Episode 136 - Improve Your Performance by Improving Training Availability with Dane Baker

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Training availability is an important consideration for every high-performance endurance athlete. Illness or injury can leave you unable to train properly and set your goals back weeks or even months. Fellow sports dietitian Dane Baker joins me today to share practical tips for improving our immune system and overall training availability.

Training availability refers to an athlete's ability to consistently train or be available to play. 

Injury and illness are the main factors that can disrupt training availability, and setback an athlete's goals. While we can take steps to reduce the risk of illness and injury, it’s impossible to completely stop them from occurring.

This is why Dane prefers a focus on immune tolerance over immune resistance. By building a robust immune system, athletes are better equipped to tolerate illness and reduce its impact on training.



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Episode Transcription

Episode 136: Improve Your Performance by Improving Training Availability with Dane Baker

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.

[00:00:00] Taryn: Joining us back on the podcast is fellow sports dietitian from New Zealand, Dane Baker.

We previously did an episode together all about Reds or relative energy deficiency in sport for the female athlete, but also for the male as part of the female athlete series. So if you haven't listened to that yet, definitely go back and give that a listen.

Today, Dane is talking about training availability. and some really practical tips to help with your immune system, because we know that better training availability leads to better performance. So what on earth is training availability? How do we actually monitor our availability to train and how do we improve it?

Particularly diving into what do we do to try and prevent or minimize getting sick and getting injured and some of the big rocks that we need to focus on if we want to piece together a solid block of training.

It's something he's quite passionate and interested about working with a lot of team sports in New Zealand, in particular the super rugby, the sevens, men's hockey, things like swimming. And sportswear training availability is really important for the overall outcome of a game, or a match, or a season.

I've asked him to put his endurance sports dietitian hat on for today though, and help us, as endurance athletes, make sure we aren't getting sick and injured all the time, and we're not skipping out on training.

 if you're somebody that finds that you keep missing sessions or adjusting sessions, then this episode is for you.

 Joining me back on the podcast today is Dane Baker, who did an episode with me at the end of last year, all about Reds. And today he has kindly let me pick his brain all about training availability and what on earth that means, but how do we link that triathlete? So welcome back, Dane.

[00:02:34] Dane: Thanks. It's good to be back.

[00:02:36] Taryn: So what I wanted to pick your brain on is training availability, because, you know, when we look at aspects of athletes, we always think, you're going to be a good athlete if you're fast, you know, you've got speed, you've got power, you've got endurance, you've got strength, but the more consistent you are with training and the more training you can piece together.

is going to lead to better performance and helping you reach your goals, which a lot of athletes. Don't actually think about, and it's something that I was introduced to when I worked for Triathlon Australia is something we actually tracked in our athlete monitoring system is like how many days of training have they got in a block and you can see so clearly when you've got that data that more time spent training and piecing together solid training blocks has led to good outcomes compared to athletes that have interruptions to training for illness or injury or whatever it is.

They don't lead to better outcomes. So to kick us off for people that have no idea what I'm talking about, what is training availability?

[00:03:40] Dane: it's just ability to train or be available to play. So there's two ways you can look at this. You've got your endurance type athlete. We are training availability. is key and we can go into a little bit about what's been looked at in that respect and then from a team for sport you've got match availability.

 FIFA dollar line of work and then having those key players available is a key metric for your outcome. And that's why they're paid the big money and get the two main elements that you're going to miss training or mismatches as injury or illness.

And injury can be a lot harder to predict, but we know there's some pretty nice correlations with getting the nutrition on track that can assist in, avoiding missing training. And if the illness is severe, there's nutritional interventions that may reduce the severity, which means that you've missed less days.

[00:04:35] Taryn: Yes. I don't think about team sports cause I'm an endurance sports technician, but it's no brainer, isn't it? If your key striker or your goalie is sick. That's not going to lead to a good outcome for that team or, or that game. So really, really, really important. Is it in a team sport situation that your key players are actually available?

[00:04:56] Dane: you'll have your key star and if they're unavailable, I think sometimes it's 30 or 40 percent less win rate. There's all sorts of data on famous athletes that have had that. So yeah, keeping these athletes healthy and out there is key.

[00:05:11] Taryn: Yeah. So if can I get you to put your endurance hat on for me? Cause the listeners are triathletes. What are some of the things that they could maybe monitor as metrics to check on their training availability and see that as a performance outcome?

[00:05:27] Dane: Yes, I guess I'm not in that space all the time as like a coach or medical practitioner But what the studies have looked at is affected training weeks And so I guess you could mark like if that week was affected by illness or an injury and in the studies I've looked at one of the key ones in Australia, which we can go into Was even like one day of effective training was classified as an effective training week.

So I'm sure these ways that you can track that in your, your training peaks and so on.

[00:05:58] Taryn: Yeah, TrainingPeaks has got a beautiful traffic light system where everything either is green or it's orange or it's red. So you should be able to really quickly visually see that if you use that as a platform or, I don't know, set yourself up a spreadsheet or something if you don't use that. Yep.

[00:06:15] Dane: I guess that's what we talk to a lot about athletes. And I guess the importance of nutrition is we're often thinking about these one to two percent ergogenic aids that might influence performance and the amount of work that's done in that where there's some huge implications if you have an affected season with, with illness, and that's what coaches want. They just want. Continue consistency in training. If we can provide that and do everything possible around, you know, nutrition recovery, then that's going to go a big way for these athletes to sort of meet their goals for the season.

[00:06:47] Taryn: Yeah, the sprinkles on the icing on the cake, right? We actually need to build that cake base first and have that solid foundation, those big rocks that you're talking about, before we ice it for those sprinkles to even stick to anything.

But triathletes are very good at doing sprinkles first. Hmm,

[00:07:04] Dane: developing athletes, when you're trying to build that years and years of consistent training to make them more robust and durable in these interventions that can impact on that. I think we need to be aware that they can be quite devastating to the long term sort of success of the athlete.

[00:07:21] Taryn: So what are some of those big rocks to help an athlete improve their training availability?

[00:07:26] Dane: Yeah, so I guess probably at the moment research has changed a little bit to what are the key causes so I'm going to reference quite a lot of work from Neil Walsh who, if anyone out there does a bit of reading, you can often find him presenting on YouTube his key review was the changing the paradigm of immunity in athletes

[00:07:47] Taryn: yep.

[00:07:48] Dane: he talks a lot about early on, a lot of the work was looking at nutritional interventions that might help immune resistance. So stop the athlete getting sick where now he's looking at this paradigm around immune tolerance.

So the athlete can still get sick, but their immune system is primed to tolerate that illness. And it probably doesn't make sense for them to have this huge immune response to stop the illness occurring. But maybe with a good immune system, we can tolerate the illness. Maybe we can train through it. Or worst case, we can miss maybe two or three days instead of seven days from the illness.

[00:08:26] Taryn: Yep.

[00:08:26] Dane: And the big sort of change in that is a lot of that early work didn't start to include life stress, sleep disruption. The psychology of the athlete had just really looked at. Nutrition and illness, and he talks about a lot of those studies were set up to fail because there was probably no likelihood that nutritional intervention was going to stop someone getting it.

so I think stress, sleep. Lifestyle all goes as a key factors and then nutrition plays a role in all of those factors as well and around recovery. We're probably the early days around this immune window or athletes having a impaired immune system is probably not that like accurate way of thinking at the moment.

[00:09:08] Taryn: Okay, cool. So complete shift in the way we think about that, and good to introduce some of those. New rocks. Not even new, but we probably know that, sleep's going to affect our immune system. We probably know that stress is going to affect our immune system. But putting it all into a big puzzle that you can piece together, and seeing if there's factors in your life that you can control to help all of those things.

[00:09:30] Dane: yeah, and I think one of the things as well is that, like we talked about earlier, is that consistency in training, so if you are getting ill, the evidence shows you're high risk of getting ill again within the next three or four weeks, and you're starting to lose that consistency in the, training, so it just keeps building if you get it wrong.

[00:09:48] Taryn: So rest if you're sick.

[00:09:49] Dane: Yeah, rest if you're sick, and then be really smart about how you reintroduce the training, rather than, most people want to go straight back in, but. Those that are lucky enough to have a good coach will understand this and loading, but our weekend warriors. I think that's where it's probably another discussion around how you reintroduce yourself for training.

[00:10:08] Taryn:Yeah, do you have any tips on that? I did do a podcast episode way back in the way actually, if somebody wants to dive into it about managing a return to training. What sort of practical tips do you have for us around somebody that maybe has got sick? What can they do to slowly build back without killing themselves if they're at higher risk of getting sick in three to four weeks time?

[00:10:29] Dane: Yeah, it's probably a little bit out of my sort of field around returning from illness, but from the research I've read through these papers that look at nutrition, athletes aren't often resting enough when they've got the illness.

they're training through it and if the illness is severe enough and that's when trying to understand what the actual illness is, whether it's from the neck down, whether it's actually an infection or whether it's just.

An upper respiratory tract, like trying to figure out the type of illness you have that can just create periods of prolonged stress and longer to recover. And I think figuring out the level of rest that you need, and that's where ideally if you've got medical support, support physicians to talk you through this, but then just gradually increasing the load.

So that has shown in the research is that one of the biggest risks if you've had an illness two to three weeks prior, there's a high risk of illness.

[00:11:24] Taryn: Mm.

[00:11:25] Dane: And there's obviously other things that come with that and stress, there's all sorts of things, but I think getting that load right and working with an expert in that field would be the best.

[00:11:35] Taryn: Yeah, talk to your coach. Get a plan from a qualified professional.

[00:11:39] Dane: Yeah, and I think that's where I like as myself as a weekend warrior when I. First started without having a coach is you would get these little bits of illness and then you have this generic plan and you wouldn't know how do I get back on the plan

[00:11:51] Taryn: yeah.

[00:11:51] Dane: you have that real high motivation and I think that's where you kind of set yourself up to fail to just jump back onto the plan.

[00:11:58] Taryn: Yeah, or missing a long run and feeling like you've got to catch it up, and feeling guilty for that missed training too, I think is really important.

[00:12:05] Dane: So yeah, more to have a coach to talk these things through and individualize your, your training load.

[00:12:11] Taryn: Yeah, so because we're both sports dietitians and we're both food nerds, what are some things that an athlete could do to help with their immune system, either like to make it more robust to prevent being sick, or if you do feel like you're coming down with something, what are some of the key things that we can do to help support our immunity?

[00:12:33] Dane: Yeah, so there's probably different ways that we look at this now, and that's what Neil Walsh's paper tries to look at in a bit more detail, is around the concept of these nutritional interventions that might assist in immune tolerance these sort of coins are termed tolerogenic supplements.

so those are the probably the key things we've seen uh, zinc and vitamin C and. Zinc actually binds to the pathogen. the simplest way to think about is these tolerogenic supplements might reduce inflammation, and they might just be able to tolerate the illness.

And that's where there's a bit of both there with zinc and vitamin C, but. That's not going to prevent the illness, it's actually an intervention when you've got it all that shows that it might reduce the severity of the illness. And probiotics would be a similar one, so there's some pretty good research to show that that can decrease the incidence but also shortening the effect of the illness.

And vitamin C. So vitamin C for us, we always know that there's that toss up effect of training adaptation, I guess, identifying the high risk times that you might be competing, like when you're traveling maybe if you've got an athlete that's got a history of illness. And we're not talking high doses here, anywhere from 500 to 1000 milligrams a day.

Where a lot of that early work was really super high doses. it's maybe picking your time over your training program when you might do that. Other things are vitamin D, and probably just depends on the time of where you are in the world. As far as your vitamin D levels, what time you're training, if you're indoors or outdoors.

In New Zealand it's hard to get a vitamin D test, but if you can get that tested across different stages. There's a little bit more work to be done in polyphenols, but it does seem to be some really nice properties that he would term sort of tolerogenic that is worth including. And those are all really like your dark colored fruit and vegetables, your berries.

In New Zealand, we have a really potent polyphenol black current. And a lot of those, especially around polyphenols, there's going to be other benefits around recovery and just nutrient density. It's going to be no harm and the other things which haven't shown as much evidence is glutamine.

So that's often one that we toss up a lot in nutrition. A lot of that work was done in elderly and really immune compromised patients where our athletes aren't probably going to be in that situation. Bovine colostrum is an interesting one, but there's just a really low level of studies to have much support.

So there's probably more work to be done on that. And echinacea, again, very limited support. So probably your big ones are your zinc and vitamin C. If you do get sick, Vitamin C may be as a prevention to help reduce the incidence of the illness in your probiotic.

[00:15:17] Taryn: So all I'm hearing you say is eat more fruits and vegetables.

[00:15:22] Dane: yeah, yep, yep, that could help. But with the zinc, yeah, you kind of need to start getting a pretty high dose. So that is more of a targeted strategy. But definitely, and that's where it's just your fundamentals of trying to get You know, variety in your diet and the whole area we haven't talked about is the gut microbiome and the work that's been done in that area is just really evolving.

But we know a lot of those immune cells are in the gut. And so the more variety that you can have energy availability is an interesting one. that's potentially argued in the literature. But I don't think it's going to do any harm to, to make sure your energy availability is right.

But we do see a lot of patients that are diagnosed with REDS that really miss a training. So I don't think it kind of goes hand in hand with, with illness.

[00:16:07] Taryn: something that you said earlier there that I just want to highlight because a lot of people don't actually know this is that we don't want to be taking like a high dose vitamin C supplement or anything like that because those high dose antioxidants can actually blunt the adaptive response to exercise and there's Quite a lot of supplements that are being marketed to triathletes very heavily at the moment that are a very high dose in antioxidant.

I'm not going to mention any names, but Dane is not saying to do that.

You can easily meet your requirements just by having fruits and vegetables with something like vitamin

[00:16:44] Dane: And one of the things I've actually struggled with is, it's actually quite hard to find these, supplements in the right dosage. So to get the amount of, uh, zinc that you're after, there's often these supplements with huge doses of vitamin C. So you end up getting 8, 000 milligrams of vitamin C. To get the zinc.

So you're like, this is not so you have to really look around to find those products. Typically, the, there are some good companies around that are a bit more focused on the evidence that can help, but again, it's figuring out the time. So maybe it's, we know when you travel to your competition, you've done that key training, you're exposed to a high risk environment.

Maybe that's when it's 500 milligrams to 1000 milligrams of vitamin C a day. Okay. Or maybe you're coming back from an illness. So you're not going to be really at that high end of sort of stressing the system. So it's trying to consider the risk when you might use it.

[00:17:42] Taryn: Yeah. So being strategic around that use.

[00:17:44] Dane: Yep. Yeah, just not chronic high doses for sure.

[00:17:46] Taryn: Which is smart, right? You've got to be strategic around everything with nutrition. You can't just like be mediocre all the time. Let's be a bit smarter around what we're doing.

[00:17:53] Dane: Yep. And the same with vitamin D. You'll often see vitamin D. And then, I know you guys, like a lot of our elite athletes, they train all day outside. And they're in summer environments. They, even in the winter, they're often traveling to the Gold Coast and they're training for three or four days. So. It's not as simple as just saying, oh, you know, for three months we don't get vitamin D.

[00:18:13] Taryn: Mm. So on travel, that's a key time where athletes do get sick and often we travel for races. We might have to do a flight and that exposes us to pathogens and things like that. What can we do to increase our training availability and the performance in that race to prevent coming down with something right at that key time when you're meant to perform?

[00:18:37] Dane: Yeah, so the, the air travel is the challenge, and I think it's mainly because of exposure in those confined spaces for a long period of time.

[00:18:46] Taryn: Wear a mask, people.

[00:18:47] Dane: Six years ago, this was a bit more, people didn't know this as much, but now with COVID, we've got a pretty good understanding. But it's, it's just trying to limit that exposure, and that's the key part of this is.

You can have the best immune system, but it's maybe not going to stop you getting sick and then it's around the education to athletes, washing hands, limiting touching spaces that are frequently touched, wearing a mask, doing all you can to reduce that exposure. That's key, especially when you're going into a situation where you need to be at your best, like, you know, most times with athletes that they are.

What the other flip side of the coin is probably those athletes that are competing regularly that they're always traveling. So that might be your team sports. if you're constantly competing and you're on, you know, like diamond league and you're constantly going from competition to competition, then that travel.

And it's not just on the plane. It's like an airport. So it's in train stations. It's it's in crowds as well. So all of those things is just trying to limit and sick teammates. a lot of the time it's having good systems in place where You can pick up an illness before the flu goes right through your team,

and that, that's a whole other discussion, but trying to identify illness early and, and separate players and, and team

[00:19:58] Taryn: Yep. All you germy kids.

[00:20:00] Dane: yep, yep.

[00:20:02] Taryn: And then what about on the way home? Because I know a lot of triathletes will cross the finish line and then stop thinking about nutrition whatsoever. So what are some things that can prevent us from getting sick on the way home? Because it's really common to see athletes like one or two weeks later after a key event come down with something because it's been a huge stressful event, and their immune system's compromised, and then they switch off thinking about nutrition.

[00:20:28] Dane: Yeah, so I think the key thing is when you are faced with travel, is potentially thinking about those nutritional interventions that might increase the immune system around the, the tolerance. So that could be. Using a probiotic for a couple of weeks prior to travel, maybe it's using vitamin C on those days that you're traveling or for the week around that sort of competition.

lot of this research comes from sort of prolonged observational studies and elite athletes. And there was a really good one done in elite Norwegian, cross country skiers, but they looked over sort of eight years of sort of research and tried to figure out what were the reasons why these athletes were missing training, because of their illness.

So, And they actually, that was the key thing around travel. So they were four, five times more likely to report a symptom following travel in the, in the two days following. And it was a bigger risk for the return flight. And that's probably coming from the fatigue, emptying the tank and some of these races and getting on in a sort of compromise state, but maybe there's, there's a whole lot of other factors around exposure. You go out to a nightclub, there's a huge amount of exposure, you get on the plane, you're you're compromised, and so I think maybe we just forget as well once we've done the competition.

[00:21:43] Taryn: yeah, it doesn't matter so much.

[00:21:45] Dane: but definitely that's something that I've learned a lot around as a homeward flight is really important, especially in a in an athlete That's regularly competing or a team sport.

Yeah, you know, you could be on the plane the next week So and a lot of that it came down to planning. So one of their key learnings was Avoiding travel that day. So maybe you've competed. It's really You know, nice thought to let's just get straight back on the plane and get back into bed at home.

[00:22:10] Taryn: Yep.

[00:22:11] Dane: you're better just to have a nice recovery day, wake up late and then travel home.

[00:22:16] Taryn: Yeah, that's a good tip, if you can afford it. As an age group athlete, spend a bit of time there afterwards as well, because we often go in somewhere early. And then try and get home as quickly as possible and get thrown straight back into full time work, family, kids, all that sort of stuff. And yeah, that's when we often hit the deck a week or two later.

[00:22:34] Dane: Yeah, and it's when you're exposed to those crowds and that sort of nutritional state, I think that's when the immunity is maybe, you know, compromised.

[00:22:45] Taryn: it kind of comes back full circle to training availability. If you're then sick after that, then you can't get back into training. And so it depends what's next, but with triathlon, most people are racing frequently through the season. It's, it's rare to have, you know, a good 12 months off racing or something like that.

You've usually got something coming up in the next month or two or three.

[00:23:05] Dane: Yeah, and that's what the study looked at, because these guys were in Europe and they're constantly traveling to Europe to competition, um, and races. And what another thing they often find in these studies, which is repeated time and again, is it's generally the last sort of two months prior to the big competition where there's highest risk of illness, where injuries often earlier in the season.

So again, it's as maybe that competition looms. And you've got an, you've got an athlete that's got a sort of compromise history. That's when you might start looking at these interventions or just paying a lot more closer attention to their nutrition, to their sleep, you know, because it's something that's just the risk kind of gets higher and higher.

[00:23:45] Taryn: Yeah, and like you said, those big rocks, like they're the things that are going to make the biggest impact. It's not the little sprinkles on the icing on the cake. It's like getting enough sleep, keeping your stress levels low, trying to absorb that training, and I guess fueling that peak of training load really well as well, so that there is that periodization across a build.

It doesn't just stay the same all the time.

[00:24:06] Dane: Yep. Absolutely. And a lot of that then I think, because we know sleep is so important, but I think there's a lot of nutritional work and around just all of those big rocks. Will mean that that sleeps improved as well. So, yeah, it's just a big kind of everything fix the other piece.

[00:24:26] Taryn: Yeah, multifactorial, as always. It's not just one, one magic bullet to help you.

[00:24:31] Dane: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think that's the other area which you haven't sort of talked about is caffeine and just having the awareness. If you are using caffeine in a really high level of a high dose, that there is a risk that that could be affecting sleep. And I think especially in our, you know, weekend warriors where you've got a full time job, you're training in the afternoon.

It's, you know, you're often training late, and that has its challenges as well around sleep, putting this in, but there are things that you can do nutritionally to just, you know, try to get as much sleep as possible. So that's always something I think we should, we should think about as practitioners.

[00:25:09] Taryn: Yeah, I always think about a race, if you're doing something like an Ironman and you're having coke in the back end of a run, that's at night time, right before you go to sleep, there's still that caffeine in your system for a long period of time, so you're probably not going to have a very good sleep after a race like that.

[00:25:27] Dane: Yeah. I guess the other side that is like, you know, you're not, training again for a week or two. But we see a lot of team sport players that will rely on pre workout and you know, the development players, especially in the training at night.

And then that's something I think when you are seeing athletes with repeated illness to just keep a bit of an eye on.

[00:25:43] Taryn: Yeah, good tips. So many good tips. Dane's given you some really good suggestions for what you can do to make sure that you are being consistent with training, because at the end of the day, that's like the biggest rock to perform better is actually how much time can you piece together consistently training without it being interrupted.

So thank you so much for that. That was awesome. If somebody wants to find you, where do they go about doing that?

[00:26:11] Dane: Yeah, so if you just look on the Axis Sports Medicine website, just look us up at AxisSportsMedicine.co.nz Or I try to keep active on LinkedIn. as a social media from time to time.

[00:26:23] Taryn: I'll link those in the show notes if somebody does want to stalk you, Dane. But thank you so much for your time and letting me pick your brain on training availability.

[00:26:29] Dane: No worries. Thanks for having me.


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!

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