What will make triathletes faster – equipment or nutrition?
Let’s face it: most triathletes are highly driven to get from one point to another in the fastest time possible. Why else would one willingly leave her comfy bed at 5am to dive into a freezing cold pool, peddle headfirst into the furious wind or run so hard her heart feels like it’s going to explode?
It’s not long after a ‘first timer’ completes her first race that she starts to wonder whether a new wetsuit, new bike or some light-weight racing flats will help her get around the course quicker. So, is a fancy new piece of equipment the only answer to making a triathlete faster?
I’m by no means a bike mechanic, bike rep or bike shop owner; however, I have done my fair share of cycling. I’ve progressed from a second hand aluminum roadie to a carbon fiber bike. I’ve used regular wheels and experienced the difference that race wheels make. But at the end of the day, bikes are neither fast nor slow. They may be heavy or light, but without a rider, they move at a speed of 0km per hour.
So, that leads us back to the question: what can make you faster? A good coach and structured training program is a no brainer. But having a ‘high performance training program’ pinned to the fridge is completely useless unless you actually execute the program. Think about a car- without an engine and appropriate petrol, it doesn’t go anywhere. In a similar vein, flashy pieces of equipment rely on a well-tuned engine with carefully selected petrol to make them move quickly!
For someone fairly new to the sport, it’s all about getting the basics right. Making sure you eat sufficient carbohydrate to fuel your muscles will help you feel energized and maintain your energy levels through the training sessions.
The next step is to look at your protein intake. Getting the timing of your protein ‘injections’ will help your aching muscles recover quicker and grow stronger after each training session. You will also want to eat enough antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system and ward off illnesses that can prevent you from training.
Once you have nailed this, it’s time to focus the spot light on what you are consuming during training. Ensuring you drink enough fluid and electrolytes, in addition to eating sufficient carbohydrate, will keep that engine running smoothly and prevent episodes of ‘bonking.’
As you approach your next race, it’s time to plan and practice what you are going to eat in the days and hours leading up to your race. The day before the race, there is fine art to eating enough without over doing it. You will also want to refine your race day hydration and nutrition plan. No one wants a case of runner’s diarrhea during a race do they?!
For those of you who are more experienced triathletes and already have the basics right, you can explore the use of supplements like caffeine for reducing perceived effort, or beetroot juice for enhanced oxygen delivery. If you are carrying a little extra weight, dropping some kilos will improve your power to weight race and get you moving faster much more effectively than spending $70 on a carbon fiber brink bottle cage.
For those doing 70.3 or Ironman races, you will benefit from sweat rate testing to prevent cramping, stomach upsets or fatigue associated with dehydration. It would also be wise to do ‘gut training’ to enhance your body’s tolerance of high doses of carbohydrate during exercise.
So before you drop your monthly salary on a new TT set up, I urge you to take a moment to consider the fitness state of the athlete. Sure, a $20K bike and wheel set will look amazing, but it’s only going to roll as fast as the athlete sitting on it can push it!
For help training your engine, speak to one of the Fluid Movement Coaches, and for help adequately fuelling your engine, speak to Katherine at South Yarra Spine and Sports Medicine Centre.
By Katherine Shone
High Performance Sports Dietitian