Sleep Your Way To Better Performance

When it comes to performance, a lot of athletes I meet seem to think that training exists in a vacuum.

That is, that only training is going to make them a better, faster athlete.

While that simplicity would be nice, it’s just not true.

There are numerous peripheral activities that support your ability to effectively train and recover and you need to put focus and attention on each of them if you truly want to perform at your best.

Things like diet, mindset, stress management and sleep all play a major role in performance.

They lay down a strong foundation that helps to keep you healthy, energetic, happy and motivated. They help you to recover quickly from training and therefore allow you to do more, high quality and consistent training without falling sick or getting hurt.

It’s often these things that can make the biggest difference.

Of those peripheral activities listed above, sleep is arguably the most overlooked. Time-starved athletes will often sacrifice sleep in favour of a little extra training, “I’ll sleep when I am dead” is something I hear often.

While cutting sleep short can sometimes be worth it, more often it’s not.

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The Effects Of Sleep

Sleep affects us in many ways. Here are four of the most important things that I believe sleep offers athletes.

Sleep Improves Hormone Regulation
Sleep is known to positively influence your hormones. It lowers cortisol, increases insulin sensitivity and increases testosterone.

Cortisol – commonly known as the stress hormone – can lower immune function, increase inflammation levels and suppress fat burning when levels are high.

Insulin sensitivity is important for disposing of sugar and burning high amounts of fat.

Testosterone helps maintain strength, energy and concentration levels while fighting off fatigue.

Sleep Strengthens The Immune System
Sleep helps you to fight off being sick.

As an athlete putting a great deal of stress on your body, your immune system takes a hit. When you add sleep deprivation into the equation, you’ll likely suffer from frequent bouts of illness.

Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7-hours a night are 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those sleeping over 8-hours each night. You can’t do good quality training when you are sick, so anything you can do to avoid illness and the inconsistency it brings is worthwhile.

Sleep Improves Fat Burning
Lack of sleep is one of the largest risk factors in obesity.

While you don’t see too many obese endurance athletes you do see a lot of people participating in marathons and Ironman races who are carrying significantly more body fat than you’d expect, given the amount of training that goes into preparing for these events.

Because sleep lowers cortisol levels and increases insulin sensitivity, it also improves fat burning.

Sleep Affects Thermoregulation
Living in Singapore, I work with many athletes all training in high heat and humidity.

Being able to regulate your temperature in this – and other hot – climates is important for performing well.

A study involving endurance-trained men published in the “American Journal of Physiology” showed that when sleep-deprived, had a higher oesophagal temperature. This resulted in a reduced sweat rate in response to cycling in a warm room compared to when they were well-rested.

This indicated that the lack of sleep reduced their ability to regulate body temperature.

How To Sleep Better

Sleep In A Cool, Quiet And Dark Room
Melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, is raised when the sun goes down to let your body know that it is time to rest. The problem is that street lights, device and other unnatural lights confuse this hormone and trick your body into thinking that it is still daylight.

To avoid this, you need to block these lights.

The best way to do this is to use blackout curtains and switch off or cover any electronic lights. If you don’t have blackout curtains, a simple and cheap way to ‘blackout’ is to use a good eye mask.

Keep your room cool and quiet. If you live on a busy road, have a partner who snores or have a loud air conditioning unit, use earplugs (these are the ones I use). While earplugs will feel a little uncomfy, to begin with, you’ll soon get used to them and over time, you’ll begin to wonder how you ever did without them.

Avoid Screens 1-Hour Prior To Sleeping
Besides the unnatural lights of screens suppressing the production of melatonin, checking email, watching videos or scrolling your news feed keeps your brain alert.

After a long – technology fueled – day, your mind needs time to wind down and relax in order to sleep peacefully.

Use apps like Night Shift or F.lux to shift the colours of your display to the warmer end of the colour spectrum after dark and turn off your screens 1-hour prior to going to sleep so you have time to wind down in preparation for sleep.

Develop A Sleep Routine
Humans are creatures of habit so creating a habitual routine will improve sleep.

Something as simple as turning off your screens, putting on your PJ’s, brushing your teeth, reading for 20 minutes and immediately going to bed can make your sleep almost automatic at night.

Take Naps
10 – 30 minute naps can work wonders and offer a number of health benefits. They lower cortisol levels, improve mood, increase alertness, reduce fatigue and improve performance.

If you’re an athlete who rises early to get their training in, a lunchtime or mid-afternoon nap could be an essential part of your ‘training’ process.

As with nighttime sleep, nap in a quiet, dark place with a cool room temperature and few distractions.

How Much Sleep Is Needed

Sleep requirements vary based on a number of factors.

Age, training volume and phase, overall life stress levels and genetic factors all play a part in determining the optimal amount of sleep you need at any given time.

Most studies show that to function optimally, you need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
As an athlete, your requirement is likely on the higher end of that scale to maximise training effectiveness and recovery.

If your sleep duration is falling short of those numbers, I suggest you evaluate how you are prioritising your time. We each have 24-hours in a day and it is up to you to invest your time wisely.

I personally use tools like RescueTime and Moment to track the time I spend online.

When I started, it was really quite scary to see just how much time is wasted in places like Netflix, Youtube, Facebook and on other social platforms.

I think you’ll be surprised at what you may learn.

As you can see, there is a lot of value in sleep and it is not something to be neglected.

For the sake of your health and performance, I encourage you to prioritise sleep and aim for – at the very least – the minimum 7-hours each night.

5 Interesting Lessons From Olympic Triathlete Tony Dodds

Kiwi Tony Dodds has been a professional triathlete for 12-years.

He represented New Zealand at one Olympic Games, two Commonwealth Games and at his best was ranked in the top 15 in the world.

Not bad for a quiet farm boy from Wanaka.

Fresh off his retirement from life as a professional triathlete, we asked Tony what were the 5 most important lessons he wishes he’d known as a young man embarking on a career in one of the worlds toughest sports.

Here’s what he had to say.

1. Tony Dodd’s Is A Brand
While this is not something most of us give much thought to, we each are our own brand. The clothes we wear, our hairstyle, actions and many more little things present us to our peers, coworkers and the world.

How we’re perceived is often based on these daily choices we make.

When I was starting out, I didn’t understand marketing and I certainly didn’t know that Tony Dodd’s was a brand that needed building.

As my career developed, I began to see the importance of ‘the brand’ as it impacted my ability to earn a living, especially via sponsorships.

This side of my job – sponsorships, giving-back, talks etc – easily took up as much time as the training. I wish I had known this so I could have planned my branding as well as my training.

2. A Balanced Life Is Important
As a professional athlete, I lived a very selfish existence. Training has to come first and by doing that I would sometimes push away friends, activities and hobbies that are vital for happiness and balance in life.

Looking back, I wish hadn’t taken myself so seriously.  Yes, triathlon was my job and yes, I had to make enough money to support myself, but triathlon – at the highest level – has a shelf life. Friends, family and hobbies don’t and need attention too.

3. You Are What You Eat
I was 17 when I started Triathlon. I trained so hard but often forgot about nutrition, recovery. I thought that if I just trained hard, I would reap the benefits but there’s more to the equation than that.

As I got older and performance increases became harder to come by, I began to play with nutrition.

I significantly changed my diet and moved away from a high-carb processed diet to a wholefoods based approach, eating at the right times around training and cutting sugar out.

I became a much better all-around athlete as a result.

Not only did I become a better athlete, I became a healthier and more energised person.

4. Specificity Of Training Is Important
While triathlon is made up of swimming, cycling and running, triathlon is still one sport.

When I started, I was swimming like a swimmer, cycling like a cyclist and running like a runner thinking that that is how I would succeed.

Unfortunately, that is not how you prepare for a triathlon, where balancing the various training stresses and learning the unique transitional (swim to bike, bike to run) skills are important.

5. Hills Are Speedwork In Disguise
As Ben mentioned in his last post, hills are speedwork in disguise. Triathlon is very much a strength sport and it’s usually the strongest (not fastest) athlete who wins.

If you don’t want to go to the gym, or you simply don’t have the time, do hill training!

A large majority of my time in later years was spent training on hills, in the mountains and aiming to achieve as much elevation gain as possible.

Speed can only get you so far, but strength training will take you home!

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In Closing

I hope you enjoyed these great lessons from an accomplished athlete.

If you’d like to work with Tony, please sign up for a free trial of our programme.

Tony has a deep understanding of what it takes to perform at the highest level and is passionate about helping our athletes get the best of themselves.

Why Hills Are Speedwork In Disguise

Over the past 10 years as a professional coach, I have worked with literally thousands of runners.

In this time, speed is rarely the limiting factor in how fast you can race, even for a distance as short as 5km.

You are not limited by how fast you can run, rather you’re limited by how well you can maintain the desired pace for the distance of your race. While it’s tempting to think that this is a function of speed, it’s usually not.

It’s a function of aerobic capacity, the ability to generate energy from fat, lactate clearance, strength and power.

Listen To Frank

Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion once said…

“Hills are speedwork in disguise”

I really love this quote.

To understand why, you need to understand the two main benefits that come from running over hills.

1. You get stronger
2. Your muscles become more resilient

Let’s discuss each of those points.

1. You Get Stronger
As you spend time running over hills, you build muscular strength. The simple act of carrying your weight up and down the hills provides resistance and as a result, your muscles grow stronger.

The outcome of this improvement in strength is an increase in stride length.

Stronger muscles put more power through the ground, so you’re able to generate more forward momentum with each step.

When stride length increases and cadence remains the same, you are faster. BOOM!

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2. Your Muscles Become More Resilient
Muscle fatigue plays a major role in how much you slow down during your race. By building strength, your muscles become more resilient and are in better condition to handle the load put on them throughout a race.

If you can delay the rate at which your muscles fatigue and your running form deteriorates, this will translate into a faster overall finishing time. It will also contribute to a faster recovery post race too.

If that’s not enough, your chances of injury will also reduce too.

In Closing

Now that you understand why hills are speedwork in disguise, it is time to take advantage. Lace up your runners and head for the hills.

Run a mix of short, moderate and long hills. Run different gradients. Run continuously over a hilly course or focus you effort with hill reps.

With all these options, there are countless sessions you can leverage to make you a stronger, more resilient and faster runner.

Heart Rate Monitors: Wrist-Based vs. Chest Straps

So, you’re in the market for a new heart rate monitor and are being torn between a wrist-based monitor and a traditional chest strap.

It’s a common point of friction that I see many athletes rubbing up against, as they try to determine which will be the best option for them.

Both forms of monitoring have their pros and cons and this can make it a little confusing when trying to decide which is the better way to go.

While it is never ideal to spend too much time obsessing over gear, it’s useful to carefully consider what is going to be the best option for you. Your experience and the quality of your training will be affected by the device you choose to monitor your training and progress so it’s an important decision.

In today’s post, I thought I would share my some things to consider when deciding on which monitor to use. My thoughts come from my experience as an athlete, but also through observations in our lab and from feedback from hundreds of athletes we work with.

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Considerations When Buying A New Monitor

Price. You obviously have unique financial circumstances that affect your choice in monitor. While you may want the monitor that looks cool and has all the bells and whistle, this may not always be possible.

When limited in budget, it’s important that you decide on what is a need vs a want. From my perspective, here is what you need: Duration, heart rate, avg heart rate. That’s it. If you can afford a monitor that has those features and has pace, that’s ideal as you’ll be able to use heart rate over pace to track your progress.

Use. The type of training you do and where you plan to use the monitor are important. Certain types of exercises seem better suited to one type of monitor over another so knowing your primary focus and how you plan to use the monitor is a good way to steer your decision making.

Ability Level. The objectives of a beginner athlete often differs dramatically from that of someone who has been training at a high level for years. Where you fall on this spectrum should affect your thought process in making a decision on which monitor to use.

Running Watch Or Fitness Tracker. You need to determine between a dedicated running watch and a fitness tracker. Just because a fitness tracker has a heart rate monitor built in, doesn’t mean that it is going to be a good fit for you. Your use of the monitor and ability level should be considered when deciding between these two.

The Pros And Cons Of Wrist Based Heart Rate Monitors

Pros

Convenient. An obvious pro for wrist-based monitors is their convenience. There are no straps you need to wear, wash and maintain. This simplicity makes using them easy and improves consistency in their use.

Comfort. Because wrist-based monitors are baked right into your watch, they’re usually more comfortable to use than a strap.

Accurate At Low Intensity. One of the big cons I hear of wrist-based monitoring is their accuracy. From my experience, this is not the case, although that comes with a caveat.

At low-intensity, wrist-based monitors seem to be fairly accurate. We do a lot of testing in our lab using a chest strap. Often, athletes use their wrist-based monitors at the same time. In my experience of witnessing hundreds of tests like this, wrist-based monitors prove to be accurate.

Running watches with wrist-based monitors are usually within 1 to 2 beats of the strap. Well-known fitness trackers like Fitbit and Apple Watch are usually within 2 to 3 beats of the strap.

Cons

Inaccurate. As I mentioned in the pros list, wrist-based monitors are fairly accurate at low intensity. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case when you increase the intensity.

In the later stages of our testing when the athletes are working hard, the numbers begin to show a different picture. Instead of being out by between 1 to 3 beats, they’re often out by upwards of 5bpm. I have seen many off by as much as 20bpm.

This has also been my experience in my own training where my heart rate numbers are skewed as I up the pace.

Placement And Tightness. The placement and tightness of the strap on a wrist-based monitor are very important for its ability to measure your heart rate accurately. I suspect this is part of the reason for their lack of accuracy at higher intensity.

If you place them correctly and do them up as tight as they need to be for accuracy, they become uncomfortable. As such, most athletes are wearing them too loosely and as the intensity goes up and the arms begin to move more aggressively, the monitor begins to move about and lose its accuracy.

Forearm Tension. If you use a wrist-based monitor and do an exercise where the tension in your forearm changes (think strength exercises), you’ll often see very different readings to what you will see from a chest strap.

Unreliable. Because of all of the above, wrist-based monitors don’t typically lend themselves to reliable and consistent heart rate monitoring.

The Pros And Cons Of Heart Rate Chest Straps

Pros

Accurate. When compared with wrist-based monitors, chest straps are more accurate at low intensity and at high intensity. This is a very important consideration if you’re serious about achieving the best results possible from your training.

I would suggest you place a higher importance on this than on some of the other pros and cons on the list.

Reliable & Consistent. A chest strap is more accurate and therefore it is more reliable and consistent too. Heart rate always has a lag but with a strap, it limits the lag you see on your monitor and it makes interpreting the numbers while running easier than a wrist-based monitor.

Cons

Comfort. While I have comfort down as a con, this is not always the case. Comfort – or discomfort rather – is the main pain point I hear from athletes when talking about chest straps. This has not really been a con in my own experience. So long as you have a good quality strap and you wear if often, you tend to forget you’re even wearing it.

Maintenance. The downside to a strap is that you have to clean it after each run to keep it in good working order. This can be a bit of hassle but could be worth it for the extra accuracy it offers.

You May Forget It. Because a strap is an additional piece of equipment, there’s a chance you leave it behind when you pack your gear.

Pairing Issues. While uncommon, sometimes you can experience pairing issues when trying to connect your strap to your monitor. This is not something I have personally had much of an issue with but it does happen.

In Closing

While there is no right or wrong choice per se, it is worth considering the above points when making a decision regarding whether to use a chest strap or a wrist-based monitor.

If you’re doing a lot of high-intensity training or are looking for accuracy, a chest strap is definitely the way to go.

If most of your training is at a low intensity or convenience outweighs accuracy, a wrist-based monitor may be a good option.

I personally mix it up. I’ll often use a wrist-based monitor for my easy or less important runs. For more important runs and for hard sessions and races, I will always connect and use a chest strap.

How To Enjoy Your Running (And Any Other Exercise)

Early in my racing career, I spent a lot of time thinking (and worrying) about results. I needed good outcomes to qualify for races, improve my world ranking, win prize money and keep sponsors happy.

I put a lot of pressure on myself.

When I transitioned to my last coach about 2 years before I retired, he helped to shift my focus away from the results. He taught me to focus my energy on the things within my control – the process.

A subtle change, it made a massive difference to my experience as an athlete and to what I achieved.

My results and world ranking improved dramatically, anxiety levels reduced and I enjoyed my training so much more than I had previously.

Fast forward 10+ years and I am happy that some of the most common feedback I get from our athletes is that “Coached has helped me to enjoy training”.

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Know Your Outcome Then Let It Go

When athletes join Coached, they are hoping that we can help them to achieve a result.

“I want to run a [insert time goal here] marathon”

“I aim to qualify for Boston”

“I want to go to Kona”

“I need to lose [insert kg’s here]”

While all worthy aspirations, I always tell our athletes that being fixated on the outcome isn’t serving you because you can’t predict or control the exact moment when the fitness needed for your Boston or Kona slot will happen.

Yes, you can influence it, but control it? No!

In my personal life, my wife and I wanted kids. It took over 3 years of trying before we were blessed with our twins. I couldn’t make one baby (let alone a pair) appear at my convenience.

In business, I can’t manufacture PB’s for every athlete and manifest rapid growth of Coached at my convenience.

In fitness, I can’t make fat vanish and lose weight at my convenience.

These things all take time and come with degrees of uncertainty.

Fixating on a result often leads to poor decision making and taking shortcuts in the short-term, instead of looking at the big picture.

When you’re fixated on a result, you don’t allow yourself the possibility of making changes when needed. Fixating on a specific outcome can lead to you placing your self-worth on these goals, and if it doesn’t go according to your plan, you’ll think of yourself as a failure.

This drains the fun from the experience.

By all means, know your outcome. You need to know where you are going if you’re ever going to get there. But, instead of fixating on the outcome (and having it on loop in your mind), let it go and put your focus on what truly matters – the process.

The Joy Is In The Process

When you take your focus off the result, you set yourself up to enjoy the process. The daily action-oriented details that make up everything you need to do to achieve the result you want.

Instead of worrying whether about whether you’re going to be fit enough to run your goal time, you focus on showing up every day. You execute the training to the best of your ability, focus on your recovery and eat healthy – the process.

As you do the work, you build confidence and develop a winning mentality that shifts you into a mindset of inevitability with your goals. You don’t know exactly when because that’s out of your control, but you do know that if you continually show up, the rewards will arrive.

In Closing

The process is the key to enjoying your running (or any other exercise).

When the quality of your process is high and you execute the race with a high level of self-discipline and control, the result will be the best possible outcome you could have achieved given your starting fitness and the length of time you had to prepare.

Often, that will be the result that you were gunning for.

In situations when it’s not, rather than feeling disappointed, you still feel a sense of contentment because you did everything within your power to have your best result.

Is Social Media, Whatsapp And Other Digital Stimulation Ruining Your Recovery?

Recovery is an important topic and gets discussed a lot among endurance athletes and coaches.

Easy sessions.

Days off.

Easy weeks.

Recovery shakes.

Compression socks.

The list goes on and on.

But what if we’re not paying enough consideration to something that is really important?

Something that is not only good for your performance but equally important for good health and a happy life.

I’m talking about the recovery of your brain.

Specifically, I am worried about the effect that social media, text messages and other forms of digital stimulation – in today’s doses – have on your brain and its ability to recover.

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Your Brain Gets Tired Too

The brain is the most energy-consuming organ in the body.

It works at full capacity every single day and uses at least twenty percent of all the energy you need on a daily basis.

It’s no wonder it needs rest.

During training, you may think that it’s just your muscles doing the work, but that’s not the case. Your brain is the puppet master coordinating your muscles and every other physiological process that was needed for you to complete your session.

As such, it’s fair to say that neurological depletion happens during training, and just like your muscles, your brain needs time to recover.

Outside of training, further neurological depletion happens as you spend a good chunk of your waking hours employed in a job that also puts your brain to work in demanding situations.

Living In A Digital World

Prior to the mass adoption of the internet and particularly smartphones, people had time each day to sit in peace at the bookends of the workday. To read the paper, play games, socialise and generally repair and replenish their brain and body.

As technology has continued its aggressive progression into our lives, we’ve lost that time to sit in peace. At the hint of boredom or downtime, we reach for our phone or laptop – regardless of where we are – and bury ourselves in the neverending newsfeeds, texts, emails and videos that fill our screens.

On top of that, the bright lights of our devices, negatively affect our ability to achieve good quality sleep when you use them prior to going to sleep.

I argue that this constant digital stimulation (and the residual side effects) further depletes your brain and fatigue continues to accumulate.

Set Rules

The majority of apps you use are engineered to be as addictive as possible and to demand as much of your time and attention as possible. You need to fight back and be more intentional in how you choose to use them.

To combat the addictive nature of technology, I have set up some rules for how I use technology. I am by no means where I want to be but I am seeing the benefits of the changes I have made.

The key ones being a huge reduction in my overall anxiety levels and an improvement in mental clarity and energy.

My Rules

I removed all social media from my phone. When social media is on your phone it is far too easy to pull out your phone in times of boredom or when you are in a social situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. The simple act of removing it from your phone forces you to be more deliberate in your use. By taking the apps from my phone, I realised pretty quickly how much time I was wasting and just how little value it really added to my life.

My phone lives in do not disturb mode. Because most of us have our phone on us at all times, it makes us very accessible. People have no problem emailing or texting at all hours of the day and expect an instant reply. By replying instantly to peoples messages, you further fuel the belief that you are accessible at any time.

As Tim Ferris says, “to achieve amazing things, you have to be ok with small bad things happening”.

To limit the “bad things” I have my do not disturb settings structured to allow people on my favourites list to get through to me. This list includes my wife, parents and key staff members. Outside of that, you will get a reply from me at a time that suits me.

My phone lives in greyscale. A colourful screen is far more appealing than one in greyscale and I feel far less compelled to constantly check my phone with it in black and white. I have a setting that allows me to easily toggle to colour by clicking the home button three times. This is extremely useful for situations where I quickly need to see something in colour.

I avoid watching Netflix and other shows on my laptop and phone. Instead, I stream them to a television set. When watching on a TV, I am far less likely to be jumping between tabs or googling things that come up as I watch.

I downloaded Moment on my phone and rescue time on my laptop. Moment is an app that tracks how much time you spend on your phone. The first week was eye opening and a little scary. RescueTime does the same thing for your computer. When you are mindful of how much you actually use your devices, it makes it easier to try and limit your time.

These simple actions help to make me more intentional in how I use my devices. They keep me calmer and allow me to be more productive. In training and in life!

In Closing

I encourage you to take ownership of how much mental energy you are burning throughout your day.

Alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is not bad, too much gambling is bad.

Technology is no different. It’s not bad (in fact, it’s bloody awesome when used appropriately), too much of it is bad.

If you want to be a good, happy and healthy athlete, consider giving your brain some time away from digital stimulation so that it has time to repair and replenish.

How To Determine Your Ideal Hydration Plan

When it comes to hydration there are a few things you need to take into consideration.

Sodium concentration.

Sweat rate.

Duration and intensity of exercise.

When you know these numbers, it’s easy to customise a hydration plan that will improve the quality of your training and recovery.

As a side bonus, you’ll also lower your likelihood of suffering from muscle cramps.

The subject of hydration is something I have been thinking a lot about over the last few years. Living in the tropics, it’s a constant theme among the athletes I coach here.

While the duration and intensity of exercise are easy to know and calculating sweat rate is relatively simple; determining the sodium concentration of sweat is a lot harder.

It’s also the most important.

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Sodium Matters

A 2015 study found that athletes who adequately replaced the sodium lost in their sweat finished a middle distance triathlon an average of 26 minutes faster than those who didn’t.

That’s substantial!

The sodium concentration in your sweat is largely genetic and varies greatly between people. We see athletes who lose from as little as 200mg of sodium per litre of sweat to as much as 2000mg/l.

I personally lose 1,249 mg/l which is on the higher side of things and I suffered from cramps a number of times throughout my racing career.

It’s impossible to nail down the exact point at which sodium (and fluid) loss through sweating becomes a problem for an athlete. But, it’s clear that when losses reach a certain point, the effects can be detrimental to your performance.

Your blood volume is gradually reduced as your sweat losses increase. That’s because sweat is drawn from your blood plasma. This increases the strain on your cardiovascular system, making it harder to pump blood to your skin to cool you down and to your working muscles.

Other issues such as a general feeling of fatigue and muscle cramps can also be experienced if losses go uncorrected for long enough, or if significant imbalances between fluid and sodium are allowed to occur.

Up to a certain point, taking in plain water is enough to mitigate sweat losses.

But, as those losses start to mount up, you need to replace sodium too to avoid your blood becoming diluted.

This is a potentially disastrous condition called hyponatremia, which can certainly ruin your race and, tragically, has even been fatal on occasion.

So, How Much Sodium Should You Take?

That’s the million dollar question.

And finally, we have an answer.

Today, I am pleased to announce that Coached has partnered with Precision Hydration to provide sweat testing to anyone in Singapore interested in establishing the sodium concentration in their sweat.

With this number, we can help you to customise your hydration strategy and improve your performance.

We’ll also be stocking their full range of hydration products.

Don’t wait, book your test today!

BOOK MY TEST

6 Skills That Improve Your Triathlon Performance (Without Additional Training)

It’s easy to think that the only way to improve your racing is to do more training.

More volume.

More intensity.

More effort…

It’s the go-to strategy for many triathletes regardless of whether they’re training for short or long course events.

While this strategy can obviously work, there are a number of other things you can implement that will have a noticeable effect on your training and racing performance.

Things like mental trainingeating betteroptimising recovery and gear choices, for example, will all help to take your performance to another level.

Outside of these obvious peripheral supplements to training, there are also a number of other fundamental skills that you should be working on.

These skills alone can save you a ton of time when you invest in their development.

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Get The Basics Right

The Swim

Sighting
While most swim training is done in the pool, almost all triathlon swims happen in open water.

That means you’re going to need to learn to sight effectively or you’re going to end up swimming a lot further than you need to and burning a lot of unnecessary energy that would be better used later in the race.

The only way to improve your sighting is to swap some of those pool swims for open water swims.

The more you have to deal with the sun and the chop of the water, the better you’ll get at swimming the shortest line on race day.

Drafting
Just like drafting on the bike, drafting in the swim offers a good benefit to swimmers that can shave minutes off your time.

You can choose to draft someone by sitting on someone’s hip or on their feet.

The hip offers a better draft but takes some practise and coordination to avoid getting caught up in the other swimmer’s stroke.

The feet are usually a little easier to find but is harder to sit on.

Find a buddy and drag them down to the beach to practise your drafting. Take turns sitting on the hip and the feet. Experiment with your exact positioning and see how these change the effort level required to swim.

The Bike

Bike Handling
So many amateur athletes spend a small fortune on a bike but fail to build the skills required to ride it well and maximise performance.

This is partly due to so many athletes riding indoor trainers these days.

A great way to improve your bike handling skills is to swap the road bike and asphalt for a mountain bike and trails. The technical nature of trail riding forces you to improve your handling to avoid falling off.

If that’s not an option, get off the trainer and ride some more technical courses on the road with a nice mix of corners and hills.

Consider doing some bike racing too to further hone your skills and build confidence.

Tangents
This is one part bike handling skill and one part knowing how to ride the line of a corner.

You can save a lot of time over the distance of your race (especially on a technical course) if you can take a corner just one second faster. Assuming a loop course with multiple corners, you can easily save up to 30 seconds over 40km.

Try and achieve that time gain through training, it’ll be a lot harder.

The Run

Tangents
Just like on the swim and the bike, taking the shortest line through the course can save you plenty of time and energy. Aim to run the shortest line possible within the rules of the course.

Transition
It’s likely you train your swim, bike and run but do you invest the time to really dial in and practise your transition properly?

Having your equipment set up properly, your bike in the right gear and knowing how to mount and dismount your bike quickly and safely is a skill that is developed through practice.

When practised regularly and honed through race experience, you can save time and energy that will leave athletes of similar abilities (but with less skill) behind you.

In Closing

Triathlon is more than just swim, bike and run.

There are many small skills that make up the disciplines and sometimes investing in the development of these skills can save you a lot of time that is hard to earn through fitness alone.

Why You Should Learn From (Not Copy) Other Athletes

“But that is what [insert athlete name here] is doing.”

It’s something I hear from the athletes I coach and from the athletes I don’t.

It seems everyone is comparing themselves to others and looking for the next hack that will take their performance to the next level.

If only it were that simple.

While it’s tempting to compare yourself to others – especially those faster or more accomplished than you – it’s not always useful or beneficial.

We Are All Different

When you look at a good athlete doing a specific session, wearing certain gear, eating in a certain way or doing any other thing in their preparation, you are not seeing the full picture.

Often there are a whole host of circumstances that have led that athlete to that session, gear and food and you are viewing their preparation through a filter that is limiting your view.

Rather than blindly copying an athlete, a more productive idea is to try and learn from them.

Ask yourself this question: WHY is [insert athlete name here] doing what they do?

When you understand the WHY behind a particular approach, only then can you begin to assess whether this particular workout, strengthening session or recovery practice may be worth exploring or beneficial for you.

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Why The WHY Is So Important

When you peel away the filter, you’ll begin to see all of the things contributing to the choices made by [insert athlete name here].

While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the common things that influence an athlete’s choice in preparation are below.

Genetics
At the highest level, we all have a unique genetic recipe that determines our athletic potential.

All other things being equal, the athlete’s who are more gifted in the genetics department will have an advantage so trying to chase or copy them is of limited value.

Goals
When you look at an athlete training, you won’t always know what their goals are and what they’re trying to achieve.

Are they training to be better, to improve health or lose weight?

If performance is the goal, what distance are they training for and when is their race?

Each of these factors will change your approach to preparation.

If you see a good athlete doing a hard interval session it’s easy to believe that could be useful for you. If you’re training for a marathon and they’re preparing for a 5k, that specific session may not be useful for you at all right now.

Background
We all have a story.

We’ve grown up playing different sports, had different injuries and illnesses. We have different circumstances, come from different environments and with different resources.

All of these factors need to be considered when deciding on goals, how to train, eat and recover…

A person who has been training consistently for years will have a far better ability to tolerate training and will, therefore, be able to handle more mileage and more intensity without breaking down.

Trying to copy the volume or sessions of someone who has more experience and has been training for years longer than you is an injury waiting to happen.

Current Fitness
When you see an athlete running fast, it’s easy to assume that they’re working hard and you should too.

The trouble with this thinking is that pace does not reflect effort.

An athlete who is well trained and better conditioned than you will often be able to train at a much faster pace than you while still at an easy effort.

To get the best of yourself, you need to train at a pace that is appropriate for your current fitness level at ALL times.

Commitments & Recovery
Each of you have different commitments, different circumstances and different resources.

These factors all affect your ability to recover and benefit from training.

If you’re comparing your training with someone who works part-time, has no kids and gets 9 hours of sleep each night against your 50 hour workweek, 3 kids and 7 hours of sleep, it’s likely you’re going to have a hard time matching them and will begin to break down.

Training Tolerance
Training tolerance is the result of all above points combined. Some athletes are able to handle more, some less.

Regardless, your goal should be to find your optimal balance of training and life stress.

Performance is found in that balance.

In Closing

While it is easy to copy what others are doing, it is rarely valuable in the long run.

Instead, look a little deeper and try to learn WHY the athlete is doing what they do. It’s telling.

When you learn the WHY, you remove the filter and can begin to look at things with a little more objectivity.

Learn, don’t copy!

7 Important Lessons From 10-Years As A Professional Coach

10 years is a pretty long time!

I realised last week, that not only have I been living in Singapore a decade (I arrived 14 March 2008), I have also been a professional, full-time coach for that time as well.

That’s pretty cool and it’s a milestone that I’m proud of.

When I think back to my arrival in Singapore, a former pro triathlete, with some big goals for the next chapter of my life, I realise how far I have come and just how much I have learned.

While I still have a long way to go and an awful lot still to learn, I thought I’d share some of the most important lessons I have learned during a decade as a professional coach to ‘working athletes’.

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7 Important Lessons

1. Fit does not necessarily equal healthy

Frequent colds, nagging injuries, high blood pressure and many more common symptoms often present themselves among the ‘well trained’ athletes who come to work with Coached.

These athletes are fit, not healthy!

When I look back now at my career as an athlete, I can also recognise that in myself and a lot of my peers. I wasn’t injured a lot, but I fell sick with colds 2 – 3 times a year.

It was much worse for the more Type-A athletes that I was racing.

With this learning, all Coached programmes are created with health in mind and a belief that performance will be a byproduct of good health and the consistency it brings.

Because the athletes we work with at Coached are not professional athletes and are juggling a lot of things, we have to strike a balance between training and life stress.

When that balance is achieved, good things happen.

It’s also the reason we pay so much attention to the peripherals that support training. Diet, recovery, the mind…

2. Consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer

The athletes that seem to have the best results over time are not necessarily the ones who train the most, they’re the ones who train the most consistently.

The ones that eat clean, sleep 7+ hours a night and generally look after themselves too.

I often say that you won’t get fat by going to McDonald’s once and you won’t get fit by going on a 6-hour run. You get fat by eating at McDonald’s frequently and you get fit by jogging 20 minutes a day.

It’s an important consideration.

We are what we repeatedly do so keep showing up!

3. Ego is the enemy

We all have an ego!

As an athlete, your ego is constantly telling you all the things that you could do.

You could do an Ironman. You could qualify for Boston. You could do this session a little harder than planned. You could join this Bootcamp. You could try and drop your buddies in the bunch ride. You could do all these races on back to back weekends.

The list never ends.

The issue is that for every action the ego initiates, the body must answer.

When you let your ego drive your behaviour, you take the fun out of the process and run the risk of breaking yourself down.

4. Stress is a double-edged sword

While stress is not inherently bad (some stress is needed and beneficial), chronic stress is.

Unfortunately, many of the athletes we work with are in a state of chronic stress.

Endurance sport draws Type-A personalities to it in big numbers. Type-A people tend to be competitive, hardworking and self-critical. A dangerous mixture that usually leads to burning the candle at both ends – at work and in training.

Chronic stress suppresses fat burning and immune function and increases inflammation levels in the body.

It contributes to overtraining, burnout and a lack of consistency in training, none of which is ideal when trying to train for (and recover from) endurance sports.

The main reason, we like our athletes to use a heart rate monitor is that heart rate reflects stress.

Stress from training AND stress from life.

In periods of high life stress, heart rate will elevate and training stress will come down in response, as you’re forced to slow down.

While some athletes view this is as a negative, I can only see the upside. Remember, consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer.

5. Great fitness does not guarantee your best race performance

I learned this lesson very early in my coaching career.

Many athletes who were following our programme had shown great improvements in their fitness (tracked via lactate and MAF testing) yet failed to deliver a result that matched their fitness on race day.

On further inspection, it became obvious that their result (or lack of result) was not a lack of fitness but rather a poor expression of that fitness on race day.

If you want to race to your potential, you not only have to prepare and get yourself into a suitable condition to race well, you also have to execute your race properly and with control.

6. You can’t out exercise a shitty diet

Take a look at any Ironman or marathon field and you’ll quickly notice that a good percentage of these people are carrying a substantial amount of excess body fat.

Maybe you fall into this category?

While not all of these people are preparing for these events properly, I would venture a guess that a high number of them are putting in substantial training time, especially those training for Ironman.

While exercise obviously has its benefits, exercise alone is not enough to sustain a healthy metabolism and an ideal body composition over time.

For that, you need to pay attention to what you eat.

As a result of the thousands of metabolic tests we have conducted, I have become a huge believer in the importance of diet and am now a proponent of eating a lower carb, healthy fat diet.

Diet plays a major role in your ability to stay healthy, lean and energetic as well as helping you to recover quickly from training and racing.

I encourage you to lower the number of processed foods you consume in favour of whole foods. Whole foods tend to be lower in carbohydrate, higher in healthy fat and they’ll help you to be both a healthy and fast athlete.

7. Less is more

Over the last few years, I have embraced the idea of minimalism and keeping things as simple as possible. I believe this is a key to a happy and productive life.

With a growing business and 2-year old twins, it’s not always easy, but the philosophy helps to keep me focussed and avoid being “busy” just to appear successful or for the sake of it.

A lot of the athletes we work with have so many things fighting for their time. Many are self-inflicted (saying yes to everything and everyone) and just not that important when they really look at them for what they are.

When you stop worrying about things that just aren’t that important, you free up your time and money for the things you love.

In the context of training and racing, you’ll have more time to train and recover; and more money to spend on travel and race experiences.

I encourage you to look at ways you can simplify and eliminate the non-essential in your life.

When you get rid of the ‘fluff’, you’ll feel less anxious, produce more and from my experience, feel happier.

In Closing

It’s been an amazing 10 years!

I am grateful to be able to do a job that I love and to work with and influence some amazing people.

I’d like to thank you for being part of my journey and for supporting Coached by reading and sharing this blogtrying our programme or testing in our lab.

I am excited to see what unfolds and what lessons I learn as the next decade passes.