Avoiding the Grey Zone

Avoiding the Grey Zone

As athletes in the Northern Hemisphere move into spring and better weather, some are in a rush to add more intensity and volume to their training, as they prepare for their race season. This is a quick way to increase risk of injury, sickness, and fatigue affecting consistent training. Especially when goal races are many months away, and the season may now stretch all the way to October for some, or longer with options of overseas races.

Triathlon is a sport of strength endurance, which benefits from consistent training, day after day, week after week. Of course, the goal is to swim faster, bike stronger, and run faster, but many athletes try to rush this process. Steady and measured preparation is required for optimal performance. During the early phases of training many athletes ask “this isn’t enough – when is the real training going to start?”, sometimes adding 30 minutes to 1 hour longer than the prescribed training, or adding extra intervals to workouts.

While interval training is a powerful tool if used correctly, personally I don’t believe interval training or training fast is necessarily how athletes get injured. I believe athletes get injured and sick from doing too much training at medium intensity, in the grey zone, especially with run training. Going harder than they should on their endurance workouts.

Athletes also increase their risk of injury and sickness when trying to maintain a year-round training diet of 4+km swims, 100+km bikes, and 25+km runs, especially when these workouts are at race or close to race pace. My advice to these athletes is to ‘slow down to speed up’, or ‘Hurry Slowly’. These athletes may also be worried about making sure they can compete at a certain speed or pace, that their endurance workouts negatively impact the remainder of their training week. When you’re doing an endurance swim, bike, or run, you really shouldn’t feel as though you need to make too much of an effort. Power, HR, or Pace should be generally less than 70% of threshold pace, or in layman terms at a pace you can easily maintain a conversation.

If you are in awe of how fast the best Marathon runners can run, what’s equally amazing is how slow they run their slow runs. These athletes will generally complete their long or easy runs at a pace some 2 minutes per km (3 minutes per mile) slower than their race pace. Athletes running 42km in a race at ~3:10 per km (5:06 min/mile), are running their slow runs at ~5min/km (8:10 min/mile). What if you try to run your easy runs 2 minutes per km slower than your race pace? Many of us are close to walking, right? I’m not necessarily advising you to walk, but to consider the effort level difference for those Marathoners between their training and race paces. That’s truly a pace that they can run “all-day” and not exert much effort.

I also encourage you to try doing some workouts without electronics, or ‘by feel’. No GPS, no powermeter. Training this way lets you start to understand your body and not always rely on the gadgets that don’t know how you’re feeling on a certain day. If you need a gadget to hold you back from going too hard on certain workouts (e.g. long runs!), then you need more practice in listening to your body. You don’t do it often enough or understand what it means to train in a certain area, namely endurance. If you must record the numbers from your workout, tape over your device or put it in your pocket so you can still have the data after the workout, but don’t use it during every workout.

Should you miss a workout or day of training, remember we live in the real world with jobs, careers, study, family and friends. Don’t strive to compensate for days missed in training by trying to ‘catch up’ workouts, or adding more time to others. Simply move on, and back onto your training schedule. One day missed can save a week or month missed due to injury or sickness.

If Spring is on its way in your region, enjoy the nicer weather and planned bigger workouts, but please ‘hurry slowly’.  Avoiding the grey zone is the quickest way to improve your triathlon performance.

Carson Christen is a Sports Scientist and Trisutto Coach based in Germany
Join Carson at the Mallorca Training Camp, on April 15.

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

The Race Weight Debate

The Race Weight Debate

We are now well into 2017, with a few races completed and some big events on the horizon, many athletes are training hard and starting to increase their training volume. With key races getting closer I have started having athletes approach me to debate “Race Weight”.

Making now a good time to talk about proper triathlon nutrition practice. As Coach Brett says in his article from 2014, ‘Race Weight is very important, but it isn’t something that should run your life based on the latest and greatest diet!’ With all the information out there today, you can’t go anywhere without seeing conflicting information on whether or not you should be Gluten Free, Ketotic, or Carb-Heavy. What seems to be the common occurrence in athletes is they aren’t getting enough fuel to properly execute their training and races. Your body has enough energy stored up as muscle Glycogen to fuel approximately 2 hours of hard effort. I’ve had athletes come to me saying they didn’t have enough energy for that 1 hour endurance ride, or 40-min endurance run. As soon as I see this trend in an athlete, I immediately ask what were they eating the previous 5 days? The general result is…. Not enough carbohydrate, fat and especially protein! Many athletes are effectively starving themselves of energy.

The numbers
Athletes are being told they need to be light weight in order to be fast, this is true only to a certain extent. If you get so light that your muscles have no energy or force, you will fail in training and on race day. Middle distance and long distance racing are strength, not speed sports. General guidelines for highly active athletes are 1.2-1.4g/kg (4 kcal/g) Protein, and anywhere from 25-30% calories (9 kcal/g) from Fat. For a 55kg Female, this would be at least 66g (264kcal) of protein per day. For a 75kg male, that is at least 90g/kg (360kcal). Calculate it yourself, where do you stand? In times of heavy training before a race, you can bet that your body needs upwards of 1.4g/kg or so protein. With fat, if you are eating 2500kcal/day, you need 69-89g (~625-750 kcal) of fat, or for 3500kcal, 97-116g (~875-1050kcal). Look at those numbers! Way higher than I bet many think they need. When athletes start restricting calories, fat and protein are generally the two macro-nutrients that suffer, with this often comes low energy, decreased training benefit, sickness, or injury.

Ok, so away from all the numbers. For short races such as a Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, you can get away with being a bit lighter and using that low weight to be “faster”. As soon as you move to the long course races, it become essential that you maintain your strength, over speed. Find out how many calories you need per hour when training, and make sure that you’re getting enough to fuel your body. When you’re looking at losing weight, try for no more than 1kg (2lb) per week, you need to have the energy to keep going, day after day, and hour after hour on race day.

“You’ll find that you race better in an Ironman with a little too much (weight) than a little too less.” – Coach Brett Sutton.

Don’t shy away from that cheesecake or chocolate when you’re training hard! Make sure you reward, don’t starve yourself! If you enjoy Reeses Peanut Butter Cups or Snickers, then go ahead and eat them, especially if you are training hard or during a race! Find out what works for you, and don’t change it! You’re out there trying to achieve a personal best, please, don’t skip on the essential fuels. If you are practicing Gluten Free, Vegetarian, or Ketotic Diets, then by all means do so it if it makes you feel better, but don’t do it because “they” told you it’s better. Everyone is different and what works for one athlete will not necessarily work for another.

The KISS Principle applies to diet. If you struggle to read the name or number of ingredients, you probably should pass on it. Also, enjoy the foods that make you happy, some more in moderation than others. A maintainable diet in moderation, is the best path to success and consistency.

Click here for an additional blog on the athlete weight debate.
AMERICAN COLLEGE of SPORTS MEDICINE. “Nutrition and Athletic Performance.”Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 32.12 (2000): 2130-2145.

Carson Christen is a Sports Scientist and Trisutto Coach based in Germany
Join Carson at the Sursee Training Camp, Switzerland on March 25.

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.