Health, Nutrition, Podcast, Science

Triathlon Nutrition: Calories, Carbs, Fats, and Proteins – Part 2 | EP#95

 January 22, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

Triathlon Nutrition: Calories, Carbs, Fats, and Proteins - Part 2 | EP#95

A research-based review of triathlon nutrition, including overall energy intake, energy balance, and macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) for endurance athletes. Part two of two.

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Protein for endurance athletes
  • Fat for endurance athletes
  • (Even more about) why you need to be a carb AND fat burner!
  • How to calculate your macronutrient needs based on your overall energy intake

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Recap of Part 1

1:20 - 

  • Part one of this podcast came out last week. It discussed:
    • Energy intake overall and carbohydrates for endurance athletes.
    • How fats and carbs are used to fuel endurance performance.
    • Energy availability - what it is and why it's important.
    • Energy deficiency can result in poor health including the female athlete triad, or RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). The triad involves disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction and unhealthy bone structure, and RED-S involves (among others) hormonal, psychological, physiological and gastrointestinal problems and occurs in men and women.
  • Triathlon Nutrition: Calories, Carbs, Fats, and Proteins – part 1 | EP#94​​​

Evidence base

4:25 -

  • A lot of this discussion is based on the Nutrition and Athletic Performance position statement written jointly by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine. It was published in Medicine, Sports and Exercise Journal in 2016.
  • There is one author representing each of the three entities and they include some of the biggest names in the sports nutrition scientific community. 
  • In addition to the three main authors: Louise Burke, Kelly Urban and Travis Thomas, there is a long list of reviewers for the statement who are all experts in the field of nutrition for endurance sports and athletes. 

Protein for Endurance Athletes

5:36 - 

  • Useful reading: Dietary Protein for Athletes: From Requirements to Optimum Adaptation by Professor Stuart Phillips.
  • Protein is both a trigger and a building block for building and rebuilding of muscle tissue.
  • Protein plays an important role in structural changes in non muscle tissue (e.g. tendons, bones).
  • Muscle protein synthesis has been shown to be elevated for at least 24 hours in response to resistance training.
    • Consuming protein during this time can have a positive impact on the synthesis.
  • Maximising metabolic adaptation is the goal of endurance training, which requires muscles protein synthesis.
  • Sufficient protein intake for endurance athletes is above the recommended daily allowance for non-athletes.
  • Timing is important for protein consumption.
  • Important to maintain a neutral energy balance, or slightly negative if trying to lose weight.
    • Energy balance: energy in = energy out.
  • If you are energy deficient, some amino acids required for protein synthesis will be oxidised for fuel.
  • Dairy protein may be the most effective protein for consumption in the post-exercise window:
    • Both for muscle strength and body composition.
    • Dairy protein has a high leucine content which is an essential amino acid.
    • Dairy protein is digested and absorbed well and can be found in supplements or dairy foods.
  • Other proteins that are good to consume after exercise include lean meat, whey protein supplement, casein, soy protein and egg protein.

Protein Intake Guidelines for Endurance Athletes

10:09 - 

  • The recommended daily intake of protein is from 1.2-2.0 g/kg body weight for athletes.
    • Compared to 0.8-1.0g/kg in non-exercising or lightly exercising adults.
  • Where you fall within that range is based on your training volume, the type of training you do and the intensity.
  • For example, you break down more muscle in more intense training so this will require a higher protein intake.
  • You should increase your protein intake if you are injured and unable to exercise as this will help prevent the loss of muscle mass.
  • Important to spread out protein intake across the day. Essentially, every meal during the day should contain protein, including snacks.
  • After a long hard session it's recommended to increase your protein consumption by 0.25-0.30g/kg bodyweight within the hours following exercise (nutrition timing will be discussed in a follow-up episode).

Fat Intake

15:14 - 

  • Useful reading: Section about fat in the Nutrition and Athletic Performance position statement.
  • Healthy fats are an essential component of any good diet.
  • Fat contributes to the structure and function of cell membranes .
  • Fat enables the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins.
  • As discussed in Part 1 of this nutrition podcast, fats (as well as carbs) are key sources of fuel for endurance training and performance .
  • Fat stores are abundant in the body so they don't need to be consumed in the same way as carbs during training and racing.
  • Try to limit your intake of saturated fats to 10% or less of your total calories from fat and focus on consuming the essential fatty acids (e.g. Omega-3 or Omega-6 fatty acids found in fish or olive oil).
  • You should get at least 20% of your total energy intake from fats - any lower may translate to insufficient intake of essential fatty acids, and impaired absorption of fat soluble vitamins.
  • In the energy balance equation: fat intake = total energy intake - (protein + carb intake). In other words, figure out how much carbs and protein you need, and then the rest of your energy intake is fat. 
  • You can combine nutritional strategies with training to maximise your ability to oxidise fat.
    • For example, training with depleted glycogen stores by doing a second training session the same day as a glycogen depleting session, and not refueling with carbs in between.
  • There are other nutritional strategies such as consuming certain types of fat (e.g. from products) before exercise that trigger fat oxidation, but there is less research on this area and it is not mentioned in the Joint Position Statement.
  • Low carb, high fat diets improve your ability to metabolise fat but reduce your ability to oxidise carbs (even when you have carbs available) so are not recommended for endurance athletes aiming to maximise their performance.
  • An endurance athlete focused on performance needs to be an efficient carb and fat burner. 

Using These Guidelines to Calculate Your Macronutrient Needs

24:21 - 

  • You need to either know or estimate your resting metabolic rate or your basal metabolic rate which can be done relatively inexpensively at various gyms, health clubs and similar, or you can find calculators online.
  • Below is an example from myself, but variations will occur based on factors such as the type and intensity of training.
  • Also, nutrition is individual, there is no 'one size fits all'.
  • Example calculation:
    • Person A: Resting metabolic rate 2,400 kilocalories per day (includes thermic effect of food), current weight is 68 kg
    • I typically expend 1,000 calories in training per day so energy intake required to remain in energy balance is 3,400 calories
    • Carbohydrate intake
      • Carb intake required based on exercise will be around 8g/kg body weight (8 x 68 = 544g of carbs)
      • There are 4 calories per gram of carbs so 544 x 4 = 2,176 calories of carbs
      • 2,176 (carb intake) divided by 3,400 (total energy intake) = 0.64 which means 64% of energy intake comes from carbs
    • Protein intake
      • Endurance day would require around 1.6g/kg body weight of protein (1.6 x 68 = 109g of protein)
      • There are 4 calories per gram of protein so 109 x 4 = 435 calories of protein
      • 435 (protein intake) divided by 3,400 (total energy intake) = 0.13 which means 13% of energy intake comes from protein
    • Fat intake
      • Remaining energy intake will come from fat
      • 3,400 (total energy intake) minus 2,176 (carb intake) minus 435 (protein intake) = 788 calories to be consumed from fat
      • There is 9 calories per gram of fat so 788 divided by 9 = 88g of fat should be consumed
      • 788 (calories consumed from fat) divided by 3,400 (total energy intake) = 0.23 which means 23% of energy intake comes from fat

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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