Three sports plus a healthy nutrition plan. Mix in a few brick sessions before sprinkling with work and family. Yes, dishing up peak performances with such energy and time demands is difficult. But, as you’ll see here, not impossible. You see, the advice, strategies and sessions that follow are all about refreshing your triathlon training and lifestyle to eke out some easy wins.
The majority are cutting-edge, born from the lab but proven on the elite race circuit. Some really push the boundaries while a few are simple time-savers for beginners. Ultimately, with 2019 kicking in, now’s the perfect time to integrate all, some or even just one of these ideas into your tri training programme…
1. REACH NEW HEIGHTS
“Regular exposure to altitude can lift performance by around 2%,” says Sam Rees of the Altitude Centre in London. The premise behind it is simple: by exposing a triathlete to an environment that’s low in oxygen, the body will adapt by becoming more efficient at transporting and using oxygen, which pays off when back at sea level. Colorado, St. Moritz and Tenerife are popular spots. Otherwise, you can hire an altitude system from Oxyhood.
2. PADDLE FOR INCREASED SWIM STRENGTH
“Swim paddles are great for strength work but you should also use them for ingraining good technique,” says top coach Joel Filliol. “Just remove the wrist-strap from the paddle – which should be just larger than your hand – so it’s only held on by your fingers. It requires you to keep pressure from the hand to paddle through the entire stroke. And keep it simple. If you need to write your session down on paper, it’s too complicated.”
3. UNLEASH YOUR ENERGY RESERVES
Professor Kevin Thompson had a group of cyclists undertake a 4km time-trial against an on-screen avatar that the riders thought was set to their best pace. It was actually 1% faster. Despite Thompson’s deception, riders kept up with their virtual rival, cycling faster than they ever had before. “That showed us the body has an energy reserve of 2-5%,” Thompson says. As deceiving yourself is improbable, this shifting of the pacing template is one for coaches to install.
4. EMBRACE THE POWER OF KETONES
2019 could be the year ketones take a foothold. Ketones are created from fat when the body’s low on carbohydrates or in a fasted state, and provide a constant stream of aerobic energy. Studies are ambivalent of ketones’ benefits when the body’s starved but there’s evidence that extraneous ketones improve muscle efficiency and elevate stamina. Italian pro cyclist Vittoria Bussi used the world’s first ketone drink, HVMN Athlete, en route to breaking the women’s hour record in 2018.
5. SNACK SMARTLY
For the 2011 season, four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington based herself in South Africa, consuming “several kilogrammes of biltong.” But it seems the undefeated Ironman athlete was ahead of the snacking game, as biltong is now the snack of choice for many high-performance triathletes. Why is down to the high protein hit, plus chewing more has been proven to satiate appetite. In 2011, despite a serious crash in training, Wellington won her fourth Kona title.
6. SIT THEN STAND TO CONQUER CLIMBING
Professor Ernst Hansen discovered that triathletes are more efficient when cycling seated until the gradient hits 10%. Then, with legs burning, standing became more efficient. In fact, during short, all-out bursts, peak power output has been measured at 25% greater when standing compared to sitting. But there is payback. At shallower gradients of 4%, ascending at 19km/hr requires 10% less oxygen seated than completing the same distance at the same speed when standing.
7. PRIME YOURSELF FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE #1
Professor Liam Kilduff has shown that if you’re swimming, cycling or running in the afternoon, there’s an argument for briefly hitting the gym in the morning. Kilduff found that early high-force work in the gym raised testosterone levels that continued to elicit a favourable effect later in the day. One exercise, like the leg press, is enough followed by a protein lunch and a couple of hours sleep.
8. PRIME YOURSELF FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE #2
Then again… Researchers from the University of New England revealed that those who trained in the afternoon had lower levels of the hormone melatonin later in the day compared to morning trainers, resulting in lower quality and quantity of sleep. Yet melatonin is only one part of the sleep equation. A workout around 4pm could temporarily elevate your body temp for several hours so that you enjoy a more pronounced cooling effect around bedtime, which is also key to sleep prep.
9. CONSUME DOPAMINE
“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and impacts movement, especially in the heat,” says sports scientist Lieslot Decroix. Changes in dopamine levels have been shown to affect core temp regulation during exercise, which influences power output. So, a dopamine back-up when racing in the heat will boost performance? Not entirely. Dopamine’s synthesised in the body so you’ll need to consume foods that the body will convert to dopamine. These include the amino acids L-theanine (found in green tea) and tyrosine (meat, dairy and nuts), fish oil and phoshatidylserine (mackerel).
10. VIBRATE FOR SUCCESS
“Adding vibration to your cycling will improve performance,” says Bent Ronnestad of Lillehammer University. He had 10 club-level cyclists train on a Computrainer with a vibration plate beneath tuned to 40 hertz. “Riders could maintain above 90% of their VO2max and maximum heart rate for longer than normal on the vibration plate,” adds Ronnestad.
Why is unclear but Ronnestad says it could be down to ‘awakening’ fatigued muscle fibres. A stretch of cobbles is
a more practical alternative to a vibration plate.
11. DON’T RESIST THE STARCH
“Studies show that consuming foods high in resistance starch the night before can improve your energy fuelling at the races,” explains Secret Training nutrition founder Tim Lawson. Many starchy foods, like pearl barley
and brown rice, contain resistant starch. This goes all the way through the small intestine without being digested.
When it reaches the colon, it’s used for fuel by bacteria in a process called fermentation, producing short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which studies have shown increases glucose tolerance the next day.
12. TRY BAKING POWDER
High-intensity training generates high levels of lactic acid that can see a drop in power. To buffer this acidity, athletes have often consumed sodium bicarbonate – yes, baking powder. But while some report better performance, others suffer with the runs. Now Dr Andy Sparks has shown that baking powder could benefit nearly all, but you must
play around with doses. “Some athletes benefitted from 0.2g per kg bodyweight; others came in at over 0.3g,” says Sparks.
13. CHART YOUR GLYCOGEN
MuscleSound is a non-invasive tool that measures glycogen levels via ultrasound and could be the next tool in your coach’s kitbag. A three-inch ‘wand’ scans the athlete’s major leg muscles. An adjacent screen then flashes up a number between 0 and 100, which corresponds to the athlete’s level of glycogen. A constantly-depleted score means the athlete must consume more carbs or reduce training levels; near 100 and you’ll have to cut back on carbs to prevent piling on the pounds.
14. LIMIT YOUR DRAG
Fact: a reputable triathlon bike is more aerodynamic than a road bike. That means a faster you come the races. But you can save yourself several thousands of pounds by purchasing a set of clip-on aerobars instead. As you’re responsible for roughly 80% of drag compared to 20% from your bike, the frontal profile of you is more important than the shape of your steed.
A set of £40 aluminium clip-ons will lower and narrow your position, resulting in less drag and more speed.
15. THIRST FOR SUCCESS
Acclimatisation requires stimulating multiple physiological adaptations that are conducive to racing in the heat. This
often involves turbo training with the radiators on back in the cooler UK or having a hot bath after a session. A recent study suggests that acclimatisation is more effective when athletes are mildly dehydrated. “The researchers showed a combination of mild dehydration and heat stress allowed them to reach heat adaptation faster by increasing core temperature more rapidly,” says thermal physiology expert Stephen Cheung.
16. CORRECT YOUR WEAKNESSES
Looking to reduce chances of injury and become a more efficient runner? Simply close your eyes, stand on one foot and see how long you can avoid touching the ground. About 5secs? If you reach 60secs, you have good proprioception; in other words, your body understands it’s going off alignment and corrects itself. The best runners run with feet, knee and hips aligned, so practise this drill on each foot every day.
17. SQUAT THEN SURGE
Testosterone is a key driver of both muscle growth and fat loss. And it’s why you should include squats in any gym workout you undertake. While it’s accepted that testosterone response is linked with the intensity of the weights session, there’s also evidence that the size of the muscle impacts the level of testosterone release. And as a squat engages the largest skeletal muscle in the body – the glutes – your entire body will benefit from a higher performance-boosting testosterone surge.
18. TRAIN EASY TO RACE FAST
Exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler analysed the training programmes of elite endurance athletes, including triathletes, and discovered that they trained 80% ‘easy’ and 20% ‘hard’. His own subsequent research, including into age-groupers, corroborated the findings. This optimum split suits athletes who train from 4hrs-upwards but key is that you avoid the middle ground, so easy is between 70 and 80%, and hard is over 87% of maximum heart rate. An interval session is ‘hard’ even if the recovery between sprints is easy.
19. BREATHE TO BOOST BIKE POWER
A PowerBreathe is a proven training tool that’s used by many an elite athlete. You simply clamp it between your lips and exhale/inhale against a resistance, which strengthens your lungs and the diaphragm. “This pays off significantly in extreme positions like being aero on a bike,” says breathing expert Alison McConnell. “Your lungs are compressed and there’s stress on your trunk. Undertaking breathing exercises each day for just a few minutes improves both of these.”
20. APPLY WINTER SPEEDWORK
For most, winter’s about laying stamina foundations to build speed come spring. But don’t neglect sprint work. “With triathletes, we’ll feature winter sprint work as long as it doesn’t compromise aerobic work,” says coach Daniel Healey. “So long as you keep the sprints short, you can activate the neural system without producing too much lactate.” This reminds your nervous system to fire rapidly enough to generate maximum power by the time the race season rolls around.