Is your winter triathlon training being ruined by constant colds? Avoid them now.
Back in 2012/2013 I lived and trained in Stellenbosch, South Africa for six months. The training conditions were perfect, I lived an outdoor lifestyle and for once I wasn't working in an office surrounded by people with viruses.
Despite being in such a great environment I still kept catching colds all the time, which really hampered my training. After my fourth virus in just eight weeks I knew something wasn't right, so I decided to take some time out to analyse my training diary to see if there was any link.
And there it was, staring me in the face.
My diary clearly indicated that I kept catching a cold immediately following approximately 14 days of hard training. During that time I was averaging 22 hours per week, which was more than I'd done before and it seemed I wasn't coping.
It seems obvious looking back, but at the time I was caught up in the day-to-day focus of combining triathlon training and work, rather than looking at the bigger picture. From that point on I decided to reduce my volume and intensity slightly. The result? I didn't catch another cold for five months.
It also motivated me to research the link between winter triathlon training and colds to see if there was anything else I could do. This is what I found out - it may help you to realise why you're susceptible to colds too.
Research shows that intense periods of triathlon training can temporarily weaken your immune system. During hard periods of winter triathlon training, the body produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels and suppress the immune system. This effect has been linked to the increased susceptibility to infection.
The opposite effect has been shown among those who do regular moderate exercise. For example, one study reported half as many colds among those who exercise for 40 minutes each day, compared to a similar group of sedentary people. Therefore, in order to keep improving and stay healthy you need to find the optimal balance between moderate and intense periods of training.
Five Ways To Limit Colds
1. Record and Look Back
If you keep a training diary you should record any periods of illness in addition to your training. Whenever you catch a cold, look back at your diary and see if there was a link. Viruses commonly occur after a fortnight of particularly intense training. A diary can help you identify these patterns and avoid them in the future.
2. Consider Other Forms Of Stress
Life stress, poor nutrition and lack of sleep have all been shown to increase your susceptibility to viruses.
These things are inevitable from time to time, particularly if you have children and a career. It's important to recognise them and take your foot off the gas during these times. Training hard when you're already tired and stressed will only make matters worse.
3. Follow The 48-Hour Rule
The most stressful workouts are those that combine bouts of high intensity with long duration. You may recognise these - they are the ones that leave you feeling useless for the remainder of the day.
Following these workouts your immune system will be suppressed for the next 48-hours. During this time you should either rest completely or undertake light exercise only. If you do more, you'll dig yourself a hole that could take a week to climb out of.
4. Take Recovery Weeks
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're fatigued or not, and "listening to your body" is not always enough. When I coach triathletes I set them an easy week every third or fourth week of the month. This active recovery week includes two days off and lighter training on the other days. I have found over the last 20 years that this strategy has coincided with periods of improved consistency and fewer viruses for myself and the athletes I coach.
5. Listen to Your Friends and Family
They may not be athletes, but sometimes the people around you can recognise when you're over-tired even if you can't see it yourself. So if your loved one tells you to take a day off training because you look shattered, there's a good chance they are right.
You can't avoid all colds, even if you are getting your training and recovery exactly right, but you can reduce your chances of getting so many. If the advice above seems a bit too general, there is another more analytical way to help avoid colds - known as heart rate variablility monitoring. There are several smart phone Apps that can help you do that and I covered the subject in more depth in my HRV Triathlon Training blog post.
Introducing the simple triathlete diet tricks that will help you train harder, stay leaner and recover quicker...
During my 20 years as a triathlete, I've come to realise that diet really does make a difference to your triathlon performance - but not always in the way you'd think.
My conclusion is this: You don't need to eat like a saint all the time, but you do need to make sure you're consuming the right kinds of fuel at the right times.
The triathlete diet tips in this blog will help you get this right. They are largely inspired by Dr Kevin Currell, Head of Performance Nutrition at the English Institute of Sport. I have worked extensively with Dr Currell at Triathlon Plus magazine and I've put most of his suggestions into practice over the last few years.
Tip number one (see below) about eating before early morning swims was something of a revelation to me. Not only did I swim better, but I was happier before and during my swim workouts. No more lane rage! Hopefully you'll get the same benefits...
1. Breakfast before morning swims
Sleeping during the night depletes your liver's store of glycogen - the fuel you need as a triathlete. When this is depleted your blood sugar starts to drop and fatigue sets in. Early morning swimming in this fasted state can be a bad idea for three reasons...
1. It leads to poor concentration levels. If you are trying to improve your technique you will struggle.
2. You will be low on energy, so you will find it harder to swim at a high intensity.
3. It will lead to you feeling tired and hungry all day. And hence eating more than you might normally.
To avoid this happening, you should have a light breakfast before all morning swims. Go for foods high in carbohydrate, low in protein and low in fat. You don't even need to compromise your sleep. Simply choose foods you can eat on the go such as jam sandwiches, flapjacks or a sports bar.
2. Protein after runs
Running is the discipline that leads to most injuries for triathletes. A simple diet trick to help reduce the muscle damage caused by running is to consume a good source of protein straight after each run workout. If you are doing an easy run, have a yogurt when you get in. For longer or harder runs, have a milkshake or carbohydrate protein recovery drink
3. Fish Oils 3 Times Per Week
When our ancestors lived in caves and hunted for food they ate the healthy fats omega 3 and omega 6 in a ratio of approximately 2:1. These days that ratio is more like 1:20. The consequences of this are a form of inflammation which the body finds difficult to cope with. For a triathlete who's hard in training this means slower recovery and increased fatigue.
Simply taking a fish oil supplement or making sure you get a good source of oily fish 3-4 times per week can get your body back to how it should be.
4. Swill A Carbohydrate Gel
There are carbohydrate sensors in the mouth which stimulate the brain into working harder. Using a carbohydrate mouth rinse has been shown to increase 40 km cycling time trial time by over a minute. It works in training too. Just swilling a gel around your mouth to help you maintain your intensity during tough workouts.
5. Start drinking early on the bike
The timing of fluid and fuel intake on the bike leg of an Olympic distance race can affect run performance. A recent study compared triathletes drinking at 8, 16, 24 and 32 km into the bike with drinking at 10, 20, 30 and 40 km. When subjects started drinking early they ran the 10 km 3% faster than when they started drinking later in the bike. It could help you knock a minute more off your run splits.
That's all for now. Hopefully you will benefit from these tips as much as I have. If you enjoyed this blog, please share it.
It may also interest you to know that I've just finished designing my latest triathlon training plan. This is available via Training Peaks online training software. If you're not already a Training Peaks member, you can sign up for a free account when you choose one of my training plans.
NEW: "24 Week Advanced Olympic Triathlon Plan. 8-14 Hours Training Per Week".
The Simple Bike Tips That Could Instantly Save You 78 Seconds Per Hour
I recently went for a run with my friend Lee Piercy, who's an age-group world duathlon champion. I was intrigued when he told me that he no longer uses a front derailleur, because it reduces friction and saves him several watts. He suggested I check out a website called Friction-Facts.com for more information - and that's exactly what I did.
Friction Facts is a third-party independent testing facility in the US, whose goal is to provide cyclists and triathletes with the tools to maximise their top speed with proper component selection. Their formula is simple. Using the most efficient components = a faster ride = a better finish time.
I downloaded a Friction Facts in-depth report package and it taught me a lot. For example, did you know that something as simple as changing your chain lube can instantly give you 4 watts of "free" power? Not bad eh? It would probably take you a month of hard training to get that same result.
In this blog I'll give you seven ways to save watts and gain speed according to Friction Facts research...
7 Tips From The Friction Facts Research Facility
1. Choose Your Chain Lube Carefully
Use a top-performing chain lubricant. Test results show a 4+ watt efficiency difference between the most efficient and least efficient chain lubes. The top performing lubes are:
1. Molten Speed Wax
2. Squirt Lube
3. Lilly Lube
4. Rock n Roll Extreme
2. Consider An Oversized Derailleur Pulley* System
*Sometimes called 'jockey wheels' in the UK
The Berner oversized ceramic pulley system saves 2.95 watts when compared to a standard derailleur cage with poor-performing 11 tooth pulleys. The Berner system specifically saves 1.75 watts when compared to a standard short cage Dura Ace derailleur. The watt-savings seen with the Berner system is due to the larger-sized pulleys, high efficiency ceramic bearings, and lighter coil spring force resulting in lighter cage tension.
3. Improved 11 Tooth Pulley Systems
If you would prefer to keep your existing 11 tooth rear derailleur cage, simply upgrade the 11 tooth pulleys. Test results show a 1.34 watt efficiency difference between the most efficient and least efficient 11 tooth pulleys.
The top performing 11 tooth pulleys are:
2. Tiso Ceramic
3. Enduro Zero
4. Hawk Racing
5. TACX ceramic
4. Upgrade Your Grease
Replace factory-provided bearing grease with a high performance grease, such as CeramicSpeed TT Grease or Finish Line Extreme Flouro Grease, at a 25% fill level in the hub and bottom bracket bearings.
5. Boost Your Bottom Bracket
Upgrade to a top-performing bottom bracket. Test results show a 1.8 watt efficiency difference across a sample of 35 bottom brackets.
Top-performing bottom brackets manufacturers are:
1. Gold Race
4. Hawk Racing
6. Use a Top Performing Chain.
Test results show a 1.5 watt efficiency difference between chain manufacturers, tested with the same chain lube.
Consistent top performing chains are:
1. Shimano Dura-Ace 11 speed
2. Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed
Note: Some chains may not be cross-compatible with drive-trains of different manufacturers.
7. Choose Your Pedals Carefully
Test results show a 1.2 watt efficiency difference in pedals.
The top performing pedals are:
1. Crank Brothers
For lots more simple watt-boosting tips and in-depth friction advice (saving you up to 21 watts or 78 seconds per hour) check out Friction-Facts.com.
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.