Episode 22 - The Key Ingredients You Need to Become a Successful Triathlete

The Key Ingredients You Need to Become a Successful Triathlete

Success is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t matter if you want to win every race, or just make it to the finish line without getting divorced. 

Regardless, over the last 13+ years working with triathletes from age-group beginners all the way up to our Australia elite Triathlon team, I’ve noticed a few key ingredients successful triathletes possess. 

Here they are…

👟Train with purpose
👯‍♂️ Find your Community
❌ Stop eating the same thing each day
🥦 Do the Foundations first
🍴 Stop ditching your Recovery
😴 Get enough Sleep
🚴🏻 Fuel Long Sessions properly

Let me explain…🎧

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Episode Transcription

Episode 22 - The Key Ingredients You Need to Become a Successful Triathlete

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.

Hey, legends. Today's episode is all about the Key Ingredients to Becoming a Successful Triathlete. Now, success is in the eye of the beholder. Success for you may not mean winning your next race or becoming elite or winning at Kona or even getting to Kona. It could simply mean fitting in training for three disciplines with a full-time job, trying to balance family life and not getting divorced in the process. That could be success. And that's totally fine. It could also mean getting to the weekend not feeling absolutely ratchet tired because you've smashed yourself all week working your full-time job training twice a day and struggling to do any of life's admin. But working with age group athletes in private practice and through my academy program, and working in the elite space for Triathlon Australia, I've definitely seen a lot of the same mistakes being made, and also some of the key ingredients that I think are pivotal to your success in the sport of triathlon.

So I want to go through some of those with you today. And let me know if any of them are things that you really think you need to work on. Or you don't have as part of your toolkit. Because they might be something that you want to focus on this year to get better at the sport.


1. Train with purpose

So my first key ingredient is to train with purpose. When you have to fit training in for three disciplines - swim, bike, run, way more than other sports who only have to do one thing, we've got to do three, because we're overachievers you have to be smart about how you actually do that. And so you need to train with purpose by not doing any junk miles. Now, I'm not a coach or an exercise physiologist. So I'm not going to tell you how to periodise your training and what's going to be right for you. That's not my area of expertise. So I'm not even going to touch it.  

But I encourage you to find somebody that's qualified in the space, whether that's a coach, or an X fees, or a squad that has a well-structured training program or an online program, whatever it is, I would encourage you to train with purpose so that when you do train, because we're all time poor, you are training to the maximum of your ability, you are doing sessions that are going to get you fitter, they're going to get you faster.

They're designed with a certain metabolic adaptation in mind, and then you're doing that with purpose. There's a lot of research out there about how to get fitter how to get faster. So it's worth investing some time, maybe some money, some financial investment into getting a program that's perfect for you, so that you're not wasting your time.

Do you think elite athletes do sessions just for shits and giggles? They definitely don't. They're very busy. They often have to do four sessions in a day to get a swim, a cycle, or run, sometimes gym in there. Then they got an appointment in for physio and massage and psychology and all those sorts of things. They're quite busy. But each of their sessions has a key purpose or driver. They're not going to do a lazy hour and a half easy run just because just for fun. If they've got that on the program that's designed to do something in particular.

So even though you may not be an elite athlete, you still need to kind of think like one and that the sessions that you do are specific and purposeful for you. So that would be my first kind of key ingredient is that whatever you're doing with training is working for you. And you're not wasting time doing sessions that aren't beneficial for you.


2. Find your community

Now the second key ingredient that I think is important is to find your community. Triathlon is an individual sport, it can be quite isolating. If you aren't part of a squad or a group or have training buddies that you do sessions with. If you are sort of flying solo or just with one other person, it can be quite overwhelming and intimidating with all the things you need to know and need to do. Particularly when you get started. Particularly when you're new to the sport, there's so much stuff to kind of get your head around like, even just questions like "What should you get?" You know? "What computer is good for the bike?" Or "Should you get a multi-sport watch that you put on your wrist?" Like, there's so many different brands and different types. Like, what is the best thing for you?

If you had a community that you could ask around with what they're doing, it makes that whole process so much faster. Think about what your hydration setup on the bike is? How do you figure out how many bottles to carry, where to put them on your bike? What goes in them. Whether you should have a bottle that's got a straw in it or not, there are so many different things to that whole hydration setup on the bike. And if you had a bunch of people that you could ask what they're doing or see what they're doing, share different brands and ideas. That makes that whole research process faster as well.

I remember when I first started, I had no idea what Tri-suit to buy. I saw the ones that looked really nice, but there was so uncomfortable sitting on the saddle for a race that it took me ages to find one that I actually liked. And back then I sound like a dinosaur here. But back then there weren't, there wasn't any really specific female triathlon apparel.  

There are heaps of brands now. But back then there wasn't anything. And so if I wanted a cycling kit, it was a male it was a men's one that sucked. So there's loads of questions that you might have for people that would be so much easier if you had a brain's trust to bounce them off. Another big one that I get all the time, I guess as a dietitian is like what gels and sports drinks are the best.

I see a lot of groups of people use the same product. Sometimes because the coach is sponsored or has like an affiliate code for a certain brand. And so that squad uses that product. But that may not be the best one for you. And so it'd be helpful if you had a group of other triathletes that you could ask what they're using or even you know, bounce it offers sports dietitians brain about what's actually best for you.

There are just so many questions. One of the things that the triathlon nutrition Academy athletes say to me all the time is that they love hearing and seeing what other athletes are doing it because it gives them ideas and inspiration for what might work for them as well. Everyone's really different and we set you up with a framework and structure for what you need to be doing with your nutrition. And then you take that and adapt that to you and your situation.

So it's a really safe place to connect with other triathletes and chat all things nutrition and triathlon, without being judged by all those non-believers. You know, those people that don't do triathlon in your life and then just roll your eyes at you all the time when all you want to do is talk about triathlon. This is a place where you can come and chat all things triathlon and not be judged.

So whether it's your club, or your squad, or a group of people that you can connect with and talk all things triathlon without being judged. It'll fast track all of those weird questions you've got that only triathletes know the answer to.



3. Stop eating the same thing each day

The third thing that I think is really key and I talk about this all the time and that's you need to stop eating the same thing each day. It's really important that you have a periodised approach to your nutrition, just like you have a periodised approach to your training. Because as a triathlete, no two days are ever the same. You'll have a rest day or a lighter training day because we don't have rest days as triathletes who you kidding? You'll have a double session hard day, and then you have long sessions on the weekend as well. And so your nutrition for each of those different types of days needs to look different.

You shouldn't be eating the same thing on a lighter day versus a long session day. And most people are kind of across that a little bit. But what I see really commonly is that for the five-day work-week, where people have structure and routine, people eat the same sorts of things like you might have the same breakfast, you might have the same lunch, and then your dinner is relatively similar as well, you might have the same work snacks for your week.

So you've got this five day work week where food is quite similar. And then the weekends are a bit more free. So you lose that structure and rhythm of having to go to work and turn up somewhere at a certain time and go home. We might eat out more, we might have more takeaway foods, and be more social on the weekends. But these typically if you're working away your big, long sessions are in your bricks and you're racing type day. So if you want to try and maximise your time, and your money, your effort and your energy being a triathlete, do yourself a favor and learn about periodising your nutrition to your training.

You will feel so much more energy and less tiredness. If you get this right, and it's not that difficult, you just need a little bit of education around how to do it, it's not hard. Little bit of time in thinking it through, prep an organisation for you in your training program. And then once you've got it, you're off flying. It's amazing how good you can feel if you get this dialled in based on your training week.


4. Do the foundational work first

The fourth thing that I think is really important if you want to be a good triathlete is to do the foundational work first. So commonly, I see people with shiny object syndrome, you know, they've got a whole bag of the latest pills and potions for what's meant to give you the competitive edge.

There's really good marketing around this supplement sort of stuff. And you're spending money on something that's passive. So you take something and then wish for the best. And that's the easiest thing to do, right? You just hand over your cash, and then you're hoping it works for you. But is that thing that you're taking beneficial? Is it even safe? And most importantly, is it even effective? You may be taking something and just hoping that it's working, chances are it's doing nothing. So I need you to think of nutrition like a bit of a pyramid, you know, you've got a big wide solid base, and then it comes up to a point at the top. So we want to build a really solid base foundation layer first.

Now there is a reason why the first phase of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program is the foundations. You can't progress further into the race nutrition specific stuff until you've done this work first, because I think this needs to happen first. But so commonly, even with really well experienced athletes, I see them start the other way they flip their pyramid and start from that tip and work their way back up into the foundations. You can fast track your success by actually putting in the work to do the foundations first.

One of the ladies in the academy Nic, she has been doing triathlon for seven years, I think. And she's like, I cannot believe I didn't do this earlier. Like why have I been mucking around for seven years, when I could have done this back then and fast tracked my success in the sport. But she's not alone. So many well-experienced triathletes haven't got a plan for their nutrition. Whether it's no plan for pre-training or recovery.

The number of athletes I've heard turn up to an Ironman with no plan is nuts. They just wing it with whatever's on course and see how they feel. And none of those have ended well, which is why they've ended up getting a sports dietitian in their corner. So when you start with the shiny objects first, the supplements, the one-percenters, all those little things that you get marketed that really heavily. You actually have no knowledge about what you should be doing with a foundational stuff.

You taking pills and potions be probably not even eating enough fruit and vegetables on a day to day basis. You're probably not fuelling your sessions properly on a day-to-day basis. We seem as triathletes to be obsessed with knowledge. People do a lot of research on things like low carb, high fat, and that method of eating and training. We watch documentaries on veganism and how much beneficial that is for endurance sport and reading deeply on things like nitrates and beetroot and their supplementation for endurance exercise. But yet, you can't do the basics of understanding how to eat enough fruit and vegetables every day or your basic fuelling needs for different types of sessions.

So I need you to flip the switch and flip the pyramid back to the foundational layer on the ground first and work your way up. Yes, it's work. It's not passive. You just can't take a pill and be done with it, you're going to have to do a bit of work to understand what you need. But I really like to teach people a bit of the science but the practicalities of what you do need to be eating day to day. And then you're equipped with that knowledge forever, right? It's not a quick fix. It's not a diet that lasts for eight weeks. It's building the knowledge into you so that you can adapt your nutrition over time, no matter what's going on and still benefit from that. I'm all about long term change, not quick games.


5. Recovery nutrition

The fifth key ingredient is your recovery nutrition. It's one of the first things I will do with an athlete is to actually dial this in properly. If you want more information on recovery nutrition, go back and listen to episode four where I dive deeper into it. But what I see commonly is people have really delayed recovery nutrition they go and hang out at the cafe after a session, chatting with their mates and then go home and think about what they're doing for nutrition afterwards.

They don't take the right boxes when they do then have recovery or even if it's in the right timeframe, it doesn't tick the right boxes for them. People have no plan to recovery. For after a race, we've just smashed yourself the hardest, you've smashed yourself for ages. And you have no idea what your recovery nutrition is, you haven't packed anything you haven't thought about it, you mark around at the finish line, you get some photos for Instagram. And then you got to go get your bike. And then hours later, you might get to a cafe sit around and wait for ages to get some food. And before you know, it's three hours since you cross the finish line and you haven't eaten anything other than a cup of sports drink.

If you're not doing a good job of your recovery, then your immune system is compromised. If you're doing this all the time, or you're doing it after like say like an Ironman event or a longer high-intensity event, you're going to fall into a heap a couple of weeks after that. You'll find that you do get sick, but it's delayed. The other thing that can happen if you're not doing a good job of your recovery is you get horrendous DOMS. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Because you've not doing a good job of supporting our muscle recovery and repair with those nutritional building blocks. And again, you're not going to feel that until sort of one to two days after.

But recovery is so important for a number of reasons. And I want you to understand and know exactly what boxes to tick. So you've got the right building blocks to repair your muscles and refuel again. So you can go again and train within 24 hours. And also to rehydrate properly. I've seen a lot of really heavy sweaters lately. And their biggest problem is that they just get so dehydrated. So you need to understand your hydration needs to know how to rehydrate after exercise as well. Because otherwise, you could just go into being a dehydration hole for ages.

You need to feel confident that you're hitting the right targets for you and putting back into the body exactly what it needs. Now, your recovery needs are individual. So I'm not going to go through them here because everyone is different. But you need to learn for you. And you can take this with you forever. What is the right boxes for you to take and how much and when? That way you'll be able to backup and recover better and faster. You can perform better in your next session, whether that's that afternoon or the following morning. Whenever it is you need to do a good job of your recovery. Always as a triathlete, because we don't have rest days, generally, we don't have 24 to 48 hours in between our sessions. And so recovery is one of the key ingredients for you that you need to be doing over and over and over and over again. Now there's times you want to be aggressive with your recovery. And there's times where it doesn't matter so much.

But unless you know that, then you're not doing a good job of your recovery nutrition here. Because we only adapt from sessions that we recover from. We need to adapt from the stress of exercise to get better. And nutrition is part of the components of that recovery process. So if you're not doing a good job of your recovery now, that's what you need to focus on over the next few months to start making sure you do a good job of ticking this box after your sessions.


6. Prioritise getting enough sleep

The sixth key ingredient is making sure you prioritise getting enough sleep. Quantity of sleep, but also the quality because sleep is our ultimate form of recovery. You can't burn the candle at both ends, smashing training, trying to fit a full-time job in, balancing family commitments and then not get enough sleep overnight. Because sleep is where you are ultimately going to recover so that you're not falling into a hole at the end of the week, or multiple hard weeks in a row. Sometimes the good old rest day thrown in here or there can make you feel 200% better because you've given the body a chance to catch up.

But as triathletes, we have a problem of overtraining and under sleeping. So if you are sitting there and you're like I'm tired all the time, can you slightly increase your sleep quantity a little bit even if it's just an extra 10 minutes to start with an extra 20 minutes. See if you can push it to an extra 30 minutes and that might mean going to bed a little bit earlier. There might be nights we just can't get there and do that. But is there anything that you can do to set your evenings up to get into bed and sleep faster.

So put a no phones rule on yourself. So that phone use stops at say six o'clock at night. You're not watching TV or any sort of screen in bed is for sleeping it's not for watching TV. Get off scrolling through Instagram or TikTok or whatever it is that you're doing right before bed. That social media use pre-ben is going to delay the time it takes for you to fall asleep often.

Can you reduce your caffeine intake in the afternoons to help with your sleep in the evenings? Can you prep dinner on the nights that you've got to train at night time, so all you have to do is come home, eat, shower, unpack, repack, go to bed? Rather than coming home from training late. Still having to cook clean up, do all those things you're delaying going to bed. Is there things that you can do in your week, to set yourself up to get into better touch earlier. As an example, working with Daniel Coleman for triathlon Australia, there were nights where Dan would sleep for 11 to 12 hours. Like it's just nuts. He's a student and working and doing triathlon, he doesn't have a full time job, doesn't have family commitments. And he's up early, but he goes to bed early, because sleep for them is so important because they're training sort of four times a day, they need as much recovery as they can overnight to back up and do all that again.

So for the elite athletes sleep is given a huge priority in their overall health. And it's something that we track and monitor. So if somebody has got a few nights of poor quality sleep or quantity, then we know that they're going to turn up to training ready to train and ready to train the hostile. And so a coach can see that and really quickly adapt to session as well and go, "Hang on, you're not doing any intensity today, because you haven't slept properly for two nights." There is no point smashing you right now. Because you are not going to get fitter and faster if I do that, you are better off having a lighter, easier recovery session. And then we'll try again tomorrow after you've had a good night's sleep.

So sleep is pivotal. If you're not getting enough, and you know you're not getting enough, then work through some strategies to try and increase that just incrementally a little bit each day or each week. So that you're getting, you're recommended sort of seven to nine hours a night. And finally, number seven, if you want to be successful in the sport, you need to understand how to fuel long sessions properly. Something that rarely happens with an athlete unless they've had some education around what they need to be doing here.

To take a step back from that, for you to understand how you should be feeling long sessions, you need to understand the different types of fuel you use during sessions. And that will help you better match your training load to your fuel. And then your overall energy availability is going to be much more balanced as well. I don't know what it is, but triathletes have this mentality in long sessions to scale back. And it's not just triathletes, I see trail runners do this. I see cyclists do it. Maybe it's just the human psyche, we're trying to constantly drop body fat levels. And we think that not eating during training or not eating enough, is going to drive that shift in body fat loss. Let me tell you, it doesn't. Often what I'll do with people is get them to understand the types of fuel that they're using for certain sort of sessions, plan out what they're doing for long rides, long runs, long breaks, they've got a plan, that's something that we go through, I've got a framework to teach you how to do that. And eating more sometimes is what helps to promote that body fat loss. Because if you're well fuelled, you can train harder. And if you can train harder, you can burn more calories.

It makes sense physiologically, but sometimes mentally, it's hard to get your head around eating more aggressively on long runs on long rides. But unless you know what you're doing and what your plan is, then I totally get why nobody does this to start with. You're not meant to know deep sports nutrition science. So you may have no idea what you should be doing. You might be using the wrong sports nutrition products for you, you might not be hydrating properly for you, you might feel so crappy at the end of the sessions. Because you're so dehydrated, and your glycogen levels of relatively low that you're bonking or hitting the wall just feeling really dizzy and weak.

You will get fitter and faster if you can push in the back end of sessions. That's kind of where we get our little performance gains back there. So you need to set yourself up right from the beginning with how you're fuelling. So by the time you get to the end of a 3, 4, 5, 6 hour ride. You're not feeling so rubbish. So many people pull carbohydrate per hour guidelines off the internet that just isn't right for them, only to suffer the consequences later. Whether that is over fuelling, you know, worst-case scenario having to vomit because there's just too much nutrition in your gut and you're not absorbing it. Or also under fuelling like the whatever you've pulled off the internet is unlikely to be perfect for you.

So whatever it is, there's probably a better alternative that's going to make you feel better, train harder, and ultimately become a better athlete. So if you don't have one yet, I'd really encourage you to get a plan for long rides and long runs, and then implement it, practice it, tweak it. Because you need to really evolve your plan over time. You want to dial in your nutrition to suit you, the season that you're in your goals, rather than just doing the same thing all the time. So your nutrition needs to constantly needs to be evolving.

Depends if you're really new in a sport, or if you've been doing it for a long time, that are planned for somebody that's fresh and new and a beginner is going to look totally different to somebody that's been training for 10 years. And so a new beginner is likely to look up to that athlete that's been training for 10 years and go I aspire to them, I aspire to that I'm just going to copy what they're doing.

There is no scenario where that is going to end well for that athlete. So over the next few months, if you don't have a plan for long runs, long rides, then you need one. And that's what I want you to focus on. If you want to become a better triathlete. Now there are probably seven key ingredients that I think that are pivotal to your success. There are loads more. I can think of loads more off the top my head right now, but I think I could talk all day. But I think these are some of the key things that are really important that if you're not like yep, tick, tick, tick, I've got all those things that I want you to go back if any of that resonated with you that you don't have under control yet. And you feel you need to improve on set the goal to work on that just one thing for the next month.

And then once you've got that dialled in and now done that's feeling comfy, move on to the next thing, rather than getting overwhelmed and trying to do all the things all at once. And hey, if you're looking for a community of other triathletes to do that with, people you want a high five along the way and also pick an advanced sports dietitian's brain, come and join us inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program. Doors closed on the 31st of January at 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time.

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 could 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 at @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 smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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