5 Strategies to Improve Performance (Without More Training Hours)
Cut body fat through diet1 of 6
Think of it this way: you can spend $$$$$ eliminating a few ounces from your tri-bike. That's great--but if your body fat percentage is in the teens, or higher, than be aware it's like your lugging around a weight vest. Eliminate the excess fat and go faster. To shed the weight vest, experts like Tim Noakes and Mark Sisson advise endurance athletes to do the counterintuitive: cut carbs and up fat intake. "The low fat diet is probably the worst mistake we've ever made in the history of human medicine," Noakes says. "The mainstream dietary advice that we are currently giving to the world has simply not worked. It's time to talk about how we can make a real change." Professor Noakes, an ultra runner, an MD, a sports scientist, and author of books like "The Lore of Running" and "Waterlogged," has become a controversial character in the academic and sports science worlds because of a vigorous reversal in the belief of a high-carb diet for endurance athletes. He's now a proponent of a low-carb, high-fat diet (not just for endurance athletes--for everyone. Check out The Noakes Foundation to learn more). I spoke with Dr. Noakes recently and he uses himself as an example: Through a simple change in his diet, he not only lost a significant amount of weight (that he had not been able to burn off in his running), he restored a comprehensive state of health to his life, and, now in his 60s, is running more than he has in a long time. "I just got a stress fracture from running too much," he told me, with a note of humor. "How many 60-somethings can say something like that?" The gist of what Noakes has to say to runners and triathletes is this: Want to improve performance? Then a first order of business is to shed excess body fat. Read more from Noakes and former elite triathlete (and also former ITU official) Mark Sisson about why a high-carb diet can be the nemesis of a triathlete.
Get more sleep (and get better sleep)2 of 6
Train hard, work hard, go like hell--by all means work your ass off. To make more time for training, kill your television and eliminate other stupid time wasting activities from your life. But don't make profound mistake of cutting back on sleep to open up more time to train. Sleep is where you a great deal of the digestion of training strength and turn it into improvement. "Sleep affects metabolism, through lots of hormonal pathways," writes Dr. Kirk Parsley, a nationally recognized sleep expert, triathlete and former Navy SEAL. "All hormones are inter-related. Insulin affects metabolism. Testosterone affects metabolism. Growth hormone affects metabolism. Thyroid affects metabolism. Ghrelin and leptin are affecting your fat storage, hunger, fuel usage, etc. which are all metabolism based as well. Epinephrine and norepinephrine (Adrenalin), are hormones that are secreted by the adrenals. They affect metabolic rate to a large degree." Read more about Doc Parsley's insight into how poor sleep (or lack of sleep) affects performance here.
Hold yourself back3 of 6
Six-time Hawaii Ironman champion and current age-group triathlete super-coach, Mark Allen, has long been a proponent of using a heart-rate monitor to help regulate training. But the chief purpose of the monitor is not to ensure you're training hard enough; rather, Allen advises triathletes to use it to make sure that their easy training is easy enough. In his own training when he was competing, Allen's first order of business was to make sure the bulk of his endurance work was being performed under 155 beats per minute. When he first applied this to his run training, he was shocked at how slowly the tyrant of the monitor forced him to go (slower than 8-minute pace). For more info from Mark Allen, check out his newsletter.
Improve your positions4 of 6
Want to improve performance and get more bang for your energy buck during a triathlon? Then launch yourself on a mission to improve your positions in swimming, bike and running. Your ability to understand, seek out and use good positions will help delay fatigue, minimize the waste of energy and increase power output. A complete education in biomechanics and self-diagnostics can be had through Kelly Starrett's mobilitywod.com. For an overview of Starrett's approach, listen to his recent appearance on the LAVA Magazine Podcast.
Improve your ability to maintain good positions5 of 6
Starrett's work is intertwined with the work of coach Brian MacKenzie, who makes the ability to establish and maintain good positions and mechanics the cornerstone of his CrossFit Endurance program. MacKenzie's work in CrossFit Endurance is featured in the current issue of LAVA Magazine and in the book, Unbreakable Runner. Another potent voice on the subject is Jay Dicharry, author of Anatomy for Runners, who is known to have athletes like Linsey Corbin performing heavy lifts with free weights. The idea? To build that underlying/infrastructure strength that can help an athlete maintain good positions from early in the race through the finish line. Here's a piece by Dicharry on maintaining good posture on the bike.