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    Why Triathletes need carbohydrates | Inspire Athletic

    Why Triathletes need carbohydrates | Inspire Athletic

    Why carbohydrates are a must for a triathlete

    First of all, I totally understand why the keto, or low-carb high-protein lifestyle seems so appealing. We all have that one friend who raves about how much weight they lost after cutting out the carbs, but it isn't all what it's cracked up to be. There are many health risks associated with a lower carb diet such as vitamin deficiency, restlessness, and mood disturbances1. Athletes particularly have been found to have lower immunity, a decreased iron status (performance iron health status is different to normal iron health status) and issues gaining or maintaining muscle mass. For an athlete's sake, it certainly doesn't enhance performance in a multi-faceted race like a triathlon. Here's a brief insight into optimising performance without compromising health or body composition.

    Let’s talk about why carbohydrates are a must on the menu! Ideally, carbs should be eaten throughout the day and especially before and after training or competing. So, what's so special about these little molecules of energy?

    If we break down the word, we get carbo and hydrate. The carb part refers to energy. This is used by cells, muscles and the brain for fuel prior to exercise. In fact, it's the brain's preferred fuel source! After strenuous exercise, the body craves more fuel or carbs to help replace the energy lost. If this doesn't happen, the body will look for other sources of energy. Since fat isn't as easily broken down for the body to use, the body will also need to break down protein stores to produce energy. Unfortunately, these stores are found in the muscles, therefore resulting in muscle loss, zero training progression, and little to no chance at a PB (eating protein alongside carbs is the ultimate goal, but that's a whole other article)!

    The hydrate part is the important bit. For every 1 part carb, we also get 3 parts water when carbs are absorbed by the cells, tissue and muscles (this may be why you feel heavier and tend to blame carbs for the sudden weight gain-it's not fat, just water). The water absorption is a great bonus. Since water is lost in sweat, carbs indirectly help to keep the body's cells hydrated therefore maintaining your performance.  

    We've discussed the backbone of carbohydrates, now let's talk about where they fit on the menu. For an everyday individual, we recommend eating 5-6x a day or in some cases 3x a day, with carbs added to main meals at minimum. For triathletes, however, this pattern of eating just isn't going to cut it! Triathletes need to be eating 6x a day at minimum, plus a pre and post carb rich snack around training. The AMOUNT and KIND of carbs is the tricky part. This is why it's important to understand your body and gut sensitivity. Trialling this in training leading up to competition is key. Your sports dietitian/nutritionist can play a huge role in this process and assist in which supplements such as electrolytes, caffeine, creatine, nitrates, etc. (if any) may be right for you.

    If you've taken the time to read up to this point, let me tell you about a fantastic product that has been tested and recommended by fellow triathletes for its taste and ease on the gut, and supported by dietitians for its nutrition profile. With many different flavours to suit your fancy, and different products to choose from such as pre and during event energy or post event recovery products, Tailwind Nutrition delivers all the way from Colorado U.S.A and is available here.

     Tailwind Nutrition

    Tailwind supplies products containing enough energy and electrolytes for pre or during competition and products with enough energy and protein to replenish the body after competition deeming a dietitian's mark of approval.

    Before supplements can have a positive and noticeable improvement in your performance, your nutrition foundation should already be in tip-top shape. You wouldn’t bother fine tuning a guitar if it were missing some of its strings would you? The same philosophy should be adopted in regards to sports nutrition. Some supplements are also known to be contaminated with ingredients that are on the WADA banned substance list. There is a zero tolerance policy if these substances are discovered in your system. Competing athletes need to trust their providers and triple check ‘what’ and ‘how much’ they put in their body to avoid any disqualifications. Your sports dietitian will be familiar with this list and is also a great resource. If you're unsure, new to triathlete competing or just want some assurance in your nutrition plan, a sports nutrition consult could be the difference between a PB and getting a ripper calf cramp on the home stretch.

    Finally, I want to emphasise that having a healthy relationship with food is the first and foremost step towards performing at your best and finding fulfilment in competing and succeeding. It is possible to be flexible with your dietary patterns to match your lifestyle while simultaneously fuelling your body for performance. Contact your local sports dietitian/nutritionist for more individualised advice and if you have any further questions!

    About the Author

    My name is Jen Pfeifler and my passion is helping people develop positive relationships with food and eating in the areas of sports nutrition for performance and disordered eating/eating disorders. Originally from USA, I now call Australia home after growing up in Florida where I completed my Bachelor of Science degree and played tennis at a semi-professional level during my university years. After hanging up my racquet, I moved to Australia to pursue my passion and complete my Masters and dietetic accreditation. I believe that nutrition is the cornerstone of health and wellbeing, and support this belief by adopting a person centered approach where I focus on improving the knowledge and behavioural aspects associated with food and eating.

    Through my tennis career, I developed a strong understanding of the team approach and the importance of communication. In my work, I bring my core values and personality into consultations, and practice largely from an evidence based approach. I love working with like-minded athletes as the connection through sports and competing is unlike any other!


    1. Burke, L., & Deakin, V. (2010). Clinical sports nutrition (Fourth ed.). North Ryde, N.S.W., Australia: McGraw-Hill Education (Australia) Pty.

    Strength training for runners & triathletes

    Strength training for runners & triathletes

    Brought to you by Inspire Athletic

    Strength training for both triathlon and running has become a big talking point over the last few years.   Both sports are endurance based so it means a lot of repetitive movements are done to perform those sports.  I am writing about the benefits and how to and best apply strength training into your triathlon or running programming.

    What are the benefits of strength training for endurance-based athletes?  In this blog we are looking at athletes that swim bike and run.  These sports involve the use of varying muscles to perform, a lot of repetitive loading which can cause overuse injuries.

    Below are the five main benefits of strength training

    1. Injury Reduction not prevention. Strength training can aid in injury reduction (I will not say prevention as this is individual and has many other factors involved).  Commonly most injuries in these sports are effectively over use injuries.

      In swimming we see shoulder issues associated with the rotator cuff.

      Cycling presents issues with lower back problems, knee and hip issues which in some cases are due to poor set up or fitting.   

      Running is where we would see the biggest issues develop.  Achilles, knee and hip problems generally due to overuse but most often due to poor strength in the required areas.  Of the three sports running is the only one that has impact so there are factors that need to be considered in areas of mobility and stability to be able to stay injury free.
    1. Helps with mobility and muscle imbalances. A well-structured strength program will include exercises which look at improving and/or restoring mobility and with muscle imbalances in the areas that require it.  With the nature of swimming and cycling being forward posture disciplines our thoracic spine becomes stiff.  In cycling our hips become stiff and immobile.  In running our ankles stiffen up.

    2. Develops neuromuscular function and musculotendinous stiffness (this being very important in running due to the stretch shortening cycle involved).

    3. Mental strength and fatigue resistance this one can be individual, but if you feel strong your mental outlook will be more positive.

    4. Muscle loss - as we age we lose muscle, so strength training allows us to maintain muscle.

    How do I implement this into my training?

    I must stress before you undertake any strength training program I advise that you get assessed properly of your movement patterning as this will allow the correct exercise application to be planned with correct regressions and progressions.  This should be done by a trainer with knowledge in movement, more importantly a strength & conditioning coach.  The traditional gym assessment is checking your blood pressure, so make sure you don’t get this type of assessment.  You can email me and I can send through an assessment protocol in which you can send me a video of the tests.

    The best time to undertake strength training is during the off season and base periods of your training.  The off season is a great time to address those imbalances, mobility and strength issues.  The base/build period is when you can develop some strength.  The specific/in season strength training should continue but primarily as a maintenance measure. 

    What exercises should I be doing?

    The best way to apply the strength training for triathlon and runners is simply to look at the areas that require strength to perform the sport and to also identify the weak areas.

    In swimming, as it is primarily an upper body discipline, we need to include exercises that involve the upper arms & back areas (lats, rhomboids, pectorals, triceps). These exercises need to primarily movement focussed not isolated. Swimming also requires a strong core to be able to hold a good position in the water.

    In cycling which can be very quadriceps focussed and at times glutes are used in climbing and out of the saddle, so we need to utilise leg exercises that are more knee dominant focussed, which means the load is on the quadriceps.

    STRENGTH SESSION – Bilateral heavy load

    Running is often discussed as a glute dominant discipline yet recent research has shown the lower leg complex of the gastrocnemius and soleus (the soleus being no.1) as the main proponent of propulsion in the running gait.  The glutes are still required but not as much as the soleus as many have been told.  The glute area still plays a big role in creating stability though in the running gait particularly on landing/impact. 


    In terms of programming if you do two strength sessions a week - one should be primarily strength with heavy load and bilateral exercises with some accessory exercises (these are exercises with have benefit regarding movement and carry some cross over effect regarding muscle imbalances). The other session should focus on unilateral exercises which challenges stability.  Below are two examples of programs.

    It is very important that the sessions are focused on execution not overloading.  You are as only as strong as you are moving in the correct manner.

    Strength Session - Bilateral heavy load
    Warm Up –
    5 minutes of any cardio based exercise
    Foam Roller – legs, glutes, lats
    Mobility work – ankles, hips, thoracic spine
    Activation – mini band lateral walk, swiss ball hip extension

     Inspire Athletic Strength Set


    Warm Up – 5 minutes of any cardio based exercise
    Foam Roller – legs, glutes, upper back
    Mobility work – ankles, hips, thoracic spine
    Activation – mini band lateral walk, swiss ball hip extension

    Inspire Athletic Strength set 2

    Calf raise

    Weight selection is an individual dependant.  Firstly technique must be optimal before load should be added.  A good trainer should be able to know when to progress or regress an exercise.

    Gym –
    Using a smith machine or a leg press machine perform a calf raise
    Home – can be done body weight or using a weight vest
    Why? – develop calf and soleus strength for propulsion and achilles loading

    This is smith machine example. 
    Inspire Athletic Calf Raise
    Using a mat/step, stand on edge so front half of foot is on it.  Drive up through big and second toes to nearly full extension, pause and then slowly lower under control.

    Do not roll to outside of foot if so shows lack of big toe mobility and strength. Single Leg is done on one leg

    Romanian deadlift
    I am using this exercise rather then a conventional deadlift as it is easier to perform and carries less risk.  A conventional deadlift requires excellent technique and mobility to perform correctly.  For an endurance athlete the Romanian Deadlift is a safer but still a great option

    Why? – Posterior Chain Strength
    Inspire Athletic Romanian deadlift
    With the bar in front of you. Core engaged, thoracic spine locked down.  Hinge over pushing your hips backwards.  Only go as far you can maintain a neutral spine (flat back).  Pause and then drive back up driving hips forward. 

    Inspire Athletic Romanian deadlift
    The load should be felt in the lower glutes and hamstrings if done correctly. Important that you gradually load this focussing on execution rather than weight. Single leg version is done on one leg.

    SQUAT – various options depending on skill level
    For this blog I am going to suggest the box squat is best and safest alternative regarding risk versus reward.

    WHY? – develop strength and power through the hips and core strength
    The box squat.  Set up the squat area which a box, step at a height to your current ability.
    Inspire Athletic Squat
    Ensure your core is engaged. You break at ankles, knees, and hips and drop down to the box whilst maintain a chest up position. Ideally you want the shin and back angle to be the same.  Touch the box and then drive back up. 

    Inspire Athletic Squat

     * Note if you lack ankle mobility use some small weight plates
      under your heels. The single leg version is best done with a  
      trailing leg.

    Single arm cable row
    WHY? – Upper back strength, thoracic extension, quad stability

    Inspire Athletic Single arm cable row
    Using a cable machine or resistance band. 

    Standing in a split stance, with leg forward and right hand on cable handle.  Keeping chest up.  Pull through maintaining stable hips and using rotation of the thoracic spine.

    I have created some videos demonstrating the sample exercises mentioned in this blog. Check out the Inspire Athletic Instagram page to view the videos.

    Thanks for reading and get strong to finish strong.

    About the author
    Andrew Garwood is a qualified personal trainer based in Melbourne, Victoria. Andrew has worked in the industry since 2007 and covers a wide range of clients. He is currently enjoying focussing working on rehabilitation and sports conditioning.  Andrew’s experience and background includes all distances of running, extreme challenges, duathlon, triathlon and multisport races. To get in contact with Andrew drop him an email at



    Kick start your Spring training with these tips

    Kick start your Spring training with these tips

    With the days getting longer and warmer, many of us will begin to get outside and start exercising more. Getting started, or restarted, can be the hardest part of the entire process so Team Inspire has some tips to help you kick start your spring training.

    Take it easy

    Don’t do too much, too soon. Often, after a Winter training hibernation, people try and get straight back into the same amount of training they were doing last Summer. Wrong. This can lead to injury and/or burnout. How much exercise you should start with depends on the level of fitness you have maintained over the break. If you have done not much at all, aim for around 50% of last Summer’s regime and see how tired and/or sore you feel during and after the session. If you are quite tired and sore then you’ve probably done too much, too soon. If you recover well or are only a bit sore then you’re on the right track.


    The 10% rule

    When you have determined the right level of exercise to commence your Spring training there is often a temptation to increase the load quickly to get back to where you were but this can be dangerous and detrimental (injury/burnout). A great rule of thumb is only change one training variable - weight, reps, rest time - at a time and by no more than 10%. Try 5% first and see how you go.


    Get some help

    Starting or restarting your Spring training alone can be hard - getting some help can be crucial in finding the right training and a sustainable routine. Who can help?

    • Enlist a friend or family member as a training buddy
    • Join some group session at a local gym, a running group, a cycling club, a swimming group, a multisport tri club
    • Engage a professional - a training coach, a personal trainer, a strength and conditioning coach


    Find your groove

    When you do anything over and over, it becomes a chore - think mowing the lawn or ironing! So, it’s important to exercise doing something that you enjoy. Love the gym environment - go there. Love the great outdoors - run, bushwalk, paddleboard. Love some company - join a cycling bunch ride. Work out what you love to do and turn that into part of your Spring training routine. And, pop in some variety while you’re at it - they do say variety is the spice of life, right? Vary your routine or your activities from week to week or even every few weeks you could throw in something completely different to your normal routine.


    Think short and long

    Setting both short and long-term goals will help you stay motivated throughout your Spring training, right into Summer. Short-term - think about what you are aiming to achieve in a specific week or month. Eg. run three times in a single week. Long-term - think of a single big goal. Eg. running a marathon, finishing a triathlon.

    *Disclaimer - we are not qualified personal trainers but we do train daily. Please seek your doctor’s advice before commencing any exercise program.

    Balancing triathlon training, work and life

    Balancing triathlon training, work and life


    How can you train for three triathlon disciplines, compete/participate in triathlons, work and have a life? Oh, and have all of it without suffering from ‘triathlete guilt’?

    Time is a challenge for most triathletes. Training is time-consuming and all of our lives seems busier than ever. So, while it might not be difficult to find the time to get some exercise each day, the time to train properly and do everything else can be tricky. Below are the top tips from Team Inspire so you can better fit your training into your hectic schedule and reduce your triathlete guilt.


    Every single one of us seem pressed for time and yet we all have time for our highest priorities - right? Before you do anything else, think about what’s really important to you. What sacrifices are you willing to make for the sake of your training? Conversely, what are you not willing to sacrifice?

    There’s no right or wrong answers here - there are just your answers. This is designed to help you identify the activities in your day or week that are not as important as your training time, allowing you to cut back or even eliminate them. As an example, the time to make a shopping list, do a shop, prep and cook might be more trouble than it’s worth so maybe it’s time to investigate a healthy, home delivered, prepared meal option. Maybe the time to mow the lawn could be better spent training - bring in a lawn mowing service.


    Create a schedule

    Sit down and write out what you do and when you do it in a typical workday. Look for any waste or excess that can be addressed to create more training time. Suppose your schedule reveals that you currently watch two hours of TV in the evening. Why not cut that back to 90 minutes and squeeze in a 30-minute workout? Do you wait in the school pick up line moving at a snail’s pace when you could park further away getting pick up done faster and get an extra run or walk in too?

    Create a new schedule with the waste and excess cut out and the extra training time added, and then stick to it!


    Be consistent

    Consistency is the most important characteristic of an effective training regimen. So if you don’t always have time for what you consider a ‘full workout’ every day, then at least try to do more than nothing every day.

    Many mistakenly believe that a 20-minute workout is not worth the bother, but it is, especially if you crank up the intensity or use the time to work on an otherwise neglected aspect of your fitness (technique, strength, etc.).

    Save the big workouts for weekends or other days when you have less time pressure, and on the other days, just do something.


    Get creative

    Triathletes have found many creative ways to fit training into a tight schedule. Ride your bike to work. Invest in a treadmill and run on it in the evening while your kids play or do their homework nearby. Take the family to the pool and swim while your partner watches the kids, then switch places and let your partner have their turn. Same at the park (for a run) or on the bike-track (for a ride)!

    You know what they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way!


    Create an understanding with your partner

    Time spent training can be a major conflict issue in couples where one member is an endurance athlete and the other is not. As with every potential source of conflict in a relationship, the best ways to minimise partner training time resentment are communication and compromise.

    Sit down with your partner and talk openly about the time you spend on your training. Let them know that spending quality time with them and working out are both important to you, and you wish to balance the two in a way that makes you both happy. Describe your idea of a fair balance and then invite your partner to describe theirs. Be willing to give a little and don’t shy away from asking your partner to give a little too. You could also invite them to train with you!

    The result of this process will be a mutually agreed upon set of expectations that will prevent conflict in the future.

    If you both train - take it in turns - alternate outside training days so the kids are not left alone and you get equal time to do distance training.


    Take a seasonal approach

    There is no need to train at peak levels year-round. You can have great success by training hard for six months each year (mid-spring to mid-autumn) and doing low-key maintenance training the rest of the year. In the off-season you can devote the time that is freed up by your reduced training load to other priorities that are neglected somewhat during the other half of the year - those DIY projects perhaps? Devoting extra time to these other priorities during the off-season will enable you to put training first without guilt or consequence in the warmer months.

    Focus on quality

    So before you even look for ways to increase the quantity of your training, first increase its quality. A high-quality training program is well-rounded. Often triathletes make the mistake of doing too many similar workouts. Book a session with a personal trainer specialising in triathlon training to get some expert advice on making the most of the training you are doing.

    Balance is an essential characteristic of effective triathlon training. It’s also an essential characteristic of a healthy lifestyle. We hope these tips will help you better balance your training and the rest of your life.

    *Disclaimer - we are not qualified personal trainers but we do train daily. Please seek your doctor’s advice before commencing any exercise program.

    Photo by JC Dela Cuesta on Unsplash