A Vegan Guide for Triathletes

Since changing to a plant based diet I knew I had to come up with a nutrition plan for the weekend down to San Diego for the TriRock Triathlon. Having traveled a few times over the summer I wasn't worried about deciding what to bring. It was incredibly helpful to have these trial runs before the event so I felt comfortable in what I was planning to eat.

The triathlon was Sunday so Friday around noon Tom, Bailey, and I packed up the car and headed down from San Francisco to Los Angeles where we'd spend the night with Marci and her husband before all caravaning down to San Diego on Saturday. 

Food For The Drive

I packed a small cooler with ice and a few essentials for the drive down. It was super easy and required about 5 minutes of advance planning. Easier, I think, than figuring out where to stop to eat on a long drive. My favorite car picnic is as follows:

  • Wraps with spinach, tomatoes, sprouts, onions, and avocados. Topped either with Vegenaise or hummus.
  • Carrots, peppers, apples and bananas to snack on.
  • Clif bars for extra snacking.

Clif Bars

Let me take a minute here to gush about Clif Bars. Clif Bars are THE BEST. Clif Bars are energy bars made with organic rolled oats and 70% organic ingredients. They have zero trans fat, no partially-hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavors or synthetic preservatives, and do not contain GMOs. All of their cocoa ingredients are sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. AND all of their ingredients are VEGAN.

They contain carbohydrates, 9-11 grams of protein, and 4-5 grams of fiber.

My favorite Clif Bars are Blueberry Crisp, Oatmeal Raisin Walnut, Peanut Toffee Buzz, and Sierra Trail Mix - all contain 23 vitamins and minerals.

Dinner 2 Days Before The Tri

Since we were staying with Marci we all decided to make dinner instead of going out to a restaurant. The plan - burrito bowls! We cooked up a vat of brown rice which we then topped with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and black beans sautéed in water. A mound of spinach, a couple spoonfuls of salsa, and a handful of multi-grain tortilla chips and we were all set. It couldn't get any easier than that.

San Diego Bound

Annie's Raspberry Vinaigrette

I had a breakfast of coffee, a banana, an apple, and a Clif Bar on our drive down to San Diego. Once we got to San Diego we hit up a grocery store and bought watermelon, grapes, orange juice, and made MASSIVE salads from their salad bar for dinner. My salad had romaine, spinach, black beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots, quinoa, and onions. We bought a tiny bottle of Annie's  Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette to top it all off with. And it was DELICIOUS.

The Morning Of

Wake up call was 4am on Sunday. That was rough, but our transition opened at 5am so we wanted to make sure we got there right on time so we'd be able to work out any kinks we might have had. I immediately had a cup of coffee for a caffeine boost, a banana, and half of an Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Clif Bar. I actually wasn't hungry at all, but I knew it was all nerves and that I just needed to get some nutrition in.

Buffet On The Bike

I felt great during the swim and knew I'd need to eat on the bike to make it through to the end of the run. As my friend Stefan, accomplished triathlete about to complete his first IronMan in March, says, "The bike is your buffet." Its the time to eat and drink. I had formulated a cocktail of half a Clif Bar 10 miles in, and 2 Clif Shot Blocks 2 miles from the end of the bike.

Train with your nutrition! I knew this combination worked for me and my digestion because I had done it before several times. Always have an executed plan going in - don't try something new the day of your race! it also takes practice to actually eat while you ride. A lot of people can just consume gels during a race - I've tried before and have had massive digestion issues. My body tends to like real food in combination with a gel. So I had a few practice sessions pulling a Clif Bar out of my pocket, opening it, and trying to eat while I ride. The first time I did it I got two bites in before I hit a bump and the bar went flying out of my hand. (Funnily enough, that happened with a water bottle during the bike portion of the triathlon - I hit a bump and it went flying out of my hand. I quickly pulled over, threw my bike down, ran into the course to grab it and ran back to hop back on my bike.)


I also knew that a combination of water and coconut water was the best for me to replenish and stock up on fluids. I'm not a fan of sports drinks - I just don't like how they taste. I like the naturalness of coconut water. It contains electrolytes and is high in potassium and magnesium. However, it is lower in sodium than traditional sports drinks. Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D. writes in Runner's World: 

...compared to conventional sports drinks, coconut water is lower in two of the main ingredients your spent system needs after a tough workout: sodium, the main electrolyte you lose through sweat, and carbohydrates, which help restock the body's spent energy stores. That being said, coconut water is an excellent source of potassium (430 milligrams per 8-ounce serving), and many of us don't take in anywhere near the recommended daily amount of 4700 milligrams. 

So if you're looking for electrolytes to rehydrate after a long run, a speed session, or just a tough workout in hot weather, a traditional sports drink is still going to be the best bet to rehydrate and replenish your energy. If you're looking to cut calories and keep your fluids au natural, coconut water is a fine choice. Just be sure to reach for unsweetened varieties!

For me, I drink coconut water secondary to plain old regular water. I downed most of my bottle of regular water before I started sipping the coconut water on the bike. Again, I practiced this several times and always brought coconut water along with regular water when I went on many of my long training rides. It just worked the best for me. I usually buy the Trader Joe's brand or Zico brand.

Clif Shot Blocks

I knew I should probably consume gels during this race as well since I had heard how many athletes use them to maintain their energy level. I, unfortunately, had a bad experience with gels during my last half marathon. I made the mistake of having one before the race, but NEVER having one before that on any of my training runs. So I know what I'm talking about when I say try it during training first! I had some massive cramping, stomach pain, and lack of energy. I'm not sure if it was the gel or the lack of training with a gel, but the entire experience put me off gels in general. So now what?

Back to Clif Bar! Clif Bar makes Shot Gels, but they also make Shot Blocks. Shot Blocks are chewable, semi-solid sources of carbohydrates and electrolytes. They're VEGAN (woot!) and are made with organic brown rice syrup, a minimally refined source of carbohydrate with naturally occurring sodium, potassium, and magnesium. They do not contain high fructose corn syrup.

My Shot Block of choice is the Margarita flavor. I had started suffering from muscle cramps earlier in August - something that had never happened to me before - and I found that these Shot Blocks help keep the cramping away. They have 3x the amount of sodium as other shot blocks. Here's what Gary, the founder and owner of Clif Bar has to say about why they made these:

For 20 years I dealt with a common problem many athletes experience -- Cramping! I've had to pull out of bike races and stop running marathons, until a few years ago when I discovered that taking in extra sodium -- good old salt -- solved the problem. Margarita Shot Blocks, made with Real Salt, combine carbs, electrolytes, and extra sodium into one simple solution for athletes looking to prevent cramping. Check it out and enjoy the moment.

Have A Plan

I think the best thing you can do is have a plan and practice before your race. Try different things and see what works for you. I felt great the entire race - no bonking, no hunger, no stomach issues. And I felt calmer going into the entire day because I knew I had executed my nutrition plan before and that it worked for me. All that was left to do was have a great time and think about what I was going to eat after the race!

Don't get discouraged if people tell you that you can't be a vegan and an endurance athlete. You DEFINITELY can - I felt better training for this triathlon eating vegan than I did training for my very first half marathon in 2012 when I still ate everything. Practice, practice, practice and trust your good nutrition!

For more information about high net gain nutrition and alkaline-forming foods, check out my post on Brendan Brazier: