Triathlon combines three disciplines (swimming, cycling and running) and competitions last between 1 hour 50 minutes (Olympic distance) and 14 hours (Ironman distance). Independent of the distance, dehydration and carbohydrate (CHO) depletion are the most likely causes of fatigue in triathlon, whereas gastrointestinal (GI) problems, hyperthermia and hyponatraemia are potentially health threatening, especially in longer events. Although glycogen supercompen- sation may be beneficial for triathlon performance (even Olympic distance), this does not necessarily have to be achieved by the traditional supercompensation protocol. More recently, studies have revealed ways to increase muscle glycogen concentrations to very high levels with minimal modifications in diet and training.
During competition, cycling provides the best opportunity to ingest fluids. The optimum CHO concentration seems to be in the range of 5–8% and triathletes should aim to achieve a CHO intake of 60–70 g/hour. Triathletes should attempt to limit body mass losses to 1% of body mass. In all cases, a drink should contain sodium (30–50 mmol/L) for optimal absorption and prevention of hyponatraemia. Post-exercise rehydration is best achieved by consuming beverages that have a high sodium content (>60 mmol/L) in a volume equivalent to 150% of body mass loss. GI problems occur frequently, especially in long-distance triathlon. Prob- lems seem related to the intake of highly concentrated carbohydrate solutions, or hyperosmotic drinks, and the intake of fibre, fat and protein. Endotoxaemia has been suggested as an explanation for some of the GI problems, but this has not been confirmed by recent research. Although mild endotoxaemia may occur after an Ironman-distance triathlon, this does not seem to be related to the incidence of GI problems. Hyponatraemia has occasionally been reported, especially among slow competitors in triathlons and probably arises due to loss of sodium in sweat coupled with very high intakes (8–10L) of water or other low-sodium drinks.
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