Matt Fitzgerald – The latest triathlon gear, training, nutrition, photos, races, movers, shakers, and more Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:19:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Matt Fitzgerald – 32 32 Spruce Up Your Swim With Time-Trial Workouts Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:25:16 +0000 Swim time-trial workouts look more like a real triathlon swim leg than a set of 50-meter sprints and can enhance your performance come race day.

The post Spruce Up Your Swim With Time-Trial Workouts appeared first on

Swim time-trial workouts look more like a real triathlon swim leg than a set of 50-meter sprints and can enhance your performance come race day.

You are training for a long-distance triathlon later this year. You know your swim training is going well because your times in your 50-meter sprint sets keep coming down. This is a sure sign your performance potential for the swim leg of your upcoming race is headed in the right direction, right? Not necessarily. While any type of improvement in workouts is usually a good sign, improved performance in short sprints is not always a reliable indicator of increasing performance potential in a long open-water swim. For real evidence, you should regularly perform workouts in the pool that look more like a real triathlon swim leg than a set of 50-meter sprints.

That’s where time-trial workouts come in. A time-trial swim workout serves the dual function of giving you a race-specific training stimulus and letting you know whether the rest of your training is actually serving to increase your race-specific fitness. The idea is to do one such workout every two to four weeks. If you see a satisfactory degree of improvement, you know your training is on track. If your level of improvement is disappointing, or if you fail to improve at all, you know your swim training needs to change.

Always do your swim time-trial workouts when you are well recovered from recent swim sessions. Warm up with at least 200 meters of easy lap swimming plus a few short (25-meter) sprints to prime the nervous system. Swim the designated distance as fast as you can (but evenly paced), record your time and cool down.

The length of your time trials depends on the distance of your next triathlon. However, I recommend increasing the distance of your time trials from one session to the next, starting at 800 meters and building from there. If you’re training for a sprint triathlon, you need not progress beyond 1,000 meters, whereas if you’re training for an iron-distance event, your longest time trial should about two miles.

Why not make all of your time trials about two miles if you’re training for an iron-distance race? First, your performance in time trials of gradually increasing distance will tell you as much about your race-specific swim-fitness development as a sequence of long time trials. You just have to interpret the data somewhat differently. Naturally, you should not expect to swim at a faster pace in a 1,500-meter time trial you do today than you swam in a 1,000-meter time trial performed three weeks earlier. However, you should be able to hold nearly the same pace over the longer distance. Secondly, in the early stages of training for an iron-distance triathlon, most of us lack the endurance to perform decently in a long-swim time trial. You would overtax yourself only to learn what you already know.

RELATED: 8 Triathlon Swim Questions Answered

Another reason to start with shorter time trials is that the progression from shorter to longer time trials fits with the way your overall swim training should progress. The goal of your training is to extend speed over distance. You achieve this objective by focusing on faster efforts exceeding race pace early in the training process and then gradually extending the efforts and slowing the pace toward race pace. Thus, the early period of your training for an Iron-distance triathlon should look similar to peak training for a sprint triathlon. So it makes sense to make your first swim time trial equal in distance to a sprint triathlon swim leg.

As mentioned above, if your degree of improvement from one time trial to the next is disappointing, you should modify your swim training to address the problem. The specific modification you make should depend on the specific limiter you identify (that is, the apparent cause of your disappointing performance). If you found the pace of your time trial manageable but you bonked toward the end, you were probably limited by your endurance and should increase the distance of your longest swim-training efforts.

If you started to feel uncomfortable at the pace you felt you should be able to sustain early in your time trial, then one of two factors is probably limiting you: insufficient speed or lack of specific endurance (or fatigue resistance at race intensity). If your sprint performance has been satisfactory in your other swim workouts, then lack of specific endurance is probably the issue and you should add some longer (200-400-meter) intervals to your subsequent training. If you have generally neglected sprint work, then lack of speed is probably holding you back and you need to add some shorter (25- to 100-meter), maximum-intensity intervals to your subsequent training.

RELATED: The Benefit Of The Time Trial For Triathletes

The tables below present suggested swim time-trial workout progressions for each of four triathlon race distances.

Suggested time-trial workout schedule for a sprint triathlon

8 weeks before race 800 meters
6 weeks before race 800 meters
4 weeks before race 1000 meters
2 weeks before race 1000 meters

Suggested time-trial workout schedule for an Olympic-distance triathlon

11 weeks before race 800 meters
8 weeks before race 1000 meters
5 weeks before race 1200 meters
2 weeks before race 1500 meters

Suggested time-trial workout schedule for a half-Ironman triathlon

14 weeks before race 800 meters
11 weeks before race 1000 meters
8 weeks before race 1500 meters
5 weeks before race 1 mile
2 weeks before race 1.2 miles

Suggested time-trial workout schedule for an Ironman-distance triathlon

17 weeks before race 800 meters
14 weeks before race 1000 meters
11 weeks before race 1500 meters
8 weeks before race 1 mile
5 weeks before race 1.2 miles
2 weeks before race 2 miles

Take-home message

A time-trial swim workout serves the dual function of giving you a race-specific training stimulus and letting you know whether the rest of your training is actually serving to increase your race-specific fitness.

Do one such workout every two to four weeks. If you see a satisfactory degree of improvement, you know your training is on track. If your level of improvement is disappointing, or if you fail to improve at all, you know your swim training needs to change.

The post Spruce Up Your Swim With Time-Trial Workouts appeared first on

How To Overcome The Compensation Effect And Lose Weight Thu, 26 May 2016 22:00:34 +0000 Matt Fitzgerald explains why the compensation effect is real and how it can be worked around with the right guidelines.

The post How To Overcome The Compensation Effect And Lose Weight appeared first on

Matt Fitzgerald explains why the compensation effect is real and how it can be worked around with the right guidelines.

More “Racing Weight” articles and videos.

The post How To Overcome The Compensation Effect And Lose Weight appeared first on

Coping With Pre-Race Nerves Thu, 03 Mar 2016 12:44:49 +0000 I get so nervous before races that I sometimes almost throw up. Why does my body sabotage itself like this, and what can I do about it?

The post Coping With Pre-Race Nerves appeared first on

Q: I get so nervous before races that I sometimes almost throw up. I know it affects my performance. Why does my body sabotage itself like this, and what can I do about it?

A: I feel your pain. I used to suffer from debilitating pre-race anxiety as a high school runner, and it wasn’t pleasant. We’re in good company, though. Pre-race nerves affect athletes even at the highest levels. Just last week I saw a runner competing in a track event break down crying before her race because she was so anxious.

Pre-race nervousness has two main causes. First, racing is quite stressful on the body, and the body knows it. When a race is coming up, mental anxiety and physical symptoms such as nausea emerge as your body’s way of saying, “Are you sure you want to do this?” A second source of pre-race anxiety is fear of failure—and fear of success.

RELATED: Five Ways To Calm Pre-Race Nerves

While pre-race anxiety can and often does sabotage race performance, it may also have the opposite effect. As long as they don’t get out of hand, the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety prime the body and mind for an extraordinary effort. Athletes who understand the potential benefits of a little pre-race nervousness don’t seek to avoid it. A British Olympic swimmer once said, “If I wasn’t anxious before a big event, I would be very anxious.”

Most athletes don’t have this problem. Far more common is the problem of being too anxious. What can you do to reign in runaway nerves before races?

Experience helps. Just as the best cure for a fear of public speaking is public speaking (the more you do it, the less it scares you), the best cure for pre-race nerves is racing. But that takes time. In the meantime, I suggest that you identify the specific source of your anxiety and address it.

For example, if your primary fear is that of failing to achieve your goals, shift your mindset from an outcome orientation to a process orientation. In other words, in the days and hours before an event, stop thinking about your goal and instead think about executing your race plan and giving your best effort. Remind yourself that you will be satisfied with your race regardless of whether you achieve your goal as long as you truly do the best you can, and that should take some pressure off.

RELATED: Battling A Nervous Stomach

The post Coping With Pre-Race Nerves appeared first on

How Restrictive Is Your Diet? Wed, 24 Feb 2016 17:08:32 +0000 In the metrics that matter, a simple “high-quality” diet is best.

The post How Restrictive Is Your Diet? appeared first on

In the metrics that matter, a simple “high-quality” diet is best.

There are lots of different health-based diets out there. They can be distinguished from one another in various ways. Perhaps the two most important variables to consider when choosing a healthy diet to follow are research-proven health benefits and restrictiveness.

The very point of a health-based diet is its health benefits, of course. Proponents of each specific diet will, naturally, argue that theirs offers the greatest number and degree of health benefits. But you can’t take their word for it. You have to look at what real science says about it.

Some diets are more restrictive than others. That is, some have longer lists of prohibited foods than others. As a general rule, the more restrictive a diet is, the more difficult it is to sustain. Again, proponents of each specific diet will present themselves as living proof that it’s sustainable, but what’s sustainable for one person might not be for another.

Let’s look at the proven health benefits and restrictiveness of various diets.

Raw Food

The raw food diet is the most restrictive diet I know of. It consists of nothing but raw plant foods. If the only things you like to eat are fresh fruits, juices, nuts, seeds, salads, raw carrots and such, you’ll do just fine on this diet. Otherwise, it will probably drive you crazy.

Still, the raw food diet might be worth it if were significantly healthier than a slightly less restrictive diet, such as a vegan diet. Is it? No. For example, a recent study by Dutch researchers found that people who ate larger amounts of fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of heart disease regardless of whether the preponderance of those fruits and vegetables were raw or processed.

RELATED: The Real Deal? Deciphering 5 Current Food Trends


As you know, vegans consume only plant foods. Not only are meat and fish off limits for vegans, but also eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, and any and all other foods that involve animals in any way. It’s a very restrictive diet, but at least you can eat your spinach cooked.

Slightly more sustainable than strict veganism for the average person is a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which allows egg and dairy consumption. But are lacto-ovo vegetarians less healthy than vegans? In some ways yes, in others now. Studies have shown that vegans tend to be leaner than lacto-ovo vegetarians, but they also have lower bone mineral density and less muscle mass in relation to bodyweight, which is less desirable for athletes. Overall, it’s a wash.

RELATED: 9 Vegan Sports Nutrition Products

Paleo Diet

While the Paleo Diet and other ancestral-type diets allow meat and fish consumption, they are more restrictive than the typical vegetarian diet because they don’t permit grains to be eaten, and grain-based foods are in fact the most abundantly eaten foods in the modern diet. Dairy products are also forbidden in ancestral diets, on the grounds that, like grains, our Paleolithic ancestors did not eat them. (Too bas this isn’t true. Recent evidence suggests some humans ate grains as long as 100,000 years ago.)

Is the Paleo Diet healthier than a simple “high-quality” diet in which no food types are forbidden, only “low-quality” foods of each type (e.g. processed grains vs. whole grains)? No. For example, a recent study out of the Harvard School of Public Health found that men and women who ate more than two servings of brown rice per week had a lower-than-average risk for type 2 diabetes, while those who ate five or more servings of white rice per week had an above-average risk for the disease.

In other words, whole grains are better than none at all. Other research suggests that, similarly, eating low-fat dairy products is better than eating none at all.

RELATED: Is The Paleo Diet Right For Triathletes?


As mentioned above, lacto-ovo vegetarians can eat everything except meat and fish. Given the quality and variety of mock meat products available these days, it’s a fairly sustainable diet. It’s still more restrictive than an omnivorous “high-quality” diet, however, and the available research suggests that it is not healthier than such a diet.

For example, a 2006 review of the literature reported that “several prospective studies showed no significant differences in the mortality caused by colorectal, stomach, lung, prostate or breast cancers and stroke between vegetarians and ‘health-conscious’ non-vegetarians.”

RELATED: How To Transition To A Vegetarian Diet

High-Quality Diet

A high-quality diet is a diet in which all food types are allowed, but an effort is made to avoid specific “low-quality” foods of all types and to eat “high-quality” foods of all types. For example, the Diet Quality Score system I present in Racing Weight categorizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and essential fats as high-quality foods and refined grains, sweets, fried foods, whole-milk dairy products, and fatty proteins as “low-quality” foods.

We have already seen that a high-quality diet is just as healthy as any more restrictive health diet. Are high-quality diets healthier than “anything goes” diets—that is, the typical American diet? You bet it they are. For example, in a 2003 study by Swedish researchers, the diets of more than 58,000 women were analyzed for the variety of healthy and unhealthy foods they contained. It was discovered that those women who ate the greatest variety of healthy foods had the lowest mortality rate over a 10-year period, while those who ate the greatest variety of unhealthy foods had the highest mortality rate.

RELATED: 5 Signs That Your Diet Is A “Diet Cult”

Anything Goes

Most people are on the anything goes diet. The average American diet is very low in fruit and vegetables and very high in sugar, refined grains, and fatty proteins. Literally thousands of studies have demonstrated that this diet makes people fatter and more likely to develop various diseases than just about any more restrictive diet.

And The Winner Is…

When health-based diets are analyzed in terms of their proven health benefits and their restrictiveness, the high-quality diet emerges as the clear best choice. It is just as healthy as the most restrictive diet while being far more sustainable for the average person. The only reason to be a raw foodist, vegan, vegetarian, or ancestral eater instead of a high-quality diet follower is personal preference.

RELATED: Your Early-Saason Nutrition Plan

The post How Restrictive Is Your Diet? appeared first on

The Single Most Effective Way To Lose Weight Thu, 23 Jul 2015 18:04:17 +0000 Ignore the smoke and mirrors. Avoiding junk food is the way to go.

The post The Single Most Effective Way To Lose Weight appeared first on

Ignore the smoke and mirrors. Avoiding junk food is the way to go.

There are a million ways you could change your diet to promote weight loss. The options include eating less carbohydrate or less fat, eating more protein, eating more frequently, eating smaller portions, eating more fiber, going vegetarian, and switching from processed to whole grains, to name a few. But of the million ways you could change your diet to lose weight, which is the most effective? In other words, if you could make only one change, what should that change be?

Before I answer this question, let me first define “effective”. Obviously, a dietary change must first of all produce weight loss when practiced correctly and consistently to be considered effective for weight loss. But in my view that’s not enough. I believe a dietary change must also be relatively easy to practice correctly and consistently to be considered truly effective for weight loss. In other words, a change must work in practice for real people rather than just in theory.

There are many dietary changes that work for weight loss only in theory. The most extreme example is the very low-calorie diet (VLCD). If you reduce your daily caloric intake to the bare minimum required to maintain basic health (which is about 800 calories per day for the average person), you will lose a lot of weight. However, you will also be wracked with hunger all day long. Very few people are psychologically capable of sustaining a VLCD. Thus, it’s effective in theory but not in practice.

Some dietary changes for weight loss are ineffective in practice because, like the VLCD, they require inordinate willpower. Others are ineffective because they are too complex, too weird, or too countercultural for most people to practice correctly and consistently. Glycemic index-based diets are an example of the too-complex kind, grain-free diets an example of the countercultural kind. Sure, there are some people who get good results from such diets, but they don’t work for the majority.

By my definition, the single most effective dietary change for weight loss is the elimination of junk food from the diet. This is true for two reasons. First, junk food really is the reason most of us could stand to lose a few pounds. It’s a prosaic fact that’s almost disappointing to accept, but it’s a fact nonetheless. Science and commerce have created a public mindset whereby we want the cause of our fatness to be revealed as a “breakthrough discovery” and we want the solution to our weight issues to be novel and preferably available in pill form. But this mindset serves to do nothing besides distract us from the boring reality that the difference between our actual and ideal weights is accounted for entirely by fried foods, fast food, snack chips, soft drinks, candy, and other sweets.

The second reason that eliminating junk food from the diet is the single most effective weight-loss measure is that it is simple almost to the point of absurdity. If a person knows only one thing about nutrition, she probably knows what constitutes junk food. The average five-year-old comprehends the difference between food and junk food, and this transparency matters. Studies have found that the more complex dieters perceive their nutrition programs to be, the sooner they abandon them.

RELATED: Is Counting Calories Worth The Hassle?

But wait a minute: The reason we eat junk food in the first place is that it’s delicious and tempting. Is a junk food-free diet truly more realistic than any other diet? Let me be clear: I don’t believe that any dietary change that has the capacity to yield significant weight loss is easy to sustain. But eliminating junk food is easier than the rest because it is confined to a single change. There is plenty else to eat besides junk food. Eradicating junk food leaves behind all of the true staple foods of our cultural diet.

I know some people argue that labeling certain foods as forbidden only makes them more tempting, but I think this effect is overblown. The notion of forbidden food is as old as humanity, and speaks to something deeply instinctive within us. The ape inside us understands avoiding bad foods better than it does combining foods to manage the glycemic index of meals. Forbidding foods is the simplest way to promote weight loss next to eating less, and it’s infinitely easier than eating less. The key to making food forbiddance work is getting the biggest effect from the fewest taboos, and in that regard you can’t do better than to scapegoat junk food.

Now, if your current diet consists entirely of junk food, then turning your back on it is no small change. But while I’ve been freely using the words “eliminate” and “elimination” up to this point, I don’t think it’s actually necessary to eliminate junk food from the diet in most cases. By merely reducing the amount of junk food in our diets, most of us can lose all the weight we wish to lose while improving the sustainability of the change by allowing some satisfaction of our naughtiest cravings.

For example, if you currently drink three sodas a day, switch to one a day. If you currently eat fast food once a day, switch to once a week. I have a sweet tooth and used to eat some type of dessert after dinner every evening. As part of an effort to get leaner I replaced my habitual desserts with a single square of dark chocolate. This one change trimmed more than 100 calories from my typical day’s energy intake but has not been difficult to sustain because I still get something sweet.

Make a list of the junk foods that are currently in your diet. I don’t need to say another word of definition. You know a junk food when you see it. Consider how often you eat each of these foods, and then—if you don’t think you can live with eliminating it—establish a new, reduced quota for each. It’s so easy, a caveman could do it, and there’s nothing else you could possibly do with your diet that will give you a bigger push toward your ideal weight. I can’t guarantee that this one change will take you all the way there, but it is the best way to start.

More “Racing Weight” advice.

The post The Single Most Effective Way To Lose Weight appeared first on

What Is The Right Balance Of Carbs, Fat And Protein? Wed, 13 May 2015 17:00:09 +0000 Steer clear of one-size-fits-all formulas to balance carbs, fat and protein in your diet.

The post What Is The Right Balance Of Carbs, Fat And Protein? appeared first on

Steer clear of one-size-fits-all formulas to balance carbs, fat and protein in your diet.

Some sports nutrition experts recommend a 60/20/20 diet. What’s that? It’s a diet where you get 60 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrate and 20 percent each from fat and protein. Advocates say endurance athletes need to consistently maintain this ratio of the three so-called “macronutrients” to perform optimally in training.

Other experts recommend a more evenly balanced 40/30/30 diet. And still others promote different ratios. While they might disagree on the specifics, all of these experts agree that there exists some perfect balance of macronutrients that optimizes endurance-training performance.

Guess what? They’re all wrong.

“Percentages are meaningless, because it is the absolute amount of carbohydrate and protein that matters,” says Asker Jeukendrup, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Birmingham in England and one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of different amounts of carbohydrate and protein intake on endurance performance. “How much you need depends on your goals and the amount of training you do.”

In other words, what matters is not the relative proportions of carbs, fat and protein you eat but the basic quantity measured as total calories or grams. And since macronutrient needs vary depending on training volume, there is no single macronutrient ratio that could possibly meet the needs of every athlete.

So what are the right amounts? “Typically, carbohydrate needs will vary from 5 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day with training ranging from one hour per day to five hours or more,” says Jeukendrup. (Note that 1 kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds).

RELATED – Racing Weight: Lose Weight Or Lose Fat?

Unlike protein and fat, carbs are not used structurally in the body—they are used strictly for fuel. Therefore the more active you are, the more carbohydrate you need, with the hardest training athletes requiring twice as much carbohydrate as the lightest trainers. Studies have shown that athletes who fail to increase their carbohydrate intake sufficiently to match increases in their training volume do not perform as well.

Protein needs also vary with training volume, although somewhat less. Traditional recommendations are 1 gram of protein per body weight daily for recreational endurance athletes increasing to 1.5 grams per kilogram per day for serious competitors. But in a recent study, Jeukendrup found that going all the way up to 3 grams per kilogram per day helped a group of elite cyclists to better handle the stress of an especially hard block of training. This is an extreme case, but it demonstrates that the carbohydrate and protein recommendations for athletes should be considered minimums. It’s OK and sometimes beneficial to get more, as long as doing so doesn’t cause you to consume too many total calories.

And fat? Dietary fat needs are less sensitive to fluctuations in training volume. According to Jeukendrup, you can trust that your fat needs will be met if you get the right amount of carbs and protein and simply let fat account for the remainder of your daily energy needs.

Getting the right balance of macronutrients requires a little math, but it beats using a one-size-fits-all formula that doesn’t really fit all.

Daily Carbohydrate Needs

Training Volume (Hours/Day) – Carbohydrate Needs (grams per kilogram of body weight)
1 – 5 g/kg
2 – 6 g/kg
3 – 7 g/kg
4 – 8 g/kg
5 – 9 g/kg
>5 – 10 g/kg

RELATED – Racing Weight: Beverage Consumption And Weight Management

The post What Is The Right Balance Of Carbs, Fat And Protein? appeared first on

]]> 1
Train Smart! How To Avoid 5 Common Training Mistakes Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:00:35 +0000 Get more fitness return on your training investment by addressing these problems.

The post Train Smart! How To Avoid 5 Common Training Mistakes appeared first on


Are you making these common mistakes in your training?

Most triathletes take their training seriously.  They are highly motivated, disciplined, and willing to work hard to improve. However, I also see most triathletes making the same training mistakes over and over again. I’m not talking about small mistakes in the details of training, but fundamental ones that impede progress in a major way. I’d like to talk about five such mistakes and show you how to avoid each of them.

Mistake #1: Not training progressively

A lot of triathletes practice what I sometimes call “lifestyle training,” by which I mean that they do more or less the same training every week. The only real planning they do is to sign up for races.  The only real progression in their training is a general trend toward increasing volume. Their swim training either completely conforms to a masters group, or else they swim alone and just do laps. Their bike and run training consists almost entirely in logging miles. Many triathletes do hit the track once a week for a few weeks as races draw near, but without much thinking behind the specific types of workouts they do there.

This approach is fine if you enjoy it and don’t care too much about consistent, long-term improvement. But if you do want consistent, long-term improvement, your training should evolve from week to week throughout the training cycle. In order to continually build fitness, you need to challenge your body in slightly different ways all the time, so that the only thing your body gets used to is the need to constantly adapt.

Now, you can’t just vary your training haphazardly. You need to sequence the various types of training in such a way that your fitness moves step by step from its present state to the race-ready peak state you want to achieve by the end of the training cycle. Break the training into three phases: a base phase, a build phase, and a peak phase.

In the base phase, focus on building general endurance and improving technique and economy with technique drills and very short, very fast intervals. In the intensity phase, your key workouts should be short 60-90 seconds) to middle-duration (3-5 minutes) intervals of high intensity that enhance your body’s ability to buffer and clear away lactic acid and your mind’s ability to handle suffering. In the race phase, focus on race-specific efforts such as long intervals (12-24 minutes) and challenging long workouts (including bike-run workouts).

RELATED: Are You A Balanced Runner?

The post Train Smart! How To Avoid 5 Common Training Mistakes appeared first on

20-Minute Triathlon Workouts Fri, 13 Mar 2015 17:10:30 +0000 Do you think it's not even worth changing into workout clothes if you only have 20 minutes to train? Think again.

The post 20-Minute Triathlon Workouts appeared first on

Do you think it’s not even worth changing into workout clothes if you only have 20 minutes to train? Think again.

To most non-athletes, 20 minutes of exercise seems like an eternity. But to endurance athletes in marathon training or triathlon training, a 20-minute workout may seem like it’s hardly worth the bother. After all, if your average workout lasts an hour, what can a 20-minute session possibly do to increase your fitness? Quite a lot, actually—even for the fittest endurance athlete. Consider these four benefits:

1. 20-minute workouts burn a meaningful amount of calories and, thereby, help you reach and maintain your optimal racing weight. For example, a 150-lb. runner burns approximately 280 calories in a moderate-intensity 20-minute run. If you normally miss a scheduled longer run roughly once every 10 days due to lack of time, you could burn an extra 10,000 calories over the course of a year by squeezing in 20-minute runs instead.

2. 20-minute workouts provide extra repetitions of the running stride, swim stroke, or pedal stroke that stimulate improvements in efficiency. A big part of what makes you a better, more efficient swimmer, runner, or cyclist is simply time spent practicing the movement. So, even short workouts count as additional movement practice.

3. 20-minute workouts can increase endurance by adding to total weekly glycogen turnover. An interesting Scottish study found that weekly training volume was a better predictor of marathon performance than the distance of the longest training run. In other words, the study suggested that marathon runners are better off running 50 miles a week with a maximum long run of 16 miles than running 40 miles a week with a maximum long run of 22 miles. The reason is that endurance improves through the repeated depletion of muscle glycogen stores in training. And a heavy week of training will result in more total muscle glycogen depletion, and thus build more endurance, than a lighter week. 20-minute workouts can add a meaningful amount of glycogen-depleting volume to your training week.

4. 20-minute workouts can produce an excellent high-intensity training stimulus. A little swimming, cycling, or running at anaerobic threshold intensity and above goes a long way. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to get all the high-intensity work you need to take your fitness up a notch.

There are basically two ways to incorporate 20-minute workouts into your marathon training, triathlon training, or any other endurance sport training. One is to do a 20-minute workout instead of taking a day off whenever you are too pressed for time to complete a longer workout. The other way is to add one or more 20-minute workouts to your weekly training schedule to increase your overall training volume without creating a significant risk of overtraining.

20-Minute Workouts

The Filler – Simply swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 20 minutes. This is a great workout to do when you want to avoid the guilt of doing nothing but you’re not mentally or physically ready for anything challenging.

Tabata Intervals – Swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 16 minutes, then complete 8 x 20-second all-out sprints with 10-second passive recoveries between sprints.

Fartlek Intervals – Sprinkle 5 to 10 fast 30-second efforts throughout an otherwise moderate, steady-pace workout.

Threshold Session – Warm up for five minutes at a comfortable tempo, then go for 15 minutes at anaerobic threshold intensity (the fastest pace you could hold for one hour in a race).

Progression Workout – Swim, ride, or run for 15 minutes at a steady, moderate pace, then blast the last five minutes.

Time Trial – Swimming: Warm up, then swim 800 meters (875 yards) as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes. Cycling: Warm up, then ride 5 km as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes. Running: Warm up, then run 1 mile as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.

RELATED: One-Hour Workouts

The post 20-Minute Triathlon Workouts appeared first on

]]> 1
7 Tips For Balancing Training With Life Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:00:45 +0000 Matt Fitzgerald provides seven tips for balancing your training with the rest of your life.

The post 7 Tips For Balancing Training With Life appeared first on

Matt Fitzgerald provides seven tips for balancing your training with the rest of your life.

Lack of time is the most commonly cited excuse for not exercising. But surveys suggest that those who exercise regularly are just as busy with their jobs, families and other responsibilities as those who don’t work out. So the time excuse is just that: an excuse.

Yet time is a challenge for most endurance athletes. Training is a time-consuming pursuit, and our lives are busier than ever these days. So while it might not be hard to find time to get some exercise daily, finding time to train as much was we would like to train is difficult. Use the following tips to better fit your training into your hectic life.

We’re all pressed for time, yet we all have time for our highest priorities. Before you take any other measures to fit your training into your life, consider how important it is to you. What sacrifices are you willing to make for the sake of your training, and what sacrifices are you not willing to make? There are no right and wrong answers to these questions—there are only your answers.

The chief objective of this exercise is to identify activities in your typical day or week that are not as important as your training time, so you can cut back on or eliminate them. For example, perhaps all that cooking has gotten to be more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s time to rely more on healthy prepared meals. Or maybe your Rotary Club membership can wait until running itself becomes a lower priority for you.

Make a schedule
Sit down and write out what you do and when you do it in a typical workday. Look for any waste or excess that can be addressed to create more training time. Suppose your schedule reveals that you currently watch two hours of TV in the evening. Why not cut that back to 90 minutes and squeeze in a 30-minute workout?

Create a new schedule with the waste and excess cut out and the extra training time added, and then stick to it!

Be consistent
Consistency is the most important characteristic of an effective training regimen. So if you don’t always have time for what you consider a “full workout” every day, then at least try to do more than nothing every day. Many runners mistakenly believe that a 20-minute workout is not worth the bother, but it is, especially if you crank up the intensity or use the time to work on an otherwise neglected aspect of your fitness (technique, strength, etc.).

Save the big workouts for weekends or other days when you have less clock pressure, and on the other days, just do something.

RELATED – Triathlife: Family Holiday Etiquette Guide

Get creative
Endurance athletes have found many creative ways to fit training into a tight schedule. Ride your bike to work. Invest in a treadmill and run on it in the evening while your kids play nearby. Take the family to the lake or pool and swim while your spouse watches the kids, then switch places and let your spouse have his/her turn.

You know what they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Create an understanding with your mate
Time spent training can be a major conflict issue in couples where one member is an endurance athlete and the other is not. As with every potential source of conflict in a relationship, the best ways to minimize spousal training time resentment are communication and compromise.

Sit down with you mate and talk openly about the time you spend on your training. Let him/her know that spending quality time with him/her and working out are both important to you, and you wish to balance the two in a way that makes you both happy. Describe your idea of a fair balance and then invite your mate to describe his/hers. Be willing to give a little and don’t shy away from asking your mate to give a little too.

The result of this process will be a mutually agreed upon set of expectations that will prevent conflict in the future.

Take a seasonal approach
There is no need to train at peak levels year-round. You can have great success as a runner by training hard for six months each year (mid-spring to mid-autumn) and doing low-key maintenance training the rest of the year. In the off-season you can devote the time that is freed up by your reduced training load to other priorities that are neglected somewhat during the other half of the year. And by the same token, devoting extra time to these other priorities during the off-season will enable you to put training first without guilt or consequence in the warmer months.

Focus on Quality
Most runners can get more out of the time they’re already spending on race preparation programs. So before you even look for ways to increase the quantity of your training, first increase its quality. A high-quality training program is well-rounded. Runners often make the mistake of doing too many similar workouts. Typically, they do a lot of prolonged, steady, moderate-paced aerobic training and not enough threshold work, speed intervals, technique work and/or resistance training (e.g. hill repetitions).

Balance is an essential characteristic of effective endurance training. It’s also an essential characteristic of a healthy lifestyle. I hope these tips will help you better balance your training and the rest of your life.

RELATED: 5 Tips For Planning A Family-Friendly Race Season

The post 7 Tips For Balancing Training With Life appeared first on

Racing Weight: Lose Weight Or Lose Fat? Tue, 03 Feb 2015 17:15:18 +0000 Not all weight loss is good weight loss.

The post Racing Weight: Lose Weight Or Lose Fat? appeared first on


When a person says she wants to lose five or 10 pounds, it’s understood that she means five pounds of fat, not five pounds of muscle, bone mass, or body water. But when the typical dieter loses five or ten pounds, barely half of that weight is fat. The other half is, in fact, muscle, bone mass and body water.

Losing weight is not as good as losing fat. If you lose five or 10 pounds of mixed fat mass and lean body mass, your health, appearance, and endurance performance will not improve as much as they will if you lose an equal amount of pure fat.

Here are some tips to ensure that any and all weight you lose in pursuit of your ideal racing weight is body fat.

RELATED: More “Racing Weight” Articles And Videos

Track Your Body Composition

Ensuring that fat loss accounts for all of your weight loss begins with consistent monitoring of your weight and body composition. This is easily done with a body fat scale. Step on the scale once a week to check your weight and body fat percentage. Multiply your weight by your body fat percentage in decimal form to obtain your body fat mass. If changes in your total body weight equal changes in your body fat mass, then 100 percent of your weight loss is fat loss.

For example, suppose your body weight four weeks ago was 160 lbs, and your body fat percentage was 15. This means your body fat mass was (160 lbs x 0.15 =) 24 lbs. Now suppose your body weight today is 156 lbs and your body fat percentage is 12.9. This means your body fat mass is now (156 x 0.129 =) 20.1 lbs. So your total weight loss is 4 lbs and your body fat mass loss is 3.9 pounds. Congratulations! Almost all of your weight loss has been fat loss.

RELATED: Become A Fat Burning Machine

The post Racing Weight: Lose Weight Or Lose Fat? appeared first on

]]> 4
Racing Weight: The Doable Diet Tue, 30 Dec 2014 12:00:35 +0000 Research shows simplicity is a virtue in the matter of weight management.

The post Racing Weight: The Doable Diet appeared first on

Research shows simplicity is a virtue in the matter of weight management.

Several months ago a friend of mine purchased the “Food Lovers Fat Loss” system, an expensive kit of slickly packaged books, CDs and DVDs that deliver a weight-loss program based on the concept of food combining. Not only did the sheer volume of material in the kit seem overwhelming to me, but the underlying food-combining concept—the idea that the key to weight loss is eating certain types of foods together—also struck me as rather puzzling.

I kept my reservations to myself, but I did not expect her to stick with it very long and she did not. It was just too complex.

Research has shown that simplicity is a virtue in the matter of weight management. Those who lose weight successfully tend to focus on fewer rules than those who fail in their weight-loss efforts.

For example, in a 2010 study, American and German psychologists compared the perceived complexity and adherence rates of two diet programs—Brigitte, a simple German plan consisting of ready-made meal plans, and Weight Watchers, a complicated plan based on a points system. During the course of the study, 390 women following one program or the other were surveyed at the beginning, middle and end of an eight-week period. The researchers found that the more complex a dieter perceived her plan to be, the more likely she was to give it up before the end of the eight weeks.

If there were truly only one right way to eat for health, performance and weight management, it wouldn’t matter how simple or complicated the rules were. You’d just have to do it. But in fact there are many different healthy diets. Vegetarian, Mediterranean, low-fat, “primitive” and various other diets have been validated by scientific research. It’s not only the food that matters, however. As the study described above demonstrates, how you perceive the dietary rules you live by is also important. So instead of trying to figure out which diet is the absolute best, choose a diet from among the many healthy options that seems especially “doable” to you.

RELATED: 5 Signs That Your Diet Is A “Diet Cult”

It doesn’t even have to be a diet per se. Studies have shown that a majority of the most successful dieters—those who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for at least one year—do not follow formal diet plans. Instead, they choose a small handful of their own rules and heed them consistently. The typical triathlete knows enough about nutrition—and enough about himself or herself—to set sensible rules.

Here, for example, are the main rules that govern my eating habits:

1. At least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
2. No sweets except a bit of dark chocolate, and the occasional treat
3. No beverages with calories except for my evening glass of beer
4. Whole grains instead of refined grains whenever possible

These rules help me keep my weight in check because they address the specific dietary mistakes that had previously caused my weight to creep upward, and in a way that I find sustainable. But you might find that a completely different set of rules works for you. Here’s an example of an alternative set of rules that might work especially well for someone whose primary dietary mistake is overeating:

1. Six meals and snacks per day
2. Stop eating when satisfied, not full
3. Protein with every meal and sack (to manage appetite)

Interestingly, research has also shown that successful dieters tend to eat a smaller variety of foods than the average person. While we’re used to thinking of dietary variety as a virtue (and it is), using repetition sensibly in your diet is another way to take advantage of simplicity in the effort to control your body weight. As long as you include a good balance and variety of foods within the day, it’s OK to eat more or less the same foods every day.

Weight management is difficult for most of us, no matter what. That’s because it requires resisting some foods we like that promote weight gain and also resisting the urge to overeat. Nothing can be done about these requirements. So don’t make weight management any more difficult than it has to be with a complicated diet. Keep it simple.

More “Racing Weight.”

The post Racing Weight: The Doable Diet appeared first on

Easy Ways To Eat More Veggies Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:10:21 +0000 Most of us don't eat enough vegetables. A little creativity can correct the problem.

The post Easy Ways To Eat More Veggies appeared first on

Most of us don’t eat enough vegetables. A little creativity can correct the problem.

Vegetables are good for you. They are chock full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (nourishing plant chemicals, many of which function as antioxidants) that benefit our health in all kinds of ways. Among the many studies proving the benefits of high levels of vegetable consumption is a 2007 study by researchers at the University of Cambridge, who studied the diets of nearly 17,000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 79 and found that the more vegetables (and fruits) they ate, the healthier they were.

Besides being packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, most vegetables also contain lots of fiber and water.  Why is this important? Research has shown that we tend to eat a consistent volume of food each day, regardless of how many calories are contained in it. Water and fiber increase the volume of foods without increasing calories. Vegetables are said to be less “calorically dense” than other foods because their high water and fiber content makes them very filling compared to other foods of equal calories. For example, cooked zucchini contains just 16 calories per 100 grams, whereas cheddar cheese contains 100 calories per 100 grams. Therefore, by replacing any non-vegetable food in your diet (e.g., meats, grains, dairy products) with a vegetable you can cut calories without actually eating less.

The U.S. government recommends that adults consume two-and-half to three cups of vegetables (one cup of leafy salad counts as one-half cup of veggies). Seven out of 10 Americans fail to meet this requirement.

Sellers of antioxidant supplements, powdered vegetable extracts and the like will try to convince you that the reason so few of us eat enough vegetables is that eating vegetables is expensive and somehow time-consuming. These claims are ridiculous. We know very well that we don’t eat enough vegetables because we prefer the taste of hamburgers and, relatedly, because traditional breakfast and lunch food choices especially do not include vegetables.

RELATED: Eat Healthy At Home, Even With A Hectic Schedule

Getting more vegetables in your diet need not be expensive or time consuming—or yucky. All it requires is that you learn and practice simple, tasty ways to break out of common vegetable-avoidance habits. Here are some suggestions:

Load up your breakfast bagel. Like bagels for breakfast? Go ahead and eat them. But eat them sandwich-style with a slice of tomato, some lettuce, onions, sprouts, and/or sautéed eggplant between the two halves.

Eat veggie snack packs. Single-serving packets of celery, carrot, and other vegetable “sticks”, sometimes packaged with low-fat dips, have become popular and widely available lately. They make for convenient and satisfying between-meal snacks. Replacing your current snacks with veggie packs is a very easy way to add veggies to your daily diet.

Supersize your salads. Do you eat salads? Good for you. Now make them bigger. There’s no easier way to increase your vegetable intake. One-and-a-half cups of greens dressed up with some cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots counts as four servings of vegetables, and it’s really not that much to eat.

Add veggies to foods you already eat. You don’t have to follow any strict formula, but as a general guideline, try to increase the size of your vegetable portion within foods by 50-100 percent. For example:

  • a stir-fry with more vegetables and less meat and/or rice
  • a sandwich wrap (i.e. sandwich ingredients wrapped in a soft tortilla) instead of a regular sandwich with bread (not only do tortillas have fewer calories than sandwich bread, but it’s easier to stuff a wrap with more veggies)
  • a burrito with less meat and rice, more beans, and grilled veggies added
  • kabobs with less meat and more veggies
  • pizza with a thinner crust, slightly less cheese, and more vegetable toppings (e.g. tomatoes and green peppers).
  • soup with more veggies and less meat, noodles, and/or broth

When all else fails, drink vegetable juice. Despite what their makers claim, vegetable juices are not complete substitutes for whole vegetables. If they were, they would crunch between your teeth when you drank them! But they do provide most of the good stuff contained in vegetables and they are healthier than anything else you might drink. Plus, they are very convenient. So if the choice is between vegetable juice and no vegetable at all, by all means, drink the juice.

RELATED: Managing Your Weight Through Food Groups

Get the latest in triathlon training, gear, nutrition and news sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for Triathlete’s newsletter.  

The post Easy Ways To Eat More Veggies appeared first on

Beware The Weekend Binge Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:00:52 +0000 A week’s worth of progress toward their body weight goal has been reversed over the weekend.

The post Beware The Weekend Binge appeared first on

Dieters often dread the Monday weigh-in. On any other day they look forward to stepping on the bathroom scale in the morning. But Mondays are different. All too typically, Monday’s number is larger than Friday’s. A week’s worth of progress toward their body weight goal has been reversed over the weekend.

Studies confirm what dieters experience. A 2008 study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that men and women on a one-year weight-loss program lost weight during the workweek but not on weekends because they binged. While they succeeded in losing 8 percent of their body weight on average by the end of the year, it was estimated they would have lost almost twice as much weight if they had eaten consistently seven days a week.

The problem is not that we tend to eat more of the same foods on the weekends. Rather, we indulge in foods and drinks that we don’t consume during the week: buttered popcorn at the movie theater, a couple of cocktails with a heavy restaurant dinner, and so forth.

What makes triathletes different from dieters is that triathletes do a lot of exercise, and typically do the most exercise on Saturday and Sunday. Because they burn the most calories on the weekend, triathletes often assume it’s OK for them to relax their normal dietary standards and eat whatever they feel like having. The catch is that it’s all too easy to overcompensate.

Suppose you normally work out for 45 minutes on Wednesdays and 75 minutes on Saturdays. Those extra 30 minutes of swimming, cycling or running will burn an extra 400 calories, or thereabouts. Now suppose you reward yourself with a bowl of ice cream after lunch and two glasses of wine with dinner. Those indulges will add about 600 calories to your normal intake. Not good.

RELATED: Eat Healthy, Even With A Hectic Schedule

How can you avoid letting weekends sabotage your effort to attain your optimal racing weight? Two ways.

Be Aware

Weight management is a numbers game. To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than your body burns each day. And to do that, it’s helpful to know how many calories you’re consuming and burning. Next weekend, use online food calorie resources such as and online calorie burn calculators such as to determine if you are in fact taking in more calories than you’re burning over the weekend. If you are, make some adjusts to your food choices to put the totals in a more favorable balance.

Spread Out Your Treats

It’s not that you can’t have the occasional treat such as a bowl of ice cream or a glass of wine. You just need to avoid packing them all into two days of the week. Research shows that the most successful weight managers eat most consistently throughout the week. To improve your dietary consistency, follow the one-in-10 rule: Allow one of every 10 foods or beverages you consume to be whatever you want, whether it’s Wednesday or Saturday.

More “Racing Weight” articles and videos.

Get the latest in triathlon training, gear, nutrition and news sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for Triathlete’s newsletter.  

The post Beware The Weekend Binge appeared first on

]]> 4
How Do I Train For My First Triathlon? Wed, 08 May 2013 16:26:27 +0000 How do I train? How do I learn to swim? What kind of equipment do I need? What should I eat and drink?
How do I stay injury-free?

The post How Do I Train For My First Triathlon? appeared first on


Matt Fitzgerald provides answers to some of the most commonly asked questions he receives from beginners. Looking to compete in a beginner-friendly triathlon? Our partner, the TriRock Triathlon series, offers eight races across the country featuring a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.

The sport of triathlon used to be considered a bizarre form of self-torture engaged in by endurance junkies who had gone over the bend. Today, triathlon is thoroughly mainstream. Each year, thousands of everyday men and women – and even boys and girls – participate in their first triathlon in search of fitness and a rewarding challenge.

Nevertheless, the sport remains rather intimidating for beginners. It is complex, and the learning curve is steep for first-timers. In this article, we hope to provide a boost along this curve for those of you who are considering a first triathlon by answering some of the questions that beginners most frequently ask.

How do I train?

In a typical triathlon, the average participant spends about a fifth of the total race duration swimming, half of the total race duration cycling, and about 30 percent of the total race duration running. Your training should approximately match these distributions. Each week, you should do roughly equal numbers of swim, bike and run workouts, but your bike workouts should be longer and your swims shorter. For example, if you work out six times, you will swim twice, bike twice, and run twice, but your longest bike ride might be one hour, whereas your swims last 30 minutes each and your runs, 40 minutes.

Begin with an amount of training that is appropriate to your present level of fitness and increase the workload incrementally throughout the time you have available before your race, always allowing yourself enough time for recovery. If you’re a typical out-of-shape adult who’s neither overweight, elderly, nor suffering from any debilitating medical conditions, you’ll need about 12 weeks to prepare for a sprint triathlon (approximately a 0.25-mile swim, 15-mile bike, 3-mile run).

You may have heard triathletes or other endurance athletes talk about “intensity” and various workout types that target different intensity levels. Forget about this for now. While training for your first triathlon, keep the intensity level between four and six on a scale of one to 10 for all workouts.

RELATED – Triathlete’s Beginner’s Guide: Becoming A Better Cyclist

The post How Do I Train For My First Triathlon? appeared first on

Fiber’s Role In A Triathlete’s Diet Mon, 11 Mar 2013 16:43:30 +0000 Learn how this nutrient should fit into your nutrition plan.

The post Fiber’s Role In A Triathlete’s Diet appeared first on

Learn how this nutrient should fit into your nutrition plan.

Fiber (also known as roughage) is the name given to two kinds of highly complex carbohydrate that are totally indigestible. Although fiber is technically carbohydrate, unlike other forms of carbohydrate (sugars and starches) it provides no calories because it is not absorbed into the bloodstream. Insoluble fiber (mainly cellulose) is an important structural material in plants. It does not provide nutrition to humans when consumed but instead benefits us by absorbing and neutralizing toxins and by contributing to well-hydrated, bulky solid waste that is easily passed. Water-soluble fiber helps the body absorb minerals and helps remove nutrient excesses, including cholesterol, from the body.

Fiber and Health

Adequate fiber intake is essential for optimal health, while inadequate fiber intake is associated with a variety of diseases and health conditions. Specifically, a high-fiber diet is known to reduce the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and constipation. One of the reasons these diseases and conditions are so prevalent in our society is that we do not consume enough dietary fiber. The U.S. Surgeon General and many professional health organizations recommend a diet providing 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. The average American consumes a scant 10 to 15 grams daily.

Fiber and Body Weight

Excess body fat is the primary cause of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. A high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes by reducing body fat storage. Fiber slows digestion so we feel fuller longer and consequently eat less. Therefore, getting enough fiber in your endurance sports nutrition diet is very beneficial when it comes to achieving the lean body composition that will lead to optimal training and racing performance.

Fiber and Foods vs. Supplements

While natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best sources of dietary fiber, fiber supplements can be a good backup source. If you are currently getting less than 35 grams of fiber daily and you’re finding it difficult to add more whole grains, beans, fruits, or vegetables to your diet, use a fiber supplement such as Metamucil or Benefiber. Use it according to label directions and aim for a total of roughly 35 grams of fiber daily from food and supplement sources combined.

Here’s a list of high-fiber foods:
Apple – 4.4 g per apple
Broccoli – 5.1 g per 1 cup
Brown rice – 3.5 g per 1 cup (cooked)
Lentil beans – 16.2 g per 1 cup (cooked)
Peas – 8.8 g per 1 cup
Pear – 5.5 g per pear
Raspberries – 8.0 g per 1 cup
Whole-wheat bread – 1.9 g per slice
Whole-wheat spaghetti – 6.2 g per 1 cup

Fiber and Your Running Nutrition Plan

While fiber is unquestionably a good thing that most of us don’t get enough of, poorly timed fiber intake can have unfortunate consequences for the endurance athlete. That’s because fiber slows the emptying of food from the stomach. So consuming too much fiber too soon before, say, a half-marathon training run or triathlon training ride may cause your stomach to be upset. Therefore, if your last meal before a workout is fiber-rich, be sure to allow at least two hours for it to digest. And if your last meal or snack before a workout is consumed only an hour out, be sure to make it low in fiber content.

Increasing your fiber intake is likely to change your bathroom habits slightly. Specifically, it will make them more regular, which is a good thing. But there’s a chance that, in doing so, it may require you to adjust your meal and/or workout schedule a bit so you don’t find yourself having to interrupt your 10K training speed work session or long marathon training run with annoying pit stops.

RELATED: How To Fuel For Your First Race

The post Fiber’s Role In A Triathlete’s Diet appeared first on

Why Do You Feel Like Puking During Races? Mon, 13 Aug 2012 17:00:11 +0000 A new study suggests carbs are not the main culprit.

The post Why Do You Feel Like Puking During Races? appeared first on

A new study suggests carbs are not the main culprit.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, including nausea and flatulence, are relatively common during endurance races such as marathons and Ironman triathlons. Athletes commonly assume that GI distress is caused by overconsumption of carbohydrate (sports drinks, gels, and so forth). However, a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that this is not the case.

Researchers at four European universities recruited 221 athletes who participated collectively in two Ironman triathlons, one Ironman 70.3 event, a long cycling time trial, a cycling stage race, and a marathon and invited them to fill out questionnaires after completing their events. The athletes were asked to recall their nutrition intake during their individual races and rate the severity of 12 different symptoms of GI distress on a 0-9 scale.

Analyzing the data on nutrition intake, the researchers determined the average rate of carbohydrate intake in each type of race. Triathletes consumed the most carbs, at rates of 62 to 71 grams per hour in the three races included. Cyclists consumed somewhat less carbohydrate (53 g/h), while marathon runners took in the least—just 35 g/h.

Serious GI symptoms were reported in 31 percent of Ironman triathletes, 14 percent of Ironman 70.3 racers, 7 percent of cycling stage-race participants, 4 percent of cycling time-trial competitors, and 4 percent of marathoners. As you can see, there was a clear correlation between the average rate of carbohydrate intake in each type of race and the risk of serious GI symptoms.

Before we blame race GI problems entirely on overconsumption of carbohydrate, however, we need to dig a little deeper. If carbs were truly the main culprit, then we would expect to see that, within each type of race, those athletes who consumed the most carbs had the highest risk for GI distress. But this association was not seen in runners, cyclists, or Ironman 70.3 racers. Only Ironman racers faced a greater risk of GI distress when they consumed more carbs.

It also bears noting that the rate of serious GI symptoms was more than twice as high in Ironman racers than in Ironman 70.3 competitors despite the fact that the rates of carbohydrate intake were the same. It’s interesting as well that the rates of GI distress were the same in marathon runners and cycling stage racers despite the fact that the cyclists consumed 50 percent more carbs, on average.

These numbers suggest that the particular nature of the race contributes to the risk of GI distress more than the rate of carbohydrate intake does. It seems likely that the risk of GI distress in the two Ironman events was more than two times greater than in any other race simply because it lasted twice as long as any other race for most participants. I think you’d find that the risk of all kinds of things—heat illness, bonking, etc.—was more than two times greater in the Ironman. It’s just more stressful all around.

RELATED: Battling An Upset Stomach

Yet the incidence of GI distress in an Ironman 70.3 was twice as high as the risk in a cycling stage race despite taking no longer to complete. This tells us that not only the length of a race but also the transition from cycling to running contributes to the risk of GI distress. It would be very interesting to know exactly when symptoms of GI distress most commonly appeared in the triathlons studied. I’d be willing to bet it was within the first 10K of the marathon start.

There’s a reason the runners in this study reported consuming only 35 grams of carbohydrate per hour while racing a marathon, whereas cyclists reported taking in 53 g/h. The GI system cannot tolerate as much nutrition consumption during running as it can on the bike. In triathlons, racers commonly consume carbs at a rate that is tolerable on the bike, only to find that the amount or concentration of calories in their guts becomes intolerable once they start running.

Besides the particular nature of the stress that a given type of race doles out, there is another factor that also appears to be more important than the rate of carb intake in relation to the risk of GI distress: past history of such problems. The researchers found that the correlation between past GI problems in races and GI problems in the races included in this study was stronger than the correlation between the rate of carbohydrate intake in the studied races and GI distress. In other words, athletes with a history of GI problems tended to have GI problems in these races even at lower levels of carb intake, while those without such histories tended not to have problems even at higher rates of carb intake.

A final note: Even though higher rates of carb intake were linked to higher risk of GI issues in Ironman races, those athletes who consumed the most carbs also tended to finish the race faster! Just because you experience some nausea and flatulence during an Ironman does not automatically mean your race is ruined. More often than not, these things are just a price you pay for doing an Ironman and for taking in enough fuel to finish with the quickest time possible, and they’re a price worth paying.

RELATED: How Do I Ease GI Distress During A Long Race?

The post Why Do You Feel Like Puking During Races? appeared first on

Do Your Muscles Have Enough Carnosine? Thu, 17 Nov 2011 18:03:41 +0000 Beta-alanine supplements are purported to increase high-intensity exercise performance. But are they relevant to triathletes?

The post Do Your Muscles Have Enough Carnosine? appeared first on

Beta-alanine supplements are purported to increase high-intensity exercise performance. But are they relevant to triathletes?
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
Recently supplement makers have begun to market beta-alanine products specifically to triathletes and other endurance athletes. What is beta-alanine? How does it work? And could it make you a better triathlete?

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is obtained in the diet primarily from meats containing carnosine, a naturally occurring peptide made up of beta-alanine and l-histidine. Beta-alanine serves a variety of functions in the body, but perhaps its most important role is to help formulate carnosine, which is not absorbed intact from food sources.

Photo: Ryan Bethke

Carnosine has long been celebrated as an “anti-aging” compound because it is an antioxidant, it prevents glycation (a processes whereby excess sugar in the bloodstream damages body proteins and accelerates the functional decline of organs), and it extends the lifespan of individual cells. But more recently scientists have discovered that carnosine has a significant role in exercise performance. Specifically, it helps the muscles maintain normal pH levels during intense exercise, when there is a tendency for the muscles too become too acidic, hastening fatigue.
Several studies on beta-alanine supplementation have found that it increases anaerobic endurance, or fatigue resistance in exhaustive or repeated efforts at very high intensities. The question is whether these benefits are relevant to triathletes, who train and race mostly at lower intensities.

RELATED: Sports Science Update – Revisiting The Glycemic Index

In 2009, researchers at the University of Oklahoma investigated the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on body composition and endurance performance when combined with high-intensity interval training. Forty-six men were divided into two groups, one of which received supplemental beta-alanine daily and the other of which received a placebo while engaged in a six week high-intensity interval training program. At the end of the program, members of the beta-alanine group exhibited greater improvements in VO2peak, total anaerobic work capacity, time to fatigue and lean body mass.

A more recent study from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, has shown that beta-alanine supplementation may enhance performance in endurance cycling–sort of. Subjects received either a beta-alanine supplement or placebo daily for eight weeks. Before and again after the intervention all of the subjects performed a 10-minute time trial and a 30-second sprint at the end of a simulated 110-minute cycling race. Beta-alanine did not improve performance in the time trial compared to placebo, but in the closing sprint it improved mean power output by 5 percent and peak power output by 11.4 percent.

That’s pretty interesting, but again: Is it relevant to triathletes? A more recent study of the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on cycling performance may or may not get us closer to an answer. In this one a team of researchers measured time to exhaustion at an extremely high cycling intensity in 25 subjects on two occasions four weeks apart. During the four-week interval between tests the subjects took daily doses of either beta-alanine, a placebo, sodium bicarbonate (another acid-buffering supplement), or both beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate. Performance in the high-intensity ride to exhaustion increased by 12.1 percent in the beta-alanine group, compared to just 1.6 percent in the placebo group.

Based on these findings, if I were a track cyclist whose races lasted no longer than a few minutes I would take beta-alanine. For triathletes it’s tougher to decide whether beta-alanine is worth taking. It certainly has no direct effect on performance in triathlons lasting one to 17 hours. But every triathlete should include a small amount of very short, very high-intensity intervals in his or her training. Beta-alanine supplementation is likely to increase the benefit you get from such training and may thereby slightly improve your performance in triathlons—or at least in your finishing kick!

Note that there is one strange but totally harmless side effect of beta-alanine supplementation, which affects roughly half of those who take it. “Parathesia” is a transient and benign tingling sensation in the upper extremities resulting from beta-alanine’s actions as a neurotransmitter. Some people find it very uncomfortable, others like it.
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at

RELATED: Do You Need A Pre-Race Warm-Up?

The post Do Your Muscles Have Enough Carnosine? appeared first on

Sports Science Update: Revisiting The Glycemic Index Wed, 16 Nov 2011 00:01:36 +0000 New evidence suggests the glycemic index of foods doesn’t matter as much as you’ve been told.

The post Sports Science Update: Revisiting The Glycemic Index appeared first on


New evidence suggests the glycemic index of foods doesn’t matter as much as you’ve been told.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Twenty years ago, most Americans had never heard of the glycemic index. Today, it’s a familiar concept. We all know that the glycemic index is a measure of how quickly the blood glucose level rises after carbohydrate-containing foods are consumed. We know that most vegetables and whole-grain foods are considered low to moderate glycemic, while most sugary and starchy foods are considered high glycemic. And we know that the carbs in high-glycemic foods are more likely to be converted to body fat and that, over time, eating too many high-glycemic foods increases the risk of becoming overweight and insulin resistant.

It turns out, however, that we might not know as much about the glycemic index as we think we do. Nutrition scientists are now finding that the effect of foods on blood glucose levels may have more to do with individual biochemistry than with the foods themselves. For example, the glycemic index of white bread is 70. But in a recent study involving 14 subjects, the individual glycemic index scores of white bread ranged from 44 to 132. Sure, the average score was 70, but that score was irrelevant to most of the study participants’ bodies!

What’s more, the Tufts University Researchers who conducted this study also found a high degree of variation in the blood glucose response to specific foods within individuals depending on when they ate them—as much as 42 percent variation. That means a low-fat muffin could be a low GI food for you in the morning and a high GI food in the evening!

What does this mean for you? It means that it’s rather pointless to base your food choices based on foods’ glycemic index, which represents an average value that might not apply to you.

The post Sports Science Update: Revisiting The Glycemic Index appeared first on

]]> 1
Should You Take Antioxidants During Exercise? Thu, 27 Oct 2011 17:41:07 +0000 Australian researchers suggest it may be best to let free radicals do their thing.

The post Should You Take Antioxidants During Exercise? appeared first on

Australian researchers suggest it may be best to let free radicals do their thing.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Sometimes there’s a subtle difference between an aid and a crutch. An aid is a tool that elevates performance. A crutch is a tool that makes it easier to perform and thereby weakens one’s ability to perform without the benefit of that tool. Often it is difficult to distinguish between a tool and a crutch. There are many examples of this fine line in exercise. For example, a pull buoy can be used to teach proper body position in freestyle swimming. But an athlete who overuses a pull buoy may become dependent on it and unable to achieve a correct body position without it.

RELATED: Demystifying Sports Nutrition: Antioxidants & Supplements

In recent years exercise scientists have been trying to figure out whether antioxidant supplementation during exercise is an aid or a crutch. This question is not yet settled, but a pair of Australian researchers have recently published a scientific review that leans toward declaring antioxidant supplementation during exercise a crutch.

Here’s why. As everyone knows, the working muscles process a lot of oxygen during exercise. Some of the oxygen molecules that the muscles use to release energy become free radicals, or what scientists prefer to call reactive oxygen species. Free radicals are known to cause muscle damage and impair muscle function, hastening fatigue.

As everyone also knows, antioxidants are compounds that counteract free radicals. Some antioxidants are endogenous, meaning the body makes them. Others are exogenous, entering the body as nutrients. Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and polyphenols are examples of the latter.

Related Content: Nutrition For The Older Runner

Given this knowledge, it was inevitable that some people would begin to wonder whether taking in supplemental antioxidant nutrients during exercise could reduce muscle damage and enhance performance. It was inevitable also that some companies would begin to make products containing antioxidants and intended for use during exercise before this question was answered.

Within the past several years a large number of studies have attempted to answer the question. Recently, two scientists at the University of Queensland, Australia, Tina-Tinkara Peternelj and Jeff Coombes, looked over more than 150 of these studies in an attempt to discover what sort of answer they arrived at in sum. By and large they were unimpressed, observing that most of the studies were too small and  too poorly designed to be of much value.

Nevertheless, we know a lot more than we did before these 150 studies were conducted, Peternelj and Coombes say. One thing that seems certain is that supplementation with antioxidants during exercise reduces oxidative stress in the muscles. “However,” the authors of the new review caution, “any physiological implications of this have yet to be consistently demonstrated, with most studies reporting no effects on exercise-induced muscle damage and performance. Moreover, a growing body of evidence indicates detrimental effects of antioxidant supplementation on the health and performance benefits of exercise training.”

In other words, by reducing oxidative stress in the muscles, antioxidants taken during exercise may function as more of a crutch than as an aid. How so? Well, in addition to causing muscle damage and impairing muscle function, free radicals also stimulate physiological adaptations that increase fitness. Consequently, when free radicals are prevented from performing their full actions by antioxidants consumed during a workout, that workout may yield less benefit.

In this sense, antioxidants could be said to function like an overzealous spotter in a weightlifting workout. Weightlifting makes the muscles stronger by subjecting them to stress and breakdown that trigger an adaptive response. If you lift weights with an excessively helpful spotter who takes half the load away from you in every bench press and every squat, your muscles will be subjected to less stress and breakdown and will therefore get less benefit from the session.

According to the new review out of Australia, high doses of certain antioxidants taken during exercise seem to be analogous to this overzealous spotter. So what does this mean for you?

“More research is needed to produce evidence-based guidelines regarding the use of antioxidant supplementation during exercise training,” Peternelj and Coombes conclude. “We recommend that an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals through a varied and balanced diet remains the best approach to maintain the optimal antioxidant status in exercising individuals.”


Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at

The post Should You Take Antioxidants During Exercise? appeared first on

Is Your Sports Drink Good Enough? Thu, 13 Oct 2011 17:35:51 +0000 The basic sports drink formula hasn’t changed in 45 years. That doesn’t mean newer is better.

The post Is Your Sports Drink Good Enough? appeared first on

The basic sports drink formula hasn’t changed in 45 years. That doesn’t mean newer is better.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

In 1965 a 37-year-old associate professor of medicine at the University of Florida developed the first sports drink, which became known as Gatorade. It contained water to rehydrate athletes, salt and potassium to replace the minerals they lost in sweat, and sugar to maintain blood glucose. Over the next several years this concoction was extensively studied and found to significantly boost athletic performance compared to plain water.

Cade did not nail his sports drink formulation on the first try. He had to fiddle with various concentrations of minerals and carbs to arrive at the formulation that had the greatest beneficial impact on hydration and exercise performance. Scientists use the term “osmolality” to refer to the total concentration of dissolved particles in a solution. A solution is said to be hypotonic when its total concentration of dissolved particles is less than that of the body’s cells and blood. A solution is said to be isotonic when the concentration is equal. And “hypertonic” describes a solution that has a greater concentration of dissolved particles than the cells and blood.

Related: The Other Benefits Of Sports Drinks

In theory, isotonic beverages are absorbed more quickly through the intestine into the blood stream because the gastrointestinal system does not have to do as much to adjust the osmolality of the fluid. But Cade ultimately settled on a formulation that was slightly hypertonic, because adding a little more carbohydrate yielded the separate benefits of making the drink more palatable and providing more energy to the working muscles.

In the 46 years since Robert Cade developed the first sports drink, many other sports drinks have come to market. Not all of these drinks have the same osmolality. Some are isotonic, and others are even hypotonic. It is usually a lower level of carbohydrate that reduces the osmolality of a hypotonic sports drink, but mineral concentrations also have an effect.

“Low sugar” sports drink that are hypotonic because of their lower sugar concentration have become popular lately. The makers of some of these sports drinks argue that their products are absorbed even faster than more traditional formulations. In a recent study, researchers at Massey University in New Zealand directly compared the effects of a hypotonic sports drink (3.9 percent carbs), an isotonic sports drink (7.6 percent carbs), and a hypertonic sports drink (6 percent carbs), as well as a placebo (flavored water), on hydration and exercise performance.

Eleven athletes were recruited as subjects for the study. Each of them rode at a moderate intensity on an exercise bike for two hours and then rode briefly at increasing intensities until they reached exhaustion. This test was repeated on four separate occasions. Subjects consumed one of the four beverages on each occasion in random order until they had tried all four.

More from Should You Be Concerned About Calories In Sports Drinks?

The researchers found that blood volume decreased most during the workout in which the subjects consumed water. It decreased by smaller and similar amounts with all three of the sports drinks. In other words, the sports drinks hydrated better than water, and more or less equally among themselves. The same pattern of results was seen with respect to performance. The subjects performed significantly worse in the incremental test to exhaustion at the end of the workout in which they drank water. Performance differentials were small and inconclusive among the three sports drinks.

In the marketing of sports-related products, including sports nutrition products, “newer” is often equated with better. But as the results of this new study indicate, the traditional sports drink formulation that has existed for nearly five decades works as well as newer alternatives.

There are meaningful differences in sports drink formulations. For example, subjects in the study just described reported lower levels of gut comfort with the isotonic sports drink than with the other two. So you may need to experiment a little to find the product that works best for you. But as this study also shows, all sports drinks hydrate better and improve performance more than water.


Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at

The post Is Your Sports Drink Good Enough? appeared first on