Nutrition: The 4th Discipline of Triathlon

Dietitian and elite level triathlete Colin Riley is a guest blogger in "Through My Eyes" to give some good info about how to fuel right for recovery.  It is much better that Colin talk about nutrition than me or I would start talking about my favorite type of cookies and where you can find the best mocha. 

Nutrition: The 4th Discipline in Triathlon

By: Colin Riley

Nutrition is often referred to as the 4th discipline in triathlon. As a dietitian/nutritionist, I 100% agree! If you are not optimizing your overall nutrition, you are not optimizing your potential as a triathlete (athlete). One of the most important aspects of sports nutrition is recovery.

After workouts, especially those that are hard and/or long (e.g. hard track workout, long brick workout, etc), your body is primed to start the recovery process within the first hour after finishing and preferably closer to 30 minutes after finishing a workout. This is also especially important if you have another workout planned within the next 12 hours (e.g. two-a-days and/or working out at night and then doing another workout the following morning). Ideally, you want to get in a combination of simple carbohydrates plus protein along with adequate fluid and electrolytes to optimize this recovery window and get your body ready for the next workout.

Recovery shakes/drinks are a great option as they serve multiple purposes:

1. Carbohydrates to refuel your muscle and liver glycogen (your bodies stored form of energy)

2. Protein to repair and rebuild damaged muscle

3. Fluid to rehydrate the body and get out of a state of dehydration that likely occurred while you were training

4. Electrolytes to replace the sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes you were sweating while training (this is especially important as it gets closer to summer and the temperatures start to rise).

5. Glutamine to enhance the effects of recovery including glycogen re-sysnthesis and muscle repair

Having a recovery drink first followed by a meal about an hour or so later will help the body recover faster than just having a regular meal immediately after. A regular meal is likely going to have a combination of carbs and protein but will also likely have fat and fiber, two things that slow down digestion (normally a good thing, but not when you’re trying to rapidly recover the body).

When it comes to how much, here is what you want to aim for:

Carbohydrates: 40-80 grams

Protein: 10-30 grams

Fluid: 16-24 ounces per 1 pound of body weight lost

Glutamine: 6 grams

Ratio: 3-4:1 (grams of carbs:grams of protein)


First Endurance Ultragen Contains 60 grams of carbs, 20 grams of high quality whey protein, and 6 grams of glutamine

Fat free or low fat Chocolate Milk – at least 12 ounces up to about 20 ounces – the chocolate provides additional simple carbohydrates versus plain milk and the proteins in milk are high quality whey and casein. 

Other “recovery” formulas that contain the above guidelines (e.g. Clif Protein Recovery, Hammer Recoverite, PowerBar Restore, Pacific Health Endurox, Interphase, Gu Recovery Brew, Infinit Repair, etc). 

Homemade smoothies with yogurt or protein powder

Recovery bars with at least 10 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbohydrates (note, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and realize that any fat and/or fiber will slow down digestion, but still a better option than not having anything!). 

Whatever you decide to go with, do not neglect the recovery window. If you are not recovering well after workouts, you’re going to be digging yourself into a hole that will ultimately leave you feeling sore, fatigued, tired, overtrained, and potentially injured. One of the biggest differences between pro triathletes and amateur triathletes is that the pro has the ability to fully focus on recovery after workouts where as the typical amateur has to get to work or their family. Even if you don’t have time to rest your legs, take a nap, and use some recovery boots, one thing you can do that will help you recover better and get you ready for your next workout is to have a recovery drink after a workout.

Written by Colin Riley, MS, RDN, LD, a dietitian/nutritionist, certified personal trainer,  and triathlon coach with Fast Forward Triathlon. Colin has been competing in triathlons for over 10 years and was the 2013 USAT Age Group National Champion. Colin is also a guide for world champion para triathlete Aaron Scheidies. If you’re interested in optimizing your nutrition or looking for a triathlon coach for the upcoming season, feel free to contact Colin at

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