Food Safety For Triathletes & Runners

Food Safety For Triathletes & Runners

As a coach and a sports nutritionist, I understand the vital role that nutrition plays in optimizing athletic performance. Triathlons and running events demand endurance, strength, and mental fortitude, making it crucial for athletes to fuel their bodies with nutritious and safe food. In this blog post, we will explore some essential food safety practices that every triathlete and runner should follow to maintain peak performance and safeguard against foodborne illness.

What is food safety and why is it important?

Food safety refers to the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and food-borne illnesses as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture. It encompasses various aspects, including handling, preparation, storage, and transportation of food. Food safety is of the utmost importance for triathletes and runners as it directly impacts their performance, well-being, and overall health. Consuming unsafe food can lead to foodborne illnesses, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration—severely impacting an athlete’s ability to train and race. By prioritizing food safety, triathletes and runners can reduce the risk of illness, maintain optimal energy levels, support their immune system, and maximize their potential for success in training and racing.

Prioritize Hydration

You will hear me say this over and over again: proper hydration is key to successful training and racing. However, it is essential to ensure that the water and sports drinks you consume are safe and free from contaminants. Always wash your bottles and clean them thoroughly. Check lids straws, and hydration packs for product build up, mold, and disinfect them in the dishwasher as needed. Refill your water bottles from reliable sources and avoid drinking from open bodies of water or public water fountains during races and training sessions.

Handle and Store Food Properly

Food safety starts with proper handling and storage. Athletes often rely on energy bars, gels, powders and other portable snacks during training and racing. To minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses, follow these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing or consuming sports nutrition products. If mid-training, use hand sanitizer.
  • Ensure that energy bars, gels, or other perishable snacks are stored in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage.
  • Dispose of any sports nutrition products that have passed their expiration date or show signs of spoilage, such as an off smell, discoloration, clumping or mold growth.

Pack and Transport Food Safely

Many triathletes and runners who travel to training camps, races and long training days, often bringing their own food for pre, during and post-event nourishment. Here are some tips for packing and transporting food safely:

  • Use insulated coolers or ice packs to maintain proper temperatures for perishable items like fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products such as chocolate milk or premixed protein shakes.
  • Wait to mix sports powders such as recovery drinks, protein shakes, or electrolyte mixes until you are ready to consume.
  • If you’re traveling long distances, opt for non-perishable food options to minimize the risk of spoilage.

Be Cautious with Outdoor Food Preparation

Endurance events often involve training sessions or races in outdoor environments where the use of refuel stations or special needs on course is essential. If you plan on preparing fuel during these activities, take the following precautions:

  • Avoid using highly perishable fueling products to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens.
  • Choose sports powders or shelf stable products for special needs bags and carry only what you need to get you to the next refuel station.
  • Utilize on course water, when available to hydrate or mix powders when you refuel.
  • Keep nutrition in ziplock or small plastic bags to avoid contaminants from the race course or your pocket.  

Choose Safe and Nutritious Sources of Fuel

While energy bars, gels, and sports drinks are convenient for triathlon training and road racing, it’s crucial to choose reputable brands and sources. Look for products that comply with food safety regulations, undergo quality testing, and have proper labeling. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever appropriate, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, as they offer essential nutrients while minimizing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Triathletes should prioritize food safety as an integral part of their training and racing routine. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your nutrition supports your athletic performance while protecting your health. Stay hydrated, handle and store food properly, pack and transport food safely, be cautious with outdoor food preparation, and choose safe and nutritious fuel sources. Remember, a strong and healthy body starts with safe and nourishing food choices. Best of luck on your training and racing journey!

Priscilla Askew, NDTR

Hi I’m Priscilla! Nutritionist, USA triathlon & RRCA run coach, fitness enthusiast, foodie, and owner of Askew Nutrition & Fitness.

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