has worked with Great Britain Ice Hockey since 2006 and provided nutritional consultancy support to athletes in a range of sports including running, triathlon and rugby. She regularly represents Great Britain as an age group triathlete and has completed six Ironmans.

Emma Barraclough

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