Episode 96 - Why You’re a Tired Triathlete All the Time and How to Find More Energy

Why You’re a Tired Triathlete All the Time and How to Find More Energy

Are you feeling tired and fatigued? 
Of course you are - you’re a triathlete training for 3 sports in a week. Plus juggling the demands of work, family, and life. But you shouldn't be completely wiped all the time. Even if you’re training for a full distance/Ironman event.

We often push ourselves to the limits, neglecting the importance of quality nutrition, sleep and recovery. Our bodies need time to repair and recharge. Without it, fatigue becomes our constant companion. And it’s not a badge of honour you should be proud to wear. 

Nutrition also plays a pivotal role in our energy levels. Sometimes you don’t know how good you can feel, until you’ve got your nutrition sorted to support training. 

So how do you find more energy? Here are 6 practical strategies to help you find more energy and feel like a supercharged triathlete.

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 Episode Transcription

Episode 96: Why You’re a Tired Triathlete All the Time and How to Find More Energy

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  00:42

Welcome back to another exciting episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast where here we explore all things triathlon nutrition - really trying to help you become a supercharged triathlete. And today, we're diving into a topic that I'm sure you can relate to - just feeling tired and fatigued. And specifically, we're going to talk about why you might be feeling tired all the time and, most importantly, how to find more energy. How do we boost you through your training sessions? So lace up your shoes, hit start on your Garmin, and let's get into it. Now first, we need to start by understanding what is a 'normal' feeling of tiredness. Like, of course, you're tired. You're training for three sports. Plus, you're probably blending that with the demands of work and family and life. But you shouldn't be completely wiped all the time. Even if you're training for an Ironman.

Taryn Richardson  01:42

One of our Academy athletes has never wanted to do another Ironman, because she spent that whole training build just floored, wiped, no energy, tired. And everyone around her was like, "That's totally normal, you're training for an Ironman, you're meant to feel like that". But since joining the Academy, she feels so much better and she's got so much more energy, that she's like, maybe I could do another Ironman now that I have the right nutrition knowledge and education on my side to survive that better. So think about "What is normal?" and perhaps you've got yourself into so much of a hole that you just think how you feel is normal. And sometimes you don't know how good you can feel until you have got some of your nutritional components sorted. And then you're like, "Ah, that wasn't normal". So sometimes it's hard to know, if you have been in the trenches of tired for so long.

Taryn Richardson  02:43

Some red flags, that you are potentially doing it all wrong - like what I call the tired triathlete - you are tired all the time. If after a long training session, maybe you've done a really long bike or you've done your long run, the rest of the day is completely wasted. Like you are not functional. You basically spend the time on the couch. You're reading, You're watching Netflix. Like you are just done for the day. That is not normal. You should be able to go and do a six hour ride and then spend time with your family or go out or do all of those life admin things that we have to do as adults - like doing the grocery shopping, doing some meal prepping - whatever it is that you need to do. So if that's you, then that's not normal. Some people risk divorce by wasting the days away on the couch. And so hopefully, I'm saving some marriages out there as well.

Taryn Richardson  03:38

Now, if you don't wake up and feel energised, that's a bad sign. You should wake up in the morning and be raring to go. Like yes, in winter, it's much harder - it's darker, it's colder. It's getting cold here in Brisbane, although we have nothing on the Canadians who are heading into summer, and it's colder than it is here. But you want to wake up feeling fresh, okay? You want to feel more energised when you wake up. You don't want to feel worse, you don't want to feel tired and lethargic and rundown. You want to get up out of bed with a bit of a spring in your step. If it gets to the end of your work week and you've done a big training week, but you've still got the big, long endurance weekend sessions to go and you're completely busted, and you have no idea how you're going to get through those longer sessions, then that is a big indicator that you are feeling like a tired triathlete. And we need to do something to fix that because you won't absorb those long endurance sessions and they will essentially be wasted if you haven't got that set up right.

Taryn Richardson  04:48

If on your rest days, and by rest, it could just be one session instead of three. It could be a shorter, lighter session than harder and faster. Whatever that looks like for you - your lighter training day, your rest days - if you are absolutely starving on those days, and you don't know how to fill a hole, and you're kind of playing catch up, that, for me is a big red flag that things aren't right. If you're struggling to shift some excess, unwanted body fat, despite training the house down, maybe you're putting in 15, 20, 25, 30 training hours in a week, and you aren't at the body composition that maybe not you would think is ideal, but maybe I would think is ideal, then things aren't working properly. If that is difficult, and it's not easy and we can't let training drive some of that shift, then your body is not functioning to its full capability and you are a tired triathlete.

Taryn Richardson  05:49

If you are constantly sick - you get over one thing and you pick up another or if you keep getting little annoying, niggly injuries, then that is a big red flag that you're tired triathlete. And finally, another good one for me that I can really see quickly with people, is if they have no idea how to eat on different types of training days. You really want a different plan or strategy based on your training demands. And we'll talk about that when we get to the practical side of things. But if you have no idea how to do that, then you are not optimising your training periodisation. And like, again, you're probably doing junk miles, junk kilometres, wasted hours of training, because the body is not absorbing that. We're not adapting from those sessions.

Taryn Richardson  06:36

So some questions to ask yourself: Do you have rest and recovery days? Do they exist in your program? Or is your training program just go, go, go all the time? Do you have lighter training weeks - those rest adaptation type weeks that are helping you to recover from the previous build? Are you getting enough sleep? That's a big one - we often burn the candle at both ends. We have busy work lives, busy training lives, maybe we've got kids, maybe sleep is not fully in your control. But are you getting somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep a night? Maybe more? When I worked with the elite athletes at Triathlon Australia, some of those boys were getting 10, 11, 12 hours of sleep a night, which is crazy! That's a lot of time lying down in a 24 hour period, that's basically half of your day. But you need it. They needed it. Sleep is our ultimate form of recovery. And if you are only getting four or five, six hours, then you're not even starting the day on the right foot. You're under recovering and hoping that your body can just deal with it. It can't. Sleep is our ultimate form of recovery and we need to not sacrifice that. So if there's anything you can do to go to bed 10 minutes earlier, 15 minutes earlier, 30 minutes earlier, every night to try and build to seven to nine hours, that is going to be one of the key things that sets you up with better energy levels. I'm a personally a nine hour sleeper, I'm probably getting close to that these days. Woohoo!t Jesus, there was a period of time there where I was definitely not. and I struggled, I still struggle. But I struggled really bad when I was only getting more like seven. 

Taryn Richardson  08:24

We often just push ourselves to the limits and we neglect the importance of our quality sleep and rest days also. Our bodies need that time to repair and they need to recharge. And without it, all of that fatigue is just going to build and it becomes a constant companion - to the point where we don't even kind of feel or recognise how tired we actually are until we go on a holiday or we take a few days off. Remember, we only adapt or get fitter and faster from the sessions that we recover from. So if you're constantly smashing yourself, it's not going to make you a better triathlete. It's okay to sit still and do nothing for a day. Recovery is just as important as training itself.

Taryn Richardson  09:14

Are you overtraining? Can you identify those signs and symptoms of overtraining yourself as well? Or can you open up that dialogue with your coach to help you see that and be aware of that? It can be a really delicate balance between pushing ourselves and allowing for enough recovery. And if it goes too far, we end up in low energy availability and, you know, further along that continuum is bone stress injuries and bone stress fractures, and they set you back for months. So if you can prevent that by fuelling and eating properly, then you will absorb better training and become a fitter faster athlete because an injured athlete is not training particularly well. And we know that the athletes that perform put together the most consistent training blocks. So they're not taking a step back and reducing training load for being sick or they're not taking a step back for being injured. The more consistent training blocks you can piece together, the better athlete you will be. And we really see that.

Taryn Richardson  10:24

So make sure you have a periodised training approach. You've got varying intensity, and it strikes that balance between pushing you and challenging you and making you fitter and making you faster but avoiding complete burnout, illness and injury. That's really important. And I guess most importantly, nutrition plays a really pivotal role in our energy levels, and we want to get that right. It is the key to your success. It really is the fourth leg of triathlon. Once you've figured out how to swim, bike and run and piece them together, then it's time to start layering in your nutrition. So I want you to think about training as a big circle and then nutrition is another big circle and as they merge together into like a Venn diagram, I call that little sweet spot in there where they intersect the Supercharged Zone. That is where you are going to be unlocking your true potential, feeling energy, we're not feeling like a tired triathlete. If we can intersect those two layers, and layer our nutrition in with our training demands, that is the most important thing to get right.

Taryn Richardson  11:37

So how do you find more energy? I've got some practical tips for you and some ideas here to help you, you know, jump out of bed and be excited for the day rather than dragging yourself to training. Because feeling like a tired triathlete all the time is not normal. I'm just going to say that again. You we need to not normalise feeling like that. We need to change the narrative, like, yes, you're going to be tired when you train for three sports but that shouldn't be a badge of honour that you wear. So the first one is to prioritise your recovery nutrition. There's a reason it is the very first module that we talk about inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program. If you do nothing else, but focus on this one thing, it will set your whole day up for success. It is a huge piece of the puzzle to not fall into a heap in the afternoons, you know that 3.30-itis time I call it - where you, kind of, just really need a nap but you've got things to do and so you can't and so you just push through.

Taryn Richardson  12:42

And typically that's where we crave sweet - we crave fast acting simple sugars to give us that energy, to give us that pep up to get through that afternoon slump. Recovery is what often will fix that space. It also helps you to be more diligent with starting that recovery process earlier, rather than it being delayed, and we're missing that window of opportunity. So you really need to understand what are the components you need to be ticking and exactly how much you need for you - because it's very specific, it's individualised. What works for you is not going to work for me. But you need to understand you and your specific needs and I'll cover that in the Academy program.

Taryn Richardson  13:26

And you can also do that now in my Triathlon Nutrition Kickstart course. So I'll drop the link for that course in the show notes: dietitianapproved.com/kickstart. I cover recovery nutrition in there because it is so important for every triathlete to be doing. And if you're not doing that perfectly now, then what are you waiting for? Do that tomorrow. Do that today. Plus, we also need to think about all of our other components of recovery, right? So sleep, we've talked about. Body maintenance. Whatever it is that you need to do to get your body to recover as quickly as possible.

Taryn Richardson  14:01

The second thing you need to do to find more energy is to understand how to eat for the work required. You hear me bang on about periodisation all the time. But if you aren't doing that, then no wonder you're tired. You can't absorb the training and fuel the training for really high days if you're under eating to support them. And then playing catch up on our rest, light, recovery days. You have a big mismatch between your energy intake and your energy expenditure and we want to align those much better. Now you know if you're a listener that I'm not a huge believer in calorie counting as an endurance athlete, there are too many limitations with energy in and energy out. You can do that if it helps you to stay accountable or to help you see the difference between your training days. But I love to color code things for my athletes. I love them to see things in red, orange, green. Where's the green lighter recovery sessions? Where's the big red hard sessions and how do we match and layer or intersect our nutrition strategies to those - to maximise those?

Taryn Richardson  15:14

Because we can have a plan for rest days. We can have a plan for recovery days. Often they are ad libitum, or free for all and we've got more time because we're not training to access food. Maybe you're at home more on those days, and you have ready access to the cupboard or the pantry or the fridge and lots of 'snaccidents' happen on rest days. But there's specific strategies that we can set you up with, to ensure that you're meeting the needs of those days without feeling like your throats cut, and you're starving yourself. And there's also specific strategies that we can implement on those really hard days so that you can get in what you need without it being a struggle. Often our appetite is blunted on those days - 1. with like long hard training and 2. there's less time to eat if you're doing long, hard training. So we need to be really strategic around the food choices that we're making on both of those different days to fuel for the work required.

Taryn Richardson  16:12

Huge component to feeling like a supercharged triathlete when you get that dialled in. And that doesn't happen overnight. That is a process that can take months to years to really get right. But as long as you're starting that process, and you're trying to eat in a periodised way, you'll feel so much more energised, and have more even appetite and be less ravenous, when we're trying to potentially scale back on those rest days. Like that's not fun. I'm not about restriction. I hate diets. They don't work, we know that. But let's think more strategically about our nutrition so that we are maximising our training outcomes. That's what I do for a job.

Taryn Richardson  16:56

Alright, number three, check that you're not deficient in anything. I think that's really important. Sometimes if you're feeling absolutely floored, you're completely lethargic, tired, no energy all the time. Like sometimes something medically is going wrong, whether it's low iron, like your thyroid is doing weird things, or something's not working, then just check that your body is functioning at its best. Go back and listen to Episode 93, which was all about blood tests for triathletes - what to get, when to get it and what your results actually mean, so that you're equipped with some knowledge and understanding of all of that stuff. So that you can make informed decisions and have really robust open discussions with your doctor, with your sports physician and just make sure that you're dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's. Because if you're deficient in something like iron, we need to be really strategic around putting that back in with your nutrition, or do you need to supplement and then again, we want to be strategic around that as well, not just willy nilly taking any supplement, when you remember to do it. And then we need to have a regular check in to see that that's working as well. And if that's not that could open up the doors for further investigation. But we need to just think about that in a more global sense to make sure that your body's working, you're not deficient in anything, because you will feel tired if your iron levels are low and we need to fix that.

Taryn Richardson  18:25

Number four - leading on from that, is to make sure you're eating a really balanced diet from all of the food groups. And we're not restricting certain groups, unless you have an allergy or intolerance. But the more variety of foods we have, the better. And balance as a triathlete is different to the general population. So you can't necessarily follow, like, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and things like that. That's not going to work for us. When we train for three sports. You need to understand your specific needs and nourish yourself for peak performance. We're not restricting we don't have that mentality of restriction and diet. Want to think more strategically about our nutrition because you're probably doing that with so many other components in your life, right? Whether it's training and doing all of those things, or whether it's work. Why haven't you thought about nutrition in that way? It honestly is the fourth leg, - swim, bike, run, nutrition. You will get more bang for your buck out of getting your nutrition right, than you will on dropping $10-20k for a new bike. A faster bike might make you 1 - 5% faster in your race, whereas nutrition is, honestly, the make or break. It can be the difference between finishing the race with a smile on your face and feeling like you could do it all over again. Or slogging your guts out through that race - flogging a dead horse (it's a very Australian term) and just like feeling crap the whole time, but gritting your teeth and getting through it anyway.

Taryn Richardson  20:10

Now I don't know about you, but there's definitely one type of race that I would prefer to do than the other. I want to have fun out there. I'm not racing for money. I'm not racing for my job. I'm racing for fun. Well, not right now, but previously. And so we tend to get caught up in doing better and going faster and beating our PB and getting on the podium, or whatever it is, and we forget to have fun. You want to cross the finish line with your smile on your face. And we want to make sure that we have nutrition right to help that - that's going to make that a much happier, friendlier place. Because nutrition is not a punishment. And food is also not a reward. Do I need to say that again? Food is not a reward. So if you go and have a really good race, I challenge you to reward yourself, but not with food. Go and pick something else - massage, movie, a new book, a facial, new shoes, whatever it is, but don't reward yourself with food.

Taryn Richardson  21:14

Number five. Are you feeling really tired, because you're perpetually dehydrated? A lot of people feel quite wiped all the time and really, they just need to keep on top of their hydration more. That's something that you can explore in the Academy program. I teach you how to do your own hydration testing so you can understand what you're losing in sessions, and then how to adequately rehydrate so that you're ready to go for the next session. A lot of us are just in this constant dehydration state and we have no idea. And it can be a key component to feeling really tired and fatigued - is dehydration. So something to explore, something to understand for yourself. And knowing how to rehydrate between sessions and during sessions is really important to energy levels.

Taryn Richardson  22:03

And then my sixth and final tip is to fast track your success by getting a sports dietitian in your corner. Completely shameless plug, but you can ask any Triathlon Nutrition Academy athlete, and they will all tell you that they wish they had invested in their nutrition sooner. You can keep winging it, and Googling everything and trying to figure it out on the internet, asking your training buddies, asking your coach who maybe has some good knowledge around what works for them, but isn't actually qualified to be giving individualised nutrition advice to you, unless they have a degree in nutrition (just quietly). I really don't understand why we do this to ourselves. We don't go to an optometrist to fix our feet. We don't go to a dentist to fix our eyes. We go to the medical professional to get what we need fixed. But for some reason (my goal is to change this), we don't tend to go to dietitian's for nutrition advice. We go to everyone else first. But if nutrition is something that you want to work on - yes, it's an investment in time. Yes, it's an investment in money, finances.

Taryn Richardson  23:23

But the way that I run the Academy program, (yes, it's nine months), but it will set you up for life. I don't want you to have to come to me for a race plan every time you do a new race. I don't want you to come to me for a meal plan every time you change a session in your week. I want to teach you the knowledge and the skills and understanding around why we do the things so that you can take ownership of that yourself. And that is so much more powerful. Because when things change, like you go on holidays for the weekend, maybe you get sick or you get injured and you have to take a step back, you know how to adjust your nutrition to support that. And how cool would that be? You literally can have a sports dietitian in your pocket. It's all available on the mobile shopping device that you carry around in your pocket.

Taryn Richardson  24:14

And now you can also do my Triathlon Nutrition Kickstart course as a way to get started today. So, like I said, I'll drop that link in the show notes: dietitianapproved.com/kickstart. We cover loads of things that are going to help set you up for success so that you don't have to feel like a tired triathlete anymore. You can concentrate on putting the premium fuel in your high performance engine and start that journey to feel Supercharged. So I hope you've got some valuable insights into why you might be feeling tired all the time. And that's not normal. Let's not normalise 'that is just what it's like as a triathlete'. But I want you equipped with some ideas to start to reclaim your energy levels. Remember you are an endurance athlete, you're not a sprinter. And it's about finding that right balance between training and recovery. That's key. Fatigue is not a sign of weakness. And it's also not a badge of honour that we want to wear. It's a sign that you're pushing your body to its limits, which is great. But successful athletes are the ones that absorb the demands of training, without breaking and without getting sick all the time. And remember that what works for one person is not necessarily going to work for another. So I want you to focus on you and your journey. Listen to your body. It is really smart. It'll give you signs and symptoms that things aren't working. If you tune into it, and you really listen. So I hope you've enjoyed this episode. Please don't forget to leave me a review and share this episode with your fellow triathletes. Until next time, eat well and train hard.

Taryn Richardson  25:58

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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