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The Triathlete’s Guide to Training Without Compromise

Pro triathlete Ben Hoffman gives us his best tips on how to balance your training with your free time.

Finding the right balance between training and having enough free time can be tough, especially when you have a big event coming up. How do you reach your top physical performance without the other important parts of your life suffering for it? We tapped Ben Hoffman for his top tips on how to maximize training while still holding on to some of life’s indulgences. And he should know: with two young kids and a demanding training schedule, he recently managed to have one of his best seasons yet. 

Be Honest with Yourself

Before you work on fine-tuning your approach to training, it’s helpful to make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. Radical honesty will help you maintain a healthy perspective and make gains faster. The first question you should ask yourself is “Do I actually want to do this? Am I really enjoying this?”

“When I first started racing triathlons, I told myself that I really only wanted to be doing it if it was fun,” says Hoffman. That was 15 years ago. His definition of fun has changed and evolved over the years, but he still approaches the sport from that same positive place. “Every day I get to wake up and dedicate a portion of the day to being healthy and exercising. The community element is huge, too—spending time with people who love being outside and who share the same energy and discipline in their training. I love the lifestyle.” 

When you focus on the positive elements of what your training allows you to do, suddenly it’s like you’re living in a world where the good is abundant, and the difficult training days feel more manageable. Hoffman has many impressive wins on the global stage (he finished second at the Ironman World Championship in 2014 and has won seven full Ironman races), but what he’s most proud of is that he’s been able to create a career out of something nontraditional and still support his family. 

Hoffman enjoys a refreshing post-ride can of Athletic Brewing’s Upside Dawn Golden Ale.

Examine Your Habits

The goal here is to determine whether your habits are helping you, hurting you, or at the very least causing more harm than good. Over the years, Hoffman has learned that a largely plant-based diet is what helps him to excel, and while he has periodically cut out alcohol leading up to big events, he recently stopped drinking entirely.

 “Alcohol just doesn’t fit in with my high-performance lifestyle and the goals I have in the sport,” he says. He noticed that alcohol didn’t make anything better. Without it, his relationship with his wife has improved, he has more energy for his children day-to-day, and he wakes up feeling fresh and ready to go. “It’s very clear to me how much of a difference it makes.”

But cutting out alcohol doesn’t mean making huge sacrifices. Hoffman partnered with Athletic Brewing Company, the runaway leader in the non-alcoholic craft beer industry. Athletic Brewing beer can help replace the habit with something healthy, as well as the added benefit of making social situations less awkward. The beer tastes good (most people have a hard time believing it’s non-alcoholic) and has a colorful can that tends to deflect any inquiries on why you’re not drinking alcohol. Hoffman found it so good the first time he tried it that he attempted to invest in the company. (They’d already closed their funding round.)

After Hoffman stopped drinking, he put up three of his best Ironman performances ever. His mind was made up after that—cutting alcohol made him a better version of himself and a better athlete. To that end, Hoffman recommends evaluating your habits and figuring out what’s best for you.

Redefine Recovery

Society does its best to convince us that resting is lazy and sleeping in is self-indulgent. It’s time for a rebrand. Sleep and recovery are some of the most important things we can do for our bodies in general, especially during high-intensity training blocks.

“I think that people tend to just want to focus on these epic training days. Those are important, but it’s the stuff that happens behind the scenes that’s equally important, if not more important,” he says. “Sleep is huge. It’s where we recharge our bodies and minds. I know for a fact when I don’t sleep there’s a reduction in my performance.”

Hoffman deploys every aid he can in that department—from earplugs to a cooling pad that keeps his sleep surface at his perfect 67 degrees. “I would say that you should put just as much focus on the recovery as you do on the training, especially as you get a little bit older.” While one perfect solution doesn’t exist, one could argue that proper recovery is high on the list of contenders.

Listen to Your Body (Including Your Brain)

“Sometimes we’ll wear injuries as badges of honor,” Hoffman says. “‘Oh, you trained so much that you tore your Achilles tendon?’ Actually, the whole objective is to be healthy and strong and injury-free. And I think the same thing about recovery: it’s not a sign of weakness. Your body actually needs this.” Hoffman’s training is 80 percent easy and 20 percent higher-intensity. It has a heavy focus on mental fitness, too. When you are training, it’s best not to get so caught up in the data that you forget to tap into the most advanced piece of technology you have: your brain. When life’s stresses creep in, as they inevitably do, his coach reduces his training load accordingly. Listening to your body might mean that you need to take a few days or weeks off to get back to a place where you can train regularly again.

It also means that you shouldn’t ignore your cravings altogether. Hoffman’s wife sometimes calls him the Cookie Monster, and it’s well known around his household that he can’t be trusted with a plate of delicious cookies. The solution is not to never eat cookies again, but perhaps just to indulge in a healthier snack in those critical weeks leading up to a race. The rest of the time? Eat the cookie.

At Athletic Brewing Company, we are pioneering a craft revolution. We believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your ability to be at your best to enjoy great beer – so, we created our innovative lineup of refreshing, non-alcoholic craft brews.