What are your Goals this year?
It is all too easy to get into the habit of training and then looking for races that would be nice to do.
It is also easy to focus on training and forget about recovery, eating the right food, developing the right mindset. In many ways, training is the easy bit. When you're training you feel you're progressing but sleeping, eating, thinking?
Of course, it is those things that set the winners apart from the also-rans. and by winners, I am not referring to those on the podium but to those that consistently improve their PBs.
They have a clear goal for the year, they know their "A" race and they make a plan to get to the start in peak physical and psychological condition.
So if you haven't already done it, select your"A" race (or races) and enter them now.
Next, take stock of where you are now. Read the article below on working out your current state of fitness. You should identify your "limiting factors": which discipline you should focus on and which aspects of your fitness will make the most difference.
Once you have both your goals and your limiting factors clearly in mind you can start planning! And we will look at planning in more detail next month.
Tri or road bike?
As we move towards the start of the new season we inevitably begin thinking about new kit and the single most expensive item of kit the triathlete has, is the bike!
Not only is it the most expensive item but choosing the right bike will also make a significant difference to your times. The bike section of the triathlon is invariably the longest in terms of duration – typically representing almost 50% of the total as opposed to about 30% on the run and 20% on the swim. Consequently, any improvement on the bike is more important than a similar gain on the other disciplines.
As you consider buying a new bike you will have to ask yourself the age old question; “Tri or Road?” I hope this will clarify a few things and be of help in you make the right decision.
It really does depend on many factors so here are few to consider.
Busy roads of a stop / start nature aren’t ideal for Tri (or TT) bikes. The standard geometry road bike is much better suited to this environment due to the slightly more upright ride position (enabling the riders head to be held a little higher) and the location of the brake and gear unit, known as STI’s*, which allows for quicker and more convenient access to the gears, brakes.
*Shimano Total Integration.
TT bikes come into their own for that ‘point and shoot’ style riding with minimal switchbacks by virtue of the tucked up wind defying position you’ll be in. However, cornering isn’t anywhere as easily done on a TT bike as it is on a road bike. A road bike offers an ideal position to lean into the corner by holding the drop bars, keeping a lower centre of gravity than is possible on a TT bike.
Flat or mildly rolling courses have ‘TT Bike’ written all over it! Head down, bum up and hitting a flat course hard is most riders dream.
But throw in few hills that require instant access to your gears (as opposed to be at the end of tri-bars of a TT bike) and you’ll see that drop bar road bikes have the edge because of their greater range of gear configurations and position of bars/STI’s which aid climbing.
As you’ll know, neither genre of bike comes cheaply. Because of this, a comparison can’t directly be drawn.
However, if there was budget for one or the other, it would be wise to be of road bike persuasion due to their versatility. Remember it’s easier to near replicate the body position of a TT bike (primarily by adding aero wheels and tri bars to a road bike) than the other way round.
The type of racing
TT bikes are best used for ‘point and shoot’ style racing.
Time Trials are a great example of where there are good time saving advantages to be had, especially where time is of the essence on flat, not particularly technical courses.
They also come in to their own for longer distances where some serious time saving is to be had. An additional bonus for longer racing is that they tend to come with an integrated drinks system.
Your flexibility / condition of spine
Because of the ‘head down, bum up’ position a Tri bike will put you in, a good level of hamstring and back flexibility is extremely important.
Sitting upright will alleviate such tension but that’s not the idea of buying a TT bike!
Back extensions to strengthen lower back, yoga for suppleness and core strength and hamstring and glute stretching are all good ways to stay in that aero position for longer.
Differences: TT bike and a Road bike
- The geometry. A TT bike has a steeper seat tube angle which results in placing more of the riders’ body weight over the front wheel. Tri bars are added to compensate for this and keeps the rider low thus minimising torso wind resistance.
- The frame and forks. Designed to produce minimal drag whilst maintaining strength and are put through extensive testing. Designs such as bladed forks, integrated seat post, a ‘cut away’ seat tube to hug the leading edge of the rear wheel and tucked away brake callipers to name a few. The tubing cross section is often described as ‘teardrop’.
- The saddle. TT bikes tend to have wider but shorter (in length) saddles to allow comfort whilst being sat in an aggressive forward position.
- The wheels. Many TT bikes are sold as a frame set only. But those sold as a complete bike come with wheels to reflect what the bike is designed for; i.e. more aerodynamic wheels designed to cut through the air with efficiency. This is reflected by the ‘section’ (depth) of the wheel. Bike manufacturers often assume the rider will already have their own fancy deep section, wind defying expensive wheel sets. For this reason, you may often find the quality of the wheels isn’t on a par with that of the rest of the bike.
- The handlebars. They are flat and aerodynamic in design and often sold as one complete unit to include tri bars. The brakes are secured at the ends of the bars.
- The gearing. Standard gearing tends to place more emphasis on fractionally higher gear range; e.g. a larger front chainring (52 or 53) and more emphasis on lower gears on the cassette (10, 11, 12 sprockets). This is a generalisation synonymous to TT bikes.
The gear shifters will be mounted at the ends of the Tri bars.
- The geometry. Unlike its TT bike cousin, the road bike has a much more ‘relaxed’ geometry. Ie the seat tube is more angled back. This allows for a more comfortable position conducive for longer rides, hill climbs and those with notoriously tight hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
- The frame and forks. Modern day forks are generally much narrower than those on TT bikes but still ‘teardrop’ in cross section. There are many frame designs but the tubing is also often more narrow and cylindrical.
- The saddle. Generally slightly longer in length and more narrow at the front as they are designed for the rider who would sit slightly further back.
- The wheels. As standard, road bikes are sold with narrow rim depth to allow for versatility in ride style and weight saving. They can be sold with conventional round spokes or on the more performance orientated road bikes, bladed spokes.
- The handlebars. Drop bars. Great for comfort, cornering and climbing, making them much more universal than the bars on a TT bike. The bar is held in place by the ‘stem’ which bolts to the top of the front forks.
- The gearing. Road bikes tend to have a greater range of gearing options than a TT bike because they are designed for a more versatile range of riding. They come with either a double or treble chainset and 10 or 11 gears on the rear cassette.
Is a Tri bike faster than a road bike? Sometimes!
Is a road bike faster than a Tri bike? Sometimes!
Triathlon is an endurance sport! Everyone says it is, so it must be.
But what do we actually mean by this? We looked for a definition on the web and came up with a whole range of them but the one we found most useful was
“any event where you have to eat in order to finish”
The reason we liked this one was that, while it is not strictly accurate (as far as triathlon is concerned) it zeros in on the impact a race has on our metabolism. In even a sprint triathlon the body will use all the energy systems from the short term a-lactic anaerobic through to the fat consuming glycogenesis.
The trained body is able to store sufficient glycogen to sustain hard physical exercise for about 2 hours. Once that glycogen has been expended your body will start to rely on its fat stores. You can rest assured that you will not exhaust these even on an Ironman Triathlon (even the leanest athlete will have about 50,000 calories of fat available).
So, the purpose of endurance training is to develop our capacity to utilise the four energy producing systems:
From - To
ATP – PC System
Start - 10 secs
ATP - Lactic
10 secs – 3 mins
Aerobic utilising stored Glycogen
30 secs - 2 hrs +
Aerobic – involving Glycogenesis from fat
As glycogen becomes depleted – many days
And the cardio-vascular system to sustain us over the considerable periods of time
As such developing endurance is a complex process that demands a variety of different approaches.
The first question that may occur to you is why we must work on the anaerobic systems if they are not really “enduring” systems – they are capable of operating for short periods only.
During a race you will be reliant on the Aerobic systems for the bulk of the time but there are many times when the anaerobic systems are essential. At the start of the swim you will use both the Anaerobic systems simply because it takes about 30 seconds before the Aerobic system gets up to speed so even if your strategy is to keep clear of the “washing machine” at the start rather than aiming to be at the front you still need it.
As you exit the water new demands are placed on the legs and you need the ATP-Lactic system in them to get you into Transition 1.
As you start the bike you have to get up to speed fast. Cycling at a constant pace requires far less energy than accelerating – seconds lost in getting up to “cruising speed” can never be recovered, so you need those anaerobic systems again.
The same applies on hills. To maintain your speed requires using those Anaerobic systems. The ability to power up the hills is often the deciding factor in a race. Often you will find many competitors, with equal aerobic and cardio fitness happily keeping pace with one another but a few have the ability to “break-away” on the hills never to be caught.
And much the same is true on the run.
And then you have the finish.
Tapping into a refreshed ATP-Lactic system in the final 300 metres can see you past 5 or 6 competitors and beating of the challenge from your nearest rival.
Energy use during a Sprint Triathlon
When training the anaerobic systems the focus should be on the ATP-Lactic system. The benefits of the ATP-CP system are so short lived that even a significant improvement in them will make very little contribution to your energy output. Added to which is the fact that it really exists for two purposes – to provide fuel until the ATP-Lactic system kicks in and to provide fuel for explosive efforts at maximum force. – such activities as weight lifting.
ATP- Lactic System
The limiting factor when relying on this energy system is the level of lactic acid and hydrogen ions (by-products of the process) in the blood stream – it appears that it is the hydrogen ions that actually produce the feeling of exhaustion. There are two factors that impact on the limiting effect:
- The level that can be tolerated
- The rate at which you can clear them once the drop the intensity
There are two approaches to influencing these:
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Lactate Threshold Training (LTT)
You are probably familiar with HIIT, it has been much in the news recently since it appears to confer the same benefits on non-athletes as longer gentle runs or cycles. Typically, it appears that 3 intervals of 20 seconds a few times a week are all that is necessary. The bad news is that this does not apply to competitive athletes.
You need to do a little more! It also appears that longer intervals of up to 5 minutes at a slightly lower intensity (about 90% of maximum heart rate) are probably better.
One of the reasons for this is that very high intensity bursts also result in the production of the “stress” hormone cortisol which encourages the body to use protein as a fuel source which tends to have an impact on muscle mass as well as other bodily functions.
Lactate Threshold Training aims to keep the muscles working at a level just below the rate at which the body can clear lactic acid for considerable periods. Typically a LTT session might consist of a warm-up followed by 3 x 10 mins at a speed sustainable for 30 minutes with active recovery of 2 to 3 minutes followed by a warm down.
This will make up the bulk of your endurance training. Typically it will be done at 70-80% of maximum heart rate.
A large volume of aerobic base training appears to be particularly important for the development of the lactate threshold, exercise economy, fatigue resistance, mitochondrial size and density, enhanced aerobic energy pathways.
This “base” training results in many vital physiological adaptations affecting the body generally and the heart in particular.
It will increase:
- Total blood volume and red cell count
- Number of capillaries in muscles
- Intramuscular fuel storage
- Free fatty acid utilisation
In addition it has a direct effect on the heart:
- The heart will increase in size : particularly the left ventricle
- Muscle wall will thicken
- The number of capillaries will increase -all resulting in:
- “Stroke” volume – the amount of blood pumped at each stroke - will increase
- Resting pulse will reduce
These adaptations have several effects on you during a race; there is more oxygen reaching your muscles (blood volume, red cells, stroke volume), The time to exhaustion will increase (intramuscular fuel storage), and transition to fat burning when glycogen is expended is made easier (free fatty acid utilisation).
If you race for more than about 2 hours you are pretty well guaranteed to exhaust your glycogen reserves. Lots of good long runs or rides will help to increase the glycogen stores, by “carb-loading” (properly) before a race you can make a further increase and by consuming carbs during the race you can delay it
However, ultimately, because you cannot metabolise the carbs as fast as you are expending them, you will become reliant on your body fat.
The problem with switching over to reliance on fat stores is that converting fat into energy (Your fat must first be converted to glucose - called gluconeogenesis - and then to glycogen) requires almost twice as much oxygen as burning glycogen and it also takes time to “kick-in” which can result in the symptoms of hypoglycaemia. Which is why, after about 2 hours you can experience the feeling of “hitting the wall” or “bonking”.
You can condition both body and mind for this process only by doing long runs or rides that expend the bodies supplies of glycogen. This means that if you are an “age grouper” doing standard distances you should consider brick sessions lasting 3 hours.
Brick sessions for the half ironman are also important but you can happily “hit the wall” on the bike with a 4 hour ride
Over the next three editions we are going to look at Macro-nutrients. There are three of these:
Curiously the one we tend to consume most of, carbohydrate, is the one that is not strictly essential. Its primary use is to provide fuel for our cells – not just our muscles – but the body can create glycogen, which is the actual fuel used by the cells, from both protein and fat.
However, the body requires a range of different proteins and fats in order to work it is incapable of synthesising these and they must be obtained from outside the body.
While in theory we could survive without them carbohydrates are generally the main source of fuel for the body and they are also the most efficient source.
They are categorised as:
The simple and complex carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. The number of calories from fibre is more complicated but it will generally be less than 2. We will take a brief look at it later.
These are the sugars. There are two types of simple carbohydrate:
- Monosaccharide : Glucose, Fructose, Galactose
- Disaccharides: Lactose, Sucrose, Maltose
The monosaccharides are the smallest sugar molecules and glucose in particular is small enough to pass through cell membranes. However, they do not occur in any large quantities in nature, the body however is able to synthesise them. They are also the building blocks of the other carbohydrates.
Disaccharides are slightly more complex, are formed when two monosaccharides react and are the most common forms of sugar.
The most important point to take in is that they are very quick to digest and enter the blood stream very fast.
The molecules of these are made up of long chains of simple carbohydrates often with many branches. Before the body can process these, it must break down the bonds between the various simple carbohydrates and this takes time, it happens gradually as the food passes through the gut with the result that the energy from them is released over a period of hours rather than minutes. The effect of the carbohydrate on your blood sugar is measured by the Glycaemic Index – Read more below.
The foods providing complex carbohydrates also tend to be rich in the vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are essential for health while the simple carbs do not offer the same nutritional benefits.
Fibre is divided into two categories:
Soluble fibre is dissolved in the gut and helps reduce cholesterol and modulates blood sugar levels. It also serves as food for the bacteria living in the gut.
Insoluble fibre simply passes through the gut and is excreted. However, it does fulfil important functions; it helps to modulate the speed of movement through the gut, reduces the risk of cancer, piles and constipation.
The soluble fibre is actually fermented by the bacteria as they use it and the by-products of fermentation produce about 2 calories of energy per gram as well as wind.
Do not underestimate the importance of keeping your bacteria fed. They are essential not only to your digestion but to many other bodily functions – they account for about 50% of the total number of cells in your body although they are much smaller than most of your “human” cells and probably only account for between 2lbs and 6lbs of your weight.
Glycaemic Index (GI)
The GI value of a food is determined by feeding 10 or more healthy people a portion of the food containing 50 grams of digestible (available) carbohydrate and then measuring the effect on their blood glucose levels over the next two hours.
It is important to be aware of the GI of the foods you are eating since variations in the GI will have significant impacts on the way your body responds to it.
To add a little more complexity, the GI of an individual food is not the same as its GI as part of a meal. What you eat it with affects how quickly the sugars are extracted.
An orange has a GI of 46 but the juice from the orange has a GI of about 50 because the body must break down the flesh to extract all of the fructose and if you eat the orange mixed into a bowl of porridge it would take even longer so the GI would be lower.
Is Low GI better than High GI?
If you read pretty well any dieting article on the subject you would get the impression that High GI foods are bad for you. If your aim is simply to lose weight this is probably true but if you are an athlete, you can take advantage of the different properties and effects.
Impact of eating carbohydrates
Whenever and whatever you eat causes changes in your hormones and neurotransmitters. Amongst these are insulin and serotonin.
All have a wide range of effects, but we will focus on just two. Insulin helps to regulate blood sugar level and serotonin impacts mood – makes you feel happy
When you eat your blood sugar level will start to rise. If you eat simple carbs only your blood sugar level will peak after about 20 minutes. This is fine if you are exercising hard because the body will utilise it. If you are not exercising the body will produce insulin which in order to convert it into fat to be stored for later use.
There are two problems with this. The body tends to overcompensate for the quantity of pure sugar – since it is not generally found naturally – and after dealing with the flood of sugar it continues to reduce the level below optimum, affecting both our physical ability to perform and our mood.
The production of serotonin also increases and makes you feel happy – and relaxed maybe even sleepy. If your body is experiencing the low caused by the excess insulin production produced by the hit of High GI sugar you can experience a craving for more of that sugar which can make sugar or other High GI foods addictive.
What to eat – and when
Now we understand how the body responds to taking on the different forms of carbs we can decide how to use them.
As we start to exercise we increase the amount of fuel we are utilising. We have three potential sources of fuel, Glycogen stored in the muscles and liver, fat spread around the body and protein – the muscles themselves. It may surprise you that all of these are used all of the time. At moderate intensity (65% – 75% HR Max) the bulk of our energy comes from our fat stores, glycogen supplies the bulk of the remainder and small amount comes from protein.
Above 75% HR Max Glycogen becomes more important; the same amount of energy per minute continues to come from fat and protein but the additional demand comes from your glycogen stores.
For example; if you cycled 20k in an hour you could expect to burn around 750 calories of which 450 would be from fat. Cover 30k in an hour and you would burn around 1300 calories but still burn around 450 (actually a little more) but glycogen would provide the bulk of the additional 550 calories.
When you cease exercising the body starts to replenish its glycogen stores. It will do this utilising any food you consume, the body’s own fat stores and protein. It is really trying to preserve the highest level of glycogen in order that it is always ready for hard exercise.
When you go long enough to exhaust your glycogen supplies the body will continue to use fat and protein as fuel. We do need a small amount of carbohydrate to process the fat but the body keeps glycogen stores topped up with enough to keep the process going.
In a Nutshell
In general, we should be eating a balanced diet with around:
50 - 60%
12 - 20%
15 - 25%
About 2 hours before it is worth eating a meal rich in complex carbohydrates as this will see your glycogen stores and blood sugar at their maximum.
Avoid eating simple carbs in the before exercise as these will drive up insulin levels which will continue to lower blood sugar levels for a considerable period as the body tries to convert the “excess” sugar to fat.
During exercise lasting more than an hour
Current research suggests that the consumption of between 30-80g/hour of simple carbohydrate (6-8% solution) can enhance endurance exercise in events of > 1 hour.
This seems likely to delay the onset of exhaustion by 15 – 30 minutes by helping to preserve glycogen stores.
It also appears to reduce the production of two hormones, cortisol and epinephrine which have adverse effects on the immune system and also contribute to the breakdown of muscle protein.
High GI carbs are more effective at rapidly replenishing muscle glycogen levels and you should aim to start refuelling within 20 minutes.
The main advantages with high GI carbohydrate source are that they are more readily digested, enter the blood stream more quickly, and are therefore available more quickly for glycogen re-synthesis rates.
Following a prolonged aerobic activity (e.g. a 2-hour run or 3-hour cycle) you will need to continue to consume high levels of carbohydrate throughout the day – normally you would aim to consume additional carbohydrate every 2-3hours.
In addition to replenishing muscle and liver glycogen levels, a large post exercise carbohydrate consumption can help to reduce the breakdown of muscle protein and may increase levels of protein synthesis (muscle building).
If you add about 20 grams of protein it will also enhance rates of muscle protein synthesis, increase rates of glycogen replenishment and enhance subsequent exercise performance.
Thinking about Winning
An Introduction to Sports Psychology
The origins of sports psychology are said to date back to the late 19th century when Norman Triplett produced a paper on the effect on cyclists of riding as a group. However, in his paper he remarks:
“It is still as true as in Virgil's time that the winners can because they think they can.”
Curiously – or perhaps not – even though we have been aware of the importance of the mind to sporting success for over 2000 years, professional athletes and their coaches were slow to adopt sports psychology a such. The first sports psychologist employed by a team, Coleman Griffith, was taken on by the owner of the Chicago Cubs Baseball team in 1937 but was ignored by both the managers who worked alongside him. He left the job in 1940.
It wasn’t until 1965 when a group of psychologists from the USA formed the International Society of Sports Psychologists and it was only in 1986 that a specialist journal, The Sports Psychologist was published.
There are now estimated to be around 3000 sports psychologists practicing around the world and over 100 training programmes available. Today, there is virtually no professional athlete who does not have access to a sports psychologist.
While using a sports psychologist is not cheap the good news is that many of the techniques are easy to use on you own providing you are prepared to take the time to understand them, learn how to use them and then employ them regularly.
Winners can, because they think they can!
Virgil’s comment was true but while “thinking you can” is necessary it is not sufficient! In other words, there is a great deal more to it than simply developing a belief in yourself.
Modern sports psychology
It is probably true to say that the popular conception of sports psychology is revolves around the idea of the sportsman visualising the winning of the competition and thereby gaining belief and confidence to “go for it”.
However, the real benefits of the techniques it makes available are based on the inter-relationship between mind and body and how you use the mind to setup the body during the months and years of training.
The right approaches can help you:
- Build confidence and commitment
- Develop Focus
- Develop technique
- Keep your body healthy
- Deal with the problems you will encounter
- Even - Change the way your genes operate
The key point to take on board is that it is not about how it can help you on the day of the competition, it is about how you can use it to make the most of your training.
Over the forthcoming months we will look in detail at the techniques you can use to achieve peak performance. These techniques include:
- Enhanced Goal Setting
- Confidence building
- Developing focus
- Living in the moment
- Relaxation and meditation
- Success Routines
- Building Energy
Now is a good time!
We are going to use a very simple technique to ensure you next group training session produces great results.
You are going to create a short film in your mind and you are going to play it as you go to sleep tonight. By playing it as you drop-off, when you are in a highly suggestable state it will have its greatest impact.
I want you to imagine yourself arriving at the training venue, let’s suppose it’s the running track. You are smiling, you get out of the car, stand tall, shoulders back, head up and start to walk to the track. You are looking forward to the training session, you know you will be bounding round the track, enjoying the way you are moving easily and with boundless energy.
Think about what you can see, hear, smell. Really see and feel the experience in full technicolour, complete with surround sound.
Continue to build this film through meeting with the rest of the team, warming up, stretching, training, warming down and leaving with a feeling that you had a really good training session and you are now ready to relax.
Now tonight when you turn out the bedside light close your eyes, take a deep breath hold it and then breath out. Focus on the breath. Repeat this four or five times. As you exhale feel your limbs getting heavier and the cares of the day dropping away. Then play the movie in your mind.
As you approach the running track tomorrow remind yourself of your film, smile and stand tall as you get out of the car.
This technique will work for about 80% of people at this most basic level. If it doesn’t work for you it will be a result of still being in an over alert state. However, we will be looking at ways to induce that relaxed state and you can then develop the technique for yourself.