Episode 90 - The secrets to a successful short-course race season with triathlete Leigh Yong

The secrets to a successful short-course race season with triathlete Leigh Yong

This triathlon season one of our Triathlon Nutrition Academy athletes, Leigh Yong has gone from strength to strength! She’s been smashing PB’s, standing on podiums and generally been on fire! 

So naturally, I asked her to come on the podcast and share her secrets to success.

After spending 3 years building towards her first Ironman in 2022 (thanks Covid), she decided to step back and focus on Sprint and Olympic Distance events. She has just completed 5 of the 6 races in the 2XU triathlon series in Victoria and managed 4th overall in her age group!

She’s switched from ‘completing’ to competing and shares with you her secret sauce! 



To give Leigh some love, follow her on Instagram

Connect with me: 

To learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy, head HEREwww.dietitianapproved.com/academy

See behind-the-scenes action on Instagram: www.instagram.com/dietitian.approved

Follow along on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DietitianApproved

Join our FREE Dietitian Approved Crew Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/DietitianApprovedCrew

Enjoying the podcast?

Let me know what you loved about it and what you learnt by tagging me @dietitian.approved on Instagram!

Subscribe & Review in Apple Podcast!

Are you subscribed to the podcast?

If not, today's the day! I'm sharing practical, evidence-based nutrition advice to help you nail your nutrition and I don't want you to miss an episode.  Click here to subscribe to iTunes!

Now if you’re feeling extra warm and fuzzy, I would be so grateful if you left me a review over on iTunes, too. Those reviews help other people find my podcast and quality nutrition advice. Plus they add a little sparkle to my day. 

CLICK HERE to review, select “Ratings and Reviews” and “Write a Review” and let me know what your favourite part of the podcast is.

You're awesome! Thank you!


Episode Transcription

Episode 90:The secrets to a successful short-course race season with triathlete Leigh Yong

Taryn Richardson  00:00

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  00:41

Joining me in this episode is one of our legend Academy athletes, Leigh Yong. And Lee is a triathlete based in Victoria, Australia. She works as a clinical physiotherapist so if you are watching the video, you'll see her beautiful clinical background. But she's just had a cracking race season and I wanted to get her on to chat all about that and see if she's got some secret insights about what made her season so successful. So welcome, Leigh.

Leigh Yong  01:11

Yay, thank you.

Taryn Richardson  01:11

Thanks for joining me. Now before we get into why you're so awesome, can you give us a little bit of a rundown about how you found this crazy sport of triathlon?

Leigh Yong  01:22

I started with what is a mini triathlon here in Barwon Heads, that my friend wanted to do. And I said, Yeah, sure, I'll come along with you - sounds like fun. And I really enjoyed it. So after going to some of the free clinics with one of the triathlon clubs that they ran before the event, I continued with them afterwards in their group sessions and it all started from there.

Taryn Richardson  01:49

So you've been doing triathlon for what, five-ish years now?

Leigh Yong  01:53

Five-ish years, yes.

Taryn Richardson  01:55

What sort of distances have you tackled in that time?

Leigh Yong  01:58

Well, I started with all the short races - the 2XU ones in Melbourne were the ones that I started off with, and like in triathlon, everyone gives you crazy goals. So what's the next thing you do? I tried a 70.3 Half Ironman. And then after that, I had two other friends that said, I want to do an Ironman and it was never on my radar. But again, I was like, Yeah sure I'll do that with you. And then COVID hit so we signed up in 2019. Obviously 2020 - it didn't go ahead. 2021 there were floods in Port Macquarie so it didn't go ahead.  We changed to Cairns - we got locked out with the lockdown - so that didn't go ahead. So finally in 2022 - it took three years - and I had two kids but by then neither of them did it with me and I was the chump that was stuck with doing it - that I trained for three years for

Taryn Richardson  02:53

Oh my goodness.

Leigh Yong  02:55

Last year. Yeah. So I ticked that one off the bucket list I didn't know I had. But now I feel like I've done that. And what I realised - what I actually enjoyed doing - was the short course triathlons that didn't take over my weekends in my life. So ...

Taryn Richardson  03:10

Yeah, particularly training for an Ironman for three years in a row. Like that's just silliness. Unfortunately, that happened for a lot of people as well. So do you think you were super fit for that Ironman? Or did you just lose motivation by that point?

Leigh Yong  03:23

Yeah, that's true. I think I was probably much, much better prepared for that Ironman than I would have been if I had to have done it in the first year.  It gave me a really good opportunity to build a good endurance base over three years. And I was really excited to just get it done.

Taryn Richardson  03:40

Yeah, so some positives to that - a three year journey to get to Ironman. There's, you know, some good things that come out of that. But this season, you've really decided to step it back and focus on the sprint and Olympic distance event. Is that just because you were over it? Or do you think that you're better suited to that?

Leigh Yong 03:56

Probably both. Like if I never have to see a four or five, six hour ride again, I will be very happy. I was really ready to have a break from the long, slow endurance stuff. And having, you know, done a season of sprint and Olympic training, I really enjoyed it. And it was just like a new goal and a new exciting thing to try and get faster - rather than, you know, last long.

Taryn Richardson  04:21

Yeah, a nice little switch. And coming to that from an endurance base is again, probably not a bad thing either. So you've just completed five of the six 2XU Tri Series down in Victoria and you actually came 4th overall in that series in your age group, with three 5th places and two 3rd place podiums. So congratulations.

Leigh Yong  04:41

Thank you - that was very exciting.

Taryn Richardson  04:43

Yeah - you're on fire.

Leigh Yong  04:45

Yeah, I was really happy with my PBs - that I'm getting, actually, - the times are getting faster, which is what I'm so used to looking at because, you know, until yeah, last season, I did manage to get a few podiums, but I've never before thought about "Where am I?" in a race. I've always just watched how my times are looking. So it's almost a bit of a switch to start thinking about racing on top of other people instead of just me. But...

Taryn Richardson  05:12

Yeah, yeah, like competing rather than completing.

Leigh Yong  05:16


Taryn Richardson  05:17

And what do you think was the reason that you were so successful this season?

Leigh Yong  05:20

I think there were a lot of things. I think, even before signing up for the Nutrition Academy, which I think had a big part of how I was feeling - how I was performing, training, racing. I also did a good bike block in the winter leading up to it. And I managed to do a consistent one a week strength session, which I've never really done before, which helped with a lot of my running. So I'd had some bike fitness and some run strength. And then on top of that, I learned how to recover well, I learned how to fuel for my training, which just had me feeling good energy wise, and it just sort of opened up how much I can push myself. I think there were a lot of things that just sort of came together for the season.

Taryn Richardson  06:02

Yeah, amazing. Everything kind of slotted into place for you nicely.

Leigh Yong  06:05

Yeah, it was very good.

Taryn Richardson  06:07

And so what sort of training did you do differently, this time that was maybe different to the past?

Leigh Yong  06:13

Well, I think my coach gave me some long, hard rides on my days off, not just in the weekend. So I definitely felt fitter and stronger on the bike. And a lot of the things that I was trying to do with my running, I think I realised I really didn't have the strength to do until I gave myself that long period to actually build it up. And then because I've always had an Ironman, at the end of the season, the two weeks you race sometimes were the small races that I didn't really need to worry about or I wouldn't tank before. But to actually focus on speed work this season or, you know, shorter runs and not having to work on the endurance side of things as well - I think it was a lot more specific.

Taryn Richardson  06:56

Dial up that speed and turn down that big diesel engine a little bit. And what did you do specifically in the gym? Like you're a physio, you know, better, right? But you know, sometimes you just need to be told what to do!

Leigh Yong  07:10

No, I definitely went and saw another physio to tell me what to do. Absolutely. It was really great. So he sort of set me up a program, which I actually continued  - it's terrible, I know this as a physio - but it was the same program for ... I think I've been doing it for about eight months ... and I still get Dom's for two or three days afterwards. So I haven't changed it myself, because it's still working. But I've noticed like I've got more range or more stability or better technique in doing the same exercises, despite not actually having changed the weights or progressed it like I know I probably should have.  But it's actually ... it's still working well for me.

Taryn Richardson  07:48

Yeah. Cool. And did you do that through your Ironman build? Or is it something that you've laid in for this season?

Leigh Yong  07:54

Yes. So I think I came to see him from about six weeks before my Ironman and said, I think I need to do some strength because (I know - as a physio - not great!?!), but I don't know that I had many of the improvements for my Ironman, but it's definitely a good base for the season.

Taryn Richardson  08:12

No time like the present, right? It's never too late to get in the gym.

Leigh Yong  08:15

Like a bit of deadline pressure. Yeah.

Taryn Richardson  08:18

And so over the last six months or so you've been working more so on your nutrition. It's not something you've ever tackled before. What are the sort of things that changed for you through this season with a bit more knowledge?

Leigh Yong  08:32

I never would have eaten in the right recovery window after a training session. I would often, like most social triathletes, go to the cafe a little bit later. It's nothing that I now know that I need or it's not in a timely window. So I think that even there's just recovery was such a big change for me. And I was one of those people that would be in bed napping for the afternoon after a morning session on the weekend and feeling really tired. So just learning how to refuel, learning how to eat day to day has been a really big part of what I think has paid off as well. Like learning how to change what I'm eating each day, depending on what the training is, instead of what I was probably doing before which was a whole lot of restricted eating, and then a whole lot of binging. Which just has been terrible cycles from a diet culture growing up of you know, "Don't eat this. Don't eat that", feeling tired, feeling hungry, and then eating probably more and worse later.

Taryn Richardson  09:35

Yeah, it's scary, isn't it? Particularly working in a hospital. I've had the experience of a lot of crap food being around all the time. Like there's chocolates on the wards. There's biscuits everywhere. There's always food.

Leigh Yong  09:48

Yes, and I used to always say, you know, free food Gods will not bring me free food if I don't need it. So I must take your offerings!!  I definitely still indulge sometimes. But I'm not craving it as much as I used to because I am eating better other times.

Taryn Richardson  10:07

Yeah, I find that hospital environment so hard. You've got to be so strong and have really good willpower constantly or eat that type of thing strategically, because you're honestly faced with it 24/7 - it never goes away.

Leigh Yong  10:24

And it's Easter - so it's particularly bad at the moment - so many Easter Eggs.

Taryn Richardson  10:29

So you understand how to eat differently on a day to day basis. And you've got a like relatively physical job, right? You don't just get to sit down all day in a clinic - you're like up on the wards, helping patients walking around constantly. Couple that with training for three sports in a week - you're not exactly sedentary. So what sort of specific things other than that recovery meal - getting that right and getting the timing - what sort of other things have you changed or implemented in your days to make you feel better?

Leigh Yong 11:02

I'm think I'm definitely better at having a breakfast meal, which is usually a solid meal, because it's my recovery meal, because I prefer to do my training in the morning, which I wasn't always having before. And just a lot of the uncertainty and the mental work of trying to work out what to eat and when - I don't have to worry about anymore because I know and it's easy for me to adapt. So it's actually taken a lot of that energy side of things out of it. And I've sort of worked out the things that work for me, like, you know, with run club I'm not getting home in time to have my recovery meal so I'm taking my protein hit straight away with those smoothies, which I'm a big fan of! Rokeby Farms smoothies - I was like - we should find out a wholesale.

Taryn Richardson  11:50

Yeah, we need a sponsorship, if they're listening, hit us up.

Leigh Yong 11:54

Delicious. Yeah, things like, we can have two pieces of bread in my recovery meal rather than one. You know, if I actually need the protein, I'll have three eggs, not you know, one or two, like it's good to know how to fuel properly for your training, rather than worrying about what am I eating or how I look or, you know? It's a different way to think about things.

Taryn Richardson  12:17

Yeah, that's crazy. It is so different, isn't it? And it is a little bit of a mental switch around fueling for performance rather than eating to, like eat in a way. You have to actually survive your training and recover to back up and go again, which is a totally different way of eating compared to coming from a restriction dieting mentality. So many females eat one piece of toast and one egg and they're like, Yeah, breakfast done, I'm sorted. And then you wonder why you’re starving a couple of hours later!

Leigh Yong  12:47

I know. I've had this thought that if my body doesn't get enough fuel, it will improve through adversity. Looking back now silly, obviously, because it does feel so much better when I'm fueling properly when I train and I'm performing so much better for this too. But it's still a learning curve. Because even you know, in offseason, I've said to my coach the other day, oh offseason is probably when I can drop more weight now, because I don't need to worry about fuelling as well, because I'm not in my peak season anymore. And he's like "Leigh, you're performing well, you're feeling good? Like why would you change what you're doing? You've already leaned up." And I was like, Yeah, I'm sure that's true. I didn't think about that. But that's just what I've gone back to - how I should look, because, you know, triathlons in lycra - but it's a different thought process, which I'm still learning. But, yeah ...

Taryn Richardson  13:28

Oh, your coach sounds awesome. It's rare to hear coaches have that side of, you know, the nutrition thing, a bit more balanced, which is really good. Like, I would hear a lot of coaches be like, Yeah, let's put you on like Lite n Easy or a 1200 calorie diet now, let's do this. Like - so good and so refreshing to hear a coach being like, don't mess with a good thing. And what did that equate to? In minutes? Like, what are your PBs? What sort of ranges are you talking about there?

Leigh Yong  13:38

Well, I know in the world of runners and triathletes it's still very slow, but I've never been around this  ...

Taryn Richardson  13:59

Stop it! Stop it!

Leigh Yong  14:03

I've always wanted to get under 50 minutes for my 10km run. I've always just wanted to get under 5km pace and then never ever achieved it. And I finally did in my final Olympic race in St. Kilda. I think I got gypped because the official time says :02 but I definitely know it was a longer 10km course. And I'm pretty sure I ran a faster pace in that 10km than I did at the 5km in that same spot a few races back. So

Taryn Richardson  14:03


Leigh Yong  14:03

Like really happy. That was yeah, my other goals were trying to get under that 5km base for the fives and I did that for every single race this season instead of like a once off. And that's coming off on top of my bike PB which I took a couple of minutes off my bike time from Noosa which was my previous PB - so to have like a really strong bike and take some time off it and then also have, you know a two minute PB for my 10km run - it was just really exciting.

Taryn Richardson  15:11

Oh, so good - so stoked for you. You just seemed to get better and better as the season went on as well. Like every race I was like, holy crap like Leigh is literally on fire! Every time you raced, it was another podium or getting faster and you looked like you have fun doing it too. Maybe not out of the swim exit...

Leigh Yong  15:31

No!! Oh no! Yes, it's funny because my husband who comes to watch sometimes says that I'm no longer smiling and waving at him. He's like, you've got like this either dead grimace on your face. You're working harder. And he's like, you can see that you're there racing rather than you know, just having a good time, which is quite exciting, too. Yeah.

Taryn Richardson  16:00

So good. And is there anything that you'd do differently?

Leigh Yong  16:04

Yeah, there were obviously a few tweaks that I will try out this offseason again, and then see what works for me in racing season.  I've never raced with caffeine before. And so by the time we did the caffeine talk, I was like, I'm not too sure if I want to try this, because I've also only just started drinking coffee not long ago. So I didn't know. I think that's something I'll try in the offseason and see how it goes. And I think I'll try a different nutrition brand. After learning about multiple transportable carbs, I've realised that my one with 70 grams of glucose may not be completely working through for me, so I might try a few different things as well. But overall, like it's all, sort of, starting to fall into place and making more sense.

Taryn Richardson  16:52

So good to hear. If people are like "What is she talking about - with the multiple transportable carbohydrate thing and 70 grams of glucose?", don't worry - it's something we dive deep into inside the Academy program. Leigh's taking it up to the advanced level. So if that makes no sense to you, don't stress - I can teach you all the things. So what's the plan for next season then? Are you going to stay short? Do you want to try doing a 70.3 again? What's the big picture plans for Leigh Yong?

Leigh Yong  17:22

I feel like I enjoyed that season so much I will probably do the same and try and go faster again. I really didn't enjoy my 70.3. I did three of them. I did pay for every one of them. And I think ... actually I did think about it and it may be different now that I am nutrition wise - there's a better tool. So it may be a different story now.

Taryn Richardson  17:49

But you're a swimmer right? Like me - like swimming is our strength and running is our weakness. And running 21.1 kilometres as a swimmer is a long way.

Leigh Yong  18:00

It was not fun. Every time. It was not. You feel more like you have to run that distance. Like for the Ironman I would run 2kms and then have snacks and walk and then run 2 kms and have more snacks and walk.  And it was the best day.

Taryn Richardson  18:14

It's a long day. But yes ...

Leigh Yong  18:16

Yes, it works. It works. But to complete it - it was a very enjoyable day rather than racing it - but I think at a 70.3 distance you would still be trying to race it and, I don't know, a half marathon just really doesn't sound that appealing to me when I enjoyed the season so much. So I'll probably just stick to a very similar Sprint and Olympics and enjoy my summer - enjoy my social life too.

Taryn Richardson  18:39

You understand what that is again, when you don't do Ironman training - you can have a social life and you can spend time with your husband and do extracurricular activities outside of triathlon and work!

Leigh Yong  18:49

Exactly. Triathlon is such a great, enjoyable part of my life. It's not everything though. So when it starts affecting relationships or what I can and can't say yes to and social friends and family catch ups then it's not really what I want out of it.

Taryn Richardson  19:07

Yeah, it's a nice balanced way to think about it. Well I look forward to seeing what next season has in store for you then Leigh. Make sure you do a nice good ride block and then a strength block in the gym heading into next season. Repeat that because that worked.

Leigh Yong  19:22

Yes. So I might have to go back and see that physio again.

Taryn Richardson  19:27

And lots of things to work on with your nutrition. I feel like you're just getting started which is really exciting.

Leigh Yong  19:34

Really exciting stuff. I really, yeah, I do appreciate help. And that knowledge of what to do and how to look after it yourself and work it out for yourself too -it's so different from wondering if I, you know ... Am I eating the right things at the right times? Have I got enough nutrition for this bike ride? Am I gonna bonk because I've hit the wall many times? And it's so nice to have the confidence to know that this is the right stuff - evidence based. It's been really helpful for me. So - appreciate it.

Taryn Richardson  20:03

Oh, you're welcome. I think that's really invaluable that you understand why we do the things and you understand the evidence behind it. And then you can apply that to yourself because it means that you don't have to, you know, come and see me for a new plan for next season. Like, you know how to tweak and evolve what you did this season for next season and only, kind of, get better and faster as a result of that. Like the same as going to see the physio for a new plan. I was going to say in theory, you could write your own plan but maybe as a clinical physio, maybe you can't!?

Leigh Yong  20:36

Probably not. My ... I think I failed my musculo placement the first time around and had to re-sit the six weeks! So I'll look after you after you've had your open heart bypass or abdominal surgery or something but .... maybe nup!

Taryn Richardson  20:49

Yeah, area of expertise. Same as me - like I'm a triathlon dietitian. If you came to see me for a physique sport like body sculpting or making weight with boxing, or like a rugby league player, I'd be like, "Nah go to someone else". Like I know - but not enough. And you know this about me, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I'm not going to half ass a plan that I'm winging. I'd rather just get it right for somebody the first time.

Leigh Yong  21:14

Yes, that's very true. Yeah.

Taryn Richardson  21:16

So we sneakily have doors open to the Academy Program at the moment. They're going to close again Sunday morning. And it's really just because I've been borderline harassed by so many people to come inside the program since we opened in January. They don't officially open until July. That's our next big open week. But if you are one of those people that has been kicking themselves, because you missed out in January, then go to dietitianapproved.com/Academy and you'll be able to kind of go in the sneaky side door BUT that locks down Sunday 9am Brisbane time, which is Saturday afternoon or evening if you are in the US or Canada. And I'm not opening them again for anyone. There's no more harassment. They'll officially open again in July if you miss this one. So dietitianapproved.com/Academy if you want to come inside and, you know, get some sick performance gains like Leigh's experienced this season. She has been amazing. All the other Academy athletes have been cheering you on Leigh - being like, you need to get Leigh on the podcast. She's doing so awesome. So here you are! Thank you so much for sharing some of your secrets around what you did. Probably don't recommend doing three years of Ironman training to have a good successful sprint season but there are plenty of other good takeaways from that that you can implement to feel some of that success that Leigh has as well.

Leigh Yong 22:40

Thanks, Taryn.

Taryn Richardson  22:43

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!  


Looking for a community of like-minded triathletes?

Join our Dietitian Approved Crew Facebook Group