Episode 103 - Under Training is Better Than Overtraining with Michellie Jones
Under Training is Better Than Overtraining with Michellie Jones
Triathletes love to go hard all the time. Smashing themselves in every session and feeling guilty for going easy, or taking time off. I know because I've been guilty of it myself! We all have been.
But more is not always better.
Overtraining is a real problem. Joining me on the podcast for this episode is Triathlon legend Michellie Jones. She is incredibly passionate about athletes training strategically to maximise their performance.
She generously shares her philosophy on light training days and how she likes to structure a training week with her athletes.
Tune in for some really practical advice to ensure you’re not overtraining and digging yourself a hole.
Michellie Jones is a Triathlon Legend
Starting her triathlon career in 1990, she’s won two ITU World Championships in 1992 and 1993. She won the Xterra Triathlon world championships in 1996. A silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Then decided to go long and became the Ironman World Champion in just her fourth full distance Ironman in 2006.
She also guided Australian Para Triathlete Katie Kelly to gold in the 2015 ITU World Championship & Rio 2016 Paralympics
Check how well you’re doing when it comes to your nutrition with our 50 step checklist to Triathlon Nutrition Mastery: dietitianapproved.com/checklist
Start working on your nutrition now with my Triathlon Nutrition Kickstart course: dietitianapproved.com/kickstart
It’s for you if you’re a triathlete and you feel like you’ve got your training under control and you’re ready to layer in your nutrition. It's your warmup on the path to becoming a SUPERCHARGED triathlete – woohoo!
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Episode 103: Under Training is Better Than Overtraining with Michellie Jones
Taryn Richardson 00:00
Michellie Jones needs absolutely no introduction unless you've been living under a rock for the last 30 years. She kicked off her triathlon career in 1990 and won, not one but two, ITU triathlon World Championships in 1992 and 1993. She also won the XTERRA Triathlon World Championships in 1996 and won a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She then decided to go long and became the Ironman World Champion in just her fourth full distance Ironman in 2006. I first met MJ when she was guiding for Katie Kelly, an Australian paratriathlete. And as her guide, they won gold in the 2015 ITU World Championships and gold in RIO 2016 Paralympic Games. She has an order of Australia medal, I mean, what bling does she not have? She's now the head coach of the University of California San Diego's collegiate program and has newly joined the TriDot family. I did wee a little bit of my pants when she agreed to jump on the podcast with me today. And I'm so excited for you to hear this conversation.
Taryn Richardson 1:12
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.
Taryn Richardson 1:48
Welcome to the podcast, MJ!
Michellie Jones 01:51
Thank you so much for having me.
Taryn Richardson 01:53
I'm so pumped to talk to you MJ and I have your attention to myself for a change. And I'm actually a little bit nervous about spending some time with you today.
Michellie Jones 02:01
You know, I get that a lot, especially from the athletes that I coach. They are like well, you know, we first met you like really worried and then now that we've met you, we realised that you're actually just like one of us. I'm going, exactly.
Taryn Richardson 02:13
Yeah, yeah, so down to earth. I had the honor of hanging out with you a little bit when you were a guide for Katie Kelly. But you know, that was Katie Kelly's time really, so we didn't get to talk much. So yeah, I'm looking forward to this.
Michellie Jones 02:26
Yeah, it's gonna be a fun 30 minutes.
Taryn Richardson 02:29
Jam packed! So what I wanted to jump on to the podcast with you today to talk about is the concept of overtraining because triathletes are very good at going hard all the time. And I definitely know, I was guilty for that when I trained. But it is really important to have this periodised approach to training and I always talk about a periodised approach to nutrition. But how do we actually, you know, put easy, light rest recovery days into our programming and not feel guilty for taking that time off?
Michellie Jones 03:00
I think that's the hardest thing for any athlete that's super motivated. And then you get a triathlete, and you know, we're definitely probably more A type personalities. And then sometimes you fall in this belief that more is better. And I think I was lucky from a very young age that my coaches taught me early that it's better to be a little undertrained than overtrained. Not to say that I've never been overtrained because I can tell you I've been overtrained, like several times. But I was always brought up short and sweet recover. And there wasn't really a lot of people who had that mentality. And it is hard when you're seeing everyone else training a certain way and then you're training a different way. And you definitely have to stay true to what you believe but also be very, very focused on what you're doing and not worrying about what others are doing and know that you're on the path that you need to be on the path.
Taryn Richardson 03:55
Yeah, blinkers on.
Michellie Jones 03:57
You can't control what other people are doing. You can only control what you do.
Taryn Richardson 04:01
Yeah, totally. That's right. We get so waylaid by what others are doing, don't we? Particularly I see that happen. And I was like, guilty for this too, on race day morning and you do weird things on race day because you are second guessing yourself. I had an Ironman athlete suddenly change a whole Ironman plan on the day because she saw a more experienced triathlete do that. And I'm like, no! Why would you do that to yourself?
Michellie Jones 04:26
I mean, that's staying true to the path that you've been on, right? It's like when you could have like, take a different path, it's like at the wrong time. And like we all fall into that. And I think it's just important to understand, it's like, this is what you trained for. This is the path that you're on, don't go off the path. You know, you can do that maybe and discuss that later on but you know, it's super important to stay on that path. And, you know, I talk a lot about that, like, even nutrition wise. It's like what did you do in training? That's what you get into an array and it's constantly staying on that path and not changing direction unless something horrible is going along, and then you'd have to revisit it. The point of having a training plan is to have that path that you know that you're going to follow. And there's a saying that nutrition plan that you have, it's like everything you that you did from day one of whatever your focus is, it's like, you follow that path, because we're all creatures of habit, and so is your stomach. Your stomach takes what, seven days to adjust to something that's new? So.
Taryn Richardson 05:35
Michellie Jones 05:37
Yeah, it's super important that, you know, you stick with what you know. And I always tell people, I think the one thing and it comes across the board, I think for everything, what's the one thing you're gonna want if you take it away, that thing that you took away? So I'm a big believer in moderation and that's in nutrition, that's in training. It's like, never go either end of the spectrum. You just want to be right there in the comfort zone.
Taryn Richardson 06:01
So that leads nicely into my first question for you, which is kind of, what's your philosophy on these easy, light rest recovery days?
Michellie Jones 06:11
Well, you know, rest is training as well. And I think I've been caught up, you've been caught up in like, more, more, more more. And then like, as I said earlier, it's better to be a little undertrained than overtrained because overtraining is the most horrible thing you can go through because you know, your body is very good at protecting itself and it'll kick in the cortisol hormone and you think you're going hard and you're not going hard, but you think you're going hard because that's what the cortisol hormone is trying to do that protect itself. So my philosophy is, there's a reason for every session. It's not just because you've got to go out and do something, it's like, it has to have a reason. And, you know, easy sessions lead to better sessions because it's giving you a chance to recover. And you know, those harder sessions, you need recovery sessions so then you can move to the next level and keepkeep progressing. And I talk a lot about right now in the offseason here in the US, it's like, you know, you got to get a little out of shape, so you can get back into shape so you can go to the next level.
Taryn Richardson 07:13
Yeah, that's where the magic happens, right?
Michellie Jones 07:15
Yeah. And I think I was lucky, I had a conversation once with Greg LeMond, who's won the Tour de France five times. And he's kind of got me on this program a little bit later in my short course career is three days on one day off, two days on one day off. So I utilised that for quite a long time in my short course career. And I do get a little bit lazy in terms of my philosophy sometimes when I'm training right now, because I'm like, nah, I'm not a pro triathlete, I can do whatever I want. It doesn't really, you know. So when I was definitely it's like, you know, definitely had a bigger impact probably when I was a professional. But now as I get older, I'm like, you know what, I need to take a few easy days. I'm usually pretty good at, when my preference says, go easy, I go easy. And I think that's the big difference between a lot of professionals and a lot of age group athletes. It's like, the easy and the hard, there's a big difference for a professional, for an age grouper. It's too close. And I'm always telling my athletes slow down, this is a Zone 2. Zone 2 is you can like look around, you don't really have to worry about your breathing, how your muscles are feeling. You're going to want to eat properly after you finish compared to if you went too hard and you probably like thinking more about your form, your heart rate, that your muscles are getting a little tighter and you're probably not going to want to eat straightaway.
Taryn Richardson 08:45
That's awesome, MJ. So your philosophy really is underdone is better than overdone, which is kind of refreshing to hear. So what does it actually look like for somebody's program? How often should they be resting? And what does you know, a light rest session actually look like? So that people that are out there, listening, they can understand or know maybe whether they're overtraining or if they've got things in check.
Michellie Jones 09:09
Yeah, so I think the big thing is like, what sort of cycle are you on. So for me, in particular, I'm using that four week three weeks on, one week a little bit more recovery. But then within that week, there's also a recovery pattern. So normally on Mondays, we work a little bit more on strength endurance and maybe a little bit of threshold swim work. And then on Tuesdays, I actually like to do a little intensity on the run on Tuesdays. But then on Wednesdays, I like to give my athletes at least 24 hours, so they would run in the morning and then do an interval, maybe sometimes above threshold session in the evening. So that way, they've had more than 24 hours to recover. And another reason why I like to do that because I always find that running definitely has a higher level of muscular fatigue that it leaves you. So by doing the run intensity first and then switching over to the bike intensity over 24 hours later, I sort of, I like that sort of philosophy, because then I'll have my athletes sort of swim on Wednesday as well. So they get that extra recovery. So basically, Monday would be a swim, bike. Tuesday, usually a run with some functional strength. And then Wednesday, it's like a swim, bike and a short run off the bike. But like I like them to swim to recover from the run and then just add a little bit of intensity to the bike. And sometimes it's below threshold, sometimes that threshold, sometimes it's above threshold, depending on where they are in the season. And then Thursday would be a recovery, very easy run. And then Friday, it's maybe a little bit more intensity on the swim. And depending on each individual athlete, it could be a little bit of tempo on the bike or it could be an easy spin. And then the weekends during the offseason, I'm like, go and have a coffee ride. Chill out.
Taryn Richardson 11:07
That's the best kind.
Michellie Jones 11:09
Yeah, and you know, in the race season, it's like, okay, what's our focus? You know, it might be a little bit more interval driven, it might be a terrain driven, it might be a group ride, because some people love that group environment. And it's important to keep people mentally fresh as well. And then Sunday is, you know, a little bit of a traditionalist, that would be a longer run. But you know, I also like adding a little bit of interval work to that. But like, not ridiculously hard, just a little bit of turnover, because my coach always used to say a little bit of turnover is better than no turnover at all. Then sometimes it's like, you got to have a day off on Friday. Or sometimes it's a Sunday, you know, depending where it fits into each and every one's workload, as well as their regular workload, not just their training workload, but their real life workload.
Taryn Richardson 12:02
Yeah, we've got a lot going on as age groupers. You've got to hold down a job and probably have family commitments as well. So there's definitely no professional triathlete out there that you've got to do all the things as well.
Michellie Jones 12:12
Yeah, the other philosophy you can follow too, is doing that long run in the middle of the week. You could also do it that way as well and then, you know, do a little bit more interval work then on Sunday for your run. And the other way too, it's like, if my athletes are in the middle of the Ironman program, I then their next run would be 10 days later. Just to give that little bit extra recovery, so it's not like a long run every seven days. But when they hit their biggest mileage week, it would be 10 days before they do another, like a shorter, longer run.
Taryn Richardson 12:46
And is that just to give them a little bit more time to recover, to go long again, and absorb that actual training?
Michellie Jones 12:52
Exactly. And that's one of my favorite thing, the absorption of your training, just let it happen. And the other thing, it's like let the fitness calm. You know, when COVID hit, I think that was a good learning experience for a lot of people because we didn't know when there was going to be a race. We didn't know what was happening. And I just said to my athletes, I go, just go back down as your intensity level at a Zone 3 because that way, you can step up pretty quickly to a Zone 4 if you need to but it's not like the recovery you need for a Zone 3 is completely different. So basically, like all through the pandemic, it's like just chill out a little bit. You can do a little interval work, but let's like drop it back a little bit, so it's a little uncomfortable, but it's not ridiculously hard, because otherwise what do you use that fitness for? Because at some point, you burn it out. You just can't keep going and going and going, so. And you know, even for the offseason, I tell people the same you know, because it's like the offseason, there's a reason why we have an offseason.
Taryn Richardson 13:53
What is this elusive offseason you talk about, MJ?
Michellie Jones 13:57
Yeah, you know, it's a chance for you to mentally recover as well as physically. And that doesn't mean you don't have to stop like doing some intervals, but have a think about what the purpose of an interval is and where it is in your preparation. And again, it's like, for a long time, my athletes sort of keep a little more intensity up on the bike, just because there's less wear and tear on the upper bodies. Yeah, take the time to do some other stuff. You know, take the time to work on some of your weaknesses as well. And in terms of weaknesses, it's like your functional strength. Take the time to really make yourself strong in that area. So that when you come to getting ready for a race, it's like less chance of injury because now you've become more functionally strong, because you know, you can be strong but you got to be functionally strong.
Taryn Richardson 14:52
I love that you've got some strength in your programming because it's something that a lot of triathletes don't think about. That's just another thing right? It's a whole another discipline that you've got to try and fit into your week. But I love that you've got it in there.
Michellie Jones 15:05
Well, I was gonna say, the one thing that I try to like steer people away from is like lifting too heavy. There's like a couple of different theories with that. It's just my personal experience. It's like, I want you to be functionally strong but I don't want you to do such a load than that's increasing your risk of injury. And I know there's like that theory of pushing like a lot of weight, lifting big. That would be nice but when you're looking for functional strength, that's very different to what I believe they're talking about because it's important to be able to have your joints be able to sustain the load that you're trying to put on then, and then sustain it for whatever that purpose is. So to me, it's like, don't go too heavy. Definitely work on your weaknesses. It's important to put it in the schedule. I like to do it, I think two times a week is plenty with all the swim, bike, and running. And you know, if you're doing the strength work a little bit with your work on the bike and the run, and then doing a little bit of strength work in the pool as well, it's like, now you're sort of covered like, all the areas that you need.
Taryn Richardson 16:15
So many good tips there MJ. I love that you've got people to kind of chill out a little bit through the pandemic because we know that training really hard is not great for your immunity, too. And so a lot of triathletes we're like, cool, I got all this time, I'm just gonna go smash myself. But really, we just need to be a little bit more protective and focus on yeah, building a base, right? Still use this time to your advantage and hopefully, people have come out from that pandemic time a bit stronger and better athletes as a result.
Michellie Jones 16:43
Yeah, no for sure. And you know, it's interesting you bring that up because immunity is like a huge thing for endurance athletes because we're always suppressing our immune system, right? We tend to do that a lot. So, it's like, that's why the recovery process is super important. And you know, you don't just do it through better sleep, you don't just do it through resting, you do it through nutrition as well. It's like, you know, when you finish those hard sessions, you've got a time window of when you need to replenish and refuel. And, you know, a lot of people are so afraid of carbs and they forget that's part of their recovery process along with protein. Now, like, that's huge as well, because that's like building the muscles. But you know, there's a reason why we need all these essential nutrients as well.
Taryn Richardson 17:35
Yeah, most triathletes suck at their recovery nutrition, don't they? And the carb phobic mindset is just feel like it's peaking. But my whole passion is to try and get people to do some of these fundamentals first, because we're so focused on the little shiny objects, and the one percenters like beetroot juice and the latest supplements. But people then suck at recovery nutrition but we know that that has like the best bang for your buck around your training, right? What you do in and around your training is where you're going to actually maximise your performance. It's not what you do once every three months on race day.
Michellie Jones 18:08
Exactly. And I also talk about like, you’re a high performance machine.
Taryn Richardson 18:12
Michellie Jones 18:13
What happens if you had like a fancy sports car and you stop putting oil and gas or petrol in your car? You would stop. I tell people that all the time. It's like, you know, you're a high performance machine so you need to treat yourself like a high performance machine. And they're like, yeah, but I'm just the back of the packer. I go, I don't care. You know, it's like recovery is needed, whether you're an elite level athlete, or you're the last person across the line, you know. Nutrition is what fuels you. Otherwise, you stop running.
Taryn Richardson 18:43
I love that you've got that philosophy too, because your body's the only thing you've got, right? It's going to last you until you're in your 90s, maybe over 100 these days with the health technology that we've got. But you're right, I use that analogy. I'm glad that it shared. I tell people that they put the cheap fuel in and you know, would you do that if you drove your, if you think about your body is like a Tesla or Ferrari or whatever it is that you resonate with car wise.
Michellie Jones 19:10
And then the other thing I think people forget is like when they're sick, you know, when they're feeling rundown, that's what a coach is there for, right? To make the hard decisions for you, you don't have to make the decision. Hey, Coach, I didn't sleep well last night. Hey, Coach, I'm not feeling good. They're the ones that sort of give you the confidence, right? To make those good decisions. It's like, I always tell my athletes, okay, when you're not feeling good, give yourself 48 hours. And then if you start to feel a little bit better after that, then I have the 20 plan.
Taryn Richardson 19:41
What's the 20 plan?
Michellie Jones 19:42
You can go do something for 20 minutes.
Taryn Richardson 19:45
Love it, love it.
Michellie Jones 19:46
If you feel okay with that, the next day maybe you can do the 30 plan.
Dietitian Approved 19:50
Ah, love it.
Michellie Jones 19:51
And then the 40 plan and then after that, you know you're pretty much back at it. So,yeah.
Taryn Richardson 19:55
It's just a nice step back into training. Most people are like I missed 48 hours of training, so I've got to catch that back up. But yeah, good to recognise you just need to slowly go back.
Michellie Jones 20:06
Yeah, or they go, I missed that session, now I have to do it. I go, uh uh, walk away.
Taryn Richardson 20:11
Michellie Jones 20:12
You can't live in the past, you can only live in the future. So you got to keep moving forward, not backwards.
Taryn Richardson 20:17
Great advice. I've seen a few kinds of stress injuries and you look back at their training program, and you see where they've caught up a long run that they've missed. And so they've jammed them really close together, and you're like, idiot, why did you do that? But triathletes, yeah, we don't have this knowledge and expertise, like people like you do. So it's important to recognise that.
Michellie Jones 20:38
I still do dumb stuff, but like you learn from it. It's like, this is all the learning that I've had over the many years that I've done triathlon, and I'm like, I still do silly stuff. But like, even myself, I need a coach, you know. I need someone who's like, you know, not so close to it. And every now and again, I'm like, Michellie, if I was coaching you, what would I say? So sometimes, you know, take a step back and go, you know what? And that's the other thing, I'm like, you know, when you hurt yourself, stop, evaluate straightaway. Don't turn it into an injury that could be a couple of days and now it's like six months, 12 months down the road and you're still, you're still dealing with it. It's like, there's pain for a reason. Don't ignore it.
Taryn Richardson 21:26
Yeah, great advice. So to finish this up, what does overtraining look like? How could somebody identify if they were overtraining or not?
Michellie Jones 21:36
Well, for one, you're probably going to get a little grumpy.
Taryn Richardson 21:40
Isn't it just sleep deprivation and hungriness?
Michellie Jones 21:43
Well, yeah, they will.
Taryn Richardson 21:44
Michellie Jones 21:45
So I think not the hunger one, but definitely, you probably lose a little bit of your appetite more than any, you know. As well, you might get some night sweats. You know, it's like your muscle recovery, you know, you're always sore.
Taryn Richardson 21:57
You know, any cramping? Like people that cramp up at night when they're asleep, is that a sign of overtraining?
Michellie Jones 22:03
Yes, for me, it definitely is because it means that, for one, possibly also dehydrated, and you know, your magnesium and your potassium levels aren't adjusting and that could be overtraining as well. And, you know, and maybe you know, you're not quite as motivated. You sort of like, justify, sometimes you know, why you're doing something, or sometimes it's like, I've just got to do it, I've just got to do it, because the program says that I have to do it. And you know, then of course, there's the metrics, right? When you wake up, what's your resting heart rate? What does your stress loads say? What is your score telling you? You know, there's so many things that you can do. But you know, ultimately, it's like, you've got to understand that there are signs that you are overtraining and you have to know what those signs are. Because if you don't know, and you're new to something, it's like, oh, my muscles are sore, because I've never done this before. Or I'm sweating last night because I didn't have the AC on.
Taryn Richardson 23:07
Michellie Jones 23:08
You know, I mean, it's true. It's like, you know, if you don't have the knowledge to be able to understand what your body's actually telling you. And that's why it's important to be educated as well and learn by doing your research, talking to other athletes, having a great coach, listening to good podcasts.
Dietitian Approved 23:30
Michellie Jones 23:31
One of my athletes, when she's working, she listens to every podcast that she can listen to. And then every week, it's like, Michellie, what about this? What about that? I'm like, yep, I love it. Because, you know, she's becoming informed. You know, she's making sure she's doing her research and like, learning a lot about what's out there in the world. And then we have a chat then about how that relates to her as an athlete. Because that's the other thing, you know, it has to relate to you because it may not.
Taryn Richardson 24:06
You have to get her to listen to this podcast for all of her triathlon nutrition goodness.
Michellie Jones 24:12
She will. She's already said, please send it.
Taryn Richardson 24:15
Oh, amazing. That's some really good advice and I think it highlights the need to have that discussion with your coach, too. Like if you're feeling unsure or you don't feel right, like speak up. There's no bravado in pushing yourself to the nth degree because, you know, like MJ said, maybe under training is a little bit more effective than being overtrained and slogging your guts out.
Michellie Jones 24:36
Yeah. And I mean, that's the thing about having a coach. If you want to get the most out of that relationship, communication is key.
Taryn Richardson 24:43
And accountability, right? Someone just to give you a kick in the butt if you need it, or to tell you to stop being stupid if you need that, too.
Michellie Jones 24:50
Exactly. One of my mottos for one of my athletes that we came up with is because she would like, when she didn't want to do anything, she'd come up with all these excuses and we'd be like, I can't talk right now, doing fast girl shit.
Taryn Richardson 25:02
Michellie Jones 25:04
So yeah, that's her race motto that she's just can't talk because she thinks she's slow and we're like, you're not slow. And she thinks everyone's faster than her. Yeah, I go, they're not.
Taryn Richardson 25:16
Yeah, blinkers on. Stay in your own lane.
Michellie Jones 25:19
Taryn Richardson 25:20
Well, thank you so much for letting me pick your brain MJ on your whole philosophy around overtraining. I think it's really good to highlight. I know that you're really passionate about athletes not overtraining. And has given some really practical tips around like what a week could look like. And then also some ideas to look out for, to see if overtraining is a problem for you or not. But you know, reach out to your coach. Figure out what's going on. Make sure you've got a nice program that's got some rest. Maybe you've got an offseason. We tend to not have an offseason here in Australia, everyone just goes out all the time.
Michellie Jones 25:54
California, you know, we have a little bit of a nice winter as well. So it's definitely sometimes people get caught up in that. It is important.
Taryn Richardson 26:03
Yeah, and focus on something different for a change. So if people want to find you MJ, what's the best way to find you?
Michellie Jones 26:09
I have a few social media channels so you can always just search my name. And then I have a website as well called giddyupmultisports.com.
Taryn Richardson 26:19
Awesome. I'll link those in the show notes. And thank you so much for joining me.
Michellie Jones 26:22
All right. Thank you so much.
Taryn Richardson 26:23
Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition!