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Race Day Nutrition with Matt Hanson

Matt Hanson Running Photo provided by Zoot Sports
Matt Hanson Running Photo provided by Zoot Sports

Let’s face it, most triathletes are extremely “type A.” They want all the data from every workout, follow all the latest new tech and gear, and of course think there is a definite right answer for everything triathlon related. I really think that is why so many struggle trying to get their race day nutrition dialed in. Their plan starts with “what do you do” and ends with “ok, I’ll do that.”

When it comes to nutrition, I think we need to have a more experimental approach to developing our plan. I often tell the athletes I coach that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to nutrition. So here is how I typically try to start to help them figure out what fits best for them.

First, let’s start with a few facts.

1. Fluids and gels will GENERALLY absorb faster and easier than solids (always a few exceptions…)

2. Protein will almost always delay gastric emptying. (I generally recommend only including protein during races if you feel hungry during long races and want to curb that sensation)

3. Generally speaking, we want to keep the carbohydrate concentrations below 8% for optimal absorption. Remember, this is not the concentration in the bottle, it is the concentration in the gut. The recommended strengths that most companies will suggest to mix their product at will be at or slightly below this range. If you are making your bottles more concentrated, make sure you are adding water on course!

I’m assuming you picked up on the “generally” theme. This is where a lot of people get hung up.

Some research suggests that people cannot process above 90-100 grams (360-400cal) per hour. I personally have done many races well above that without issue. Others will spend more time in the porta pot or looking for the barking spiders to blame if the take in more than 60grams. So you need to play around with this. You also need to play around with the form of carbohydrates, the amount of electrolytes you are consuming, and the amount of fluids you need to take in to come close to matching your loss rate. It is nearly impossible to draw up your race day nutrition plan on paper, and have it be 100% right the first time. It is a process. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Calculate your fluid need

Weigh yourself frequently pre and post workout and record exactly how many fluid ounces you took in. Use this to determine how much you need to consume while racing. The goal should be to get off the bike as close to the weight you started the bike as possible since it is harder to take in fluids and nutrition while running.

Types of carbohydrates

What type of carbohydrates sits well in your gut? What can you take over and over again without being utterly repulsed by the taste/texture/etc. It is also ok to blend carbohydrate sources (in fact it is probably better to do so!)

How many calories can you handle?

Figure out how many calories per hour you need. Figure out how many calories you can take in without GI/bloating issues. Experiment. Perhaps start with 250 cal/hour then move this up and down the following weeks based on how you are feeling.


Don’t neglect the electrolytes! It is often worth it to get a quick sweat test done here to know about how much sodium you are losing per liter of sweat. You don’t have to replace 1:1 exactly, but it should give you an idea of where you need to be.

Practice your plan

Once you start getting things dialed in, try to do a few longer workouts in as close to the race environment as possible. You should not have the same plan for hot and humid races as you do for cooler races or ones in a dry environment!

Don't forget your AltRed!

I personally take a serving before the race, then one every 2-3 hours throughout.

This is by no means an all inclusive plan to get your race day nutrition dialed in, but it should serve as a starting point. I cannot stress enough that you need to practice this. Over and over…and over and over again! Start early. Be willing to experiment on your longer sessions. I’d much prefer for something to go wrong nutrition wise in a workout than during a race!

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