A Triathlete's Grocery List For Everyday Nutrition

A woman holds and eats a salad in a glass jar with baked chickpeas, guacamole and vegetables. Healthy diet detox vegan food concept.
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Nutrition is the fourth (and most important) discipline in a triathlon -- consider your body a finely-tuned Ferrari and your muscles the engine.

During a race, if you don’t provide your engine the right fuel, you’re not going anywhere fast (otherwise known as the notorious “bonk”). Even in your everyday life, your body still requires the right kind of nutrition, because extra pounds will always slow you down.

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The Fourth Discipline

So if you’re a triathlete, what’s the best way to eat? It definitely can be confusing.

Every couple years, new information surfaces about the “right” way for people to eat. Some diets say you should avoid carbohydrates and eat heavy proteins. Others push high fats. Then there are the ever-popular liquid, vegetable, and juice diets. So what’s the right answer?

Bottom line, humans are pretty adaptable creatures. We can survive on a lot of different diets, so there isn’t necessarily a “right” or correct way to eat. It’s an individual thing and has a lot to do with your fitness goals.

As a triathlete, your goals are to eat so your body can fuel itself through endurance workouts. Carbohydrates provide your muscles with this fuel. Carbohydrates provide about 2,000 calories worth of energy within your muscles. These calories are what you use during aerobic activity. Thus, to be a triathlete, you must not fear the carb.

Triathletes Grocery List

  • Shredded wheat cereal (whole wheat)
  • Apples
  • Unsweetened almond milk
  • Eggs
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat rice cakes
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Protein powder (whey or plant-based)
  • Carrots
  • Bananas
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Lean meats (fish, chicken, turkey)
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Everyday Nutrition for Triathletes

Food plate nutrition chart split into four wedges
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Triathletes should pretty much eat the same way anyone should eat for optimal health. What this comes down to is the following:

  • 70% of your nutrition comes from carbohydrates,
  • 25% of your nutrition comes from protein,
  • 5% of your nutrition comes from fats.

Unless you absolutely love math, though, you probably don’t want to have to try and count percentages and calories. Check out the diagram above for an easy way to keep up with how to eat.

This graphic is a revised version of the U.S. Government’s MyPlate. At each of your meals, try to set your plate up like the image shown.

A good suggestion for triathletes is to replace their daily recommendations with water and to increase the number of vegetables over fruits.

(Note: Dairy products tend to contain refined sugars, which can cause weight gain. If you crave dairy, try incorporating some unsweetened almond or soy milk and Greek non-fat yogurt into your diet.)

In general, here are the guidelines:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, with 20% of that from fruits and 30% from vegetables. The vegetables are complex carbohydrates and the fruits simple carbohydrates. Good fruit choices are apples, oranges, pears, bananas, and grapes. Some good vegetable choices are broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, frozen mixed vegetables, salads, and green beans.
  • Grains: For 25% of your plate, fill it with some good natural or whole-grain products. Avoid the refined or enhanced grain stuff. A serving size is about one handful. Some good whole-grain choices include whole-grain bread, cereals, rice, and pasta. Oatmeal and quinoa are both fabulous options.
  • Protein: Fill the other 25% of your plate with some lean protein. Again, this is about one handful size serving. Good sources of protein include white chicken, turkey, eggs, or fish. If you’re vegetarian, consider tofu or beans. Protein powder works as well, whether you go with whey or plant-based.
  • Fats: While your body needs fats, you don’t have to worry about getting them. You’ll get your daily allotment of fat from the other healthy foods in your diet (for example, an apple has about 1 gram of fat). If you're absolutely craving fats, though, you can sneak in some foods like natural peanut butter, almond butter, or nuts. All these contain healthy fats -- but just don't go crazy with these items.
  • Water: Drink water as much as possible -- at each meal, as well as in between. Basically, you need to learn to love water and get in at least get 8 cups a day. Water helps with digestion and also prevents muscle cramps.

Beverages like sodas and fruit juices don't do much aside from adding extra calories and sugar to your diet. Also, while some alcoholic drinks may be low in calories, your body still treats them like sugary drinks. It may not be realistic to completely abstain, but if weight loss is your ultimate goal, watch what you drink! Often, it's the culprit for hundreds of unwanted calories in one’s diet.

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An Everyday Menu

Here’s an outline of a good daily menu for a triathlete in training.

  • Breakfast: Egg-white omelet with sliced tomatoes and bell peppers, 1 banana, and 1 piece of whole wheat toast with almond butter.
  • Snack: 1 apple, celery sticks with natural peanut butter, and a couple whole wheat crackers.
  • Lunch: A BLT on whole wheat toast with tomatoes, lettuce, and low-fat mayo, paired with a small fruit salad.
  • Snack: Protein shake (made with 1 scoop of protein powder, a handful of frozen blueberries, low-fat Greek yogurt, and 1 cup of almond milk), with a couple cucumber slices on the side.
  • Dinner: 1 piece of lean meat (salmon, chicken or turkey are all great options), 1 cup of brown rice, 1 dinner salad with olive oil and vinegar as dressing, and a cup of grapes.
  • Evening Snack: Low-fat cottage cheese mixed with Greek yogurt and blueberries, alongside a couple of baby carrots.

A final tip: If you can follow the 80/20 rule (as in you follow a healthy eating plan 80% of the time) you'll do just fine. That gives you some wiggle room to have some birthday cake or to go a little hog wild on Thanksgiving.