Six tips for triathlon newbies from Dr. Vonda Wright – plus a few extras

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WRIGHT_VONDA_MD_ORS_20140725Trying something new can be both mentally and physically challenging.  Trying a TRI for the first time can send a new athlete over the edge.  Dr. Vonda Wright, Director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes (PRIMA) and Medical Director of UPMC Lemieux Sports Center and the Pittsburgh Triathlon, has some great tips to get you through that first triathlon.

  1. REST!
    Most new triathletes will focus on training for the swim, bike, run and optimizing sports nutrition while forgetting that a racing body needs REST!  For the best performance and decreased likelihood of injury don’t skimp on your daily rest!  This includes regenerative SLEEP as well as muscle rest (get off your feet) and mental rest.
  2. Lay some BRICKS!For newer triathletes the muscle change-over from swim to bike and from bike to run can be one of the hardest parts of the transition (even harder than the gear change).  Practice the transitions by running a slow mile after bike workouts or by spinning for 10 minutes right when you get out of the pool.  Even if you are not doing a true brick workout these mini bricks will train your muscles to transition more quickly
  3. Work on your WEAKNESSES!
    Many new triathletes are stronger in one discipline than another and are therefore tempted to maximize their strengths in workouts because it feels better.  The fault in this logic is that in a triple discipline race like triathlon your strengths don’t always make up for your weaknesses.  If you are a great runner… on your swim.  If you are a great swimmer….pound out the miles or work on bike technique.  It is your strengths that will kick in when times are hard so maximize your weaknesses for your best race.
  4. The race is really only 5 1/2 inches long!  WHAT?
    If you have put in the physical training time the true triathlon often happens in the 5 1/2 inches between your ears.  Triathlon is a tough mental event.  It takes resilience, problem-solving without panic, sheer grit and sometimes even a motivating mantra to pull you through. Practice the mental game just like your physical training with visualization, finding a mantra that pulls you through and dig deep.
  5. T1-T2…Transitions matter!
    transitionTriathlon is not just swim, bike, run…..the race is also the choreographed moves through the transition zones.  Since your T1 (transition zone 1 time) and T2 are part of your race you should practice them just like you practice the swim, bike and run.  They key to finishing is practice.
  6. Don’t Panic in the Water!You have been training for 6 months, you are standing with hundreds of other racers ready to dive right into arms and legs churning the water for the swim.  Your heart is racing, adrenaline is high and it is easy to rush into a panic and lose control of your breath and game plan.  Anticipate this.  Have a plan for YOUR race.  Alternate between freestyle and breaststroke until you feel comfortable and your breathing is comfortable.  You are going to be amped up at race start….anticipate it and be calm on the inside.

Other random tips:

  • Don’t worry – it is okay to pee in the water.  You may think it is gross but it happens.
  • Coaches count – triathlon is more than simply swimming, biking and running.  Seeking great coaching goes a long way for Building the best strategy and efficient training programs.
  • Get over gear envy – one of the fun parts of triathlon is all the high-tech gear.  Before you go out and spend thousands on gear make sure triathlon is your sport.  A suit, road bike and running shoes will do in your first try.

Daily Performance Snacks

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When you’re eating on the run and grabbing quick snacks, be sure to choose wholesome foods that enhance your performance.

Here are some snack ideas to implement into your daily fueling routine.bowl of nuts

  • Whole grain English muffin with peanut butter
  • Hummus, pita and baby carrots
  • Trail mix with granola, nuts (peanuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, soy nuts), dried fruit, or seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower sesame, or hemp)
  • Whole grain cereal with Greek yogurt and frozen or fresh blueberries
  • Instant oatmeal made with low fat milk and slivered almonds
  • Whole grain crackers with low fat cheese/string cheese
  • Mini Bran muffin with nut butter (peanut, almond or cashew)
  • Smoothies (milk, yogurt, or juice; fresh or frozen fruit)
  • Plain yogurt-flavor it with vanilla, honey, cinnamon, applesauce, fruit cocktail, or berries
  • Nutrition bars:
    • All natural (have no added vitamins or minerals). Cliff Mojo, Cliff Nectar, Honey Stinger Waffle, KIND, Larabar, NRG, Odwalla, Optimum, Kashi, thinkThin, Zing
    • Granola-type bars: Nutri-Grain, Nature Valley Granola, PowerBar Harvest, and Quaker Cher
    • Protein Bar: Atkins Advantage, Come Ready, Cliff Builder, EAS Myoplex Deluxe, Honey Stinger Protein, Lenn & Larry’s, Muscle Brownie, PowerBar Protein Plus, thinkThin Protein, or Detour
    • Gluten-free: AllerEnergy, Bora Bora, BumbleBar, First Endurance EFS, Good Greens, GoMacro, Hammer, KIND, Larabar, Pure, SOYJOY, thinkThin, and Zing
    • Nut-free: Avalanche, Odwalla Super Protein, Metaball, No Nuttin’
    • Peanut-free: AllerEnergy, Larabar (has other nuts), Soy Rocks

Fact or Fiction

The Fact or Fiction: Eating lots of sugar causes diabetes
The facts: Being overweight and underfit are the big culprits that contribute to diabetes. Spread carbohydrates evenly throughout the day – don’t eliminate! Best cure is prevention!

Fact or Fiction: Peanut butter is very high in fat: don’t eat it!
The facts: Peanut butter is an outstanding sports food, high in protein and a source of good fat.

Fact or Fiction: Energy bars contain special-energy boosting ingredients that you can’t get from other foods
The facts: Energy bars do not have special magical ingredients, they are simply a convenient source of energy.

Fact or Fiction: White bread is nutritionally worthless
The facts: Yes, it’s not as wholesome and nutrient dense as whole grain bread, but most white breads are enriched with B vitamins and iron.  Also, enriched white flour is a primary source of Folate.  Add in white bread into an overall balanced Sports Diet.

For more information on sports nutrition, visit

To schedule a sports nutrition appointment, call 724-720-3077, or email


Nutrition bites – when you have no time for a balanced breakfast

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tri nutrition header

There are so many things to consider when training for a triathlon especially since you are focusing on three different sports. Balancing the training for each sport of the triathlon is difficult especially if you are new to multisport events. UPMC Sports Medicine dietitian Jeff Lucchino has compiled nutrition tips and some recipes to help you through your training and races.

Early morning Triathlon training means limited time for a balanced breakfast! Don’t panic, you can still fuel your training with these on the go Nutrition bites:
Nutrition Bites:

  • Fruit Smoothie (Add low fat yogurt or whey protein for added protein)
  • Mini Bran Muffin with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Homemade Trail mix (dried cereal, dried fruit & pretzels) (handful portion)
  • 8 oz Low Fat Chocolate Milk
  • Granola bar + Small banana

Recipe: Homemade Fruit & Greek Yogurt Popsicle


  • 2 cups whole strawberries, green tops removedyogurt pafait
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup cubed watermelon
  • 1 Tbsp Organic Honey
  • 2 cups Lowfat Vanilla Greek-Style Yogurt
  • 6 (8-9-ounce) plastic or paper cups
  • 6 craft popsicle sticks or plastic spoons
  • 1 6- or 12-cup muffin tin
  • 1 Sheet of plastic wrap


In a food processor or blender, gently pulse strawberries and raspberries until coarsely chopped. Add watermelon and honey and pulse until the mixture is a thick puree, being careful not to liquefy. Stand cups in a muffin tin and divide half of the Greek yogurt evenly into each one; follow with half of the berry-watermelon mixture; repeat. If desired, use a popsicle stick to swirl the yogurt and fruit puree together or let it stand in layers. Cover with plastic wrap and insert popsicle sticks. Freeze at least 5 hours until firm.

Is not fueling properly during hard training making you stupid?

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bowls of veggiesBy Olympic Silver Medalist & Olympic Edge Co-Founder, Dotsie Bausch

Fueling for endurance sport is a hot topic among professional athletes and weekend warriors alike. What drink mix do I use? When? How much? What do I EAT? When? How much? What type of food?? These are all the questions I receive from clients and friends ad nauseam! It is a very important issue because, as my motto states, we must fuel to rule!

Fueling for endurance sport is one topic, but so many people who train for endurance sports like cycling and running, also train explosive work, sprints, plyometrics and even gym work. Let’s face it, even after 26.2 miles of organ jarring, speed running at a 5 minute mile pace, it can very often come down to a sprint finish for the win. As athletes, we must be prepared for every single scenario in a race setting.

Well guess what? High end, anaerobic work burns MORE glycogen in less time than endurance efficiency training does, but no one talks about the fuel requirements for both! Well, it is time to demystify the thought that our body does not require fuel while bleeding through our eyeballs during a nasty 30 second sprint interval.

It’s time to talk about glycogen consumption DURING these types of workouts, and yep, I’m talking to you Crossfitters out there too!

Question: What really happens when we DON’T fuel properly? Don’t we just lose energy and our body feels tired? Can’t we just rely on our fat stores to get us through a tough workout? Are there really any negative consequences for recovery in not fueling properly during training? Isn’t our body the only part of us that suffers when we run out of fuel?

I am going to answer these questions head on, backed with research and fueled, yes fueled, by years of trial and error.

Allow me to save you from yourself.

We have all heard that FUELING IS THE KEY TO continual power production and efficiency for endurance training. Or some of us have. I am still always shocked when I hear an athlete say they have devised a BRILLIANT plan to lose weight and it involves depletion DURING training.

Doing that has ONE result only; production of sub-par, mediocre, less than stellar, half-assed training, which in turn produces production of sub-par, mediocre, less than stellar, half-assed RACING.  If you need to cut calories, do it OUTSIDE of training! Got it? Ok, good.

There are multiple areas in sport where we need glycogen fueling and replenishment to create staying power and premium output day in and day out. I am going to focus on one area for this article and that is: During training or when you are outputting energy.

One of the main concerns for endurance and power athletes alike is matching energy consumption with energy expenditure. Long distance, strenuous exercise requires a large number of calories. Short distance, high intensity exertion requires a large number of calories too. Elite athletes can potentially burn more than two to three times the number of calories as their untrained, weight-matched counterparts. If these calories are not replaced, energy for training and the ability to perform during competitions will decline.

Do I need to repeat this statement or you got it?

In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy known worldwide as the dreaded “Bonk.”

So why then does our body FEEL not only lower in energy when we deplete our glycogen stores, but we also FEEL dizzy, disoriented, fuzzy, a bit off and slightly strange? Because depletion of glycogen also affects our BRAINS.

Brain glycogen could be a critical energy source for brain activity when the glucose supply from the blood is inadequate (hypoglycaemia). Although it was formerly untested, it was hypothesized that during prolonged exhaustive exercise that induces hypoglycaemia and muscular glycogen depletion, the resultant hypoglycaemia may cause a decrease in brain glycogen.

Now we have a study to prove it (completed in late 2012) out of the labs of Virginia Tech! The study was done on rats (rats were not harmed in any way, except they did get pretty fit during the study), for the sport of soccer and I love this because soccer is obviously a combination sport of extreme aerobic conditioning coupled with short bursts of explosive speed and power.

Click here is the full study for you to reference:

But allow me to paraphrase in case you don’t like to click links, although I highly suggest you do.

The study found that during exercise, as muscle glycogen levels drop, the muscle begins to rely on blood glucose for energy. When glycogen depletion nears, the muscle has to take up more and more glucose, resulting in hypoglycemia.

Unfortunately, the brain uses blood glucose as a fuel to support many of the central nervous system’s functions, including psychological function. With a lack of glucose, lethargy as well as a lack of motivation and focus are hallmark symptoms!!! In this state, it is very difficult to engage in intense exercise, maintain motor skills and make proper decisions. (Holy smokes!)

Thus, glycogen depletion during exercise is not only affecting your muscle’s ability to perform but also affects your mind’s ability to function at its optimal state.


By depleting your glycogen and not replenishing it, you are not only hurting your muscles and hence your training but you are making yourself stupid, literally, and you will NOT be able to make good, sharp, rational decisions during a race. Well, WOW, isn’t that just super information to have. You have control over your body and your mind. Bonus!

While all the rage in recent years has been to “drink your hydration and eat your calories” I would like to argue that this is a FABULOUS idea if we were all playing cricket. The real truth of the matter is, YOU try to bite, chew, and swallow successfully during hard training without choking to death! I’ve tried it, multiple times, and if we want to be able to output 1200 watts during sprint intervals training over and over, then we better have a fuel source that is DRINKABLE.


There are many reasons I love GQ6. The flavor “Green Apple” is my absolute favorite because of its mild taste, which combines tart with salt and an ever-so-slight hint of sweet, which leaves me wanting more and more and I never tire of the taste like I do with the other super sweet alternatives.

Another reason I know GQ6 is so effective is for all of the reasons I just spent the last 1000 words talking to you about. GQ6 has electrolytes for hydration AND GLYCOGEN for energy, which supports optimum hydration, power and recovery.BOOM! Now this is something you can shout about from the top step of the podium! (drop the mic and walk away

About“Olympic Edge”
Dotsie Bausch and Jennie Reed have a collective 40 National and International titles to their names and in 2012 they shocked the world by winning the first U.S. Olympic track cycling medal in over 20 years at the 2012 London Olympic Games alongside their teammates. Their true underdog story of rising up against all odds has been chronicled numerous times in the media and a documentary film has been made about their journey called “Personal Gold.”

Pulling from their deep passion for track cycling and their desire to coach & lead the next generation of U.S. athletes in their beloved disciplines, Dotsie and Jennie have formed Olympic, which combines not only their collective knowledge of over 30 years as elite athletes but unveils a highly specialized program that includes proprietary intellectual property (IP) in the form of data driven input from the athlete/client that Olympic Edge processes and outputs for specific use.

How “Hive” Athlete, Kelly Magelky, uses Honey Stinger to win some big events

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Originally from North Dakota, Kelly Magelky moved to Colorado when he was 18 and fell in love with cycling a few years later. Even though he was a bit late to the mountain bike race scene, he dove right in and turned professional in 2006 and has had a successful run as a cross-country and ultra-endurance racer, including several XC victories as well as the silver medal at the SoloKelly Megelky

24 Hour World Championships. He races for the Honey Stinger Off-Road Cycling Team and uses that as an excuse to take 3-hour lunch rides and eat Honey Stinger Waffles all day. Since I race a mixture of events that range from 1 hour to 24 hours, my nutrition varies from event to event, but here is an example of what I consumed during three races in the 2015 season:

Steamboat Stinger (50 Miles)

Honey Stinger Fruit Punch Chews
These are a staple for me. Pretty much everything builds around these. The key for me is that they’re easy to eat, they taste great, and the quick energy keeps me sharp. The clean-up is also easy – just throw the wrapper in your jersey pocket and there’s no need to worry about a used gel pack leaking out.

Peanut Butter N Honey Energy Bars
So, if I’m honest, I eat these as much off the bike as I do on. And they do the same both on and off the bike. I like to create a bit of a ‘base’ of protein when doing a race like the Steamboat Stinger. I’ll try and eat one of these during a 4 hour event and it seems to keep me from bonking, which can happen to me if I’m only eating quick energy foods.

Strawberry Kiwi Honey Stinger Organic Gels
I always have a few gels in my pocket to ‘mix things up a bit’. A 4 hour race is a long time to be on the bike and I always abide by the rule of, ‘have options’.

Honey Stinger Vanilla and/or Honey Waffle
File this under ‘dessert on the bike’. I love looking forward to eating these. Waffles do a few things for me in a longer race… They give me a treat to look forward to, which can help take your mind off of suffering for a few seconds. They also just taste good and have a different consistency – and sometimes you need that.

The King of the Rockies (26 Miles)

Honey Stinger Fruit Punch and/or Orange Chews
Again, these are a staple for me in any race – especially in a cross-country race. To me, these are the easiest thing to eat and the most appetizing. The energy is quick and that’s what you need when the race lasts for 2 hours.

Fruit Punch and/or Vanilla Honey Stinger Organic Gels
The beauty of these is that they don’t take up space and you can have an assortment of flavors in your pocket. I’ll usually go for chews first, but sometimes you don’t want to chew anything if you have a 30-minute climb in front of you!

Solo 24 Hour World Championships

Honey Stinger Chews – All Flavors
Chews are always a go-to for me in any race, especially a 24 hour race – it’s a completely different beast! You need everything at the ready in a race like that. Not sure how much I go through, (because I’m in such a haze) but I know I see a couple boxes at the beginning and at the end I don’t see any left. I guess I don’t see how much the support crew eat… I bet I eat at least one package of chews every lap or two – depending on the lap length.

Honey Stinger Protein Bars – All Flavors
In a 24 hour race, you cannot afford to get behind on any aspect relating to nutrition – and protein is a huge one. My favorite is the Peanut Butter Pro bar, which is just goodness. It’s easy to get protein in when the food tastes great. I try and eat one of these every 2-3 hours or so.
Also, we all know that caffeine is a great boost for most people in an endurance event – and the caffeinated dark chocolate cherry mocha bar is in the mix for me and gives me the perfect boost. (This also gives me something to look forward to in the race every 4-6 hours.

Honey Stinger Energy Bars – All Flavors
I eat these as a supplement to the protein bars as they have a great balance of nutrition for me. Plus, the flavors all complement one another for my taste buds. I like the mix between fruit, chocolate, and peanut butter. Not sure how many I eat in 24 hours because it depends on my needs, but it’s safe to say I need to have a box full!

Honey Stinger Organic Waffles

The waffles are also a great addition to the ‘food table’ at the 24 hour races. Easy to carry, when I’m in a total haze and cannot think very clearly, I’ll reach into the pocket and find one of these and it’s like a nice bolt of energy, which brings some positive morale! Plus – the flavors! It’s all about the mix of flavors in a 24 hour race. My crew likes to have at least one in my pocket at all times and I just don’t know how many times they replace an empty wrapper with a full one, but I probably need a box of these as well!

Pittsburgh Triathlon Club Offers Free Winter Training Workshop

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workshop posterThe Pittsburgh Triathlon Club is hosting a free training workshop to anyone interested in participating in the Pittsburgh Triathlon this summer. Whether you’re a newbie to the sport or a seasoned pro, you won’t want to miss The Pittsburgh Triathlon Club’s Winter Training Workshop brought to you by REI and PTC.

The event will be held on Sunday, February 28 at 2:00 PM at REI Pittsburgh – Robinson, 600 Settlers Ridge Center Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15205.

Topics include:

  • Nutrition during Long Course Racing presented by Chad Holderbaum, professional Triathlete and USAT Certified Triathlon Coach
  • Heart Rate Training presented by Coach Drew from Fuel Your Passion
  • Technology and Safety presented by PTC Members Faris Kindilchie and Dustin Wehler

A special presentation will be made by Dennis DiRaimondo, Race Director from P3R, organizers of the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and new race organizers for the Pittsburgh Triathlon. He will provide information on the new and improved Pittsburgh Triathlon for 2016!

Mark your calendars and get informed.

About The Pittsburgh Triathlon Club
PTC has 200+ athletes from all over Western PA, from professional to beginner. They’re passionate about multisport and their mission is .to help foster the growth of multisport in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, by supplying an open, supportive, educational and healthy competitive environment, and bringing together triathletes of all skill levels, and capabilities. Click here for more information on the Pittsburgh Triathlon Club