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Coaching Mental Skills in Adolescent Female Athletes

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A few weeks ago, the mother of a 13-year-old female runner (let’s call her Lisa) reached out to see if I could help her child with mental skills training. Lisa’s coach indicated that Lisa is extremely talented, but her general lack of mental toughness was holding her back in practice and competition.

Lisa’s mother was conflicted about reaching out to me. She wanted someone to help Lisa with her mental toughness, but she was worried that maybe Lisa was too young to tackle mental skills training. I assured Lisa’s mom that 13 is a perfect age to work on mental skills training. I explained that honing mental skills in adolescence will provide Lisa with an arsenal of tools that are imperative for her continued development as a runner as well as for her personal growth. We began our sessions and Lisa learned how to be a more aggressive runner and conquer her biggest mental challenge: the fear of failure.

Lisa’s situation is not uncommon. Adolescence, a tumultuous time in general, can be more difficult for adolescent athletes and even one step harder for female athletes. It takes tremendous courage to join a team, train hard, put yourself out there on a daily basis, endure the watching eyes of naysayers, all while navigating the challenges that accompany a maturing body and brain. I can’t believe anyone pushes through these challenges, yet millions of adolescent girls are kicking ass competing in sports every year.

The system for developing mental skills in this age group is often lacking. Teams are frequently large and understaffed. Coaches are predominantly male. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle. A small problem with confidence can escalate into paralyzing situational anxiety, if left unchecked. That is why 13 is not too young to start intentionally developing mental skills.

How to measure mental toughness

I have written extensively about The Sisu Quiz, first as a way to measure mental toughness and second about how you can implement the results of the quiz. I won’t belabor how the Sisu Quiz works, but I would like to mention that I have used this quiz with much success in adolescents. The specific numbers may not be completely accurate as the original study was done for adults. However, the adolescents who have taken this quiz have produced results that reflect what I hear when I speak to them.

In fact, when I ask the adolescent quiz takers if they were surprised with their results, they almost universally say “no”. This might indicate a few things.

Adolescents are aware of their mental toughness strengths and weaknesses after it has been measured. For many of these girls, taking the Sisu Quiz is the first time they’ve conceptualized the dimensions of mental toughness. Up until then, the notion of mental toughness and the dimensions that comprise it were fuzzy at best because it had never been concretely explained to them. And, when they get their results, even if they show low mental toughness, almost all of them are actually relieved to talk about them. Because, even in this day and age, the parlance of mental toughness is “suck it up” and has no structure on how to do so or when it isn’t appropriate to suck it up.

Two major components that plague adolescent girls are exactly the same as those that plague adult females: confidence and self-esteem. It isn’t even necessarily low self-esteem or low confidence at work. Oftentimes, it is that self-esteem and confidence are based on athletic performance, and if performance wanes, if there is an injury, or if an athlete is beaten by competitor, confidence and self-esteem plummet, and can result in burn-out. This is but one example of many that adolescent girls face as athletes.

The next steps

What can be done? Here are some first steps to working with adolescent female athletes:

While I always speak to the parents before I speak with their child, any conversation between the athlete and myself are confidential unless: 1) the athlete specifically states otherwise or, 2) there is a suspected mental health issue which needs a follow-up with a specialist.Don’t be afraid to address mental toughness and mental skills training with adolescent girls. They want to talk about it.Use the Sisu Quiz to measure the eight specific dimensions of mental toughness. It is an excellent conversation starter to ask “did these results surprise you?” The floodgates will open.I am going to recommend reading my book, The Champion Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness. In my experience, the adolescents that have read my book often highlight passages and refer back to it. It is an excellent tool with real-life anecdotes and mental toughness tips that speak to many of the concerns of adolescent female athletes.In the beginning, let the athlete dictate the conversation. Listen well and you will be utterly surprised by their honesty and intuitiveness.Offer some gentle prompts. At this age, sometimes the words to express what they mean or feel are just not readily available.Some commonalities among athletes to consider: dealing with fear of failure, how to approach the notion of disregarding what others think, separating performance self-esteem from global self-esteem. Don’t be afraid to assign “homework” for the athlete to help them develop their mental skills.

Adolescent female athletes experience a host of difficulties that are often left unaddressed. This underserved demographic beckons for help. It doesn’t take much to impart big changes in their mental skills development, but if these deficits are unaddressed girls end up quitting sports or carry their challenges into adulthood.

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Three Important Focuses for Enduro Training

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Over the years, a great deal of reading, writing, and programming has been developed for road and cross-country disciplines. However, as those disciplines recede and enduro and other gravity-based mountain bike events take a larger market share, there is a glaring hole in resources available to athletes and coaches. There is a lot to talk about to comprehensively cover the differences between the two disciplines, but here are some highlights for now.

Primary focuses for enduro training

When I work with enduro athletes, the initial part of the coaching process is the same as it would be for any other athlete. It involves an open discussion of goals to inform the development of a training plan. This, however, is where the similarities typically end. The strength and skill requirements in enduro and gravity-based events are very large components to success, but endurance and strength are nothing without the right skills and confidence.

Endurance and energy system development

While a great deal of time is spent pedaling when enduro racing, few coaches truly consider how to maximize that time. There is an important endurance component required for enduro that is the backbone for repeatability at high speeds for the timed sections, or for just having fun with the crew. Building a strong O2-system base is key.

Throughout training, focus on neuromuscular strength for larger power bursts, and as the season approaches focus on improving VO2 max. However, don’t be tempted to approach VO2 max the same way you would as a road cyclist (something like 7 x 2:00 minutes, all out). Instead, I prefer to use efforts that follow the HR curve of a timed section and also force skill development, such as working pump tracks. Doing so creates the desired HR curve and also forces athletes to hone their skills as they hold lines and build corner speed.  

Also, use “trail sprints” for another intensive threshold session for VO2 development. This workout is designed to force skills, repeatability, and high workloads and heart rates. Sections of trail that force pedaling, odd corners, hard braking, and re-accelerations are excellent for these workouts. Plus, they are fun for your athletes!

Strength training

Strength training is often debated in endurance sports, so I will not get into strength from an all-discipline standpoint. However, for enduro and gravity, an athlete’s strength is key. Building a high level of strength endurance is more important than raw power. Keep in mind it’s a long day out there, not a sprint.

Focus your athletes on building core, upper back, and shoulder strength to help manage the forces they encounter at the handlebars going downhill. Use multi-directional bounding to help with knee stability, hip stability, and agility. Grip strength and grip endurance should also be a big focus as confidence at the handlebars will make for smooth and fast riding.

Also, consider starting with smaller supporting muscle groups; don’t just go for the big movements. Build balance in the musculoskeletal system first, then work toward bigger movements. As riders begin to build strength, challenge them with balance boards and other unstable surfaces as they master certain movements. The simple addition of a BOSU ball underfoot during an overhead press will add a new level of challenge for the athlete.

Skills training

This is the fun part for enduro and gravity racers; however, it’s important to always include specific goals and objectives. Think about planning days that concentrate on quality over quantity. Have your athletes repeatedly work on sections of trail to learn different lines and include at least one day of a longer “enduro” practice. Be sure to have them pace the ups and rip the downs. Also, work a lift-assisted day in every week, if possible. It’s amazing how much you learn if you can ride one section of trail repeatedly on the same day.

You can also build recovery days with light spinning as fun drill days. Prescribe work on wheels lifts, wheelies, manuals, etc., and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Use pump tracks and skate parks, and your athletes will learn a lot about corner speed.

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How to Maximize Training for Busy Athletes

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Every age-group triathlete, bike racer, or runner I’ve coached tends to have a lot going on in their professional and personal lives. I have the pleasure of coaching physicians, finance executives, entrepreneurs, and others at the top of their professional game (or getting there).

It’s not that they’re all “type-A” personalities, but they do have some common traits. They want to be the best that they can be, get the most out of their lives, and they strive to optimize their time so that they can be maximally efficient and productive.

I thought one great way to contribute to my fellow coaches, as well as to those athletes that might self-coach, was to write about the things I do to help my busy athletes maximize their time.

1. The modifiable schedule

Simply put, stuff comes up with busy professionals, and coaches have to roll with it. For starters, pre-canned and multi-week schedules just don’t work for these athletes. This type of athlete needs the coach to schedule weekly programming in conformance with their work and personal obligations.

I ask my athletes to let me know by the weekend if there are any work or personal commitments that we will have to work around. That could be business travel, early or late meetings, or a family event that needs to take priority.

I imagine that some coaches might think this could cause a lot of extra work, but honestly, in the 10+ years I’ve coached, very few athletes take advantage of this flexibility. Since I’m not a believer in monthly schedules, it also creates a great communication discipline between coach and athlete to set up the upcoming week of training.

The agreement I make with my athletes is that we centralize our scheduling communication in one place. For me, that one place is TrainingPeaks.

2. Concierge workout creation

I’m a coach that gets very specific with workouts, and part of that specificity includes creating and loading to the appropriate platform. So, for instance, I will load bike ERG workouts into their TrainerRoad account for them. The majority of my athletes appreciate the fact that they just have to turn on the smart trainer in the morning, start the workout, and be done.

For those that can safely train intervals outdoors, I’ll leverage the TrainingPeaks Workout Creator functionality integrated with the TP ConnectIQ app on Garmin devices. This helps them with any transitions in the workout along with giving them visual and auditory prompts when they’re in or out of ranges.

For all my athletes, I include video links for proper form on any strength exercises I assign them. While this may sound like a huge amount of coaching work, you can pre-build nearly all of these exercises in a strength workout library within TrainingPeaks. Just make sure you’re filling in the right weight increments that are appropriate for your athlete after dragging the workout from the library.

3. Managing the athlete’s zones

This is a big one, since athletes don’t want to waste time on unproductive workouts or miles by overextending themselves with efforts that are too hard.

Periodic testing in all disciplines helps with this, but I find that I don’t have to wait every four to six weeks for a baseline test to ascertain whether the athlete has developed any adaptations. WKO4 is a great piece of software that lets me analyze how an athlete is progressing in swim, bike, or run, as well as where we might need to do more work to help gain a breakthrough.

4. Their personal researcher and explainer

Athletes hear a lot of conflicting training, racing and nutrition information from their friends and on the internet. Some of the information is great, some is completely preposterous, and some of it is so cutting edge that the application is still unclear.

Curating information doesn’t mean that I, as a coach, have all the facts at my fingertips. First and foremost, I turn to the scientific literature that is available. This doesn’t mean just looking at a few sentences of an abstract in a paper. It can take a few hours to read through conflicting reports, then to come back to the athlete with a well-reasoned interpretation of the research and guidance on the subject.

In matters that are out of my personal expertise, I will always refer them to professionals that I partner with (nutritionists, physicians, physical therapists, etc.).

5. Understand each athlete’s training environment

Many coaches have athletes all around the country and even the world. In these cases, it’s crucial to understand what the daily training environment is for each athlete. I have noticed that busy professionals are more inclined to complete workouts if the facility is close by. It saves them time and also helps them overcome those inner voices telling them to “skip it” after a rough day at work. Suggesting tools like a smart trainer for their home is also incredibly important since commuting to and from a facility for a workout can be difficult for the busy professional.

Busy professionals often must travel for work. One athlete I have coached for nearly five years travels weekly to other countries. Learning about every new training environment was difficult in the beginning, but in time we developed a good communication plan where he would let me know where he was going and I could refer to notes on what was available.

Above all, consider safety within the athlete’s daily training environment.

6. Race-specific programming

Of course, coaches should always help athletes prepare for their big races. As part of my intake procedure, I interview the athlete to learn what their key races are including information about the race itself. Is the course hilly or flat? Windy? Is the water choppy or cold? Is the course technical?

I’ll research the course and also study data from a variety of athletes I track on Strava (thank you all for keeping your workouts public!). From there, I structure the athlete’s training to help them cope with predicted demands of race day.

For those elite age group athletes I’ve had the pleasure to coach, I’ll also research what other athletes in their age group are registered to race, then look at recent results. For outliers, there’s not much an athlete can do to catch up, but at least they can understand what the possibilities are. I also always remind them that anyone can have a good (or bad) day, so this information is not meant to create defeatism but rather to inspire and improve focus.

7. Help the athlete with long-term planning

Coaches are great at helping athletes see past the next few weeks or months, and even past their first season. That doesn’t mean we’ll have the privilege of coaching every athlete in the future, but we can help them understand it can take years for them to become competitive. They also need to understand the steps along the way they’ll need to take to get there.

This long-range planning as a service really helps athletes understand the commitment they need to make to the sport, as well as the sacrifices that come with it.

8. Teach them how to do transitions

First thing you may have thought was that I was talking about triathlon transitions, which is partly true. For those athletes I coach that live in New York City, I hold weekly stacked brick workouts to help them optimize their time between disciplines.

However, as a person that has juggled many interests in my own life (work, family life, sports, classical piano) I have learned that transitioning from one activity to the next is important. My athletes have told me that helping them learn how to improve their awareness how to “switch gears” is incredibly valuable to them.

9. Scheduling sleep

Research shows that an athlete’s body breaks down over time not with high-performance training, but due to https://trainingpeaks.com/coach-blog/how-to-coach-older-athletes-to-get-better-sleep/insufficient sleep. Even so, it can seem counterintuitive for me to include sleep reminders in the TrainingPeaks calendar for my athletes since it is as if I’m taking time away from training or working.

The truth is many athletes think they can just push hard and recover later, living without sleep or rest days. My job as a coach is to help them understand that they will be more effective as athletes (and workers, family members, etc.) if they get the proper rest and recovery. I continually check in to understand where things are for them using available metrics, which leads to the next point.

10. Managing their level of effort (metrics)

Humans are far from perfect machines. One reason I’ve never been a fan of downloadable season plans is because they don’t take into consideration a given athlete’s starting point, or strengths, weaknesses, life challenges, etc.

The problem is compounded when the athlete starts to get behind on their workouts then crams, causing exhaustion, injury, or guilt as targets are missed. The money saved downloading that $150 season program isn’t worth the burnout that causes people to drop out of sports activity or  end up at the doctor’s office with physical therapy bills.

A nifty feature of TrainingPeaks is the metrics record. I have my athletes fill them in early and often. Some do it nearly daily, others once a week, and some I have to pester. Some have the app integrated with their heart rate variability (HRV) monitor, their smartphone, or scale.

On the quantitative side, I look for wide fluctuations in weight along with sleep fluctuation as mentioned above. HRV data can be useful, except as coaches we have to understand that some of the measurement methods can be unreliable. If the athlete’s HRV measurement is generally stable over time, then we look for fluctuations there.

What I find extremely useful are qualitative metrics. Is the athlete’s motivation low over a period of a few days? Fatigue high? Injury high? There are a host of metrics the athlete can fill out, along with some qualitative words they can write in metrics or in the workout itself that can let me know if we need to dial back training at any given point.

It is not just about dialing back, either. I’ve noticed that athletes sometimes make “quantum jumps” in fitness where they report workouts being too easy. That, along with a lower heart rate over a few workouts, could suggest they’ve had a welcome boost of adaptation.

TrainingPeaks implemented a very useful set of metrics within workouts, where the athlete can rate the workout on a scale of 1-10 (RPE), along with how they felt. Seeing a very high RPE on a workout that was supposed to be easier or seeing frowny faces on workouts, is call for a conversation with the athlete, which brings me to my final suggestion.

11. Communication and availability

At the end of the day, I’ve found that I need to make myself maximally available to my athletes. A terrific way to do that is through the pre- and post-workout comment functionality in TrainingPeaks. I get texts from athletes throughout the week letting me know how things are going, and, periodically, we also pick up the phone to discuss some workout or plan together. The advantage of centralizing communication in TrainingPeaks is that coaches have a historical record of the communication that you can turn back to, which I have found useful time and again.

One great tip I learned years ago in a coaching clinic from master coach Shelly O’Brien is to “learn how to set your boundaries” with athletes on communication. My suggestion to be maximally available could be taken advantage of; you have to to have your “availability hours” clear for your athletes. I’ve found over my decade or so of coaching that very few people have taken advantage of those boundaries. Most just need some quick assistance through the course of a given day or want to understand something better with a quick text or call. Also, learn to say, “I’m on the road or with my kids or am going to bed so so I will call you back at a different time.”

Finally, this level of coaching detail isn’t for every athlete. Some people don’t like this structure or don’t want to communicate this much. Ask your athletes what they prefer. Also, make sure you’ve properly priced your services so that this level of work makes sense, otherwise it may not work for your business model.

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CoachCast: Hydration Strategy with Andy Blow

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Episode Synopsis

Are you or your athletes struggling with GI issues, fatigue, and poor performance during races even after adjusting your nutrition strategy? You might be suffering from hyponatremia, an imbalance of sodium sometimes caused by over-hydrating. 

After suffering from hyponatremia himself, Andy Blow, co-founder of Precision Hydration, started his journey to help athletes solve their own hydration problems. Andy struggled with performance issues in hot, humid races, and discovered that his sweat was particularly salty. More importantly, he realized that there were effective ways to measure sweat composition and subsequently replace the water and salt as it was lost. Now, Andy works to help make sure other athletes have the hydration plans, supplements, and knowledge to perform better in challenging conditions.

Stand-out Quotes

“What it comes down to is some athletes probably require little or no salt supplementation. Some athletes require absolutely tons of salt supplementation and everyone else exists on a continuum between those two points and where the messaging in the industry struggles is that people like a definitive yes or no answer. Do I need to take salt or not? Do I need to drink this drink or not? And it’s all about individualization.”“A lot of commercial sports nutrition products contain electrolytes and they do a lot of marketing around the fact that they do, but generally they contain fairly low or moderate amounts which are good for a good amount of people. But, they’re not so relevant for people who lose tons of sweat, tons of salt and who do really, really long, hot endurance events.”“When you’re thirsty for water, it means that the salt levels in your blood are getting higher and your body’s craving it. You should listen to that. But, other times an electrolyte drink will taste fantastic. And that little salty tang is what your body is craving, and that’s probably when it needs to salts.”

Resources

Precision HydrationPrecision Hydration Online Sweat TestPrecision Hydration Testing Locations

Episode Transcript

Introduction:

On today’s episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, your source for the latest information about the art, science, and business of coaching. Have your athletes been doing everything right when it comes to nutrition, but still suffer from GI issues or poor performance? Maybe it’s not nutrition after all, but Hyponatremia.

Dave Schell:                 

Hey guys, Dave Schell here and on this week’s episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, I sat down with Andy Blow, the founder of Precision Hydration. Andy’s a former triathlete who’ve suffered from poor performance and GI issues. What Andy found after digging in and doing some research was that he was a really salty sweater and so the issue was that he wasn’t replenishing the salt he was sweating out in his hydration drink. So in talking with Andy I had several revelations, one of which is that I too probably am a salty sweater and could benefit from more salt in my drink. Hope you enjoy.

Dave Schell:                 

Welcome to the TrainingPeaks CoachCast. I’m your host Dave Schell and today I am joined by Andy Blow, Andy as a former elite triathlete, sports scientist, and founder of Precision Hydration. Andy, thanks for joining us.

Andy Blow:                  

Hi, Dave. Yeah, thanks for having me on.

Dave Schell:                 

So before we get started, could you just tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself in your own words?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, as you say, I used to do triathlon. Elite’s a strong word. I don’t know if I was really elite, but I raced at a sort of semi or professional level for a few years doing IRONMAN, uh, amongst other things, Xterra,, as well. And it was through doing sport myself, although I have a background in sports science and physiology, it was really through doing the sport myself that I learned the hard way about hydration and how that can impact your performance.

Dave Schell:                 

And, so, what is it exactly that led you to create Precision Hydration?

Andy Blow:                  

I think in a nutshell, I basically tended to perform really quite well by my own standards in cooler conditions. I would go to Kona in the heat and humidity or places like that and I would just suck really badly. And that was, I always put that down, at first, the fact I was not, I just thought I wasn’t good in the heat. Some people are, some people aren’t. But, I later learned that I was messing up my hydration and I got hyponatremia pretty badly a couple of occasions and really that that was a big wake up call. I learned a lot about electrolyte and fluid balance and actually managed to towards the end of my career put out some pretty decent performances in the heat because of what I’d learned. So, then working with athletes, the natural thing to do was pass that learning on and try and expand it and it, it just gradually evolve into what is now Precision Hydration.

Dave Schell:                 

So what exactly, you said that you were having trouble with your hydration strategy, I guess I would ask you, did you have a hydration strategy when you were racing or was it just kind of drink plain water or were you drinking sports drinks? What was it that wasn’t working for you?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, I was a sports science student in the 1990s when the hydration messaging was pretty clearly like drink a lot and dehydration was the big enemy. You need to drink a lot. And so I was definitely in the zone for thinking I needed to drink loads. So I probably, I did drink quite a lot of water when I was racing. I did drink sports drinks as well, but it was all, the philosophy was basically the more is better. And if my performance started to dip in the heat, I would assume I’d need to drink even more. Uh, what I, what I didn’t appreciate was that if you’re, when you’re sweating you often are losing a lot of salt. And the fact was, which I learned retrospectively, is that I lose a ton of salt in my sweat. And some people do, it’s a genetic factor. Uh, and I wasn’t a, I wasn’t replacing that anywhere near the rate. So I was, I was like over-replacing fluid and under-replacing salts. And that led me to be, you know, pretty nauseas in races, cramping, walking, delirious. And really not enjoying myself very much. So, it was, it was through learning those two facts, you know, I sweat more salt and I need to reign in actually the fluid intake that caused me to, you know, that was a light bulb moment for me when I figured that out.

Dave Schell:                 

It seems like I coach athletes and it seems like over the last couple of years or so, one of the things I’ve had to battle is that everybody wants to take salt pills. Like they think if I’m doing something or if it’s going to be hot, I need salt pills. So, why couldn’t an athlete just supplement salt with water to counteract that salty sweat?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, I think in a lot of cases they can. What it comes down to is, is really some athletes probably require little or no salt supplementation. Some athletes require absolutely tons of salt supplementation and everyone else exists on a continuum between those two points and where the messaging in the industry struggles is that people like a definitive yes or no answer. Do I need to take salt or not? Do I need to drink this drink or not? And it’s all about individualization. You know, for me, I used to take a lot of salt capsules when I learned that I needed to take a lot, and that made a huge difference to my performance. And to a degree, if you need a lot of salt, it kind of doesn’t matter where it comes from. You can take a salty drink, you can eat saltier foods, you can take salt capsules, but it’s the ratio of salt with fluid that you take in that matters for you as an individual. I was very guilty of copying what other athletes did or listening to, you know, advice or reading things on the Internet that, um, would send me off in a different direction. But, often they’re, they’re quite, they’re either quite individual to someone else or they’re quite extreme viewpoints. And, really the message that we try to promote through Precision Hydration is, as an individual, your needs are fairly unique to you. You need to figure out what those are and then pursue a strategy that works for you.

Dave Schell:                 

And, so, how would a coach or an athlete go about figuring out what is, what is their sweat rate and individualize that strategy.

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, there’s, there’s two factors to sweating. There’s how much you sweat and then there’s what’s in the sweat. And some people sweat a lot and they often know it because they see that that’s a very visibly obvious, you know, I’m, I’m that guy on the indoor trainer who’s got a lake underneath them who, you know, I rust up my bikes if I train on them indoors all the time because I sweat on them so much. And we meet people all the time who’ve got massive high sweat rates. But. Um, just because you’ve got massive high sweat rate doesn’t mean you’ve got a massively high sweat sodium concentration as well. I happen to have that as well. But really, so starting with sweat rate you can predict it from just what you know about yourself. You know, do you feel like you sweat more or less than other people and have a guest or you can weigh yourself before and after exercise and get an estimate of that. On our website there’s a, we’ve written a blog because so many people ask us that question with a link to a free spreadsheet. They can download, plug in their numbers for their sweat sodium. Sorry, for their, uh, their body weight pre and post exercise with correction for how much they drank and it tells them their sweat rate. And that’s a useful starting point just to get a handle on it. And you know, sometimes we see sweat rates in people as low as half a liter per hour or 16 ounces an hour. Sometimes it can be, you know, an average might be a liter or 32 ounces an hour in hot conditions or bigger athletes or athletes working really hard. They might sweat two or even three liters, you know, an hour, which is, I don’t know what that is ounces. It’s like a 70 or 80 plus ounces an hour.

Dave Schell:                 

I was going to say, that’s close to a gallon, right?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, exactly. And, and so the variation is quite large, but that’s kind of easy to pin down. And what’s slightly harder to figure out on your own is how much salt you lose in your sweat. There are lots of telltale signs though. If you’ve got salt crust on your skin after races, if you crave salt, if you often get muscle cramps, if you just basically feel like crap when you race in the heat, then they’re all good indications. If the salts, the sweats things in your eyes, they’re all good indications that you are losing more salt than average. Um, we’ve actually got an online sweat test if you like on our website, which is precision hydration.com. You can click through that for free, ask you a lot of questions and then suggest whether you might be a light, moderate or heavy sweat and sodium losing athlete and give you some, a steer on some strategies you can take in those cases. And then beyond that, we also have technology where we can test athletes’ sweat. So we can actually take a sweat sample, measure the electrolyte concentration, and, and really, you know, much more accurately define what you’re losing.

Dave Schell:                 

So let me start first with the questionnaire online and I don’t know if you saw, but the kind of light bulb went off in my head because as you were describing some of those things I’ve, I’ve definitely noticed on my helmet straps, sometimes I’ve got the white and things like that and I figured it was just cumulative over time. Um, but then you said something about it stinging your eyes and that’s something I’ve been battling for the last couple of years. Where it’s like I have to sometimes stop riding until I get to sweat out of my eyes. So it sounds like I might be one of those salty sweaters.

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, it could well be. The athletes who know their bodies well, when you start to point them in the right direction, you know, suggesting the things they might be looking for. They either do what you do just then, like you say, the light bulb kind of goes on or they say, “I don’t know why you’re asking me these questions. It’s not an issue.” And the guys for whom it’s like not an issue or they don’t perceive it to be often it’s not. Whereas when people do you know, think, oh yeah, well I have felt like this or that and yeah, when, when I do sweat if I’ve got a cut or if it goes in my eyes, it really stings. Then that can be an indication that you’re losing a bit more salt and it’s very simple from there really. You just experiment with the levels that you’re taking in. A lot of commercial sports nutrition products contain electrolytes and they do a lot of marketing around the fact that they do, but generally they contain fairly low or moderate amounts which are good for a good amount of people, but they’re not so relevant for people who lose tons of sweat, tons of salt and who do really, really long, hot endurance events. And that’s a big part of our niche audience if you like, are people that are doing more crazy or extreme stuff or have more crazy extreme losses and they, they tend to approach this and go, “I’m so glad I found you guys because I thought, you know, I was taking this whatever product and it, it was not really working, but now I’ve tried something which is like three times stronger and all of a sudden it’s made a huge difference.”

Dave Schell:                 

Yeah. And so I want to go back to actually getting tested. So going and doing that test, is that something that’s widely available to athletes or is it pretty specialized where they’d have to find somebody in their area or are they even going to be able to find somebody in their area to do that more?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, it depends. It depends where they are. Our network of test centers is expanding all the time. We have a number across the US now in, in a lot of, you know, places like Colorado and Boulder where there’s a lot of endurance athletes. We’ve got test centers and we’ve got them in, we’ve got one in New York and we, one in California, um, we’ve got a couple in Texas now. So the network is building, but oftentimes people have to travel for that. We go on the road a fair bit and do testing events and we take requests from people, you know, we don’t mind showing up and testing a bunch of athletes ‘sweat if, uh, if they want to have us for a few days so they can, they can look on our website basically. And try and hunt out a place and you know, all the time we’re trying to make it more widely available.

Dave Schell:                 

Okay. So when an athlete or a coach determines that sweat rate, is there something that’s different about Precision Hydration that is going to adjust the amount of sodium in the drink or is it you’re just drinking more or less of it?

Andy Blow:                  

Um, yeah, there’s nothing, well one thing we always try to be very up front about is, you know, we don’t, we don’t pretend to be selling anything magic here. You know, we have different levels of electrolytes in different drinks. So we have a sort of base formulation with either no calories or a few calories in there and then a variable amount of sodium. Because when you’re competing as an endurance athlete or training hard, you need three things. You need calories, you need water, and you need salt, and you need those things in different proportions. And if everyone drinks the same product to use the same product, they’re all kind of getting a one-size-fits-all approach. So all we do is we offer three or four different sizes if you like, or three or four different strengths and you, you pick the one that’s most appropriate to you and go from there. And the important thing is the recommendations that you get from either an online sweat test or an actual sweat test are to put you in the right ballpark for you to do some constructive trial and error your own and get to the, get to the ideal solution for you.

Dave Schell:                 

You had mentioned, um, some of the risks of hyponatremia. Um, you said you would get nauseous, maybe some muscle cramps, things like that. Are there other things that might be indicative of an athlete, with hyponatremia?

Andy Blow:                  

One of the big things is they often feel quite confused because hyponatremia affects the brain and that’s the danger with it. What happens is when your blood sodium levels start to drop, if you keep drinking, your body, if you can’t pay enough, as you sometimes can’t, when you’re exercising, you retain too much fluid. The fluid gets shunted into your cells, including your brain cells and your brain swells up basically. And that’s the really nasty part. It can make you very, very ill. So kind of confusion, dizziness, lethargy, nausea. It, it can feel just like how people feel at the end of an IRONMAN or something. And that’s the, that’s kind of the dangerous part. And they even, it can even be confused with how you might feel if you dehydrated because you can get headaches and stuff. So sometimes, and I’m sure there have been cases where people have, have been given, you know, been treated for dehydration. It’s made the hyponatremia worse. So, you know, medics and people at events are a lot more aware of the issue now and they have a different treatment protocol for people with hyponatremia than dehydration. Obviously you have to give them a lot more salt. Um, so it’s not always obvious the signs of it, but one of the signs or one of the things, if you can possibly think about it, which is difficult when you’re under those conditions is like how much have I been drinking? Cause if you’ve been, if you’ve only been sipping, you know, 12, 16 ounces now for the last few hours, the chances are you’re not becoming hyponatremic because you’ve been drinking a very small amount relative to what you’ve probably been sweating. If you’ve been pounding 32 ounces, 48 ounces an hour for the last few hours, then you know, probably it’s time to back off. If you feel bloated in your stomach, if you feel water sloshing around because your body doesn’t want to absorb it, if you’re, if you’re trying to pee a lot, if you’re peeing is very clear. All of those things can point towards the fact that you’ve taken on too much fluid.

Dave Schell:                 

Is there anything else that, it seems like hydration seems pretty simple and you know, it shouldn’t, you shouldn’t maybe need this detailed strategy and things like this, but is there anything else you see as kind of common mistakes that athletes are making with their hydration strategy as far as the food they’re combining or, um, things like that?

Andy Blow:                  

The most common mistakes are I think pre-hydrating too aggressively before competition and training. People often think they have a big race or a big training session or they go to a race going to be very hot and they, they start chugging loads of water and fluids in the days building up. And whilst it’s a good idea to maybe increase your fluid intake a little bit to make sure you are well topped up, then chugging loads of water is actually going to start the hyponatremia process, the dilution process in the days before. And I’m pretty sure when I look back at what I was doing a pre Kona many years ago is I’d arrive in Kona and drink and just start drinking because it was hot and humid and I would just drink and just be peeing all the time thinking this is great, I’m peeing, it’s clear, I’m really hydrated. Well I was probably doing myself more harm than good. So I think don’t, don’t go crazy with the pre-hydration is a, is a real big one. Uh, another one is, is probably either having no plan for hydration at all or having too rigid a plan. We always talk to people about having a flexible plan. So having a bit of an idea. Okay, in the conditions that we’re expecting in this race based on testing I’ve done in training based on past experience, I reckon I might be drinking 20 to 30 ounces an hour. Um, and using that as a flexible basis to determine, okay, so if I’m only drinking 10 or 12 ounces I’m probably well below. But if I’m drinking 30 or 40 answers, I may be going too far above. But testing and adjusting as you go by listening to your body because your body is giving you feedback all the time. And we sometimes as analytical endurance athletes overthink things and over complicate them. So we’re always encouraging people to get in tune with your body, you know, have, have a predetermined plan about the type of stuff that you’re going to drink because you’ve used it and it’s worked for you in the past and it’s worked in similar conditions. Have an idea of how much you’re going to need so you’ve got access to it, but then let your body guide you quite a lot on the day. So good example of that would be having water and an electrolyte drink. So, because when you want water, when you’re thirsty for water, it means that the salt levels in your blood are getting higher and your body’s craving it. You should listen to that. But, other times an electrolyte drink will taste fantastic. And that little salty tang is what your body is craving, and that’s probably when it needs to salts. So you’ve got to, you got to tune into your body’s cravings and listen to them. But if you’re well-prepared beforehand, you’ll have the right things on hand and you know what cues to listen for.

Dave Schell:                 

Yeah. And that’s great. I was actually going to ask you, you had mentioned the sloshy stomach and er sloshy feeling in your stomach and I was going to ask what the other side of that looks like. And it sounds like when you just don’t want anymore to drink, you just want that plain water, that’s a sign.

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah. Even, I mean, I lose tons of salt. I lose tons of fluid, but I’ll always have bottles of water nearby in a race whether I’m doing a long run with a pack where I’ve got a squeezy bottle of water on the floor or on the bike, I’ll have one electrolyte drink, one water. So that when that feeling comes where you think I’ve had enough of this, I just want some good old plain water, then it’s there.

Dave Schell:                 

Are there any resources you’d recommend for coaches to go find out more about this? Um, I know that you’ve written a blog for us on the TrainingPeaks blog. Any other resources either on your website or other places they could find?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, we have a pretty comprehensive list of blogs on our, on our website. And, if you go to PrecisionHydration.com there’s a tab called hydration advice. It’s not actually all hydration advice these days. We have a lot of other articles, but that’s a, that’s a good starting place. And if anyone is interested in specific topics, the best thing they can do is email is at hello@precisionhydration.com. We’re a small little team. We, we answer all the emails that come in, and we would definitely send anyone a list of relevant blogs if there, if they want some help with that.

Dave Schell:                 

Cool. That’s right. You and I were talking offline earlier and, um, you’re told me that you think James, is that his name?

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, JP.

Dave Schell:                 

Yeah, he’s just sitting there around the clock answering emails and providing some pretty, um, pretty great advice to athletes or coaches that need help

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, he is. JP’s great. He’s a, he’s a sort of very accomplished age group triathlete himself. He has a sports science degree, he used our products for years and he’s, he’s, yeah, we wheel him out and give him some vitamin D occasionally, but the rest of the time if he’s not training he is in front of the laptop answering emails.

Dave Schell:                 

He sounds like a good person to have on your team for sure. Cool. Um, so if the listeners are interested in trying out Precision Hydration, where would they go to find it?

Andy Blow:                  

We’re all, we’re basically online. PrecisionHydration.com. Um, we ship products in the US, in the UK and all around the world really now. We’ve set up a code for TrainingPeaks coaches and athletes, which is Peaks15, which if they enter that in at the checkout, if they want to buy any of our products, they get 15% discount. And, yeah, we don’t stock in many retail stores. We tend to just stay direct online so we can be in contact with our customers and help them out because the most important thing we think with sports nutrition is getting the right product for the right job and using it right. So if we can, if we can end to end that process with people, we get better results and the end result is athletes that do better.

Dave Schell:                 

Before I let you go, any other, um, things we may not have talked about? Any tips or kind of words, advice for a coach in regards to hydration?

Andy Blow:                  

I think the biggest one with for coaches is that like in many other aspects, it’s tempting to fall back in areas where you, where there’s not a great consensus of evidence-based information, there’s lots of different evidence out there about hydration, lots of different opinions. Where it’s a bit conflicting, coaches often fall back on their own experience and they go, “this is what worked for me.” And I think we’ve had lots of stories from people saying, “my coach told me that they used to do this and this worked really well for them.” And it’s like, and that’s, that’s kind of good in a way that the coach is, you know, is basing it on something. It’s not just that they have experience, but hydration is so individual. If that coach’s physiology or their, the their sweat rate and sweat sodium is so different to yours then that that advice could be really inappropriate for you. So if you’re coaching people, I’d say just step back and just do a bit of reading and understand these individual variations. Because we’ve definitely worked with coaches who’ve said, I don’t believe that athletes need supplementation of sodium. And then you drill a bit deeper and you maybe find out, well, you know, if their physiology dictated they didn’t need it, then that’s what they’re basing that on. Whereas those that need loads, they might be very pro-supplementation. I can put my hand up there and say, you know, when I was coaching, after I’d found out that this really worked for me, this was like, uh, this was like my hammer and the world became a nail and it was like more sodium, more salt, and, and it went too far the other way. Now I would hope I have a more balanced view, which is, look, you know, we just need to figure out what works for an individual. And so basically treat your athletes as individuals and do some research on what they need and you’ll get the best results.

Dave Schell:                 

Cool. Thanks a lot for your time. I definitely appreciate it and I know that I’ve got quite a few things out of that, and yeah, thanks Andy.

Andy Blow:                  

Yeah, thanks for having me on.

Dave Schell:                 

Hey guys. Dave here again. Hope you enjoyed my talk with Andy Blow and I hope you learned some things. I know that I certainly did. If you want to take advantage of the code that Andy mentioned, we will put in the show notes and be sure to check out the 2019 Endurance Coaching Summit in Boulder, Colorado, September 18th through 20th. Hope to see you there.

The post CoachCast: Hydration Strategy with Andy Blow appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

How To Approach Coaching Mountain Bike Stage Races

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Road cycling and stage racing have been intertwined since the beginning of bike racing, but in recent years mountain bike stage racing has emerged onto the scene. Mountain bike stage races share some similarities with road stage races but are uniquely geared to test every aspect of mountain biking. From long endurance stages to the technical downhill enduro stages, off-road stage racing requires not only great fitness but great technical skills.

In this article we’ll explore a few training and preparation tips for these events and gather insights from one of the best pros and a few race directors.

Building Training Blocks

You might already be thinking of some obvious differences between mountain bike and road stage racing like riding terrain, but there are also other important factors like the lack of large pelotons. There is nowhere to hide in a mountain bike race, the pressure is always on you as an individual, and there are few opportunities to draft. You need to be prepared to go hard every single day of the race.

Jeremiah Bishop, Canyon Pro Athlete-Ambassador and winner of the 2018 Breck Epic, has a lot of experience stage racing. He advises athletes to “Make sure to plan a big three-week build period that includes a four-day race block. This gives you a good idea of what it is like to perform tired and lets you practice your routine. Then, two weeks prior to the race, I like to reduce training volume by close to half but will go hard every third day to stay sharp while including some VO2 or race simulation workouts.”

Adding “race blocks” within a normal build period for your athletes is an example of how stage race training might differ from training for a single day race. Athletes need to be able to ride hard on tired legs to do well in a stage race, and the only way to train for that is to work hard on consecutive days. One tactic I like is to train hard for two to three days prior to a low priority race using the race as the last day of the race block and, at times, the build period.

Training Rides

Training rides during race blocks should include long zone-three and zone-four efforts with short to moderate zone-five efforts added in the mix. Race blocks should mimic the race, so if there are stages consisting of shorter or longer days, copy that style during your block. Have your athletes complete these rides on the mountain bike and preferably off of the road to simulate the race.

During these blocks, heart rate may be less accurate than power as a guide. Also, depending on fitness, neither heart rate nor power may be accurate after the first few days. So, for this reason, it’s important to have your athletes rely on perceived effort and plan to simply go hard each day analyzing heart-rate and power data only after the ride.

Picking The Race

With the number of stage races available, your athletes will have many to choose from depending on skill and fitness level.

Races such as the BC Bike Race, a seven-day stage race that started in 2007, are great for athletes looking to have a great experience on the trail. The race is in an amazing destination regardless of whether athletes are looking to win a category or experience some of the best trail systems in the world day after day.

Andreas Hestler, co-owner of the BCBR, former Olympian, and professional mountain biker, explained what makes the race special.

“The BCBR has focused on what British Columbia is famous for, single-track,” Hestler said. “Our distances make it attainable for those just beyond beginner, all the way to advanced. The only difference is the speed with which one finishes each day.”

Sage Melley, owner of the Cactus Cup in Phoenix, AZ, an early-season, three-day stage race geared toward all levels of riders, explained that her event is a cross country-style event with terrain that makes for a great early-season and entry-level stage race.

“We don’t have big mountains in the desert,” Melley explained, “so expect courses that are smooth and fast with loose corners.”

Race Week Preparation

Preparation is everything, and that includes the race week itself.

“Go over the route in detail and create a note sheet for each day,” Bishop recommends. “Perhaps you want extra tough tires for the crazy day or extra food for the 110k stage. The less you need to think about for each day the better it will go.”

Days come and go very fast in a stage race. After each stage, there isn’t much time to think about anything except food, recovery, and your bike. Preparing a race plan ahead of time will afford your athletes extra time to recover both mentally and physically through race week. This is key as they need to wake up the next day as fresh as possible and ready to go.

In any case, training for a stage race is more than just one simple build period or one race block of training. It’s a year-long effort to get to race day feeling confident and ready. Consistency in training for any event is the key, so register early for these events, use the event as motivation to train hard, and focus on consistency to reach race day in peak form.

The post How To Approach Coaching Mountain Bike Stage Races appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

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