Podcast, Science and Physiology

Predictors of performance in amateur triathletes with Paulo Puccinelli, MD PhD | EP#281

 April 12, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Paulo Puccinelli is a sports medicine physician with a PhD in exercise physiology. In this episode we discuss his recent study, on the most important predictors for performance in amateur triathletes.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • An overview of the study Paulo and his team conducted on predictors of performance in amateur (Olympic distance) triathletes
  • The importance of VO2max and Maximum Aerobic Velocity (MAV)
  • The importance of triathlon experience
  • The relative insignificance of (running) economy
  • A discussion on body composition
  • A discussion on chronotype
  • Paulo's coaching advice and takehome messages

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03:25 -

  • My name is Paulo Puccinelli and I am a Brazilian sports physician who currently works with a Brazilian football team.

    I am also an avid amateur triathlete myself, and my favorite distance is the Olympic distance.

Study: Predictors of performance in amateur triathletes

05:25 -

  • I conducted a study that was published by the end of 2020 that investigated performance predictors among amateur triathletes (mainly focusing on the Olympic distance).

    The main reason for why we conducted this study was because very little research has been done within this field (focusing on amateur athletes and their performance over the Olympic distance).
  • The subjects of the study were recruited from a local triathlon race in Brazil, 39 males and 6 females participated in the study.

    The males had an average VO2max of 60 and the females 50 ml/min/kg.

    After recruitment, the subjects underwent a broad range of physiological tests in the laboratory including VO2max tests, running economy, body composition and certain gene tests (genes that previously has been associated with endurance performance).

    The study population also answered an extensive questionary where they among other things stated how much they trained on a weekly basis, for how long time they have been doing triathlon and whether they are ”a morning or evening person” (chrono type).
  • In regards to the results, we didn’t see any difference between males and females.

    We did find that maximum aerobic power (for cycling) and velocity (for running) did correlate better with performance in the race compared to the VO2max itself of the athletes.

    Also, we did find out that the number of years the athlete had been engaged in triathlon was a better predictor of performance compared to the weekly average training volume.

    Moreover, the body composition was also very strongly correlated to performance (the leaner athlete the better the performance).

    However, we didn’t see any correlation between performance and running economy in the study, which is very interesting since it is a correlation that has been demonstrated for professional triathletes.
  • Overall, maximum aerobic power/velocity and years of triathlon experience were the strongest predictors of performance.
  • From the questionnaire, we also found out that triathletes are ”morning persons” to a considerably much larger extent compared to the general populations.

Practical takeaways from the study 

31:30 -

  • The most important takeaway from the study would be to be patient and have faith in the process and, which in time will lead to success.
  • The second takeaway or advice would be to try and do some physiological tests to have a ”starting point”, from which you start tracking your progress.
  • The third message of the study is that body composition is important, but it is not the most important aspect of performance.

Other advice from Paulo

34:10 -

  • There are no ”shortcuts” to success and increased fitness.
  • Respect the need for sleep (at least 7h per day).
  • Be diligent with your nutrition, eat a lot high quality food!

Rapid fire questions

35:40 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? Pubmed.
  • Who is somebody that has inspired you? Ching Dong, he has really inspired me!
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? To wake up early in the morning and start the day with training!


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

  • Hi Michael, just listened to this interview and read the footnotes. I do think he was referring to Tim Don as the inspirational person in the rapid-fire questions. 🙂

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