At first glance, the triathletes running around town during the typical Ironman race week appear to be a pretty fit group. At least with our clothes on.
Upon closer inspection, however, it’s pretty typical among the triathlon crowd to have tiny arms, a thin and weak neck and a stick-like midsection, with a little bit of fat in the belly and waist. I call this the “skinny-fat” look.
There’s also a bit of an opposite look: a triathlete appears that they should be playing football or rugby instead of riding a bicycle and running – meaning relatively dense muscle, covered with evenly distributed fat in the back, stomach, hips and thighs. I call this the “fit but fat” look.
Regardless of which camp a triathlete falls into, all of us possess the ability and genetics for the body to be much more impressive. Just imagine if your arms were cut and defined, your chest and shoulders were “stacked”, your waistline was tapered like a V, your stomach was flat and hard, your legs were sleek, curvaceous and athletic – and you were still a great triathlete.
That’s a look that you can totally achieve as a triathlete, without giving up speed. But unfortunately, the traditional triathlon training method won’t really help you achieve a great looking body, but instead, a physique that’s skinny-fat or fit-but-fat. Instead, there are 5 simple steps to follow if you want to become a great triathlete and still have an amazing body.
1. Lift Right.
There are two styles of weight lifting that most triathletes do: 1) high-repetition, low-resistance endurance style lifting, such as a circuit of 20 reps of several different exercises; 2) heavy, slow, football-style lifting, like deadlifts, squats or benchpress. In reality, there is a third style of lifting that is neglected among endurance athletes, but a long-kept tradition of the bodybuilding industry: “hypertrophy” style training: multiple sets of 8-12 repetitions.
With hypertrophy training, you can add and define lean muscle very quickly. But the problem is that it is very easy with this bodybuilder-style training to build non-functional muscle that actually slows you down when you’re competing in a sport such as triathlon.
The solution to this issue is to still do the hypertrophy-style training, but to avoid single-joint exercises like biceps curls, and instead to choose full body, functional exercises while scattering in just enough explosive and heavy weightlifting to keep your muscles extremely functional and fast.
2. Eat Right.
This may be a bit of a news flash for you, but fat doesn’t make you fat. Instead, fat – the healthy variety, like olives, almonds, walnuts, fish and avocadoes – is a hormonal precursor and gives your body the building blocks it needs to develop lean, hard muscle, as well as competitive drive, mental energy, libido, and every other advantage that comes from adequate hormones.
On the flipside, carbohydrates, especially the type that are really favored by endurance athletes, like bagels, sports drinks, and cereal, give you that soft, pudgy look in the mid-section, accompanied by a complete inability to build impressive, defined arms and legs.
So here’s what to do about this: if you’re trying to be fast at triathlon and also have an amazing body, you should eat a diet comprised of a high amount of healthy fats (40-50% fat), add in moderate helpings of natural protein to keep amino acids elevated for your muscles and brain, and top it off with strategically timed carbohydrate doses when they really matter, such as before or after your exercise sessions.
3. Train Right.
For years, sports scientists have know that short, hard and intense intervals give you just as much fitness and performance benefit as long, slow, aerobic exercise. But like a mouse on a wheel, it is tempting and even addictive for an endurance athlete to continue plugging away hours pounding the pavement, turning the pedals, or swimming back and forth.
Not only does this long, slow aerobic training completely nullify any attempts to add lean muscle or get a nice, defined body, but it also depletes hormones, causes overtraining syndrome, and takes away precious time from family, career and other hobbies.
Instead, for the triathlete who wants to avoid the skinny-fat look and get an amazing, muscular body, the training plan should incorporate strategically targeted high-intensity bursts of energy, a moderate amount of slightly longer “tempo” work, and finally, a low amount of long aerobic training - strategically saving long rides, runs or swims for times when they are completely necessary and crucial to the program.
4. Supplement Right
Inadequate hormones are a big issue for both men and women, and especially physically active men and women. “Andropause”, the decline or imbalance in male hormones and “Menopause”, the decline or imbalance in female hormones can begin to occur when you’re as young as 27 years old – and only gets worse as you age.
Although hormonal deficits are the biggest problem among endurance athletes, there is also a prevalence of nutrition deficiencies, mineral loss, and very low fatty acid and amino acid levels – all of which keep you from both getting fast and having an amazing body.
These deficits and imbalances can occur because the body simply needs extra help if you’re lifting, swimming, cycling, running and cross-training on a regular basis. This level of activity is just more than the human body can naturally handle!
The extra help comes in the form of completely legal sports nutrition supplementation like digestive enzymes, fish oil, vitamin D, greens supplements, magnesium and Chinese adaptogenic herbs. While there are countless supplement ads in magazines and on websites, you really only need a few of these key supplements to have your body ready to both go fast and maintain muscle.
And yes, if you are pushing your body beyond it’s natural tendencies, then even in a situation where your diet is perfect, supplementation is a must if you want to be fast and also have an amazing body.
5. Live Right.
There are little hacks or tweaks you can make to your lifestyle to simplify this whole process of performing fantastic and looking good. For example, you can sleep more deeply by using magnesium, melatonin, keeping your bedroom completely dark, and even using sleep applications like “White Noise”. You can de-stress at the beginning of the day with a very simple 5-10 minute yoga routine. You can keep bouncing back from your workouts day-after-day by using a ice, compression and foam roller. You can detoxify your body by making sure you aren’t using body-damaging chemicals to clean your house or cook your food.
These are just a few of the little lifestyle tweaks that you can make, but they’re incredibly important if you want to add muscle and athleticism while getting the body of your dreams and still being fast for triathlon.
If you add these 5 steps to your triathlon training, there is no reason that you can’t look good naked, have supreme confidence about your body and sexiness, be able to look good at the gym and on the beach, and still be a great triathlete. To learn more about how to effectively incorporate what I’ve taught you in this article, visit http://www.Tri-Ripped.com.
Ben Greenfield is a triathlon coach and sports nutritionist at www.pacificfit.net.