As a coach one of my main tasks is to readjust the athletes’ focus whenever they get carried away.
Triathlon is a strange sport! Lots of athletes training and competing sometimes seem more concerned about their appearance than their performance. Well, not entirely. For sure they want to have a good race and it’s everybody’s dream to qualify for the big show in Hawaii at least once in a lifetime. But on the way to that target, many athletes confuse things and end up worrying more about their appearance than their performance without even noticing it.
Rather than by the speed you are moving forward, coaches and athletes judge your swim by technique and the beauty of your stroke. If you’re running like Zatopek, it cannot be good, even if you’re as fast as him. You are measured by the dogmas of posture and cadence instead. And the bike setup has to look fast, even if you’re anything but fast on the bike. Everybody needs a fancy bike with a big drop even if that means that they ride on the base bars 90 kilometers into the race.
However, body weight is the biggest area where appearance and performance get confused.
Go to any race and watch the bike check-in. Everybody looks incredibly fit and confident. Everybody is ripped. Everybody looks fast! But don’t be fooled: A lot of that is fake. Most of this super fit looking bodies only mask a super small engine.
Triathletes are obsessed with their body and weight and therefore with nutrition in general. To such an extent that their focus on performance often becomes replaced with a focus on nutrition.
Every time when during one of my talks I describe the typical 6h-training-day of a professional triathlete I get the reaction: “Wow, 6h of training! How many calories do you burn then?” It’s around 5,000 a day. “Wow, so you can really eat a lot!” And you can see the face of your counterpart brightening up by the imagination of the amount of food he will be able to eat. Triathlon might be a really great sport…
Actually, many athletes come to triathlon because of weight issues in the first place. Eating disorders are not an uncommon problem amongst professional and age group triathletes. Many athletes only train more to be able to eat more afterwards. They try to balance their binge eating with binge training.
As a matter of course, there is nothing wrong with eating or training for looking good. Just consider that there might be much more efficient and less time consuming ways to manage your weight than training 12+ hours per week for an Ironman.
Be honest and clear with yourself with what you want to achieve. Eating for appearance is an entirely different thing than eating for performance. For other sports like weight lifting or sumo wrestling that’s very evident. But this is more than true for triathlon as well.
If you have performance goals, don’t confuse performance with appearance. By eating to try and look fast, many athletes forget to fuel properly to actually be fast. As a coach one of my main tasks is to readjust the athletes’ focus whenever they get carried away. I’m in the be-fast-business. A focus on nutrition should only aid the development of performance – and must never replace it.
Always keep in mind: There is no artistic score in triathlon and it isn’t a beauty contest either!