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Getting to Racing Weight

We all struggle with managing weight, even more so for those challenged with family, work and a hectic training schedule.  Hopefully this very good article by James Beckinsale can shed a bit of light on a subject which often gets overly complicated (when it does not need to be).
Nutrition for Triathlon

Getting to Racing Weight

Carrying a couple of extra kilograms of bodyweight a few weeks out from your first major race leaves no time to reduce the deficit in a healthy and performance enhancing way. The fat or obese person can probably just increase their exercise level and hey, the fat count will drop off. However, you are probably a different animal, training hard or at the very least above ‘normal’ and for the most part eating quite well. So how do you go about hitting your optimal weight?

Weight (fat) loss from an athletic perspective cannot just be about nil by mouth as this will limit your performance in training, and anyway 95% of ‘crash’ diets fail in the first few weeks. Instead you must attack fat loss with an holistic approach with optimum nutrition and exercise intensity. We know that fat loss will only occur when energy output exceeds energy intake, regardless of the diet’s macro nutrient mixture (fad diets that will not work long term).

So, why don’t the diets work?

A prudent dietary approach to weight loss unbalances the energy equation just enough to cause change. Therefore, by reducing energy intake by around 500 kcal below daily energy expenditure will produce greater fat loss in relation to the energy deficit (you must be able to train/ recover) than a more severe energy-restricted diet. It has also been show that to crash diet the body restricts the amount of fat being burnt (which is after all our aim).

So, should you just go out and train as hard as you can, eating as little as possible? It’s so much easier than that, especially for your first two phases of training (base I & base II).

These phases teach the body to utilise its own fat stores for energy production. This can only be done (initially), at a moderate to low intensity (aerobic/ LSD). Once you start exercising hard (breathing hard) your body will predominantly use the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen).

Benefits of harder workouts

The benefit of harder sessions with regards to weight loss is that your metabolic rate will stay higher for longer post hard workouts; however this is again using the calories that are readily available at the time.

Fat/carbohydrate: From a calorific perspective as you know, fat yields much more energy than carbohydrate and will only be burnt in the presents of oxygen (aerobic). This is one of the reasons we really start to use it during longer and longer endurance events (effort has to be moderate). Importantly it’s also why, if you work too hard during endurance events without refueling, you will bonk due to running out of readily available energy (glycogen) and not being able to tap into your abundance of fat stores.

A body’s daily calorific requirements are determined by three factors:

  1. Resting metabolic rate (RMR),
  2. Thermogenesis (calories required for heat production)
  3. Physical activity

Water then fat

In a generalized trend, during the first week of a calorie controlled diet around 70% of the weight loss is water. In weeks 2-3 it becomes 70% fat loss, 20% water and 10% protein and finally in week 4 it can be 85% fat loss with around 15% from protein (McArdle, Katch and Katch 2001).

Weight in muscle

As triathletes, if we go from a couple of weeks of pre-winter recovery into winter training increasing our exercise levels, we will inevitably increase our muscle tone. If we were to go through a heavy period of strength training or a power phase the effect could be to increase muscle bulk (this should only be minimal) and thus possibly see increase in weight. This could be seen as detrimental to our performance (decreased economy), however don’t react negatively to muscle tone/ bulk if it is going to increase your performance – check the clock!

The opposite side to the above situation is when you restrict your calorie intake so much that you start to loose fat-free mass and this can lead to a drop off in performance/strength, Again, check the clock/ power meter.

The nitty gritty

So how do we go about calculating the number of calories we need per day? This is a tough one, as most normalized tables take into account your BMI (Body Mass Index), which in my view is a load of cods wallop! For example, a 5ft5 body builder with 6% body fat weighing in at 80kgs would come up as obese on a BMI scale, so as you can see this does not work for athletes.

Another method that can be used provides a couple of ‘intensity levels’ you have to mark yourself against; 1 being low, 2 is moderate and 3 is heavy. However, ‘heavy’ could be manual labour… So what about the age-group triathlete who goes to work all day on a building site and still trains 12 hours per week? Or the ironman athlete doing 20-30+ hours of endurance training per week? It’s far too generic a method and does not give a good indication of the true work load carried out per day.

So we need to be a little bit more specific; the example below is the method I have used for some time now and it works quite well.

Weight goal for performance Please note, this is just an example to show the figures and not a prescription! The optimum percentage figures for fat in male and female elite triathletes were given as 5-12% and 8-15% respectively by Wilmore and Costill in 1999.

Weight 72.6kg
Relative fat 25% (measured with calipers or underwater weighing is the most effective)
Fat weight 18.2kg (weight x 25%)
Fat free weight 54.4kg (weight – fat weight)
Relative fat goal 18% (= 82% fat-free)
Weight goal 66.3kg (fat-free weight ÷ 81%)
Weight loss goal 6.3kg

Healthy deficit

Athletes should aim to lose no more than 0.5 – 1kg per week, losing more weight could lead to losses in fat-free mass. Once you reach your upper limit of your goal weight you should look for supervision form a professional to help reduce weigh further and this should be done at an even slower rate (less that 0.5kg per week, again not to have a detrimental effect on performance). In order to change your weight by 0.5kg per week you must decrease your intake by 200 – 500 kcal per day.

Holistic approach

You do not have to start counting and measuring out each potion of food like a body builder. If you feel you are over fat (weight), get a professional to measure your body fat percentage (use calipers or underwater weighing), then make some basic changes.

  • Simply eat a well balanced diet
  • Snack on fruit/ veg, health snacks (low GI if not training)
  • Cut down on carbs prior to bed (salad/veg/protein is energy enough)
  • Eat little and often (never eat until you are full or stuffed)
  • Keep blood sugar balanced throughout the day (little and often)
  • Eat as naturally as possible (no hydrogenated fat, E numbers, etc)
  • Cut down on booze (one small glass of wine is 90 calories)
  • Get into good sleep patterns (you only release growth hormone during sleep)
  • De-stress
  • Stay hydrated

As soon as you stop over-eating (as per the majority of the western population), which is what you must have been doing if you are carrying too much fat, give it a bit of time and you will see your fat-weight start to come down.

It still takes discipline not to say “Oh that was a hard bike session, I’ll have some chocolate or other high calorific treat now,” which means you fill yourself up on foods with low nutritional benefit instead of healthy/good stuff. The other killer, if you don’t replenish energy during long rides/ runs and bonk, is that you get back home and gorge yourself on sweet stuff!

Insulin spike

Foods with a high glycemic (GI) index (white rice, pasta, cakes, sweets) are often accompanied by a spike of insulin. The excessive insulin pulls too much glucose from the blood causing fatigue, hunger, and usually additional sugar cravings. This cycle continues throughout the day impeding the use of fats as a fuel and ultimately leading to weight gain. This does not mean all high GI carbohydrates are bad and should be avoided. High glycemic index foods are very beneficial when consumed prior to, during, and following exercise (Thomas W. Nesser, PhD, CSCS).

Look after the nutritional part of your day to day life as this is where you will make a massive difference to your performance long term. The bottom line is that you need to be happy to perform and if not having any treats or crash dieting is not going to make you happy, be sensible and seek professional advice if you feel you need it.

Please keep in mind that I am not an expert on nutrition and these are just my thoughts (with some research) as a coach, on how to get to race weight sensibly. If there are experts out there who are doing things differently I would love to hear about it.

The Time to Train?

The Time to Train?Poor time management affects your investment







I am often asked this question on both a personal level and by those who I coach. The question normally develops into a sequence of;

• How many hours a week did you say you train?
• How many kids did you say you have?
• How many hours do you work?…. you get the picture.

Over the past several years juggling my passion for long distance triathlon with a hectic life of 4 kids, a busy day job and coaching, I`ve learned along the way on how best to manage my time and maximize the time available to train. So here are a few quick guidelines to help those time crunched athletes among us.

Commuting – It may sound simple but incorporating some of your training into work commutes can really help lighten the training load. A few athletes I work with, myself included, can easily get a solid 4 to 5hrs training in a week completed, either doing “run mutes” or “bike mutes” as I`ve christened them. Quality work can be included even in a short time period. Only 30minutes available, then short but sharp VO2 intervals on the bike or run are a good way to get some beneficial training in.

Lunchtime – Another good way of getting some training in without impacting on family time and home life is the lunchtime session. Again most of us have at least a half hour to an hour to spare for lunch during the day. With a bit of planning, this gives a great way to provide a second slot for training. Again this can range from a short and intense 30min session or alternatively do core work, foam rolling, stretching, or general maintenance, obviously find a place away from peering work colleagues.

Scheduling – Most training fails due to poor scheduling. Get yourself a calendar or a diary and start planning the week ahead, of course always allow some flexibility in your training plan for those unplanned events. In the world of triathlon this will also mean checking the pool timetable to know what times are available and working around that.
Have a long bike or run to do, buy a good alarm clock and get used to setting your alarm clock early, or stupid o’clock as we like to call it. Get out and get back before the family realize you have disappeared for a few hours. Quality lights and hi-viz clothing are a must for training in dark or overcast conditions. If you struggle with scheduling the alternative is to hand over the scheduling to your coach, if you’re fortunate enough to have that luxury!

Preparation – When we talk about preparation we are not only referring to food preparation, but also gear preparation. For food, when you go shopping plan ahead and make sure you have food in the cupboard for the week. Betting caught short will invariably lead to unhealthy quick fix choices. Also plan your meals ahead, particularly lunches for work. Cook healthy meals in large batches and freeze them for the week ahead or a pot of soup will last a week in the fridge. Ideally of a Sunday get your meal plan sorted for the week ahead and be organized. In relation to training gear, have it set out the night before for early morning sessions. Also always have a set of swim, bike, run gear spare in the car for whenever an opportunity to train presents itself.

Equipment – If competing in triathlons a turbo is an essential piece of equipment, while a treadmill is an extremely useful piece of equipment to own. It goes without saying that indoor training is a huge time saver. It overcomes bad weather, there is no pausing at stop lights or interference from traffic. The other benefit is being able to dial the effort in without the variables of weather and terrain outside. Some great work can be put down doing focused indoor work only, as shown by Hawaii World Champion Daniela Ryf, who recently won IM 70.3 Dubai in January, having trained exclusively indoors while spent the winter in her native Switzerland.

In summary if you want to train, the time is there, you just need to plan properly and have good time management skills. We won’t discuss junk miles or using your time inefficiently…that’s a whole other different article we should save for another day.

If you found this article helpful or have a question in general, leave a comment or drop us an email at

Results Round Up

With the season over for many of our athletes we still had a few out there racing.

Well done to Paul Clancy who took on the Ironman distance last weekend in Challenge Almere. Paul has an extremely busy lifestyle running his own business and balancing family life with training. He smashed his pb coming in 11hrs 25mins and taking 42mins off his last IM distance race. What’s more impressive with the result is Paul had little or no running several weeks before the race due to an old injury raising its head again. Well done Paul.
Last weekend also seen coach Fran dust off his gear in Ruegen IM 70.3, posting a 5hr 7mins, with a poor swim but solid enough bike in 2:28 and a 1:37 run off it.
Today we had two of our athletes running the Dublin Half Marathon. Both athletes posted a 4min and 6min pb respectively. Peter ran a very fast 1:20 and is in great shape heading to Frankfurt Marathon in October. Jonathan ran a big pb running a 1:29 and is starting to come into great form for the New York Marathon.
Well done to our athletes, once again it shows that with the right training approach, guidance and a solid work ethic from the athletes that great results can be achieved.

The low down on Long Progression Runs

What is the best type of long run to be doing I hear you ask?  Slow and easy, some at marathon pace, some at threshold pace?  Of course it can differ depending on what you are targeting for your race season but one thing is certain, there should be some progression running built into your long run, the reasons why we will explain further in this article.

Progression running, what is it?

A progression run is a run in which you begin at a slow easy pace and then look to gradually increase your pace to finish faster than you started out. There are a number of different types of progression runs which we will outline in this article and each of them have a slightly different goal from the session.

Some can be focussed on developing speed and endurance, building fitness or sharpening up for races.  One of the benefits of progression runs is they can effectively improve your race fitness without requiring additional recovery time.  They also add an interesting variety to your weekly training programme and break up the monotony of a long slow run.

How will I benefit from Progression Runs?

Now we need to understand how we will see benefits from progression running.  There are a number of reasons but the main four are as follows,

    • Correct use of Progression runs results in very little fatigue compared to if you were doing a really hard tempo or interval session.  Progression runs can allow you to do some faster running but in a way that will not leave you feeling fatigued and a session with which you can recover quickly from.
  • Reducing the risk of injury.  By starting off slow it allows time for the muscles to warm up and primes the physiological pathways that will be used for faster running later on in the session.  If you try running fast from the start of a run before your muscular, respiratory and circulatory systems can warm up, you not only run the risk of injury but you also greatly increase lactic acid production by stressing your anaerobic system too much.
  • Given the nature of progression runs it allows you to increase volume of stamina focused training.  Given that additional stamina focussed training will result in a fitter athlete it makes sense to start creating opportunities to introduce progression running into your training programme.
  • Longer progression runs can be effective ways to increase mechanical efficiency by forcing a runner to increase stride length and cadence while the body is fatigued and form has started to deteriorate.  This is even more useful over longer distances from 10k upwards when form becomes ragged towards the end of a race

How do I measure my effort?

Effort can be measured as follows on your progression runs,

  • RPE  (Rated Perceived Exertion) Normally starting off easy around an RPE between 2-5 and sometimes extending yourself up to 6-8 by the end of the run.
  • Pace – If you know what your threshold pace is then you should be able to work out your pace zones.  Starting off easy in zone 1-2 and building it up towards zone 3-5.
  • Heart Rate – As per pace if you have established your LTHR then you would follow the same zones starting off low and increasing the effort.

After a few of these sessions you should soon be able to run these progression runs by feel.

Different approaches to Progression Runs

Easy Progression Run

These are often run without the athlete even being aware of it. Naturally enough runners tend to start out slower than they ordinarily would because of fatigue and possibly some soreness.  After they warm up pace can start to creep up.

Mid-Range Progression Run

Medium to long in length, these workouts are geared at boosting the aerobic system by adding an increased aerobic stimulus once the body starts to tire halfway through a run. Studies have shown when a runner increases aerobic resistance after they’ve become glycogen-depleted (in other words, start running low on fuel), the body produces considerably more aerobic enzymes, which in turn helps the body do a better job of processing lactate. The net result is that it allows you to run at a faster pace longer before you fatigue. The mid-range progression run helps prevent long runs from becoming tight, monotonous shuffles in which the stride length gets too short and neuromuscular timing goes flat.

Pre-Marathon Progression Runs

These are harder and longer progression runs that typically involve running at half-marathon race pace or faster for extended periods of time. They are used to briefly stimulate the aerobic and metabolic systems, but without putting either system in too much distress. These types of progression run allow a runner to simulate the pace and some of the fatigue of a race without complete breakdown that an extended hard effort might bring on.

Threshold Progression Runs

These types of workouts will help boost your race-day fitness thresholds by running hard for relatively short distances at speeds faster than race pace with short rest.


As the name suggests, you break your run down into three equal parts. For the first third, you run at a relatively slow, comfortable pace. As you progress to the second third of the run, your pace will have gradually increased to your normal steady running pace. Over the last third of the run, you increase your speed so that you’re running a strong, comfortably hard pace, this would normally correspond to between marathon and half marathon pace.  This strong running significantly improves your stamina which raises the pace you can run before you begin to rapidly accumulate lactic acid.

Fast finish

To perform this type of progression run you run 70-85% of your run at an easy pace.  As you approach the last 15%-30% of the run you start to pick up the pace.  This pace would typically start out at HM pace, moving down to 10k pace with the last few minutes at 5k pace.  These type of runs work best on shorter planned long runs given the high level intensity towards the end.  These runs are exhilarating yet don’t require a long recovery. They are fast enough to really stimulate your Speed and Sprinting ability (muscle recruitment, coordination, mental focus and lactic acid tolerance) but short enough that you will feel no lasting effect on your next run.  This type of run should be saved until you have mastered the others.

Final Thoughts

Try incorporating progression runs into your training program and you will notice a signficant improvement in your run fitness and performance without a lengthy recovery. The workouts not only add variety but also make the sessions more fun & interesting than a slow, boring long training run.