You’ve been crushing your training and are ready to experience the celebration of putting together your swim, bike, and run into an amazing race. 

The lingering question is: what to eat before your triathlon to perform your best?

Nutrition is often referred to as the fourth discipline of triathlon, as it plays such a foundational role in training and race performance. If you don’t have the right plan in place, starting at the right time, you’re not going to have your best race (no matter how hard you have been training).

I’m Angie, Registered Dietitian and sports nutrition expert. I completed my first sprint triathlon in 1999 and fell in love with the sport. Since that time, I’ve done hundreds of races from the sprint distance up to a full Ironman, and have tried tons of different pre-race foods. I love sharing what I’ve learned with YOU so that you can be confident and have your best race possible. 

In this blog post, I will cover:

  • when to start consuming your pre-race day foods
  • what the best foods are to include in the time leading up to your triathlon
  • what is the optimal time to eat before a triathlon
  • ranges of how much to eat before a triathlon
  • and key strategies for implementing your unique pre-race eating routine

3, 2, 1, let’s go!

When does pre-race nutrition start?

Sometimes triathletes think of pre-race nutrition as the breakfast you eat the morning of the race. While that is certainly important, I like the athletes that I work with to consider the 7 days leading up to the race as equally important

In general, most triathletes will take some version of a taper in the week leading up to a race. A common mistake that I see is that athletes decrease their food intake or carbohydrate intake as their training volume decreases. Don’t fall into this common trap that can lead to the dreaded “bonk!”

As a sports dietitian, I’d like for you to think about your “pre-race” nutrition period as the whole week before your race. This is a key time to turn down the intensity of your training and get in some extra rest and recovery while optimizing your glycogen stores for race day.

I’m sure you have plans for familiar favorite meals leading up to race day, but click here if you need any ideas for quick and healthy athlete recipes.

What are the best foods to eat before a triathlon?

What to eat before a triathlon

When in doubt, the best foods to eat before a triathlon are those that are familiar to you and that you have practiced in your training time and time again. The expression “nothing new on race day” particularly applies to food and fueling. An upset digestive system or an unexpected food response is the last thing you need on your big day.

One week out:

Foods that you consume all week long can help with feeling fresh, recovered, and ready to go. Staying consistent with your sports nutrition this week is the best thing you can do to ensure a successful race day.

This isn’t the time to try out vegetarianism if you’re an omnivore.

Or to try the keto or paleo or carnivore diet.

And it’s definitely not a time to see if you can drop a few pounds. 

It’s the time to stay consistent and nourish your body with all the good things you have been giving it while training.

The last few meals, especially the dinner the evening before the race and the breakfast the morning of the race require a few particular considerations. Read on for those details.

Evening before the race: 

Plan to eat an early dinner with familiar foods that contain adequate carbohydrates. Meals that include pasta, rice, potatoes, quinoa, bread, or your favorite carbohydrate sources are the best. 

Lean protein is helpful, but carbohydrates should be the priority, taking up about 70% of your plate. 

Feel free to include some vegetables in this meal, like a cup of cooked green beans or a small side salad, but keep big, entree-style salads and large portions of high-fiber plant foods to a minimum. Why? A big dose of fiber can cause digestive distress on race day (oh, no!).  

An example: my husband and I just ate at 5 pm the night before our last Olympic triathlon (when I say early, I mean early). We ordered from a familiar Italian restaurant near the race venue; chicken parmigiana with pasta for him and simple rigatoni with a side salad for me. We were digested and in bed by 9 pm, which was perfection!

Morning of the race: 

Carbohydrates: Choosing a high-carbohydrate breakfast that is familiar will always be a winning choice.

Oatmeal is a favorite of many triathletes because of its digestibility, versatility, ability to provide sustained energy, and its ease of preparation. Bagels, toast, waffles, and bananas are also reliable standbys. 

Fluid: Staying adequately hydrated in the days and hours before your race requires some attention. If racing in hot or humid conditions, including electrolytes (particularly sodium) in your fluids in the 24 hours leading up to your race will help you be better hydrated than water alone.

Caffeine: If you are a regular coffee drinker or typically have morning caffeine while training, stick to your routine before racing. Along with a light performance benefit, most triathletes will appreciate the ensured pre-race 💩  they get with their normal cuppa joe!

What is the best time to eat before a triathlon?

The morning of a triathlon is extremely exciting and usually at the crack of dawn; 7 am start times are very common. 

The combination of early start times and pre-race nerves can throw a wrench in the best-laid fueling plans! This is why having a pre-race meal that you’ve practiced many times throughout your training is helpful. You can remind yourself of all the times this meal has fueled you through tough workouts and have the confidence that it will do the same on race day.

What I recommend is waking up early enough to be able to eat breakfast and have 2-3 hours for your pre-race meal to digest. Personally, 2 hours is my sweet spot and my body values the extra hour of sleep.

As you can see from the chart below, the closer you get to race time, the size of your meal will become smaller and shift towards primarily carbohydrates. Why? Protein and fat can slow the absorption of carbohydrates, which is your primary energy source when racing.

Leading up to start time, you can continue to take in food and fluids. You’ll want to pause eating and switch to sips of water 30 minutes before the race begins.

How do I know how much to eat before a triathlon?

Triathlons come in many different distances, from super sprints to ultra endurance endeavors. 

Fueling up in the meals before a triathlon won’t vary as much as intra-race fueling will. Longer races will require significantly more carbohydrates and fluid throughout the race, but all triathlons should start with a good pre-race meal, following the carbohydrate guidelines in the chart below.

Remember: 1-4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram* of body weight, 1-4 hours prior to racing.

*to get your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2

Make your Plan A (and B and C)

I always like to have a plan A, along with a plan B and C!

Example of my plan A:

2 hours prior to race start (approximately 5-5:30 am): 1 cup of cooked oatmeal with banana slices, a tablespoon of almond butter, a dash of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of coconut sugar. 

Why it works:

  • Provides approximately 60-70 grams of carbohydrate, 10 grams of protein, and 13 grams of fat
  • Plenty of time to digest before the race starts
  • Easy to prep the night before and reheat in the morning
  • If staying in a hotel with no kitchen, you can convert this to overnight oats, which only requires a refrigerator

Example of my plan B:

When my typical delicious oatmeal does not sound good, I always keep a Bobo’s Baked Oatmeal Bar in my race bag. This also comes in handy if an unexpected power outage occurs or you get distracted and burn your oatmeal, both of which have happened to me!

Why it works:

  • A whole bar provides 62 grams of carbohydrate, 12 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein 
  • Just unwrap and eat – no prep!
  • Easy to nibble on small bites and take sips of fluid as you are getting ready
  • Easy to continue to eat in the car or in transition while you set up

Example of my plan C: 

Even “good excitement” on race morning can make eating feel impossible sometimes. Starting the race without fuel is not an option, but switching to liquid calories always is! 

Sip a bottle of your favorite sports drink and try to drink enough to get in 60 grams of carbohydrate before the race starts. You can also try small bites of banana, graham crackers, pretzels, energy bars, fruit snacks, or other easily digested carbohydrates, along with the sports drink.

Why it works:

  • Liquid calories require little to no digestion and provide relatively immediate energy
  • You can still hit your pre-race carbohydrate targets even when you can’t seem to chew

What are some special considerations for eating before a race?

What if I don’t feel hungry?

Don’t let a decrease in appetite or a nervous stomach contribute to poor eating before a race. As you are getting gear together and packing for your race, make sure that your day-to-day nutrition stays top of mind. Small, frequent meals may be easier to tackle than big ones, but skipping isn’t a strategy for success.


One of the biggest differences about eating before a race is that you are more than likely not in your own kitchen with access to all your favorite pre-race foods if you are traveling to a race. You may be in a hotel, staying with family or friends, or maybe renting a house with a full kitchen.

While your day-to-day nutrition may be on point leading up to race week, traveling and eating in unusual places can make you feel off. Have a plan for what you will eat the night or nights before racing.

Plan ahead

Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “I’ll just grab something once I get there,” because you never really know your access to grocery stores or restaurants. Race packet pick up, bike drop off, practice swims and runs can leave very little time to forage for food. The best plan you can make is to pack as many special pre-race foods as you possibly can.

Also, don’t rely on complementary hotel breakfasts, as they usually do not keep triathlon hours!

Foods that travel well to races:

  • Pasta
  • Microwavable Rice
  • Pre-cooked lean protein, like chicken or tofu
  • Bagged veggies, like green beans or salad
  • Eggs
  • Bread/Toast
  • Bagels
  • Nut butter
  • Jelly
  • Bananas
  • Oatmeal ingredients or premade jars of overnight oats
  • Baked Oatmeal Cups
  • Toaster waffles or pancakes 
  • Easily digested sources of carbohydrates like pretzels, graham crackers, energy bars, or my hubby’s favorite: cooked baby potatoes!

A winning plan

When everything comes together, your training, your fueling, the right amount of rest, and recovery: the results can really impress.

That’s a wrap!

Eating optimally in the days leading up to a triathlon doesn’t need to be hard, but sometimes advice from coaches, friends, family or the internet can skew your best-laid plans. And if you don’t have a plan at all, not knowing what to eat can feel terrifying! Hopefully, you found some tips and tricks to shape your pre-race meals, but I’m always here to help find something that’s exactly right for you.

Reach out to schedule an appointment now by emailing me at! Just like it takes months of training to get to the starting line of a triathlon, finding your best pre-race meals can take some practice, too. We can work together throughout your training to ensure you have your most awesome pre-race eating strategies fine-tuned by race week.