Coaches Share the Worst Triathlon Advice They’ve Heard

From buffets on the bike to panic training, avoid these very dumb things.

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It’s all but guaranteed that while training for a triathlon–especially your first race or first attempt at a new distance–you’re going to do some very dumb things. Whether it’s heading out on your first ride without knowing how to clip in to your pedals, or fueling with a gas station burrito in the middle of your long ride, sometimes things that sound harmless in the moment can turn out to be quite a bad idea. Bloopers and blunders are almost a rite of passage in triathlon, teaching us what works (and perhaps more importantly, what completely, definitely, absolutely does not work at all).

The good news: You’re probably not the first one to make a given mistake. When it comes to boneheaded ideas, coaches have seen it all (and then some), and rarely bat an eye when an athlete shares a good idea that really (really) isn’t. We asked coaches to share common themes in bad advice, and how to steer clear from being on the blooper reel.

Bad Triathlon Advice: Make your own race nutrition.

“Far too often, I encounter athletes that have taken the advice to concoct their own race nutrition for long course events, like marathons and Ironman races,” said Tony Rich, head Coach at EventHorizon. “There are very few good reasons for taking this advice. Perhaps some medical nutrition requirement. But I can think of very few.”

Why it’s bad advice:

Taking nutrition matters into your own hands introduces unnecessary complexity into your race. In addition to procuring ingredients from various sources, you’ve got to combine those ingredients at the right ratio, figure out how to store it to maintain integrity, and make or procure a container that will be efficient enough to use in a race. Why reinvent the wheel, when plenty of perfectly proportioned nutrition products are available? “Even if you are extremely astute at concocting a valid mixture you learned, the likelihood that it’s going to be as good or better than the collective knowledge of sport science PhDs across half a century, is infinitesimal,” said Rich. “Your stomach is not going to know the difference even if you are good at it, despite what your buddy or the internet says. Trust the science of over-the-counter race nutrition product, minimize risk, and save yourself some time.”

RELATED: Training Is Getting Serious Again, Does Your Diet Match?

Bad Advice: Shock your system to acclimate to tough conditions.

“Five days before a draft-legal Olympic Distance race, one coach had an athlete do a three-hour brick workout at race pace in the heat of the day to acclimate to the heat. Temperatures were well into the 90s Fahrenheit,” said Olympic cycling and triathlon coach Gale Bernhardt. “It was too much volume and intensity in a stressful environmental condition, too close to race day.”

Why it’s bad advice:

Bernhardt notes the athlete far underperformed at the race, and understandably so—heat acclimation takes weeks, not hours. Without a gradual acclimation period, suffering through a tough workout in tough conditions does little more than leave the body feeling wrecked. “Any work on heat acclimatization should have begun some 14 days prior to race day—at minimum,” said Bernhardt.

RELATED: The History and Science of Heat Acclimation

Bad Advice: More money will fix it!

“Tell an endurance athlete that XYZ product will help them take off so many seconds from their finishing time, and it will be as if money will burn a hole in their pocket,” said Rich. “They will often take the advice and run right out and buy it. Triathletes must know that the 18 swim aids that are at the bottom of their swim bag, many of them procured based on a friend’s advice. And don’t get me started on the newest ‘sport supplement.’”

Why it’s bad advice:

That superbike that you put on a credit card, might not have the impact you think it will—especially if you’re a middle-of-the-pack age group athlete. Those pool tools probably won’t shave off seconds of your time, especially if you only use them once in a while. We want to believe this one thing will be the key that unlocks faster race splits, and that makes us susceptible to shoddy advertising: “Manufacturers of these products know very well that this phenomenon exists, so they make millions every year with glowing promises of faster splits, watts saved and lower drag coefficients,” said Rich. “Athletes should remember one cardinal rule regardless of advice they receive and that is, the most important piece of equipment is yourself. Just train harder and more efficiently, it’s cheaper.”

RELATED: Triathlete’s Guide to Buying Gear

Bad Advice: Train hard all the way to race day.

“A new athlete came to me for coaching in 2019. He had just raced his first Ironman and finished, but felt tired a lot of the time during training and underperformed his expectations. The prior coach had scheduled a 16-18 mile run for the athlete just 7 days out from his Ironman race,” said coach Jordan Blanco at Avid Endurance. “What is more, much of the run was recommended at 10-15 seconds faster than race pace. Four rounds of three miles race pace/one mile easy with some warm-up and cool down!”

Why it’s bad advice:

Hard efforts take recovery, and long runs with high-intensity efforts are as hard as it gets. The stress and muscular damage from such a run requires ample recovery time. That’s why your longest run in training should be completed weeks before the race, not the week before the race. “The tapering of long-run volume allows the athlete to recovery appropriately from the longer runs and absorb the endurance work, leaving them fresher for a great performance on race day,” said Blanco.

RELATED: How to Get Race-Ready In Six Weeks

Bad Advice: Eat alllllll the things!

“Most of the bad advice I’ve encountered for triathlon is related to long-course fueling,” said coach Matt Smith of Sansego. “I’ve had athletes read they should be taking in 1000kcal per hour on the bike or to ‘eat real food.’ This translates to having a literal pizza on the aerobars, pockets stuffed with tuna sandwiches and even pureed sweet potatoes in 1/2 gallon ziplocs hanging off the aerobars.”

Why it’s bad advice:

The body simply can’t absorb that many calories that quickly–and when it can’t absorb them, the body shows them the door. Unless you want to spend your race in a port-o-john or with your head in a trash can, it’s best to keep your fuel to a reasonable rate. “I recommend keeping fueling simple for long distances: 250-325kcal per hour, mostly liquid or easy to digest items like sports nutrition products,” said Smith. “Also using what you want to use on race day in training to test how your body responds under similar output.”

RELATED: Ask Stacy: How Soon Before a Race Should I “Train My Gut”?

Bad Advice: You can hack your way to endurance.

“A few years ago, CrossFit Endurance was all the rage,” said Smith. “While functional strength like CrossFit has its place in endurance sports training, I saw workouts for full iron-distance racing full of things like, ‘Do 5 sets of max lift squats then go run 3 miles hard or ride 20 miles,” The theory was these kind of workouts replaced the long rides and runs.

Why it’s bad advice:

We all want to believe we can get all the gains of endurance training without actually doing the endurance training. But short, intense workouts in the weight room only make you better at short, intense efforts in the weight room. “There is no science that backs up being able to use power lifting to develop aerobic capacity to complete a five to eight hour bike ride or three to five hour run,” said Smith. “To develop the mitochondrial density and aerobic capacity for long distance racing, you need to do long rides and runs.” That doesn’t mean you have to go super-long every weekend, but expecting a 2-hour workout with weights to replace a long ride just isn’t sound. If you’re looking to cut a long ride shorter, try adding intervals instead: For Ironman racing, Smith recommends swapping out a six-hour ride with 4 hours and 30 minutes instead, slotting in a set of 4 x 20 minute intervals at threshold with 5 min recovery periods. This can maximize time and adaptation the right way.

RELATED: Too Many Triathletes Are Getting This Part of Training Wrong

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