Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
An FTP test is a simple way of determining your current cycling performance level.
FTP is the gold standard measure for cycling performance and it’s useful in all types of events from sprint triathlons all the way through to multi-stage cycle races like the Tour De France.
Knowing your own FTP enables you to track your progress, analyse your rides and set accurate pacing strategies for your key events.
The term FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and it’s a measure of the best average power output you could sustain for 1 hour in a time-trial scenario.
Personally, I'm really a passionate advocate of FTP testing. It's made a massive difference to me and to the athletes I coach.
Knowing my own FTP helped me to set an accurate pacing plan for Ironman Barcelona 2015, where I managed to set a new PR, aged 40 (read here). I've had breakthrough results with the athletes I coach too, thanks to their regular FTP testing.
In this blog I’ll show you how to measure your own FTP, using easy to understand terms.
What Equipment Do You Need to Test FTP?
Essentially, you just need a bike with some kind of power meter. A power meter measures how hard and fast you pedal, giving you a figure in Watts.
There are various kinds of cycle power meters that attach to your bike and examples include SRM, Stages and Garmin.
If you don’t have one of these (they can be expensive) you might consider using a static gym-bike that measures power, such as the WattBike.
Another option is to mount your own bike to an indoor trainer that measures power, such as the Tacx Bushido Smart or the CycleOps Magnus Trainer.
If your indoor trainer does not measure power, you have the option of using TrainerRoad.com, which is online software that estimates power output from the speed of the trainer’s flywheel.
All you need is some way to connect your indoor cycle trainer to a phone, tablet or computer (using Bluetooth or Ant+ connectivity).
Whichever method you choose, it’s worth remembering that the more accurate and repeatable your power meter is, the better. Bike-mounted power meters and static bikes tend to be more accurate than indoor-trainer based power measurement.
3 Ways To Test Your FTP
1. Critical Power 60 Test or CP60
This test simply involves riding as hard as you can sustain throughout a 1-hour period, while measuring your average power in watts by using a power meter.
Providing you are motivated to ride as hard as you can, this is the most accurate way to determine your FTP.
However, doing a CP60 on your own can be hard mentally, due to the lack of stimulation. You might not give your best performance or you might even give up half-way through.
The best way to conduct a CP60 test is during an organised cycle time trial event, such as a 25 mile or 40km. Pinning a number on your back in a race-setting will help focus your mind on delivering a great performance.
If you don’t have access to a cycle time trial, you might be better off doing a CP20 test instead (see below).
2. Critical Power 20 Test or CP20
This is simply a 20-minute time trial where you ride as hard as you can whilst measuring your average power output.
Once you know your average power for 20 minutes (for example 200 watts) you can multiply it by 95% to estimate your FTP.
So if your CP20 power output is 200 watts, a good estimation of your FTP would be 190 watts. My experience of this method suggests it’s surprisingly accurate.
Here is a short video of me testing an athlete's CP20.
3. Use Training Peaks
If you hate tests don’t worry, there’s another way of measuring your FTP. If you upload your daily training data to online software such as TrainingPeaks.com, it will estimate your FTP power output from your best efforts in training over a given period (e.g 3 months). This is not quite as accurate as measuring it directly, but it’s not far off.
Other Things To Consider After Measuring Your FTP
In addition to testing your FTP it's important to measure your body weight at around the same time. This is so you can look at your FTP power output in terms of your power to weight ratio. Otherwise any gains in your power output might be offset by gains in your body weight in a real world setting.
You can easily work out your power to weight ratio. Divide your FTP power output by your body weight in KG's. For example, if your body weight was 70kg and your FTP is 200 watts, your FTP power to weight ratio would be 2.86 watts per kilo.
Your power to weight ratio is a particularly important metric if you’re going to be riding on hilly routes.
Whereas if you’re going to be riding flat routes, your power to drag ratio is more important. Not many people know their drag coefficient, as it requires expert testing in a wind tunnel or on a track. However, the website bestbikesplit.com does feature a way to estimate drag coefficient using your bike fitting measurements among other things.
How To Set Your Power Training Zones
Once you know your FTP, you can set your own power training zones by using various online calculators such as this one from WattBike.
Alternatively, if you already use online software like Training Peaks or Garmin Connect they have training zone calculators you can use.
Failing that I’ve set out some guidelines about how to set your own training zones in this previous article about cycling with a power meter.
How Does Your FTP Compare?
If you know your FTP power to weight ratio, you can compare your cycling performance levels with a population of cyclists from complete beginners right through to World Champion elite cyclists using the table below.
One final tip is not to compare your FTP with someone else's. Bigger people tend to have bigger FTP's, but that doesn't always mean they are better cyclists. They pay a price with their increased weight and drag, so it's more important to use power to weight ratio OR power to drag ratio.
That's all for this fortnight. If you found my blog useful, please share it with your friends.
An easy to understand, no nonsense guide to triathlon nutrition...
As an online triathlon coach, one of the questions I'm most commonly asked is "which energy products should I use?".
I can understand people's confusion with triathlon nutrition, because when I was a rookie triathlete I had no clue about nutrition either. I once did a Powerman Duathlon (10km run/60km bike/10km run) with nothing but a small bottle of Coke to get me through. By the halfway point I was so low on energy that I could barely cycle or run.
It was only after I did a University degree in Sport Science that I started to fully understand sports nutrition. I'm still no expert, but I certainly know more than I did before. It's a such a big and complex subject, so it's no wonder that people find it hard to make the right choices.
With all that in mind, the idea behind this blog is to explain three key things:
1. The difference between fat and carbohydrate
2. What to eat before and during a race
3. The difference between energy gels, bars and drinks
1. The Difference Between Carbohydrate and Fat
During a triathlon you’ll use two main types of fuel - carbohydrate and fat. Every decision you make about race-day nutrition will boil down to these two things.
Carbohydrates include a whole range of food types, from simple sugars like Coke all the way through to things like rice and pasta. Fats are found in a range of foods such as fish, butter, meat, avocado and olive oil.
Carbohydrate and fat both give you fuel, but not in the same way. Let me explain...
Phil's Toyota Fuel Analogy
Imagine a Toyota Prius car. In case you don't know, it's one of those environmentally friendly "hybrid" cars that use both petrol AND electric power.
When you drive a Prius slowly around town, you'll notice it's the electric motor that does all the driving. However, when you get out on the open roads the petrol engine kicks in, powering you to faster speeds.
Well, your body is a bit like that Toyota Prius.
For all the slow stuff like long distance cycling you use more fat as a fuel. And for higher intensities such as a 5km run race, you'll use more carbohydrate.
That's how our bodies work. Fat is our long lasting, slow fuel. Whereas carbohydrate is our fast fuel that runs out quickly.
Our bodies know this. So for short, fast triathlons you'll use a higher ratio of carbohydrate versus fat.
On the other hand, for long triathlons or training sessions, you'll use a greater ratio of fat to carbohydrate.
Still with me?
I remember my University nutrition lecturer telling us that the average human has enough stored body fat to walk 40,000 miles! I don't know if that's true, but I do know that we all have plenty enough fat to get us through an Ironman triathlon.
On the other hand, I know that our carbohydrate stores will run out after around 70 to 90 minutes of intense exercise. And therefore we need to supplement them during a race or a hard training session if we're to perform at our best. Here’s how...
2. What To Eat Before And During A Race
The Evening Before
The evening before a race you’ll need to eat a carbohydrate-based dinner - something easy like pasta and sauce. Do not be tempted to eat lots of meat and vegetables, because the meat won't provide any meaningful race-fuel and the vegetables might give you stomach upsets when you run. Normally meat and vegetables are fine, just not right now.
Also, don’t eat more than usual, just your normal plateful is fine. Just a plate full of pasta and tomato sauce. No need for gluttony.
The Morning Before
On race morning consume a carbohydrate-based breakfast 3-4 hours before the start, such as a big bowl of oatmeal porridge and honey, or three to four slices of toast. You could also sip a carbohydrate energy drink throughout the morning.
Personally, I eat three PowerBar Energize bars instead. It just saves me worrying about preparing breakfast. But that's just me.
During The Event
What you consume during a triathlon depends on the event you're doing.
If you’re racing a sprint triathlon, you don’t need much carbohydrate because it’s so short. You might benefit from sipping an energy drink on the bike and having a gel on the run.
For longer events you’ll need to sip water regularly (particularly if you’re sweating a lot) and consume 40-70g of carbohydrate per hour. The bigger you are, the more you should consume within that 40-70g range. To give you some idea, 40g equates to two energy gels.
The best way to consume carbohydrate is little and often, so that it's more palatable. Try setting a countdown alarm to remind you every 10-minutes so that you don’t forget to eat in the excitement of the race.
3. The Difference Between Energy Gels, Bars and Drinks
When it comes to triathlon nutrition, there's nothing magic about energy drinks, bars and gels. Their main ingredients are carbohydrate and water, and you can normally make your own homemade versions. However, they do offer a convenient and well-packaged way to stay fuelled during a race.
Here are six common types:
A sweet gel in a convenient packet, typically containing 100 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrate. Some contain salts, vitamins and caffeine, although the carbohydrate is the important bit. Gels labelled “isotonic” are more watery and easier to consume with a dry mouth, but contain less carbohydrate per gram. Caffeine gels often taste bitter, but there are proven performance gains to be had.
Powdered or pre-made drinks containing predominantly water and carbohydrate. Some contain electrolytes (salts), vitamins, caffeine and even protein. Remember that on race day your main requirements are water and carbohydrate, although for long races or hot days, electrolytes may prove beneficial. Most of the other magic ingredients (aside from caffeine) have no proven endurance performance benefit.
These are simply chewy sweets or jelly blocks containing mostly carbohydrate. They are often more palatable than energy gels and don’t leave you with such sticky fingers. Personally I use Clif Shot Bloks, as I enjoy them more than gels. One pack contains six blocks - the equivalent of two energy gels.
The main ingredients in a recovery drink are carbohydrate and protein. Some also contain fat, electrolytes and vitamins. Research indicates that the optimal ratio for a post-endurance recovery drink is four parts carbohydrate and one part protein. Interestingly, plain milk contains a similar ratio. These drinks are convenient when you don't have a chance to eat immediately after a tough workout.
These are dense pre-packaged cereal bars, containing mainly carbohydrate. They are great on race morning or while training, but can be difficult to digest during a short, fast race. Some bars have relatively high fat contents, so read the labels first.
Tasty bars containing a mix of carbohydrate, fat and protein. These often taste as good as chocolate bars like Snickers and Mars, so it’s tempting to eat lots. Eating foods like these straight after exercise is shown to heighten recovery, although you could get the same effect from a home made smoothie for example. Just be careful not to eat too many if you're not training hard - triathlon nutrition never tasted so good.
That's all for this fortnight folks. For more information on triathlon nutrition, check out my previous blog: 5 Triathlete Diet Tricks
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.