Essential Sports Nutrition

6/28/19

TriWeek: Race Day Worries



With the taper-induced phantom pains and niggles and lethargy behind, you may find yourself with a bit of self-doubt, worry and anxiety with only a few nights of sleep before your triathlon race.

While it's perfectly normal to feel some stress, nerves and pressure before an important event, use that powerful energy to fire you up so it brings out the best version of yourself on race day.

Because lack of self-belief and worry can have a disastrous effect on your race day performance, here are a few tips to improve your confidence for race day:

  1. Stop worrying about the uncontrollables - If you find yourself emotionally stressed out in the week or two before a big event, there's a good chance that you are dealing with a roller coaster of emotions dealing with the "what ifs". Worrying about things that are out of your control, like the weather or competition, is self sabotaging. Turn those negative thoughts into something positive so that those thoughts do not paint a bad mental picture and drain your energy before the race.
  2. Stop focusing on the outcome - Too much mental energy on paces, speed. times or results can leave you emotionally drained, worried and anxious. It can also keep you from making good decisions, in the moment. Remove any extra pressure on what needs to happen as an end result and focus on the process of delivering yourself to the finish line. Remind yourself of all the tools that you have gained over the season and that a great race day performance is all about being in the moment and dealing with obstacles as they come about.
  3. List your mantras - Every athlete will have low moments in a race - lots of them. There will be voices in your head that will try to convince you to slow down and maybe even quit when the going gets tough. How will you challenge these voices? What will help you take your focus off your self-doubts and refocus your mind to get you to a positive state of flow? By repeating a powerful statement to yourself over and over again in your mind, you'll find yourself pushing through these low moments and getting through the low moments of racing.
  4. Reflect on your journey - Look at your individual journey to see how far you've come. Don't compare yourself with anyone else. Remember that time when you couldn't do what you can do now? Or when you completed that tough workout that you didn't think was possible? What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to the start line? Focus on the highlighted moments instead of dwelling on what should have or could have been.
  5. Mental preparation - Picture yourself at various points during the race and work through all types of scenarios - the good and the bad. Look at course maps, videos and pictures to help you put images to places on the course. And don't forget to visualize yourself crossing the finish line.
  6. Focus on what you can control - Take care of yourself. Don't worry about anyone else. Focus on what you can control such as your gear and equipment, your sleep, nutrition and hydration as well as your thoughts. Surround yourself with energy givers, not energy suckers and avoid forums/media that cause self-doubt, worry or stress.
  7. Have fun - Remind yourself that this is just a hobby. Your self-worth and athletic worthiness is not determined by one race. Enjoy being on the roller coaster of emotions as it's your body's way of preparing you for action. Make sure to remind yourself why you signed up for this event and how special it will be to cross that finish line. Don't let your nerves and worries suck the fun out of racing. Focus on what you can control, trust your training, visualize success, mentally prepare yourself and don't forget to have fun.

6/27/19

TriWeek: Running Tips



Running is the most convenient sport of triathlon - you can do it anywhere, anytime. 
Running is the most cost effective sport of triathlon.
Running is the sport where you will likely experience a big endorphin-rush.
Running is a way to relieve stress.
Running is a way to get outside.
Running is familiar to most triathletes - either from road racing (ex. 5K, half marathon, marathon) or running for fitness.
Running is a way to change the body composition.

Running is the sport where most triathletes feel there is much room for improvement.
Running is the sport where most triathletes experience GI distress.
Running is the sport that is most remembered at the end of a triathlon.
Most triathlon performances are defined by the run portion.
Most triathletes feel they need to run harder or longer to run better off the bike. 
Many triathletes feel that if they lost weight, they'd be a better runner.

Running has the greatest risk for injury.

Based on the above, triathletes have a strong emotional component to running. Because of this, athletes put a great amount of extra attention into run training - feeling like they always need to run more (harder or faster).

Interestingly, great runners rarely make great triathletes. Because the sport of triathlon is swimbikerun, you need to train in a way that makes you a better triathlete. To run well off the bike, you need to be strong on the swim and bike and most importantly, you need to be efficient and strong on the run. Instant of putting the focus into running distance or speed, you need to learn how to hold good running technique as you get tired/fatigued.

Training to become a faster runner does not mean that you'll become a better runner off the bike. Therefore, your run training must train you in a way that allows you to tolerate the demands of running on tired legs. Therefore, your ability to run well off the bike is not determined by how fast you can run but how well you can resist fatigue.

Sadly, there's no secret strategy for preparing for a perfect run off the bike. There are many variables that can affect running performance, like the terrain, weather, fit on the bike and swim environment. Nerves and mental toughness can also impact the run. Many successful triathletes have had incredible race day performances despite feeling horrible on the run.

Because running off the bike is extremely demanding (some triathletes are better at it than others), you want to think of ways that you can improve your potential to run well off the bike on race day.

To help reduce your risk of injury, train more consistently and improve the chance of running well off the bike, here are some workout suggestions to break you from the bad habit of just running for distance and/or pace/time. 

  1. Speed work - Fast running does mean faster running off the bike. Fast running is a recipe for injury. However, this doesn't mean that triathletes shouldn't include speed work in training. Short intensity efforts (ex. strides) will help active fast twitch muscle fibers and strengthen the glutes and the muscles in the feet. It's important that the distance (and intensity) is not great enough that you would risk poor form, which would increase the risk for injury. Speed can also be incorporated into a brick or long run, to help you learn how to run well with tired legs.
  2. Long runs - It's important for triathletes to accumulate running volume, but there are many ways to do so. You "long" run should be safe for your body, at your current level of fitness. Ultimately, for your run training to pay off, you need to be consistent. There's little benefit of running more than 2.5 hours at one time as the longer you run, the more time you need to recover from that run. The goal is to train with the least amount of training stress, while making the most performance gains. Instead, it's better to think about what happens within a long run. Progressive running, brick runs, double runs and back-to-back running days can all help to build running endurance, in a safe and productive way.
  3. Easy runs - Running easy does not mean running slow. It's important to learn how to run at an effort that costs as little energy as possible (less stress on the joints, muscles and heart). Most triathletes have two speeds when it comes to running - tempo and hard. When asked to run easy, it feels impossible - this is because the athlete has never learned how to run with good running economy at an easy effort. Don't make the mistake of making 80% of your runs at 80% effort and higher. You'll become a faster runner by learning to run easy. Work on controlling breathing/heart rate without being tied to running a certain pace.
  4. Hills - Hill workouts offer a strength component of running. Hills also force you to run with good form as you don't have to work for the propulsion like you would on the track/flat road, despite having a high heart rate. Running on hills will make you a stronger athlete, preparing you for the demands of triathlon running.
  5. Frequency running - To reduce the risk for injury, but to train enough to improve resilience and endurance, it's important to run often - but not too much. It's not about how many miles you run but how those miles add up. Running somewhere between 4-5 times per week can help with running economy as you have several opportunities to run easy, with good form and also a few times to tax the system with hills and intensity. By breaking up your long runs into two runs in one day, incorporating walk breaks in your runs, running off the bike or running a few days in a row (and then with a day off from running) can help you safely adapt to running, while minimizing the risk for injury. Most of all, you have to figure out the right prescription for your body so that you can be consistent with your triathlon training.
  6. Other workouts - Your bike and swim workouts can help you become a better runner. Running more doesn't make you a better swimmer. Swimming is a great way to build endurance while giving your land legs time to recover. By placing non-weight bearing load on your body, you can build endurance, strength and power - which will transfer to your running. Strength training will also help stabilize your muscles to improve balance and posture. 
Knowing that running is where most triathletes get injured, it's important to be smart with your run training. The body can only manage so much training stress - be wise with how you place that stress on your body so that you can be consistent with your swimbikerun training. 



6/26/19

TriWeek: Cycling Tips


The bike portion of a triathlon represents the majority of your overall racing time. However, most athletes look to the run as the area where significant improvements in fitness need to be made. But to run to your potential, you must consider what precedes the run - the swim and the bike.

When it comes to training for the cycling portion of a triathlon, we can't see the bike as a time trial event. If you are simply seeking a personal best time/power wattage/speed, you are likely overbiking. On the flip side, if you simply "save your legs" on the bike because you are worried about running out of energy for the run, you'll underbike.

To deliver a strong race day bike, you must train to do so. Instead of putting all of your focus on FTP, TSS, IF or average power watts, consider the following that will have a huge impact on your cycling and running abilities:
  • Posture and form
  • Skills/bike handling
  • Pedaling mechanics
  • Terrain management
  • Fueling/hydration
  • Pacing
To become a better triathlon cyclist, the first thing you must learn to do is learn how to ride your bike well. If you are afraid to reach for your water bottle cages or if you don't know how to change your gears on variable terrain, all that indoor training to improve your FTP will not show when you ride outside. If you are athletically uncomfortable on your bike or afraid to ride hills or around other cyclists, this will likely cost you a lot of mental energy. If you are unable to make tactical decisions with your posture, pedal stroke, pacing or terrain management - especially when you are fatigued - you'll finish the bike feeling exhausted. It's important for your safety and overall cycling enjoyment to improve your cycling skills and terrain management. 

Here are a few components to master to help you become a better triathlon cyclist:
  1. Resilience - Because of the corrosive nature of running, use your bike training to become a stronger athlete. Strengthen your muscles, your aerobic system and mental toughness through your bike training. This will pay off with a stronger body to run well off the bike. This means - ride your bike often. Let your (specific) bike training make up at least 40-50% of your overall weekly training volume. While there's nothing wrong with going out and riding your bike, it's important to make sure that your workouts are helping you become a stronger and more economical rider.
  2. Pedaling mechanics - Learn how to ride your bike well. A smoother pedal stroke makes for improved riding efficiency. Workouts should include riding at variable cadences (fast and slow cadences) at different intensities.
  3. Posture - Don't overlook the importance of a proper bike fit. Your position on the bike should allow you to ride efficiently with a wide or open hip angle so you can make smooth pedal strokes. Your bike fit should take into consideration of how your load is distributed from your aerobars/elbow pads, pedals and saddle. With the right fit, you'll ride stronger and faster. When you ride, you should be an active participant in what you are doing. Stay engaged, attentive and aware of the decisions you are making as you ride your bike. Learn how to stay relaxed but also aerodynamically efficient. Learn how to sit up and stand while you are riding - don't assume that staying aero is the "best" position to stay in for your entire triathlon bike portion.
  4. Neuromuscular firing - Muscle fibers receive messages from the brain. Train in a way where you have to think about what you are doing instead of just pedaling at one effort, with one specific cadence and at one specific riding style.
  5. Fueling and hydration - Master your fueling/hydration in training so that you are well prepared for the demands of race day. What you take in during the bike will impact your run.
  6. Enjoyment - To improve your bike fitness, you need to ride relaxed. If you are scared or tense, you will not ride your bike well. You want to feel safe and confident on your bike. To improve your comfort on two wheels, practice, practice, practice your skills. 

Helpful Cycling Drills
  • Specific cadence drills -
    Workout main set example: 3 x 12 minutes as (2 minutes at 55rpm, 100+ rpm, 65 rpm, 100+ rpm, 75+ rpm, 100 rpm). 3 minute EZ spin (choice cadence) between.
  • Standing Drills (must be done outside) - learning how to shift your weight and to take the load off your quads.
  • Heavy Gear -
    Workout main set example: 2 x 20 minutes at 50-60 rpm - all at moderate effort.
  • Fast pedaling/high cadence -
    Workout main set example: 8 x 30 sec at 100+ rpm (strong effort) w/ 90 sec EZ between (but keeping a smooth pedal stroke)
  • Single leg drills -
    Workout main set example: 4 rounds of (30 sec right leg, 30 sec left leg, 90 sec normal pedaling)
  • Figure 8's, u-turns, cornering (must be done outside) - Perform in an empty parking lot. 
For most triathletes, there is a big disconnect between fitness and skills. While you can develop great fitness through indoor training, you must have the outdoor skills to transfer your indoor fitness to the outdoors. Your biggest room for improvement will come through smart bike training (not from more/harder running). By learning how to ride your bike better, you'll ride faster and run better off the bike.


6/25/19

TriWeek: Swimming Tips


It's National Triathlon Week!

National Triathlon Week is an initiative created by USA Triathlon to celebrate multisport and all its constituency groups. "National Triathlon Week is a celebration of not only triathletes, but all members of the multisport community, including officials, coaches, race directors, families and friends of triathletes and more."

On behalf of Triweek, I'll be sharing some information on each sport (swim, bike, run) to help you make the most of your triathlon training journey. If you are new to the sport (or thinking about training for a triathlon), I hope you find this information helpful.

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Without a doubt, a pool offers a very controlled, safe and consistent swimming environment.

Add in 1000+ athletes in the open water and you have a very different situation compared to pool swimming.






As a triathlete, you must remember that your swim training should be preparing you for open water swimming. You are not a competitive swimmer - you are a triathlete. Your race day swim will last between 10 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the distance) and when you are finished swimming, you need to have the energy to bike and run (knowing that as the race continues, you'll be experiencing more fatigue). Because of the unpredictable and uncomfortable nature of open water swimming, it's important to equip yourself with the proper technique and fitness that will help you swim efficiently and confidently on race day.  

  1. Improve your body posture in the water. If you did not grow up as a swimmer, you likely struggle to "hold" yourself in the water. In other words, it takes a great amount of extra energy just to position your body in the water so that you don't sink. Unlike land sports, where gravity helps you hold your posture, in the water, you are not familiar with your body weight. Once you are in the water, you weigh about 10% of what you do on land. It’s no surprise that when you are in the water, you expend a lot of extra energy in your legs (kicking) to help you stay afloat. Because of poor body posture, there's a good chance that you are dragging yourself through the water, making swimming extremely exhausting. As an example, think about how easy it feels to swim when you have on your buoyancy shorts, a wetsuit or a pull buoy. The buoy or buoyancy garment is helping you achieve good posture in the water. But remove the added buoyancy and you lose that good posture in the water and swimming suddenly feels more difficult This has less to do with your swimming fitness and more to do with your swimming posture. 
  2. Tautness - When you look at a "fast" swimmer, they are usually stiff and firm. Most triathlon swimmers are soft and floppy in the water. Tautness in your core and torso is what helps you swim more efficiently in the water, helping you conserve energy. Once you learn how to swim with a “stiff” or taut body, it will be easier to achieve good posture in the water, helping you swim faster (less drag) with less energy expended.
  3. Improve your body alignment - When you swim, proper alignment helps you swim through the water with the least amount of resistance possible. Without good alignment, errors occur in your stroke. If your body is anything but aligned (ex. noodly, scissor kicking, crossing your arms over the midline of the body), you create an excessive amount of drag and you must expend more energy than needed to move through the water. It's important to avoid excessive movements that are preventing you from staying in a straight line. 
TRIATHLON POOL TOOLS

As it relates to your swimming fitness and technique, the greatest benefit you'll receive is through the use of pool tools. Many newbie triathletes try to master perfect swim technique, similar to a competitive pool swimmer. However, gliding, rolling and a slow arm cadence will not help you in the open water. 

Swimming tools are not crutches (or cheating). Every tool has a purpose and each tool is designed to help you improve your body position, tautness and alignment in the water for more efficient open water, triathlon specific swimming. I've been swimming competitively for over 20 years and I use the same pool tools as Karel, who has only been swimming since 2012.
Whereas you may not feel the benefit of using the pool tool immediately, the goal of using the tool is to help you swim better without the tool. In open water, you have no walls to rest on, no black line to follow and you have to navigate yourself through waves, chop and current, as well as hundreds of other swimming bodies. Your pool tools will help you become a better triathlon swimmer. 
  • Ankle strap - The ankle strap/band/lock is an effective method to force you to be “taut” in the water. By eliminating the use of your legs, requiring you to keep a more taught/stiff body with your core, you are forced to use your upper body to move you through the water without the use of your lower body. If you have poor body position in the water and struggle to keep a taut body position, you will likely find it impossible (and exhausting) to swim with the strap as you feel like your feet are dragging on the pool bottom. With time, by using the ankle strap (and a small buoy or buoyancy shorts for a helpful lift), your body position and tautness will improve.  The ankle strap will also minimize excessive hip rotation. A higher cadence and stronger catch will also increase your propulsion through the water – which is the most efficient way to swim as a triathlete (propulsion should not come from kicking!). 
  • Pull buoy - To help with your body position, a pull buoy is a tool, not a crutch. Therefore, anytime you swim with the buoy, you want to feel how the buoy is lifting your body in the water. As you swim with the buoy, you’ll find it easier to keep your head, hips and feet in a straight line and your legs and hips will not swing from side to side with every stroke. The buoy is also a tool to "rest" your legs while requiring you to use more of your upper body (which is what you need for more efficient open water swimming).  Let the buoy be an aid to developing better form in the pool and don’t hesitate to use the buoy when you feel tired in the water, when form suffers. Keep the buoy between your thighs. Another way to give your body a lift without restricting your legs is through buoyancy shorts. 
  • Snorkel – A snorkel is a training tool that helps you focus on technique without the disruption of moving your head. The snorkel also allows you to focus on all of the components of your stroke without needing to turn your head to breath. Many stroke flaws, like scissor kicking, crossing your hands in front of the body and swinging hips occur when you turn your head to breath. The snorkel allows you to correct specific flaws while also building fitness in the water.  I suggest to use a nose clip if you feel like you are suffocating with just the snorkel. If you normally do flip turns, you can do an open turn with the snorkel, if needed. 
  • Paddles – Paddles offer a strength component to swimming. They should not be viewed as a way to swim faster. You want to think of the paddle as an extension of your forearm position. We have our athletes use three different types of paddles for each provides a different tool for the job to help with your arm mechanics and catch.  For example, the FINIS agility paddles do not have a strap, which forces you to have a palm positive hand position to correct incorrect technique when your hand enters the water and pulls through the stroke. Paddles should be small (the size of your hand) and should be used wisely as poor form with a paddle can cause shoulder issues. 
  • Fins – Sure, you may feel super fast with fins but when used properly, they are designed to help you with fluency. Fins help you move through the water with a rhythm, providing less work for your lower body as you focus on your upper body mechanics.  Do not overkick when using fins. And to avoid cramping, you need to kick from your hips and not from your knees, feet or calves. Think of the fins as an extension of your legs, with the kick coming from your hips. Fins will also help you work on ankle flexibility. Fins can help you learn how to drive your kick from your hips and not from the knee. Fins are also helpful when performing drills (ex. single arm drills).  Kicking is important but it doesn’t propel you forward as an open water swimmer/triathlete. Save your legs for the land! If you cramp with fins, this may be a sign that you tense your calf or feet muscles when you kick. Also if you run before you swim, you are more likely to cramp. Make sure to warm-up your ankles and feet before you swim and be sure to relax your feet, calves and legs when you kick lightly in the water.  

Triathlon swimming take-away tips: 
  • Swim frequently (3-5 times per week) and consistently throughout the entire year. Stay accountable to your swim training. 
  • Be patient. Swimming is a technique driven sport. It's takes a lot of practice. 
  • When you are tired from running and biking, you'll feel it the most in the pool. Don't get frustrated when you form feels off. 
  • Incorporate swim "bricks" where you swim and run or swim and then bike to get yourself use to transferring from the horizontal swim position to being more upright. 
  • Make every swim workout purposeful - with a specific warm-up, pre-set and main set to get the most out of your time in the pool. Avoid non-stop, continuous swimming "workouts" as you'll only teach yourself how to swim with poor form due to fatigue. 
  • Stay present, focused and dedicated to each swim session. You need a clear pathway so you know where you are going with your swim training.
  • Your swim training should first focus on your body position. Next comes the strength/propulsion component. Then comes specificity to prepare you mentally and physically for the open water. Focus less on gaining speed or trying to achieve a certain distance for each swim but instead, focus on swimming efficiently and effectively so that you can become swimfit for the open water.