Your Triathlon Questions Answered - I

As a Fitter Radio Coffee Clubber you’re given the opportunity to ask any triathlon related question of our coaches or nutritionist. We’ll be posting some of them via our blog page - hope you find the information useful! 👌

Bevan and Tim - Lake Wanaka

Bevan and Tim - Lake Wanaka

Dear Bevan and Tim,

• I’m a heavy sweater. I get caked with salt. I get massive cramps during races to the point I have to stop or slow down to a crawl. My legs won't work, I've had snipers take out both hammies at one event at the same time. What are some strategies I can implement to make me less shit. Love your work

(SH: Auckland)

SH, outside of cramping “potentially” being an electrolyte, nutritional or neuromuscular imbalance I would revisit the physical preparation you’ve done for the event you’re training for. If you haven’t experienced cramp in your preparation but do so on race day then it’s possible that race day exertion was at a far greater intensity than pre-race preparation and as a result you’re experiencing neuromuscular and muscular fatigue leading to cramp.

Especially in the last 4-6 weeks leading into an event, specific workouts should become more and more ‘race like’ especially in terms of intensity. If you experience cramping in this period then trialling different nutritional and hydration tactics may alleviate it. If you don’t experience cramp but do on race day then it may be a pacing or race intensity issue.

The scientists can’t give us the root cause of cramp yet we can’t ignore that it generally occurs under high fatigue, dehydration or nutritional depletion. Trying to simulate these conditions within pre-race workouts may help you work out what is causing it for you.

There are also some products and formulas available on the market which may alleviate or go some way to preventing cramp and some athletes swear by them. Whether they work or it’s placebo who knows. Here’s some suggestions:

Dear Bevan and Tim,

• I get the pre-race stomach before my 70.3 that means I can’t digest breakfast, but before any other triathlon I’m fine! It’s totally a head game. Guessing I’m putting too much pressure on the race. Any suggestions on what to do?

(DG: Australia)

Mikki and I agree that the obvious thing to do is a liquid breakfast. You could just consider a bullet proof coffee but if you’re not used to this it may be too heavy, particularly if you’re not used to the coconut oil, so perhaps even just coffee and cream.

The reality is that the more important meal would be the evening before to top up glycogen stores etc. in the muscles. I personally have raced an IRONMAN starting on an empty stomach having fuelled the night before.

If you’re also feeling more pressure because you can’t eat in the morning then just relax as it’s not as big a deal if you’ve eaten well the night before.

Dear Bevan and Tim,

• Now that it’s getting hot, what’s the best way of rehydrating after a session without peeing it all back out. Thanks heaps guys. I hope my question makes the cut.

(JC: Australia)

J.C. the need to balance the fluid in our body is a daily activity, one that is often over looked, even by athletes. On a rest day you could lose 1-3 litres of water depending on your size, age, athletic ability, and gender through respiration and metabolic processes. Add in exercise and sweat loss and rehydration becomes an important part of life and training.

Most of us don’t come close to hydrating ourselves enough. Many of us go to bed dehydrated and wake up even more so which can have a huge impact on exercise performance. As an athlete it may help to know your individual sweat rate in different conditions:

(sweating rate = pre-exercise body weight - post-exercise

body weight + fluid intake - urine volume/exercise time in hours)

The simplest way to get athletes to focus on their hydration needs is to teach them to compare pre-exercise and post-exercise body weights.

Many factors affect hydration status for athletes: ambient temperature (cold, heat, arid, humid), altitude, intensity and duration of exercise, fitness level, size and gender to name a few. Due to all these variables sweat rate becomes an experiment of N=1.

Research suggests an absorption rate of 12-25oz of fluid will fulfil most athletes’ hydration requirements in most conditions. For some athletes the inclusion of electrolytes in their hydration choice is preferential especially for heavy sweaters. The body has an inbuilt capacity to ensure it will absorb what it needs to replace and rebalance electrolytes and what it doesn’t need will be excreted safely. To ensure that we don’t over load in one big dump of fluid its ’s important to sip throughout the day, because ingesting a large amount of fluid over a short time will over activate the kidneys potentially leaving you more dehydrated.

Dear Bevan and Tim,

• I've got the eat, rest, recover bit sussed so how about something around training for mental toughness. I always struggle with that towards the end of an IRONMAN. Partly because it starts to get pretty uncomfortable but also partly due to the time period I've been out there. Thanks in advance.

(CL: Auckland)

CL you’re on the right track by acknowledging that you can improve in this area, with practice you can build a race day plan. As you recognise, it’s going to be uncomfortable and the more the athlete can manage this the quicker they’ll get to the finish line.

I reached out to Lou Davey, Clinical Psychologist with High Performance Sport NZ and an athlete I’ve coached. She suggested the following strategies:

Different things work for different people. Practice turning negative thoughts into more helpful ones such as:

• Welcome the discomfort with thoughts such as ‘Here you are I’ve been waiting for you’

• Now’s my chance to challenge myself and see how mentally tough I can be - almost look forward to the experience.

• Now’s my opportunity to put the strategies I’ve learned into action.

When you hit these moments focusing on technique is a good one as it brings our mind to the present and is a good distraction.

Other things people can do are:

• Imagine they’re running like a pro such as Gomez - don’t just visualise this but actually feel it. It may make you laugh but comedy is also a great distractor.

• Try and find something that feels good and focus in on that.

• You can use mindfulness type strategies such as noticing the thoughts but just simply letting them be. It doesn’t mean we need to listen to them. Imagine they’re a radio playing in the background and continue on regardless.

• One of the more surprising approaches could be to deliberately manipulate one’s facial expression. As peculiar as it may seem, many top athletes, including Olympic marathon gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge, strategically use periodic smiling during performance to relax and cope. In addition, research has also suggested that intentional smiling may reduce effort perception during physical activity in comparison with frowning.

• Gain strength/feel good factor from the fact that you’re pushing through despite the discomfort. Attach some meaning to that e.g. I remember riding in the pouring rain laughing and thinking it meant I’m tough because everyone else is inside on the couch.

Probably the most obvious one is put yourself in that place in training and practice the strategies above. Lou remembered a note she wrote a while back:

“Mental toughness is the ability to remain positive under adverse circumstances. It’s built on doing hard things even when you don’t feel like doing them. Doing things that are hard over and over again is like depositing $ in the mental strength bank acct”

Chris Collyer