For our money, Jan Frodeno, 42, has got to be considered the greatest male triathlete of all time. We concede that it is possible to surface some names from an earlier era. But consider: Frodeno won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He’s twice won the “half” Ironman 70.3 World Championship, in 2015 and 2018. And he won the Ironman World Championship 3 times, in 2015, 2016, and 2019. He set the world record at that brutal distance (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run) in Roth, Germany in 2016 with a time of 7:35:39. Then in 2021, he broke his own world record in the Tributtle in Allgäu, Germany with a time of 07:27:53.
Last month, after more than 20 years of competition, Frodeno crossed his last finish line as a professional in Nice, France at the men’s Ironman World Championships. GQ caught up with Frodeno just after his final race as a pro to talk diet, retirement, mountain biking, and how he’s feeling about not training for the next big triathlon.
For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
GQ: What does it take, calorie-wise, to train for an Ironman? It’s at least eight hours of all-out effort, swimming, biking, and running as fast as you possibly can.
Jan Frodeno: I’m certainly not careful or meticulous when it comes to food. I do make calculations of my intake during pretty much every training session. Like most things, to an outsider it may seem obsessive, but for me it’s become a daily habit and definitely normalized over time.
As for my regular diet, though, I’m far away from counting calories. Food is one of my biggest pleasures in life and I don’t want to ruin that.
How much are you eating in a training block for a big race?
Enough for most people to stare in wonder when I load a plate at a buffet. In numbers, I need about 800 grams of carbs, 160 grams of protein, and about the same amount of fat, per day. To give you an idea, that’s 16 cups of rice spread over a day if I’m getting ready for a hard training day or a race. It can feel like an eating competition at times.
It’s said that food is the fourth discipline of triathlon, is that true? Any lessons you’ve learned about food in race situations?
It used to be transitions were the fourth discipline, but it has indeed become food. We used to go off as little nutrition as possible, thinking that lighter is better, but that’s changed to more calories equals more energy, which turns into speed and stamina. The next generation is definitely taking a much healthier approach than we did.
Can you take us through what you eat on race day? When do you wake up? When do you first eat? What does an Ironman look like food-wise?
I wake up 3 hours before the race, so usually around 3:30 a.m. I do a little stretching, mobility and breathing exercises and then prepare a coffee. My race day brekky is usually a big bowl of overnight oats (1.5 cups of oats, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, a banana, some blueberries, and cinnamon) and that is the last solid thing I’ll eat until after the race. I sip on an energy drink (Maurten 160) until the race start.
About 15 minutes before the gun goes off I’ll have a caffeine gel. On the bike I aim for 130 grams of carbs per hour. I make this up through gels and a carb concentrate in my drink bottles, which I try to start taking in from the get go.