Get the edge in your training with the men obsessed with pushing triathlon to the limit, in the new issue of Triathlon Plus magazine (out now).
At the dawn of triathlon time, people would beast themselves in training, fuel up on Mars bars, turn up at a race with a steel bike and a pair of Speedo briefs, and completely change kit in transition. As the sport has progressed – and nudity in T1 has been banned – science and technology have taken over.
We can all learn from the latest thinking. Whether it’s finding out more about bike aerodynamics or the benefits of smarter training, there’s so much science and technology can teach us. Developments from the steel-bike days have been driven b a group of people willing to experiment with their sport, to obsess over the finer details and wring every last second out of our bodies. Matt Anniss spoke to five of these people about their obsessions (you can read the full article in Issue 25 of Triathlon Plus magazine) to explain how you can use their proven knowledge and latest discoveries to get the edge in training and racing.
PROFESSOR ASKER JEUKENDRUP’S WORK HAS BEEN WIDELY PUBLISHED, AND HE PUTS IT INTO PRACTICE; HE’S RACED 16 IRONMAN EVENTS, INCLUDING KONA
“I have been an age-group triathlete for many years. I first took up the sport at a very young age, before deciding to focus on my strongest discipline: cycling. I got to a stage where I had to make the choice between joining a pro cycling team, or pursuing my academic studies. I chose sports science.
“Since coming to work in Birmingham 12 years ago, I have always tried to be at the forefront of sports science research, but at the same time I always want to know how the research can be applied in the real world. I have worked with different sports teams and elite athletes over the years to see how my research can be transferred from the lab and applied in practice.
“I always try to test out our theories and discoveries myself when I am training and racing. I think that gives me a little bit of an edge. Other people may have more time to train, but I like to think I can train smarter. Of course, if you don’t try something out, you don’t know whether it works. I don’t want to advise someone to do something that doesn’t work, or eat or drink something that their body can’t tolerate.”
“Over the years, I’ve carried out a lot of research. One of the biggest recent developments in sports nutrition actually came from research carried out where I work, at Birmingham University.
“We found that you can deliver more energy into the body by using a particular mix of carbohydrates. It was previously thought that your body could only absorb 60g of carbs an hour, which is around 240 calories. Athletes will need at least 1,000 calories an hour if they’re exercising at a relatively high level of intensity, so this was a problem. We discovered that this is because of the way the body absorbs carbohydrates, and that you could get round the problem by using a mixture of types of carbs that are transported around the body in different ways.
“The solution is a simple sports drink containing glucose, fructose and various other elements that you can quite easily buy and make yourself. I think this is the most significant finding of any of our research, and it’s probably one of the most significant in the sports nutrition field in the last 20 years – but I am biased!”
Fuels of the future
“The biggest focus over the next few years is going to be on how you can make your training more effective using sports nutrition. Hopefully that’s where our new research project into nutrients will come in. It’s an area we currently know so little about.
“Over the next 25 years, nutrition for triathlon will change a lot. Sports drinks will have developed much further. As scientists, we will discover more about what is exactly the right mix and measurement of foods to maximise training adaptability. I think there will be foods that should be eaten at specific times before, during and after training that help you train better. They could well be normal foods – that’s just something we have yet to discover.”
1 Get your breakfast right
On the day of your target race, make sure that you eat a breakfast that contains at least 100g of carbohydrate. That’s quite a lot, and people will find that difficult when they’re nervous, but it will definitely be beneficial – especially if you can take on a bit more then 100g. That should be eaten around three hours before the race.
2 Less fibre
If you are doing a long-distance event, to reduce gastrointestinal distress, reduce your intake of fibre the day before competition, and on race day. I would advise salad and vegetables in a normal diet, but I don’t think they have a place in a competition diet.
3 Get your carbohydrate intake right
Your carbohydrate intake during competition will depend on the race distance. If your event is short – say, less than an hour – you only need small amounts of carbohydrates. If you can’t consume the carbohydrates, it would still be beneficial to rinse your mouth with a sports drink and spit it out. For races up to three hours, you should be looking at taking on 60g an hour. If your race is longer than three hours, then you can go up to 90g of carbohydrate an hour, but it’s very important if you do that to make sure it is a mix of glucose and fructose. The ratio should be around two to one in favour of glucose.
4 Fuel your recovery
To help with recovery, try to eat or drink something that contains carbs immediately after exercise, and have a little bit of protein. If the exercise was really exhausting, I’d recommend 90g of carbohydrate and 20g of protein. There’s no need to take on board more protein. You can take that mix as a protein shake, a turkey sandwich, or some chocolate milk – whatever works best for you.
DR JAMIE PRINGLE IS SENIOR PHYSIOLOGIST AT THE ENGLISH INSTITUTE OF SPORT. PRINGLE IS A CYCLIST HIMSELF AND COACHES SOME OF BRITAIN’S BEST RIDERS
“I joined the English Institute of Sport in 2007. I love working at the EIS, because all of our work is focused on a small group of high-level athletes. It’s rewarding working with elite athletes, helping them get the best out of their training and performance.
“My job is all about looking after athletes from a scientific standpoint. That makes it very sharply focused – it’s the appliance of sports science, as opposed to lab theory. For example, I’ve recently been doing some work with endurance athletes – distance runners and triathletes – on altitude training, sending them to train in Kenya and getting them to sleep in an altitude tent.
“I have a lot of passion for sport. I love running and cycling, and have done duathlons in the past. In 2003 I raced at the World Duathlon Championships as an age grouper, but back then I was about one hundred times fitter than I am now, and about two stones lighter!
“The big idea at present in physiology and human science is gene adaptation or gene expression – basically how the body adapts to training on both a short- and long- term basis.”
“Over recent years, a lot of work has been done on trying to identify which genes in the body control how something responds. For example, if you do muscle-based training, which genes are being turned on, and how do you optimise that? There are 20,000 or so genes in the body, but only 100 that are relevant to athletic performance.
“It’s enormously complex, but it forms the backdrop of everything we do in training. The more we understand this, the better we can identify how different types of athletes should train.”
1 Don’t be afraid of knowledge…
…but know what it means for you personally, and how to use it. The fear of the unknown is easier to handle than having the knowledge, but not knowing what to do with it! Keep it simple and rather than always comparing yourself to others, bring the focus back to you. Numbers are only numbers – we can’t all sustain 450 watts for an hour of riding, but you can know what you’re able to do yourself and whether that is improving each session.
2 Train smart
Remember that training is a means to an end, not the end in itself. And that end is getting fitter and faster. So don’t be afraid of trying something a little different. If it works, well… it works. Just because it doesn’t look like the traditional training schedule, doesn’t mean it’s not right. Some of the biggest and best insights into athletic training have come from athletes and coaches who’ve tried to achieve their goal by a very different means.
3 Learn from parallel paths
Broaden your horizons a bit and look at those who tread a parallel path to you. I’ve learnt a lot from the clinical physiology world – the diseased human, and not the healthy one. The numbers involved may be very different from the elite athlete, but the methods of investigation and the principles of interpretation are all the same.
This article is an excerpt from Issue 25 of Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe today