One of the primary functions of a coach (or a self coached athlete) is to solve problems. An athlete wants to lose 20 pounds, do a sub-10 hour Ironman on only 6 hours of training a week, or throw a smack down on the Saturday morning world championships and a coach helps an athlete solve the problem of how to achieve those goals the quickest, most efficient way. The problem is where do you start?! The journey of a thousand steps begins with one and in this case we need to quantify.
If the goal is performance related than we need to start by quantifying performance. In Cycling the goal standard is power. We can easily do a 60 minute, 5 minute, and 1 minute field test and get a good picture of an athletes fitness and what aspects of their training we need to work on. In running we can also use a field test or a VO2/Lactate threshold test. By having those numbers and reviewing past training logs (you are keeping a training log right?!) we can come up with a good plan to reach an athlete’s goals. The best training log I have used by far is Training Peaks. They make it easy to upload training data files and handle basic analysis on the web.
Of course there is more to performance than just training. You can’t out train bad nutrition. If you are eating junk, than no matter how well you are training your recovery and gains will be less than optimal. It is fairly easy to quantify nutrition these days with a number of smart phone apps and online logs. My personal favorites are MyFitnessPal, Training Peaks (yep, they do food tracking as well), and the UP app from Jawbone (more on this below). Just keep track of everything you eat or drink AS YOU DO IT. Do not try to remember what you had at the end of the day as I guarantee you will forget about that Nutter Butter bar you had after lunch. It can be a part-time job to do this so I typically recommend doing the best job possible for 3 days, then average the three days out to quantify your intake. You can repeat the 3 days as needed to evaluate changes.
One of the biggest factors I see with recovery in athletes is sleep. You can dial in training and recovery, but if you are staying up late and not getting enough sleep your performance and recovery will suffer. Thankfully your smart phone has you covered here as well. The Azumio Sleep Time app does a good job of tracking sleep hours, light sleep, and dark sleep by monitoring movement while you sleep. The Jawbone Up mentioned above (and in more detail below) will also monitor your sleep activity from their bracelet. If you want to go super high-tech the Zeo Sleep Monitor is a great tool that measures actual brain waves to determine depth of sleep. Both provide good information to identify trends and any issues that may be present with an athletes sleep.
Even with tracking training, diet, and sleep there are times when we need extra data. It is possible to knock out a killer 2 hour workout than sit on your ass the next 22 hours and not lose weight even if you are eating a fairly clean diet. Or you can finish your workout, eat super clean, and then run around a construction job all day and wonder why your legs aren’t fresh for the next day’s workout. To quantify those issues I have found the best tool for the job is the Jawbone UP. The Up is just a bracelet you wear throughout the day that tracks your movement to estimate your total energy needs. It can also track nutrition, sleep, and account for workouts. All of the info then uploads to your smart phone and can be shared with a coach or friend to keep you on track. It gives a fairly complete picture and can quantify an athlete’s life down to a point that we can see what we need to “fix.” The FitBit is another tool that can do this as well but in my opinion the Jawbone UP is a little cleaner looking.
For issues where the above isn’t giving us enough information we go even deeper into the athlete…literally. Blood testing can give us a level of detail into an athlete’s physiology we can’t get from the above techniques. Of course that is something a coach alone can’t do. For those situations I recommend that athletes work with a company like WellnessFX or DirectLabs to do everything from thyroid panels to food sensitivity testing. This level of detail can make a big difference for an athlete that is trying to lose those last 10 pounds or struggling to figure out why recovery rates are in the toilet.
In the next post we will cover how to identify problems and tools the self coached athlete can use to help in the process.