Triathlon: Proper Pre-Race Routine on Race Day

What to eat, what to avoid, superstitions, stomach issue, and common mistakes


It is important for athletes to find the proper pre-race routine on the big day. Figuring out the perfect balance between fueling and warming up can take some trial and error.

Whether you’re gunning for a sprint or an Ironman, pulling together race day necessities for a triathlon is no easy task. Especially if you’re traveling to a race, many considerations need to be made when planning your to-do list.

Foods to eat


During your taper week you should eat a diet that provides at least 70 percent of calories from carbohydrates, triathlete and licensed dietitian and nutritionist, Tara Martine, says.

“This will ensure that your glycogen stores are fully replenished for competition.” Aim to consume complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and fruit rather than simple carbs like cookies, candy, or sodas, which are slowly killing you anyway.

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 “You should drink adequate fluid to ensure full hydration, indicated by clear to pale yellow urine with no strong odor. Avoid alcohol. Consume high-nitrate foods like beets, leafy greens, rhubarb, or BeetPerformer beet juice daily,” Martine says.

Pre-race dinner


Eat early, Martine says. “This will ensure that your body has enough time to fully digest and eliminate everything.” You do not want to eat a heavy meal late and have that sitting in your stomach when you wake up in the morning. “If you get hungry before bed time, go ahead and snack on some high-carb foods like bananas,” she adds.

Dinner should be a high-carbohydrate, low-fat meal. Fat takes a lot longer to empty from the stomach. “Do not eat anything deep-fried!  Saturated and trans-fats can stiffen the arteries, leading to diminished ability to feed working muscles with oxygen,” she adds.

Avoid foods that can trigger heartburn


They include spicy foods, high fat foods, deep-fried foods, highly acidic foods like tomatoes, chocolate, and mint.

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You may also want to cut back on fiber. “Choosing foods that are lower in fiber for this meal may help prevent diarrhea, intestinal cramping, and bloating,” Martine says. For example, this would be a reasonable time to choose regular spaghetti in place of whole-grain spaghetti.

Pre-race breakfast


Eat a meal containing 1-2 grams of carbs per kilogram body weight 1-2 hours pre-race, Martine says. “Aim towards the lower end of the range if you are eating 1 hour before and towards the higher end of the range for 2 hours before competition.”

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“The best way to figure out which of these strategies works best for you is to test them out in training.  That way, you will know for sure which foods settle well and what timing is optimal for you,” she adds.

Some foods that typically work well for people are bananas, oatmeal, bagels, and cereal.  

You should consume 1.5-2.5 cups of fluid 2-3 hours before the race. “This will ensure that you are fully hydrated, and allow enough time to void excess fluid as urine before the race starts.”

Stomach issues


They are common during a race. “One of the main reasons so many athletes experience stomach issues during a race is because they do not practice their race-day nutrition plan during training,” Martine says.

Just like you train your muscles and cardiovascular system in order to complete the race, you also need to train your stomach to get used to what you will be eating and drinking on race day, she adds.

“You need to make sure that you use the sports drinks/chews/blocks/gels in training at the frequency with which you plan to use them in the race and at the intensity that you plan to be racing.”

Getting “in the zone”


“One my favorite things to ‘get in the zone’ before a race is to practice visualization,” Martine says.  “This is a technique that has been studied for a variety of applications and there is certainly a proven benefit for athletes,” she adds.

Martine will find a place to sit where she can take a moment to herself and spend time imagining the entire race.  “I run through the swim, bike, run, and both transitions. I envision everything going perfect and my body feeling finely tuned, going fast with perfect technique yet it feels easy,” she says.



Some athletes’ superstitions do play a role in the pre-race routine. “It could start when an athlete does something before a race and they have a stellar performance,” Martine says.

“Eating a chocolate chip cookie, having sex with one’s spouse, wearing a favorite hoodie, or calling one’s grandma are all things I’ve heard of athletes needing to do the night before a race,” she adds.

NEVER do this on race day


The golden rule for race day is to never try anything new, Martine says. Examples include:

Skip breakfast or eat a low-carb breakfast

Wear clothes you haven’t worn in training before

Not have looked at the course maps

Arrive late – you don’t want to stress yourself out by not having enough time to set up transition, go to the bathroom, warm up, etc.

Common mistakes new triathletes make


Forgetting gear: Make a list ahead of time so that you don’t forget to pack anything, Martine says.

Trying something new: “Maybe you see a new sports nutrition product at the Expo or some cool new tri shorts – go ahead and buy them, but resist the temptation to use them on race day,” she adds.

Forget to put on body glide or sunscreen: Even if it’s not sunny or hot, the harmful UV rays are penetrating the clouds and hitting your skin.

Not riding as far right to the road as possible on the bike: This may block other cyclists from being able to pass.

Starting at the front of their swim wave: If you are new to mass starts or new to swimming, it’s better to start at the back so you don’t get swam over by the masses, Martine says.

More readings:

How to Properly Recover and Prepare the Muscles for Your Next Race

Triathlon: How to pick the right distance?

8 of the Most Common Cycling Injuries and How to Prevent Them