Q&A: Recovery frequency, LCHF or The Core Diet, Polarised Training, and Indoor Bike Trainers | EP#78
Listener questions and answers. I answer some of the triathlon questions you have been sending in over the last couple of months.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- How to structure recovery in your training plan
- Polarised training
- LCHF (as taught by past guest Tim Noakes) or the Core Diet (as taught by past guest Jesse Kropelnicki)?
- Swim training: what to do when my pool is far away? And how to practise technique and drills?
- Which indoor bike trainer and trainer software should I get?
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Swimming when my pool is far away?
Øyvind from Norway:
Hi, I’m struggling with swimming techniques and drills. I have a pool far away from my home so it’s easier to do a running session instead of swimming. I have some injuries in my hips and I tried to do more stretching.
- For injuries, go and check out Episode 45 - Dysfunctional movement patterns, injuries and reduced performance with James Dunne.
- For the swimming question, I would also ask you, can you get to the pool twice per week? Two sessions per week will take you a long way.
- If you can get one 60-minute session and one 75 to 90-minute session done with structured training, then you will get in a lot of structured volume despite just doing two sessions per week.
- If you do this for a year and you have a good training prescription, you will make big gains and can become quite successful in your swimming.
- This requires good planning and commitment to these two sessions.
- For drills, they are difficult. If you do them, you really should have a few swimming sessions with a coach. The coach will assess your technique to give you drills based on your technical strengths and weaknesses and not just random drills.
- For many age groupers, it’s not that useful to do drills because they don’t do them with the right purpose and focus.
- The best technique training is practicing technique by swimming and practicing technique under load. This requires great focus, presence, and concentration.
- Listen also to Episode 3 - 3 Foundational Elements that will Make You Swim Faster with Gerry Rodrigues and Episode 70 - Fitness and Technique in Triathlon Swimming with Rory Buck.
- You can learn more about swimming drills in Episode 69 - 12 Swimming Drills and 3 Expert Coaches' Opinions of Them.
- Beware of just picking any single drill because somebody else likes it. It is not the way to do it. Every drill you do must have a purpose and you must do it right to improve technique that translates to your actual swimming.
I listened to Episode 40 - Race-day fueling and The Core Diet with Jesse Kropelnicki and to Episode 44 - Low-carb high-fat (LCHF) for endurance sports with Professor Tim Noakes and I’m now completely confused.
I’m a competitive time trial athlete. I’ve had access to the team’s dietitian and have paid previously to see a recommended dietitian. Both of whom contradicted each other massively. I’ve read and re-read Jesse’s book and totally understood the concept of the core diet. However, I find that I’m gaining too much weight.
I’m thinking now that the LCHF route may well be the solution. I have tried this before and found that even though I lost weight, my training and race days were traumatic. I had very little in the tank to perform.
Whereas on the core diet, I have found my power has improved and I can sustain hours in the saddle without any effects.
I am at a total loss as to what to do. I know I need to lose the weight in order to sustain the power to weight ratio for racing in the coming new season. However, LCHF is a real torture chamber for me.
Is it worth just sticking with the core diet route as the core diet seems to lean towards using carb intake from fruits and vegetables? Am I right in thinking that Jesse’s diet is similar to the LCHF suggested by Tim or am I getting this wrong?
- The core diet is not an LCHF diet. It can be LCHF on rest days, though.
- The core diet is essentially fueling for the work required. It is very clean eating outside of your training and pre- and post-workout training windows, which are either short or non-existent or scaled to the duration of your training.
- You fuel your training sessions with sports drinks and energy gels when needed. Jesse suggested doing it in every single session. This is perhaps one thing that I’m not proposing to do but I definitely agree with almost everything in the core diet.
- On hard and long workout days, the core diet suddenly becomes very high carb low fat. You can get up to 70% carbs in on these days, which is really a lot.
- On the flipside, during the offseason or on recovery days when you’re not having a massive training load or you’re not training at all on that particular day, then you might be very low carb. You might go down to 20% carbs.
- From a performance perspective, higher carb diets tend to perform better than lower carb diets in scientific studies in endurance athletes.
- I don’t recommend LCHF to anybody unless there are medical or health reasons. I focus on the performance side of things.
- So from a performance standpoint, you should go with the core diet. This is what I follow mostly, but not to the extent of always fueling my workouts with sports products. I mostly eat very clean, but I also have fast carbs like bread or pasta when I get home from a long ride.
- As for you gaining weight, try to think about your portion control. You need carbs, but how much are you actually eating? You might be eating way too much. Whatever you’re eating way too much of, whether it's carbs, protein, or fats, might be causing you to gain weight. So try to be mindful of that.
- You said that LCHF wrecks your training and racing. For the average athlete, it is indeed harder to recover from hard training and racing on an LCHF diet. And it is hard to continually perform well on it, even though there are of course exceptions. But these exceptions are outliers and go against findings from controlled studies.
- It is better to be at the starting line overweight and undertrained than underweight and overtrained.
- You can definitely get your weight to your ideal racing weight on the core diet. Episode 73 - Overeating and The Hungry Brain with Stephan Guyenet is very good to listen to for this.
- Here’s a quick example of my own use of the core diet. In and around training you may get in some fast carbs, and sports nutrition products in training, but outside of those training windows, it should be super clean.
- I just had a lentil-tuna-orange-carrot-tomato salad. This is a typical core diet food. I get an appropriate amount of carbs but not too much given that it’s 10 hours since I stopped training for the day. The lentils, vegetables, and oranges have a good amount of carbs and also protein. It’s all very clean, no fast carbs. Its legumes rather than grains.
- On the other hand, immediately after the training session which was an 80-minute swim plus 60 minutes of gym work, I had oatmeal, a banana, an egg, and Greek yogurt instead. This had more carbs, more protein and faster carbs given that it was in the post-workout window.
- The core diet is about consuming the macronutrients you need at the particular time that you need them and in the way that you need them. It can be LCHF when needed, or HCLF when needed.
- Eat healthy, clean foods outside the training windows.
- And in the training windows and in training, have strategic use of sports nutrition products and faster carbs.
- For performance in endurance sports, the Core Diet is recommended ahead of LCHF.
Mikko from Finland:
He asks about the 20% hard, 80% easy split that you typically see in polarised training research papers. He wonders how this 20% and 80% split refers to training.
“Is it the actual time accumulated or is it more on a session by session basis? As an example, would 3x3x3 minutes at 120% FTP account for 27 minutes of high-intensity and the rest of the 1-hour session (33 minutes) would then be classified as easy? Or would that entire session be classified as 60 minutes hard training?”
- The former is right. You accumulate time in zones on a minute by minute basis. That would mean that from that session you get 27 minutes of high-intensity and 33 minutes of low-intensity.
- Generally, in research, they use three intensity zones to classify polarised training.
- Zone 1 is below the aerobic threshold.
- Zone 2 is between the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds.
- Zone 3 is above the anaerobic threshold.
- Listen to Episode 71 - Threshold Confusion: Aerobic, Anaerobic, Lactate, Functional – Help! to learn more about the thresholds.
- The main idea in polarised training is that you spend very little time in Zone 2. When you go hard, you go at the anaerobic threshold or above it. The rest is easy, below the aerobic threshold. For example, 80% below the aerobic threshold and 20% above the anaerobic threshold.
Further reading and listening
Recovery period frequency
Kylie from Australia:
I have a question about recovery. I’ve been reading both the Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel and The Well-Built Triathlete by Matt Dixon.
Joe Friel suggests two or three build weeks followed by a recovery week while Matt Dixon uses a 14-day pattern with extra recovery days in the 2nd week.
So far, I’ve been using three build weeks followed by a recovery week. I definitely have not been recovering enough. I’m wondering whether to reduce to two build weeks or to follow the structure suggested by Matt Dixon in his book. I’ll be very interested in your thoughts on the topic.
- There’s no simple answer to it but here’s my quick take on it.
- As a general guideline, if I start working with a new athlete that’s over 35 years old, I tend to always start with the two build weeks and one easier week. This is one of Joe Friel’s types of recovery structure.
- For some, it doesn’t work and we might change it. For example, one of my athletes used a 10-day cycle with 3 very easy recovery days at the end of each 10-day cycle. We have now gone back to a 3-week cycle which now seems to be working, even though it didn't before.
- Matt Dixon’s 14-day cycle is another great way.
- There’s no right or wrong answer really. You need to test what works for you.
- You can try a 2-week build and 1-week rest first because working on a weekly schedule is just very practical. And it’s similar to what you have been doing but you’re getting recovery more often.
- If that doesn’t work for you either, then maybe try Matt’s system or even the 10-day system I used with one of my athletes.
Further reading and listening
Indoor trainers and software
Christian from northern Ontario, Canada:
I heard on a recent podcast that you mentioned really enjoying using an indoor trainer. I’m looking at some options as the temperatures are dropping making morning rides not so enjoyable. Do you have some advice on what trainer and what software to get to go with it?
- Starting with the software, it’s very easy for me to recommend TrainerRoad. You won’t regret it.
- Almost all of my athletes are signed up with TrainerRoad – at least those that are based in climates where you need to train indoors. They are loving it as well.
- That said, I honestly have never used Zwift, Sufferfest, or the other platforms out there. Xert also has a new and exciting option that you could look into.
- If you go with TrainerRoad, I guarantee that you will be very satisfied. You can also listen to Episode 38 - Structured, power-based cycling training with Chad Timmerman from TrainerRoad.
- For the trainer itself, it really depends on what your needs for it are or simply what you want to get out from it.
- You can go to DC Rainmaker's site, where he has an annual guide for trainers with all sorts of recommendations for different types of persons.
- Personally, I’m in the process of getting a STAC Zero. The primary reason is that it’s completely silent. It doesn’t even touch the wheel of your bike. It uses magnets to create resistance. It’s also very portable. You can fold it up. It’s flat so you can put it in your hand luggage or in your large backpack if you’re traveling. It’s only 3 inches tall.
- Also, I’m getting the power meter version of the STAC Zero just in case, even though I have a power meter. If you don’t have a power meter on your bike, then definitely look into this power meter version of the trainer. The price for the power meter version is $570 and $460 for the regular one.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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