Category: Training

Fast Talk podcast: Rethinking the science of trainers

The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

In episode 60 we’re discussing trainers… hey, for those out there who hate them, we get it, but stay tuned, as we’ll tell you why you shouldn’t completely ignore them. For those who love them, we’re going to tell you why riding outside every once in a while is a really good thing. For those in between, today’s episode will offer a wealth of knowledge on how to get the very most out of trainer time.

Now, one thing is certain: The days of staring at the basement wall while riding your clunky, loud trainer are behind us. Today’s smart trainers and online tools allow us to “game-ify” the experience and are making many re-consider how they feel about riding indoors, and importantly, the extent of the training benefits.

In this episode, we’ll talk about the science and experience of the trainer, including:

  1. How riding on a trainer differs from riding on the road, including the experience, our interaction with the bike, the different inertia generated by the trainer, and its impact on our biomechanics.
  2. What impact these differences have on our power and heart rate, and why we shouldn’t use the same numbers inside and outside.
  3. We’ll discuss situations where it’s good to use a trainer—and when it may be even better than riding on the road, such as when we’re doing neuromuscular work.
  4. Likewise, we’ll talk about situations where you might want to avoid the trainer. You might know already… a five-hour, mind-numbing ride on the trainer is a sign of incredible dedication. Don’t do it again.
  5. The game-ification of trainers by tools like Zwift, Trainer Road, and Sufferfest, and how this is changing our perspective on trainers. It can be both good and bad.
  6. When to use rollers rather than a trainer.
  7. And, finally, we’ll talk about how much time to spend on the trainer, and alternatives even when there’s snow outside.

You’re going to get a lot of different opinions in this podcast. None of us will go so far as to call the trainer Satan — though at times we’ll come close — but you will hear a few guests give convincing evidence that the trainer has benefits you can’t get on the road. Ultimately, it’s going to be up to you to decide.

Our primary guest today is Ciaran O’Grady who is a new coach and sports scientist at Team Dimension Data. Ciaran just finished his Ph.D. at Kent University with Dr. James Hopker, who conducted some of the definitive research on the biomechanical differences between riding on a trainer and the road.

In addition, we’ll talk with:

Retired multi-time national cyclocross champion Tim Johnson. Having lived in the northeast for most of his life, Tim is very familiar with riding indoors and has a lot of good points to offer from two decades of experience.

Trevor also caught up with Jacob Fraser from Zwift and Kevin Poulton who coaches Matt Hayman and Caleb Ewan, and works with Team Katusha. Kevin used Zwift to coach Matt to his 2016 Paris-Roubaix win and since then has integrated significant trainer time into his athletes’ race preparation.

And with that, get your fan ready, dial in your Zwift avatar — make sure you enter your weight correctly in Zwift now, no cheating. Let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

Read the full article at Fast Talk podcast: Rethinking the science of trainers on

Fast Talk podcast: Preventing cycling’s most common injuries, with Dr. Andy Pruitt

The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

PAIN, INJURIES, SORES… they are an unfortunate but nearly inevitable part of cycling. If you want to be among the best, you need to wear them with pride. And if you believe that, then get out of the 1980s. Yes, this is a sport for the tough man or woman. But save being tough for that 20 percent climb, not for the aches, pains, and saddle sores you don’t need to suffer through.

In this day and age, most of the common overuse injuries in cycling can be addressed and prevented. It just requires the proper precautions — such as getting regular bike fits and doing off-the-bike strength work. (Here are our five favorite workouts.)

Today we’ll talk about the most common over-use problems and how to address them, including:

  1. What used to be the most common over-use injury — knee problems — why they are no longer the most common problem, and how it’s possible for most of us to go through the rest of our cycling careers without one.
  2. Back problems — these have eclipsed knee issues as the most common cycling complaint. Unfortunately, the cycling position is not kind to the lower back, but there are still things we can do to prevent pain.
  3. Saddle sores, numbness, and pressure issues, and how with the right saddle and fit most of these issues can be addressed.
  4. Just like the back, the cycling position can be tough on the neck. We’ll discuss.
  5. Feet and hands — many of us think that numbness is just part of riding a bike. But the truth is that if you’re experiencing numbness, something is wrong, and it can generally be solved.
  6. Finally, for those of you still clinging to that 1980s mindset, we’ll talk about just how bad it was then and why you want to get with the 2000s.

Our primary guest today is Dr. Andy Pruitt who has over 40 years of experience in cycling medicine and ergonomics. He is a bike fit guru who invented the Body Geometry fit system and continues to design ergonomic products for Specialized. He has seen every cycling injury in the book and, because of that, has literally written the book. It’s called “Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists.”

In addition, we speak with Evan Huffman of Rally Cycling, who shares some quick thoughts on the injuries he’s seen on his team, and what the team’s staff does to make that a short list.

Finally, we speak with Colby Pearce, a regular on our show. As a coach, fitter, and elite athlete, Pearce shares his thoughts on the common injuries he sees and what he does to address them. Colby zeroes in on one of the most important aspects of the bike — saddle choice and saddle position.

So, put on your favorite chamois, relax your hands, feet, and back. Let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

Read the full article at Fast Talk podcast: Preventing cycling’s most common injuries, with Dr. Andy Pruitt on

Training Center: Why heart rate shouldn’t be ignored

While power meters have revolutionized training methods in the past decade, the humble heart rate monitor remains a key component to getting the most out of your workouts.

The arrival of affordable power meters in the early 2000s heralded a revolution in cycling. Every coach and athlete with the resources got onboard the “power-is-everything” train, often tossing the old clumsy heart rate strap aside. In the frenzy, no one investigated whether power was actually a better training tool.

That is, not until two studies explored that claim. The first, conducted in 2009 by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, used 21 well-trained cyclists. Half did intervals by power, the other half by heart rate. Statistically, the gains were equal but the group training with heart rate showed “a greater probability of a beneficial effect.” The second study, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2011, likewise found equal improvement in 11 recreational cyclists. Both research teams concluded that a power meter was not necessarily a better training tool.

Still, many coaches argue that a power meter is more precise and provides more immediate feedback to changes in effort. That’s true, but treating it as a replacement for heart rate assumes it measures the same aspects of training.

That’s a mistake, says prominent physiologist Dr. Iñigo San Millán, former director of the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. “With watts, we’re just looking at the end product, which is mechanical energy,” San Millán says. “But we might be missing what happens at the chemical or metabolic level.”

Put another way, power meters measure what’s happening with the bike. But heart rate measures the individual. Ultimately it’s the individual that needs to be trained.

Svein Tuft (Mitchelton-Scott) agrees, saying it can be dangerous to seek an arbitrary power number. “Watts are definitely a huge help,” Tuft says, “but it’s more important to understand your body and where you’re at in that moment rather than try to live up to some impossible expectation.”

Blood lactate is perhaps the best measure of what’s going on metabolically, but there is no on-the-road lactate monitor.

Fortunately, San Millán has thousands of data points showing that heart rate directly correlates with lactate, making it a great representation of what’s happening in the body. For example, riding at a heart rate just above or below maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) or anaerobic threshold offers distinct metabolic stresses.

Of course, you can identify your power at MLSS, but since it’s not a physiological measure, that number can vary dramatically through the season — up to 60 watts according to a 2000 study conducted by respected physiologist Alejandro Lucia. Threshold heart rate doesn’t change.

As a training metric, heart rate does have its limitations compared to power. You can’t say, “I’m riding at 185 beats per minute — I’m going to crush it this year!” But if you’re climbing 50 watts higher than last season and 30 watts better than your competition (all other things remaining equal), you can make that claim.

Ultimately, using a power meter and heart rate monitor in combination makes for a more complete toolbox. While power indicates how strong you’re riding, heart rate tells the metabolic cost of those watts. So, train by power zones but use heart rate to measure how your body is responding.

Building a more complete toolbox

Neither a heart rate monitor nor a power meter is beneficial unless they’re used right. Here are a few tips for making the most of whatever you keep in your toolbox.

Get accurate zones

No matter if you rely on watts or beats per minute, use this data within the context of your training zones and physiology. European-based pro ’cross racer Elle Anderson says that finding your heart rate at anaerobic threshold or MLSS is most important. In-lab testing is best, but an on-the-road time trial can work in a pinch.

Use heart rate’s consistency

Your power at threshold will change throughout the season, but heart rate won’t. Look for changes in your power-at-threshold heart rate to gauge your fitness. A gradual increase in your power relative to your heart rate means you’re getting stronger.

Race with heart rate

In most races, power can fluctuate dramatically due to accelerations out of corners, terrain, barriers, and responding to moves. This is one reason Anderson finds racing by heart rate to be more useful. “If it’s the first 20 minutes of a race and I look down and see my heart rate is pinned close to my max, that helps me to understand whether I need to back off the pace,” she says.

Do intervals by power zones; gauge with heart rate

Heart rate is slow to respond to increased efforts, making it hard to use for intervals under five minutes and useless for those under one minute. But heart rate is a great gauge for work at or below threshold. This work should be metabolically sustainable, says San Millán, meaning your heart rate should plateau. If your heart rate steadily rises during the effort, you’re targeting too high a wattage.

Gauge fatigue with morning heart rate

Because it’s a physiological measurement, heart rate can do something else that power can’t: indicate fatigue. One of the first signs of overtraining is a rise in your waking heart rate. Get a baseline when you’re rested. Then measure your heart rate regularly while still in bed. A rise of four or more beats per minute at rest suggests you may need to take a day off.

Gauge fatigue with heart rate and power

Using both power and heart rate provides a great way to gauge overtraining on the bike. When we are tired, our heart rate will drop relative to power, especially at higher intensities. If Anderson notices that her legs are tired and her heart rate is lower than normal for a given wattage, she backs off and rests.

Get advanced with heart rate variability (HRV)

HRV is becoming a common capability of new heart rate monitors. This is a measure of how variable the time interval between beats is, usually taken at rest. Both too much and too little variability are signs of being over-reached. A recent study by the Research Institute of Olympic Sports in Finland compared classically periodized runners to runners who trained by HRV. This HRV group was only prescribed high-intensity work when their seven-day HRV average was within the rested range. The HRV group did significantly fewer interval sessions over the four weeks but improved their 3,000-meter run time two percent while the traditionally trained group did not.

Use heart rate on long rides

Suppose you did a four-hour ride at a steady 160 watts. You might start the ride holding 145 beats per minute, but hours later your heart might be pumping 20 beats faster. This is known as cardiac drift. If you ride by power alone, you may be in the right physiological range initially but not at the end. Sticking to a heart rate range will keep you at the right intensity the entire ride.

Recognize artifacts when comparing the two

Since watts are a mechanical measurement, they remain static. 400 watts is always 400 watts. But a heart rate of 150 beats per minute doesn’t always mean the same thing. Many other factors can affect your heart rate. Fatigue lowers heart rate relative to power. Heat, dehydration, stress on race day, and cardiac drift all raise it. Coaches and athletes who prescribe to a power-only training method call these “artifacts.” In reality, they are important pieces of physiological bio-data that can help your training.

Flu warning

If your heart rate is abnormally high and you’ve ruled out everything else, remember a high heart rate appears a day or two before flu symptoms.

Trevor Connor is a long-time cycling coach and elite racer. He holds degrees in exercise physiology and nutrition from Colorado State University. He has served many roles in cycling, from team manager to coach at the National Centre in Canada.

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Fast Talk podcast, ep. 56: The Hour with Colby Pearce

The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

THE HOUR. Those two words represent many things to many people. Some believe it to be the ultimate test of man and machine: out there on the track, with nowhere to hide, an athlete must come to terms with what he or she is truly capable of. Others know it as a form of torture, a crucible for understanding one’s ability to cope with pain, suffering, or madness. If you’re lucky, the Hour is a hard way to reach a form of cycling-inspired, dizzying nirvana.

Many of the greatest cyclists in history have made attempts or held the Hour record. Most of them then crawled off their bikes never to ride on a track again. With UCI rule changes several years ago came a resurgence in interest in the event. Eventually, Bradley Wiggins smashed the record, hitting 54.526 kilometers in June 2015.

And the obsession lives on. There are few people in the world who know both the agony and ecstasy of the Hour as well as Colby Pearce, our main guest today and someone who has attempted more Hour records than almost anyone else, save for maybe the great Graeme Obree. Last week, Pearce set a new master’s world record in the 45-49 age category, riding a remarkable 50.245 kilometers, 833 meters farther than the previous record held by Kent Bostick.

In this episode, we sat down with Pearce to dive deep into the Hour. It’s something Case knows all too well, since he too made an attempt in 2015.

In addition to their personal experiences, in this episode you’ll hear a discussion of:

  • A brief history of the Hour
  • Why it’s so hard and, therefore, special. Is it the hardest thing you can do on a bike? We ask the question.

It then jumps into a discussion on how to prepare for the Hour:

  • The 80/20 principle and getting caught up in numbers
  • Training at 90 percent of threshold
  • The importance of focusing on form
  • The crucial mental preparation it takes to tackle this event

Then, gear and aerodynamics, from frontal area to the finest of gains to be had from chain friction to sock length. Finally, we break it down. Ultimately, it all comes down to executing on the track:

  • The nuances of pacing, and the dynamic of the track, the rhythm, and the added forces
  • Gearing and cadence
  • Mindset: chunking, and proactive vs. reactive thought patterns

Pearce’s wealth of knowledge on the Hour is unsurpassed, and we’ll hear a lot from him in this episode. We’re also lucky enough to hear from two other Hour veterans. When Case was preparing for his Hour attempt in 2015, he had the pleasure of chatting with Rohan Dennis, who briefly held the Hour record that year. (As an aside, just days ago Dennis won the world time trial championship in Innsbruck.) Back in 2015, Case also spoke with Dennis’s coach, Neal Henderson. Both of them have interesting thoughts on the Hour.

So, zip up the excruciatingly tight skinsuit. Check to make sure your power meter is on. Pull the aero socks high. It’s Hour Record week at Fast Talk. Let’s make you fast.

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

Read the full article at Fast Talk podcast, ep. 56: The Hour with Colby Pearce on

Interbike Trends: Smart trainers leave the stratosphere

There is perhaps no greater indication of the explosive growth of indoor cycling than the pricing decline of smart trainers. So as we head toward the winter months, it’s time once again to think seriously about dusting off the wheel block, box fan, and 10-year-old rollers. Or, you could pick up a new smart trainer and enter the virtual realm, since they’re almost affordable now.

When these fully-connected trainers hit the market, prices were astronomical, reflecting the technology packed within; ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity that lent a more real-life feel to indoor riding. But if the showings at Interbike 2018 are any indication, prices will continue to fall so consumers can take full advantage of connected indoor riding, without spending as much as you might on a high-end bike.

The CycleOps M2, for example, costs only $600, compared to a top of the line Wahoo Kickr — the best smart trainer out there, according to our testing — which costs twice that. Granted, the M2 is not a direct drive trainer, which means you’ll leave your rear wheel on and the tire presses against a roller. Still, you can hypothetically get into the smart trainer game at a much lower price point than even a couple of years ago, even if you factor in a $15 a month subscription to Zwift. The smart trainer game suddenly seems like a real possibility for everyday Joes and Janes who have to combat long stretches of winter weather.

For those that are into the finer things in life, you can still go well overboard with accoutrements, like Wahoo’s Kickr Climb — which simulates grades by lifting the front end of your bike in real time — and the Kickr Headwind (which, let’s be honest, is a really fancy box fan). These cost $600 and $250 respectively. Wahoo has also responded to customer demands for more affordability by offering the slightly less fancy direct drive unit, the Kickr Core, which knocks about $300 off the top of the line Kickr’s $1,200 price tag.

Tacx, Elite, and BKool have also expanded their lineups of trainers to appeal to a broader audience. BKool’s Smart Go trainer costs just $400. It’s clear that the virtual riding environment Zwift has taken trainers out of the pain cave and into the entertainment world. No longer do you need to stare at your washing machine in your dank basement; instead, you can race, train with friends on the other side of the world, or try your hand at some of the most famous climbs in cycling. If nothing else, a smart trainer can bring some sanity to your winter workouts. (But as soon as the sun comes out and the snow stops falling, you’ll still find us outside.)

Of course, for many consumers, spending money on any trainer, let alone a smart trainer with a high price tag, is akin to signing up for that gym membership you’ll use two or three times and then forget all about. It’s best to be clear and honest about your goals and motivations before plunking down cash on such setups, particularly if you live in a climate that’s more accommodating of winter riding.

Read the full article at Interbike Trends: Smart trainers leave the stratosphere on

Fast Talk podcast: How to win with mind power

The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

The best riders understand … mindset wins races. And controlling your thought patterns in races is one of the most powerful things you can do.

Mindset in cycling is an important and frequently neglected side of our training and racing. It’s avoided because it seems unclear, inconsistent, and, let’s face it, can be too new-agey for the likes of us “tough guys.” In reality, mindset is often all that separates the best from second best and can be the difference between reaching the podium or finishing a race.

When Coach Connor managed Team Rio Grande, he offered to cover the costs for one of our riders for a few sessions with a top sports psychologist in Colorado. The rider refused and ultimately quit the team. But when Trevor told several high-level pros the story they all asked the same thing: “Can I get those appointments?!”

Today, we’ll delve into this concept of controlling your thoughts for performance. We’ll touch on:

  1. The concept of dominant thought and why it’s so important, including whether we are funnels or buckets
  2. How athletes are either task- or ego-oriented, the pros and cons of each, and why it’s important to know which one you are
  3. Using trigger words to control your dominant thought
  4. Why it may not actually be good to stay mentally focused for an entire race and how to pick your moments when you are on your mental game
  5. And finally, how to control your thoughts when your body is screaming in pain and telling you to stop

Our primary guest today is a professor of sports psychology and is a senior teaching professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Brian Butki. Dr. Butki has worked with athletes in almost every sport, both at the university level and on professional teams in the Colorado area.

In addition to Dr. Butki we spoke with:

Dean Golich, a head coach at Carmichael Training Systems. Over decades as a top coach, Dean has worked with athletes all the way from recreational amateur riders to Olympians and world champions. He is uniquely qualified to talk about the mindset of top athletes. You may be very surprised to hear what he has to say.

Sepp Kuss, a WorldTour rider with LottoNL-Jumbo and winner of the 2018 Tour of Utah, talks with us briefly about his mindset and the danger of being too focused on the win.

Finally, local top coach Colby Pearce gives us a variety of tips on controlling your mindset both in training and in racing situations. In our next episode, we’ll talk with Colby and Chris about the hour record and their experience with it.

But in the meantime, Colby is going for the master’s world record from September 22-25. We’re still waiting to hear if they are going to livestream it. If they do, we’ll put a link up on the VeloNews page for this podcast along with our references.

So let’s get to the task at hand. Find your balance. Focus your mind. But don’t get too focused … you need your breaks. Let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

Read the full article at Fast Talk podcast: How to win with mind power on

Fast Talk podcast, ep. 54: Applying the polarized training model, with Dr. Seiler

The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

IN EPISODE 51, which we published several weeks ago, we had the chance to speak with Jay-Z — or at least the Jay-Z of the exercise physiology world, Dr. Stephen Seiler. We took a deep dive into the polarized model of endurance training … or so we thought.

We probably received more questions about that episode than any other episode to date. Many of you wanted to know more about how to execute a polarized training plan. We thought about doing a special episode to answer all of your questions, but instead, we begged and pleaded with Dr. Seiler to share a lovely late-summer Norwegian afternoon with us. He generously obliged.

During our conversation, we discussed:

  1. Why cycling is an aerobic sport
  2. What is meant by the two thresholds LT1 and LT2 and how to determine yours, both in terms of power and heart rate. Dr. Seiler provides a test protocol to determine LT2, which may sound very similar to Neal Henderson’s test that was described in episode 33, “Is FTP dead?”
  3. Why it’s important not to over-estimate LT1 or LT2, and how to use them to determine your zones in a three-zone model.
  4. The specifics of zone 1 training: how long, how much, how easy? We take a deep dive into what zone 1 training is all about, why it’s important to keep those rides easy, and the value of long rides.
  5. Finally, we discuss the 80-20 principle of the polarized model and how to put it into practice to map out your week.

One thing to note: A lot of listeners asked for example numbers to help them better understand the polarized approach. We chose to use Trevor’s numbers for a few reasons. First, he’s a big believer in polarized training and has much success with it. Second, he’s a very aerobically developed cyclist. Third, like many of you, he’s a master’s rider with limited time to train. Finally, the data was readily available allowing us to give example numbers throughout.

Our featured guest is, of course, Dr. Stephen Seiler, a professor of sports science in Norway, where he has lived for over 20 years. He sits on the executive board of the well-respected European University College for Sports Science. It was his groundbreaking research that helped define the polarized model.

We also hear from Dr. John Hawley, another prominent name in the exercise science world from Australia. His research over the past few decades has helped to define endurance sports training and nutrition. He talks with us about one of the important, but lesser-known, gains of long rides.

Finally, we speak with Kiel Reijnen of the Trek-Segafredo WorldTour team. Kiel spoke with us about why even pros sometimes prefer two-a-day rides.

So, are you ready to know what going easy really means? Ready to understand what some of the great endurance athletes are doing to train? Are you ready to get polarized? Well, let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

Read the full article at Fast Talk podcast, ep. 54: Applying the polarized training model, with Dr. Seiler on

Fast Talk podcast, ep. 53: From collegiate racing to the WorldTour in three years, with Sepp Kuss

The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

LAST FALL TREVOR AND I CONDUCTED a not-so-controlled study on climbing, and we had the help of a young, talented Colorado rider. His name? Sepp Kuss. At the time of our little experiment, Kuss was about to head to Europe for a training camp with his new WorldTour team, Lotto-NL Jumbo. Curiously, Kuss almost didn’t do the study because he was worried his times up the climbs would be embarrassingly slow. Then, on a brisk November day, he proceeded to set the second fastest Strava time up the famous Flagstaff climb in Boulder. (He’s since been bumped down to third by Lachlan Morton.)

We knew then there was something special about Kuss. It didn’t take him much longer to dramatically prove that point to the rest of the world. Last week at the Tour of Utah, Sepp made the competition look like a bunch of amateurs, dominating the race like never before, winning three stages on his way to the overall title. Now, he’s off to the Vuelta to make his grand tour debut.

This spring we recorded a podcast with Sepp about what it was like going from domestic U.S. racing to the WorldTour. The theme we tried to bring out was the struggle of jumping to the highest level and the need to persist when your first year is such a grind. So much for that theme… Yet, despite his meteoric rise, there’s really one word we would use to describe this interview: humble.

There’s also some great advice about training, raising your level, and the value of persistence. So, in honor of Kuss’s Tour of Utah win, we present this interview. In it, we talk with him about:

  1. His career so far, and since Kuss did his first road race just three years ago, this part will be short
  2. What his spring was like in Europe, and surviving his first big race: the Tour of the Basque Country
  3. The mental side of stepping up to a higher level and getting beat up over and over again
  4. A comparison of training in the WorldTour versus the domestic peloton
  5. Finally, we have a long discussion with Kuss about something that may surprise you: his focus on the process rather than the results

We’ll also hear from Joe Dombrowski, a leader of the EF Education First-Drapac WorldTour team. Dombrowski was one of Kuss’s chief rivals at the Tour of Utah this year and won the race himself back in 2015. The discussion will serve as a good comparison of how the two riders train.

So, get some popcorn, pull up the highlight reel of the Tour of Utah, smile along as Sepp dances away from the competition. Let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

Read the full article at Fast Talk podcast, ep. 53: From collegiate racing to the WorldTour in three years, with Sepp Kuss on

Diagnosis: How to fine-tune diet for racing

Ellie was a 23-year-old professional triathlete who was preparing for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2016. Like many athletes, Ellie believed she could improve her race performance by refining her body composition and pre-race fuel strategy. Both of these goals meant she’d need to change her diet. Ellie was unsure of how to do this without hurting her training or her taper for the big day.

Ellie posed this challenge to Ryan Kohler, manager of sports performance at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. Kohler had already worked with Ellie for 1.5 years and knew she possessed disciplined eating habits.

How does an elite athlete refine her diet without impacting performance?

The two needed to devise a hyper-focused diet that maximized glycogen stores leading up to her race, without negatively impacting body composition or weight. The pair also needed to determine the appropriate timing and amount of carbohydrates to include in her diet, while allowing for her caloric needs and adjusting for her taper.

“It was just a matter of including additional objectives to focus her nutrition around specific times of the season,” Kohler says.


Kohler and his team initially performed a skinfold body-composition measurement and gathered body weight and food-log information. Then, they used MuscleSound software to accurately and non-invasively determine Ellie’s stored carbohydrate. MuscleSound was co-developed by Dr. Iñigo San Millan, the director of the Performance Center and a prominent physiologist with decades of experience working with professional cyclists.

It works in conjunction with a portable ultrasound device to calculate relative glycogen concentration, tissue thickness, body fat percentage, and lean mass. It does this by automatically detecting fat-muscle boundaries. If you imagine your muscles as fuel tanks, the ultrasound allows you to see how much gas is in the tank.

The rectus femoris muscle was used as the measurement site. Studies in endurance athletes have shown this muscle provides a good assessment of lower-body storage, and can reflect small to large changes due to nutrition, training, or recovery interventions.

The MuscleSound test revealed Ellie was approximately 70 percent “full,” meaning she was adequately storing carbohydrates for her daily training needs, and she had additional room to super-compensate — in this case for the priority event.


Kohler prescribed a carb-rich diet, slightly above what Ellie was accustomed to eating. She tried the new meal plan for one week, and combined specific food suggestions. For example, she ate things such as oats, yogurt, and egg whites for breakfast; lunch might include a deli sandwich and salad; and dinner could be fish, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.

Then, Ellie spent a week eating whatever she wanted, so long as it supported her training, was low in fat, and allowed for maximal carbohydrate storage. She ate 2,600 kilocalories per day, broken down into six grams per kilogram of carbohydrates and 1.7-1.9 grams per kilogram of protein.

Ellie maintained her total caloric intake (while reducing fat intake) by consuming additional calories from (1) carbohydrates, to support training and provide additional substrate for glycogen re-synthesis; and from (2) protein to support recovery and increase satiety in the absence of additional fat. Kohler focused the timing of Ellie’s carbohydrate doses to provide the additional energy when necessary.


Ellie followed the experimental diet for one week. Then her glycogen stores were retested under the same conditions. The ultrasound revealed that her proverbial fuel tank was at 90 percent of its glycogen capacity (which Kohler considered to be near the maximum attainable), and she reported having increased energy levels. Over the one-week trial, Ellie also experienced a one percent decline in body weight and five percent decline in body composition.

Because the test was conducted five weeks prior to worlds, Kohler returned Ellie to her usual training diet to allow carbohydrate levels to return to normal.

The week before her big race, Ellie went back on the carb-rich diet. She finished 11th at the world championships.

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Diagnosis: What caused this racer’s crippling fatigue?

Editor’s Note: “Diagnosis” is a new monthly column found in the print issue of  VeloNews. It is a collaboration between the editors of VeloNews and the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. The anecdotes found in “Diagnosis” come from actual patients, and the names of these patients have been changed. 


Overtraining is becoming all too common as endurance athletes push themselves to their limits. The consequences can be significant.


An elite cyclist—we’ll call him Racer X—arrived at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center laboratory complaining of serious fatigue. Racer X regularly placed inside the top-10 at the beginning of the season. By mid-season, he was struggling to even finish a race. His coach increased his training intensity in an effort to improve his form. Racer X’s training volume ranged from 22 to 28 hours per week.

His coach had heard that restricting carbohydrate intake and slightly increasing fat intake a few days a week might help Racer X with energy consumption. Racer X restricted carbohydrates two to three days a week coinciding with his long rides or high-intensity workouts. Additionally, Racer X wanted to lose five pounds, so he then decreased carbohydrates even further. Surprisingly, he gained three pounds after restricting carbohydrates.

Racer X’s power output decreased. His heart rate did not rise in proportion to his high-intensity workouts; on easier (zone 2) training days, he needed to increase his effort substantially to achieve the prescribed heart rate. Feeling frustrated, Racer X consulted the Performance Center and its director of sports performance Iñigo San Millán.


Millán conducted a battery of tests, including comprehensive blood analysis, physiological and metabolic testing, as well as skeletal muscle glycogen assessment and a nutrition evaluation.

Blood analysis revealed decreased red blood cell and hemoglobin levels, with normal ferritin levels, significant muscle damage, decreased testosterone levels, and increased cortisol levels. In addition, tests showed elevated levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and C-reactive protein (CRP).

Other tests showed that Racer X’s maximal power output had dropped to 315 watts (4.5 W/kg) from 350 watts (5.0 W/kg) before the season. His lactate clearance capacity significantly worsened. As an example, at 250 watts Racer X’s blood lactate concentration was 2.6mmol/L in the winter and at mid-season 5.3mmol/L. His maximal lactate was 6.8mmol/L versus 10.7mmol/L in the winter. Finally, his maximal heart rate was 173bpm; before the season it had been 187bpm.

Racer X’s fuel efficiency had dropped. His carbohydrate oxidation (how much fuel he burned) was lower than in the winter, while his fat oxidation was higher. So, at 250 watts Racer X was burning 0.45 grams/minute versus 0.30 grams/minute before the season.

His body composition showed a three-pound decrease in muscle mass and a six-pound increase in body fat.

His diet comprised a carbohydrate intake of approximately 1 g/kg/ day (grams per kilogram per day) on his easy days and 2 g/kg/day on his hard and long days.

Non-invasive glycogen assessment (via MuscleSound, which we detailed in “Diagnosis” in May 2017) revealed a very low glycogen content. His preseason Muscle Energy Score (MES) was 72 (out of 100) and during his visit it was 15, confirming his diet was poor in carbohydrate given his workload.


Racer X presented a typical, though severe, case of overtraining. He also had anemia (low red blood cell count) and a catabolic situation caused by excessive training, poor nutrition, and poor recovery. Long story short: Racer X was doing more harm than good with his training.

Racer X’s red blood cell capacity had decreased by approximately 15 percent due to the reduced quantity of red blood cells (RBCs) and hemoglobin production. (Every day our body destroys some 200 billion RBCs and needs to replace them. If the body enters a catabolic state, the ability to regenerate enough RBCs is impaired, leading to anemia.) His ferritin levels (iron stored in the body) were normal, indicating his anemia was not caused by iron deficiency.

The detection of several muscle enzymes in the blood indicated that Racer X had developed muscle micro-tears. This was likely due to the combination of low glycogen content from carbohydrate restriction and high intensity training.

Around 95-97 percent of energy during exercise comes from fats or carbohydrate and a small percentage (~3-5 percent) from protein. During high intensity exercise, energy cannot be synthesized fast enough from fat, so muscles rely exclusively on carbohydrate from glycogen stores. When these stores are low, protein contribution can increase up to 20 percent. The problem is that most of this protein comes from skeletal muscle, so muscles start “eating themselves to feed themselves,” as Millán describes it.

This elicits the catabolic situation and muscle damage seen in Racer X. Damage was confirmed by elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved in muscle catabolism and the main mediator of it. The catabolic situation also explains the decrease in muscle mass compared to preseason. These two factors were mainly responsible for Racer X’s decreased power output and significant increase in blood lactate. His muscles became weaker and, thus, could not contract as powerfully. Metabolically they were working harder for a comparable power output.

New research shows that muscle damage impacts glycogen synthesis and storage. Scientists don’t know why; one hypothesis compares it to trying to “grab” water with your hands. Racer X’s decreased capacity to store glycogen, on top of the low carbohydrate diet, meant he had less fuel to power his workouts. Furthermore, the muscle damage, along with the slight increase in fat consumption, may also explain Racer X’s increase in body fat. This is because when glycogen levels are full, carbohydrate cannot be stored and it is converted to fat.

The slight increase in C-reactive protein (CRP) indicated the presence of inflammation, likely due to muscle damage.

“In our laboratory we see chronic muscle damage in many endurance athletes,” San Millán says. “Therefore we see chronic low-grade inflammation, which from the study of other diseases has been correlated with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.”

Racer X also had low levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary gland and stimulates the thyroid. Thee disorder hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone production) is becoming more prevalent within the endurance community; usually it impacts obese people with co-morbidities. It is very rare to see this condition in lean, healthy athletes without any family history. The athletes who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism are often prescribed thyroid replacement medication.

“Unfortunately, in our center we see about one athlete each week who has been ‘wrongly’ diagnosed with hypothyroidism, when in fact he or she was quite overtrained,” San Millán says. “The problem here is that when an athlete has been on thyroid medication for several years, TSH function shuts down from the pituitary gland. That athlete needs to be on thyroid medication for the rest of his or her life. In most cases it was never needed in the first place as there was not hypothyroidism but significant overtraining.”


San Millán explained the disorder to Racer X. He told the athlete to thoroughly rest for two weeks, after which he could resume training for two weeks for approximately 1.5 hours per day without any intensity. He told Racer X to pay close attention to his heart rate, noting if it rose easily, and listen to his body and sensations. He taught Racer X about nutrition, telling him to normalize his carbohydrates to 4g/ kg/day (~280g) every day for the following month, then increase this amount to 6-8g/kg/day (~480-560g) once he resumed normal training and for any long, hard training days.


One month later, San Millán performed another blood analysis, physiological test, and muscle glycogen scan. All the parameters in Racer X’s blood analyses returned to normal. Anemia was corrected and there was no sign of catabolism. His hormonal profile was completely normal.

Racer X’s glycogen scan was completely normal, with an MES of 80. Finally, his body composition improved. He lost five pounds of fat and regained the three pounds of muscle mass he had lost.

His physiological and metabolic tests showed very similar results to what he obtained in the winter. His maximal power output was the same as in the winter. His lactate clearance capacity improved significantly, although it remained slightly lower than in the winter. His fat oxidation was lower than what it was in midseason and also slightly lower than what it was in the winter. His carbohydrate oxidation was slightly higher than what it was in the winter. Every week he felt better with no signs of fatigue or overtraining. After a four-week training block, he resumed racing after being on the sidelines for over two months. By the end of the season he was very competitive, finishing with multiple top- 10s, two thirds, and his first victory of the season.


The case of Racer X is not an isolated one. What he and his coach learned was to always listen to science-based information when monitoring performance. They also learned to stick to a training program that emphasized building a robust base, increasing intensity and duration properly, and allowing ample recovery time. Another important lesson was nutrition, and to ignore fashionable diets. Finally, Racer X learned to listen to his body for signals of overtraining or fatigue.

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