June 12, 2023

Triathlon Training Considerations for Female Athletes

Female triathletes have some gender-specific considerations when planning training and racing, and this female-focused episode provides all you need to know. Join host Vanessa Ronksley as she chats with Dr. Sara Gross and IRONMAN World Champion Mirinda Carfrae about the menstrual cycle, fertility treatments, and pregnancy. Should you adjust your training for different phases of your cycle? Can you continue triathlon training during fertility treatments? When is an appropriate time to return to training post-pregnancy? Listen in to learn all of this, and more!



Big thanks to Precision Fuel & Hydration for partnering with us on this episode! Head over to precisionfuelandhydration.com and check out the Fuel Planner to get your free personalized fuel and hydration strategy. Use the code TRI10 to get 10% off your first order.

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TriDot Podcast .194 Triathlon Training Considerations For Female Athletes Andrew Harley: Hey folks!  Andrew here.  I am actually not on today’s episode of the TriDot podcast, but you are in very good hands with Vanessa hosting the show.  But I just wanted to step in and give an enormous heartfelt thank you to all of the athletes in the TriDot podcast family.  Anyone out there who’s ever listened to our show, thank you so very much. Over the weekend, somewhere between Episode 193 and 194, we crossed one million downloads of the TriDot podcast. It’s a nice, big, round number, and it was very cool for me and our entire team that works on the show to watch that number come across the screen.  When you start something new, and you throw a creative endeavor like a podcast out into the public space, you just never know how it’s going to be received, and who will take the time to watch and listen.  So to be here, one million downloads later, is just very cool. I’m thankful personally for everyone who works on the show.  I’m thankful for the coaches and the experts who come on and share their knowledge, and I’m thankful for every single one of you who takes an hour of your week to hear us talk about triathlon.  We do it all for y’all, we really do.  If you’ve never taken the time to leave us a rating and review on the Apple podcast app, we would love for you to do so.  It really helps our show with the whole algorithm thing that helps new athletes find our podcast.  As for today, I’ve already heard the episode, it is super interesting, whether you’re a male or female athlete.  So let’s get into it, and again, thanks so much for listening to the TriDot podcast! Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together. Vanessa Ronksley:  Hello friends!  Today’s podcast holds a special place in my heart.  I don’t think I’ve talked about this on the show before, but one of my passions is improving women’s and girls’ health in Canada.  And today, the hope is that we improve the knowledge base for female athletes, so I am super pumped to get this started. Joining us today for this conversation is Mirinda Carfrae.  Mirinda is originally from Australia and now resides in Boulder, Colorado with her family, Tim, Izzy, and Finn.  Simply put, she is one of the greatest triathletes of all time, with over 50 wins at major events, a 70.3 World Championship title, three Ironman World titles, and seven podium finishes in Kona, all in the span of a decade. Recently retired from racing, you can often find Rinny hosting television coverage for major races all over the world, and of course she is now coaching with TriDot through Tim and Rinny Fitness. Rinny, welcome back to the show! Mirinda Carfrae:  Thanks for having me! Vanessa:  I am also buzzing with excitement to introduce you to our special guest, Dr. Sara Gross.  She is the founder and CEO of Feisty Media, and her company came to life because of her hope of creating a more inclusive culture for female athletes and active women and girls.  Not only is she a business rock star, a host of not one but two different podcast shows, she was also a professional triathlete for 13 years, winning two Ironman titles along the way.  Welcome to the show, Sara! Sara Gross:  Thanks Vanessa!  I was a little worried about you doing my intro after Rinny.  Like, how do we follow that?  But you did well, so thank you, I’m so happy to be here! Vanessa:  Well, we are so happy to have you both here.  I’m Vanessa, the Average Triathlete with Elite-Level Enthusiasm! We are going to start off as usual with our warmup question, settle in for our main set topic, and then wind things down with the cooldown.  But before we do that, I just want to say to all of our male audience members out there, I hope that you stick around for this episode, even though the content may not necessarily directly apply to you, because I truly believe with all of my heart that knowing this information will help you support the female athletes in your lives, whether they’re athletes that you coach, friends, or even family members.  Having open conversations about considerations that female athletes have for training and racing normalizes what is natural for females, and encourages them to work with their biology, as opposed to suppress it. Sara:  Can I add there?  Someone sent me a reel the other day, Vanessa, where he was basically saying that the research they’re now doing on women is actually having findings for male athletes as well.  Like when we start to look at hormones, because previously we just kind of ignored hormones and some of the studies.  So when they find something’s happening with female hormones and physiology, then it causes more questions for men too.  Which actually gave me the reaction of, “Well great, I’m really glad there’s advantages for men, now that we’re more than 6% of the studies.”  But it does hold that some of the research behind female physiology can actually have further reaching consequences for everyone. Vanessa:  Well, isn’t that interesting?  I love that. It is just so mind-boggling that this is happening now, that we’re just recognizing this now, like why did it take so long? Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving. Vanessa:  We’ve spoken to sports scientist Andy Blow during several episodes of the podcast to help you nail your hydration and fueling strategy for training and racing. The big takeaway from those episodes is that there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to race nutrition, and that’s why Andy and the team at Precision Fuel & Hydration have developed the Fuel Planner.  Head over to precisionfuelandhydration.com to take the fuel planner and get your free personalized fuel and hydration strategy.  The plan provides guidelines for how much carbohydrates, sodium, and fluid you should be aiming to consume so that you know your numbers for your next race.  You can then hit those numbers by using the Precision Fuel & Hydration product range, which is designed to make it easier for you to keep track of your intake during training and racing, as the carb and sodium content per serving is smack bang on the front of the packaging.  As a TriDot listener, you can use the code TRI23 to get 10% off your first order of Precision Fuel & Hydration electrolytes and fueling products. I’m not sure about you, but I have a bucket list on my phone, and whenever I think of something cool that I would love to do, I add it to my list.  I look at this list every so often and dream about the things that sound pretty epic, and when I do any of them, I always experience a sense of accomplishment, and I have a heart filled with gratitude.  So what I want to know is, what is the last thing that you checked off on your bucket list?  Let’s start with you, Sara! Sara:  Oh man, I have to go first?  I was supposed to prepare for this, wasn’t I?  Okay, that’s actually a pretty easy one, because five years ago when I started Feisty Media, if you had given me a trajectory of what was going to happen, I started to check some bucket list business items, in terms of having a running business where I was actually able to make money and pay people.  I definitely had numbers and goals around that. A little luck, a little bit of all kinds of different things, like a culture shift with women’s sports and all of that, but I have been able to check a lot of bucket list things there. Sorry it’s a little boring, it’s not like climbing Everest, but that is what my bucket list looks like now, all my goals are business goals.  It is an honest answer. Vanessa:  That is fabulous.  What about you, Rinny? Mirinda:  I think my latest bucket list item would have to be moving from professional racing into now coaching, and it’s been so far a really positive and easy shift for me.  I didn’t really know what I was planning to do other than parent after retirement.  I wanted to be able to do something that obviously kept me in the sport, because I love the sport and I think I have a lot of value to add to other people’s journeys in triathlon.  But I also wanted to be able to have plenty of time for the kids, and this has played out well, especially with TriDot, and the ability to have the AI do a lot of the programming.  Then I’m just adjusting and optimizing and getting to know the athletes even closer, which I think is amazing.  I’ve really enjoyed this process. Vanessa:  I love it, that’s great!  For me, our spring break this year we decided to do a last-minute trip with the family, and we were fortunate enough to head up to the Great Barrier Reef to do some snorkeling.  It was an amazing experience to see all the different types of coral and the sea creatures, and doing that while holding my kids’ hands was just incredible.  I truly have put this little memory into my memory bank, and I hope that my kids will ultimately feel a greater connection to the ocean and the environment and how important it is to make choices that reflect how valuable this is for all of us. Let’s throw this out to the I AM TriDot Facebook community, I am really looking forward to hearing about what you have recently checked off your bucket list.  I can’t wait to see all the amazing things that have happened for you all! Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1… Vanessa:  Extremely excited to have 2Toms as the anti-chafing partner of TriDot.  2Toms is always working on revolutionary new products designed to prevent chafing, blisters, odors, and sweat.  Their passion is to keep you moving.  With all the training we do, it is vital to take care of our skin.  None of us want to shut down our swimming, biking, and running simply because a blister forms at the wrong spot at the wrong time.  Thankfully, our friends at 2Toms prevent blisters before they even happen. For the ultimate anti-chafing experience, you can either roll on or wipe on 2Toms SportShield, SportShield Extra, or BlisterShield.  I use 2Toms most often to prevent my wetsuit from rubbing the back of my neck, my bike saddle from causing any saddle sores, and my running shoes from creating any hot spots on my feet.  2Toms is always on deck at TriDot Pool School to keep our swimmers from getting any blisters from drilling with fins.  For any occasion where your skin could rub, 2Toms has you covered.  Whatever skin protectant or chamois cream you’re using now, I’m telling you, 2Toms is better.  Go to medi-dyne.com to try 2Toms today, and when you do, use promo code TRIDOT for 20% off your order. In my teaching days, when the time came around in biology class to learn about the human reproductive system, I always started with the male system because it’s just more simple.  The female system, on the other hand, is pretty complicated on so many different levels, and this is one of the reasons that females were not allowed to participate in research studies for such a long time.  Thankfully this is changing, and now we’re seeing a lot more inclusivity and even a lot of female-specific research in sport.  I’m really looking forward to learning today about the things that a female athlete can consider at different stages of her life with regards to triathlon training and racing to empower her.  I think it would be great to start off talking about the menstrual cycle and how it impacts training, move on to fertility, and then talk a little bit about pre- and post-pregnancy.  So let’s jump right in!  I’ve noticed recently that there has been a lot of information about “cycle syncing”, which for those of you that have not heard of this before, is when a person changes a diet or exercise routine to match the phases of the menstrual cycle.  So to start us off, Sara, can you give us a quick rundown of what the different phases are? Sara:  Sure. I just want to start by saying that even though I have a Ph.D., it’s in women’s history.  I’m not a doctor or an exercise physiologist, but because of the women I interview on the women’s performance podcast through Feisty, I do talk to a lot of people about these types of topics.  So anything I’m saying is kind of second-hand from an expert. But anyway, the menstrual cycle, essentially there’s two main stages.  There’s the follicular phase and the luteal phase.  In the follicular phase, that’s when your hormones are on the rise.  Then you have ovulation, which usually takes a couple days, and your hormones drop off into the menstrual phase.  Some people say it’s two phases or four, but that is essentially how it works on a monthly basis.  Did I miss anything there, for the other menstruators there on the call? Vanessa:  I think you’re good, yeah.  Maybe just add in that the typical cycle that we often refer to is 28 days, but that’s not the reality for most women I think. Sara:  Sure, 21 to 40, I think they say is the typical length. Vanessa:  That’s what’s classified as normal, right?  It’s okay if your cycle is not 28 days, or if it fluctuates a little bit.  I think that’s important. Sara:  When you said about cycle syncing, just as an aside, I interviewed Alyssa Olenick.  If you don’t follow her, she’s an amazing exercise physiologist who talks about cycle syncing a lot, and essentially debunks a lot of myths.  There’s a lot of bad information on TikTok and Instagram reels, basically telling women, “in the luteal phase, you should just rest.  Just do yoga and lie with a hot water bottle on your bed.”  We are not getting anywhere for telling women to do that, that is bad information.  That’s an extreme case, but people are so desperate for information about how to optimize our hormones as we’re being active, that the bad information is getting good traction right now.  So we just have to be a little bit careful about who we trust and what we’re taking in. Vanessa:  Yeah, check your sources, make sure it’s a reputable person that’s giving you this information, I think that’s important. Rinny, as a professional triathlete, I’m wondering if you paid attention to your period cycle, and altered any of your training or racing as a result? Mirinda:  I wish! I mean, I don’t think there was any information on this.  Through your cycle you kind of knew when you sort of felt a little tired, or not as great as other times.  For me, I had a regular cycle throughout my career, which I think is a little rare for professional athletes, because a lot of athletes either are not super healthy, or leaned out a little too much, or have too much stress, so sometimes they lose their cycle.  But I always maintained my cycle throughout my career, and I just trained.  I just did the training that was written down by my coach, and my coach was a female.  Yeah, I had a day or two of painful period, and that was my biggest worry, just having that on race day, but for the most part, we were able to thankfully dodge it for the biggest races.  Not by doing anything other than just luck, because I didn’t take a pill, I didn’t try to alter my periods, I just let them come when they came and just suffered through.  But I would tell my coach if I was tired, and sometimes we would maybe change a session to a later date, or abort the session if it really wasn’t going well.  I think the key for me was just being honest with my coach and myself, like “Today it’s not going to happen.  I really am exhausted.”  So mine was more just listening to my body and having a good coach that trusted me, and adjusting as necessary.  But it was never synced up with my cycle, and I wish I’d known more, because I think that I would have been able to get a lot more out of myself through my career. Vanessa:  If someone wanted to actually see if cycle syncing was beneficial to them, what would be the first few steps that they would take? Sara:  The first couple steps would be to track your cycle.  That’s the simplest thing that can be done.  There are some apps like wild.ai that you can use for that, but you can also just track it and how you feel on individual days, so that you know if you have some days where you’re going to be off, or where you’re off consistently every month.  Then once you know that, that kind of knowledge is power.  I was really relating to what Rinny said there, I wish I had known more, and I also powered through all of my training.  But if I had known, I know exactly what I would have done differently.  Like I know right before my period started, before I started bleeding, I would have 36 hours or so – you know this, because you know your body when you’re training – where I’d be really sluggish and off, and if I hit a race in that time, I was dead in the water.  It actually happened to me one year at Ironman Texas.  I felt so bad, it took me four hours to do the marathon.  I remember at the time, I said, “If I get my period in the next day or two, because I think that’s what it is, I think that’s why I’m off, I’m getting on a plane and I’m going to Brazil, and doing an Ironman again next week.”  Because I knew I was fit.  And I did, and then I won the second race.  But if we had known and we had tracked, we could have just planned for that, instead of mucking around, trying to do an Ironman on the wrong day.  So I think there are some times, over the course of a career – anyone’s career, whether they’re pro or not – if you track that kind of thing and you know – I probably could have got a couple extra quality sessions out of the follicular phase, because I know that I felt strong during and right after my period in training.  I probably could have pumped out a couple extra hard sessions then, and then maybe had a rest day or an easier aerobic day on that bad day before, and avoided races.  Imagine that many extra sessions every month, over the course of ten or twenty years. That has an effect.  So I think it’s those kind of micro things that you could change.  But only for yourself, like I have a really good friend that knows that during ovulation she has a really off day.  She was on our Canadian National Team for triathlon, and she was like, “I wish I had known that, because if I got to a race and I was ovulating, it was over.” Vanessa:  Yeah, and a further question to that, if you’re adding in one of those harder sessions, would it matter if it was with swim, bike, run, or strength during that follicular phase, or would you target it specifically to a strength session or one of the disciplines? Sara:  Interesting, I don’t know.  I think that it would be – for example, if I was trying to increase my FTP in bike – I was always trying to improve my cycling – I think I could have gotten another hard session of some kind.  Whatever thing we were focused on, I think I probably could have got – when you’re planning training, as you both know, you’re blocking together groups of sessions in a work/recovery kind of flow, and probably could have got a little bit extra out of a work chunk or not.  Because some days I was resting, I was tired, but I probably could have gone a little bit harder, added one more session to the block before I finally rested.  So to answer your question, I don’t see anything specific, just something that would be considered to me a hard session. Mirinda:  Yeah, I think when you’re racing professionally and full-time, any extra session you can get in is great.  We’re trying to recover, we’re trying to eat well, we’re trying to sleep well, we’re trying to basically back up as many hard sessions as possible.  So if you know that, you can be like, “In this phase we can really go for it,” add in an extra session in that small block.  Then yeah, as Sara said, over five or ten years of doing that and being consistent and having that extra session – that’s why people dope, right?  So they can do more hard sessions.  So to know that that’s your super-human phase, that would be ideal to be able to be like, “Okay, I can really power through now, and then I know it's going to come around the other side where I’m going to need to take a day off and just sync it up.”  That I think would have been pretty great. Vanessa:  I think we should all now refer to the follicular phase as the “super-human phase”. That’s amazing.  Now we had Dr. Krista Austin, our resident nutrition expert, on the podcast earlier this year, and she talked about various reasons that the period might disappear while training, and some of the reasons were not as alarming as I had originally thought.  So if a female athlete loses her period, and knows that she is not suffering from low energy availability or RED-S, is there a way for her to determine what part of her cycle that she’s actually at, and attempt cycle syncing in the absence of a period?  What do you think about that, Sara? Sara:  First of all, immediately I’m thinking if a female athlete loses her period, it’s low energy availability.  For example, I’ve been on an IUD for several years, and I don’t get a period with that. That’s a reason, we know the reason. But I think if you don’t know the reason why you’ve lost your period, first and foremost you should figure out the reason.  Because a period is a sign of health, so that would be number one there.  Again, I’m not a doctor, so it might not be LEA, but if it’s not, you need to figure out what that is.  I still have my IUD – I don’t get a menstrual cycle – but you can still track how you feel.  Even though some of the symptoms have mitigated, I still have those couple sluggish days right before I would get a period if I got one.  I still have the “super-human” phase, as Rinny put it.  So I think you can still find trends within the course of the 21 to 40 days that your cycle is, so I think you should still track that and figure it out. Vanessa:  So you would just write that down in some kind of a journal, write down how you’re feeling at a specific time, and then maybe look at it in reverse to when you get your period and see if there’s some kind of pattern that you might recognize? Sara:  Yeah, I would definitely do that, and I would keep it very close to your training log, whatever that looks like, so you can see that direct reference of like, “I’m tired because of training”, or it’s something else, ”What’s the other X factor? “ It might take a few months to figure out, but I think most women will see something cyclical happening, whether it’s mood, or performance.  It might be really tiny or really big depending on the individual, but most people will notice something. Vanessa:  I think with the intent of finding that period of time when you have your super-human phase, because then you can tack on those extra sessions, or maybe push a little harder for the session you actually have.  If it’s a bike workout or whatever, you can ramp it up, work at the top end of Zone 4 as opposed to working at the lower end or mid.  That would be great. We have touched briefly on the podcast in the past how tapering for a race can sometimes bring on a new cycle and a period. If this happens on race day, are there any suggestions for how to deal with some of the symptoms that a female might experience? Mirinda:  This didn’t really happen for me, but I did sometimes have periods on race day. Honestly I don’t take any medication of any kind, but right before my period, or the first day, generally I’d have pretty painful period, so I would take an ibuprofen or two, just so that I didn’t have to deal with that pain as well as all the pain that is triathlon. Outside of that, honestly you’ve just got to kind of roll with the punches.  Pack an extra tampon, or I think there’s menstrual cups as well.  I never used those, but I think that’s a really good option as well.  I don’t know, I just think you have to race with the hand you’re dealt, and if it does come, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a good race.  As Sara said, for a lot of people, once the period does come, they’re actually starting the super-human phase, so maybe it’s a good thing, like, “Great, now it’s broken, and I can now have a great race.” You have to manage the bleeding part as well, which is not that fun, but we’re women, and we deal with this every single month in training, so race day is no different. Sara:  You’re absolutely right, Rinny, what you said.  Once you start your period, at least hormonally – I know people have horrible symptoms sometimes with periods, it’s a whole different thing – but hormonally, you’re in a really good place to perform.  So if, like you said, you can take an ibuprofen or do whatever you need to do to mitigate those symptoms, then you can at least hormonally perform. This used to happen to me all the time where I’d taper and get my period, that was literally the story of my life.  You know how eventually you learn things – I tend to learn things slowly, like it happened for ten years before I figured out what to do.  So what I started to do was actually taper early.  I’d do a week of taper or even just rest, and try to trigger that and let that period come, then do another week of training, and then do the taper or a super-short taper into the race.  So I’d start my rest earlier, with the intention of doing a little bit more training closer to the race, so I’d first of all be sharper, but also so that if that period was going to come, I’d get it over with, and then I’d be in the super-human phase. Vanessa:  Let’s shift from the phase of a female athlete’s life where she is training and menstruating, and skip ahead into the future.  Now we have athletes who are pregnant.  For me, during my first pregnancy, I was really into kickboxing, and I was able to continue training several times a week, which was something that I was very excited about.  My sensei said that he wanted me to test for a yellow belt before I had my baby.  So I was six months pregnant and found myself in a four-hour fitness test that was geared towards getting this yellow belt, and I was doing exactly the same thing as everyone else in the class.  It resulted in me getting my yellow belt, which I was pretty pumped about, but it also had me thinking, “Was this a safe thing to be doing?”  So in terms of female athletes who become pregnant, what kind of guidelines do you think are appropriate to give someone who wants to continue training throughout their pregnancy? Sara:  I did an episode of the podcast with a woman called Kristi Adamo, from the Adamo lab if you want to look this up, because she actually was on a team that did research on 42 elite runners who tracked through their pregnancy.  We even changed the Canadian government health standards based on some of the studies that were coming through, that actually exercise during pregnancy is actually good for the mom and the baby.  But with these 42 elite runners, they were doing four to five times more than the recommended exercise during pregnancy, and they were having healthy pregnancies.  And they came back fairly quickly afterwards, for the ones that chose to come back, and they came back better.  More than 50% of them came back as better athletes after their pregnancy.  So I think right now we’re in this moment, as we’re learning a ton about women’s health broadly.  Rinny and I have both been through pregnancies too.  My daughter is 12 now, so I feel like I didn’t have the advantages of some of my friends who are pregnant now.  They are able to do more, and I was still a little bit scared.  I still exercised through my pregnancy, but I was like, “I’m not sure that I want to be a science experiment to see how far I can push while I’m pregnant.”  I wanted to play it safe a little bit.  But yeah, I think the best advice I’ve heard is, whatever your normal is, that’s where you start, and you can continue doing a lot of things you’re doing.  If anyone follows CrossFit, follow Tia-Clair Toomey, she’s a six-time CrossFit Games World Champion, and she just trained through her pregnancy.  She put all this stuff on social media through her pregnancy, and it was freaking insane, watching her with this belly doing pullups and toes-to-bar, and lifting heavy weights.  There were lots of internet trolls all over her.  It was inspiring and amazing, because that is her normal. She’s literally been six times the fittest woman on earth, so her normal is different from my normal or someone else's, but she was able to keep doing it. Vanessa:  I think that is really important for people to recognize that she was doing those things before she started her pregnancy.  A lot of times I feel like people see this on TikTok or Instagram, and they think, “Oh, this is what I should be doing during my pregnancy, yet I have not lifted a single weight before my pregnancy.”  I think it becomes really dangerous.  But if that is your normal prior to pregnancy, then carry on. Mirinda:  I was sort of the same as Sara, and Isabelle’s only five, six, so there were athletes having babies and coming back.  But I was ready for a rest, first of all, when I got pregnant with Isabelle. I was like, “I’m just going to do whatever I feel like.” But I did come back super strong, and it was like seven months after I had Isabelle before I raced, but I think the key was I just did what felt good throughout my pregnancy.  When it felt too hard to run, when I was peeing every five minutes, it wasn’t fun anymore, so I’m like, “Oh, I’m just going to hike up the mountain. “So I think it’s very individual, and I think following your body and listening to your body and being honest with yourself is the key.  There’s athletes, like Steph Bruce who is pregnant with her third child, and she’s running half marathons.  She’s like 22 weeks pregnant and got this big belly, and she’s out there running five-minute miles in some sessions.  That is amazing.  I want to say crazy, but it’s amazing what the female body can actually do, because as you said, that is her normal.  With Finn, my second pregnancy, I trained a lot more, because I was more confident with him.  And I wanted to come back quicker, because I wanted to race a year or two after him and then be done.  But I just maintained the training until it sort of felt uncomfortable, and then I tapered things off and got off my training program with the coach and just went with feel.  Again, I think you just have to do what’s best for you, and stop calling other people out. Vanessa:  We recently did see that Chelsea Sodaro returned to racing after having her daughter, and within 18 months she was crowned an Ironman Champion, which is absolutely incredible and mind-blowing.  I just keep wondering how this is physiologically possible, after reflecting about my own experience, because I was still exhausted after 18 months postpartum, and more likely to choose a nap over a training session.  I think it’s important for all of us to recognize that everyone’s pregnancy journey is different.  Then when it is appropriate for returning to training after having a baby – I think Rinny you hit it right on the head there – listen to your body, listen to what your body is trying to tell you.  Did you experience anything like that after you had your kids, Sara, or had you already finished training and racing at that point? Sara:  I definitely came back.  I guess I was 35 when I had my daughter– was I that old? – and I came back and raced I guess another five years, holy moly.  It is absolutely true that we need to listen to our bodies.  I’m kind of sick of telling people that.  I want to get to the place where we’re like, “Okay, we actually know.  We have a bulk of research that tells us this.”  Of course, it’s always going to be a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure, because women tend to be a little bit different and complicated in our physiology, and that’s a lot of the reason the studies are out there in the first place. But once we have that bulk of research, we will be able to say, “Okay, some people experience this, here are your four things to think about, etc.”  We have some of that now, but it’s still really rough around the edges, and the research is new.  We have a couple studies, and then nothing else.  Or we know what 42 elite runners did, and that’s what we’re all going off of.  So I’m excited for the time 15 years from now when we’re able to have this podcast and go, “Actually, here are some really good recommendations for different types of pregnancies, different levels of athleticism, etc.” Vanessa:  I think that’s also important, that a lot of times in the current research it’s based on elite athletes, it’s not necessarily based on regular, average people who are doing things like training.  In terms of science, an athlete is determined by the elite-ness of that athlete, so training for an Ironman is not necessarily putting you in the elite category, compared to someone like a professional triathlete.  So it will be really fascinating to see what kind of research comes out that is geared more to the general population.  I’m looking forward to that.  I do know that every birth is different, as you said, so the recovery time is going to relate to that experience.  But on average, how soon after giving birth do you think it is recommended to let the body heal from the emotional and physiological stress and trauma of the event, and then getting back into exercise?  Sara, let’s start with you. Sara:  I do know that in the study with the 42 elite runners, on average they started running again after six weeks.  Which, interestingly, was bang-on when I started running again afterwards. But like you say, it really depends. If you had a C-section, you might not be running.  Or people who get a lot of issues with stress fractures in their pelvis, prolapses and stuff like that if you come back too quickly.  It’s definitely something that’s very, very individual. Vanessa:  What about you, Rinny, do you have any thoughts on that? Mirinda:  Yeah, I was totally taking the advice of my midwife.  She was like, “Don’t do anything for six to eight weeks.”  With Isabelle, I feel like it took me a while.  Both natural births, and I felt like I was sitting on a donut cushion for a while after Isabelle.  Probably I didn’t do anything for like two or three weeks, then started to do short walks, and slowly build up from there, and then I sort of went by my body.  I don’t actually know when I started running.  But when I had Finn, I think my recovery was like, a few days afterward I’m like, “I feel fine!”  I certainly wasn’t running out the door, but within a couple of weeks I’m like, “I want to get outside.”  So I started walking, and again I sort of went by feel.  With him I was just like, “I just want to hang out with him, I don’t really want to go train.”  It was not physical, it was emotional.  I wanted to just be present, and be with him, and not worry about training.  I didn’t want to have to worry about getting fit again or when I was going to race again, I just wanted to be in the moment with Finn.  It was completely different with Isabelle, physically I was not ready for a while, whereas with Finn, emotionally I wasn’t ready for a while.  Yeah, I think that six-week window is pretty accurate, although I do know people who are out running two weeks later.  I’m like, “I don’t know how you’re doing that, or if that’s healthy or not.”  We don’t know, we don’t have enough research to know whether that’s going to be beneficial or detrimental.  I know so many triathletes who came back and then got into training, and then they had lots of sacral stress fractures, because you’re breastfeeding.  I think more research needs to be done around professional athletes, and general athletes from the back. Vanessa:  Yeah, absolutely.  That’s crazy that a stress fracture would be in the sacrum.  You think that seemed typical from a lot of professional athletes? Mirinda:  I don’t know if it’s just that we’re cycling and running, but yeah.  And that’s a big solid bone, but I know of two, maybe three triathletes who got that injury a few months after having their babies. Sara:  I was just going to say, the other thing I wanted to call out to you is, sometimes culturally there’s this pressure to “get your body back”, which I absolutely hate. I think we need to be a lot more forgiving in that time, because it’s different for everyone.  I know people who wouldn’t even consider themselves an athlete, but they’re trying to get back to going to the gym or whatever they do, because they’re trying to get their body back quickly, because they saw someone else did it quickly.  I think we need to normalize, that some people can do it quickly and that’s good for them, and some people take a year and a half.  Or never, or like Rinny said – have a complete emotional change, like, “I just want to spend time with my kids now, and my priorities have shifted, and I’m only going to the gym three times a week now and that’s fine.”  I think we just need to normalize all of those decisions. Vanessa:  I really appreciate, Rinny, that you actually alluded to that in terms of your recovery. For Izzy it was more physiological, and for Finn it was more emotional.  I think that’s so important and valuable for people to hear and understand, that those things are okay.  It’s okay for you to take a break, even if it’s an emotional response. Forget about the physical aspect of it, you have to pay attention to what you’re feeling as well, and how you want to move forward or not move forward with your training, or any aspect of your life.  It’s okay to take that step back and focus on that emotional feeling that you have for your brand-new baby.  That’s awesome. So now we’ve talked about this pregnancy bit. If a new mother is breastfeeding, what are the considerations that she needs to think about? Mirinda:  Eat a lot! I think that was my biggest lesson. I breastfed both of my kids, Isabelle for 2½ years, and Finn for like the same.  He’s not quite 2½ yet, but I just weaned him a few days ago. But what I noticed was the hunger you have when you’re breastfeeding and recovering from all of that is just insatiable. Then coming back to training, then you’re training AND breastfeeding, that’s just another whole ballgame of what you need to make sure you’re taking in.  I think people get stuck in, “I want to get my body back, I want to lose weight. “That’s going to happen over time, as your body is ready.  But I definitely noticed, when I went to my first race back – this was just for a half – I took in my normal nutrition plan, and I completely bonked, because I needed way more.  I need to pack more now, because my body’s not only exercising, but it’s creating milk for the baby who’s waiting for me at the finish line.  So yeah, for me it was just being cognizant that I need to refuel for training, and hydrate.  You’re sweating, and that’s a big thing too, so be aware of that. Vanessa:  Did you notice at any point that your milk supply was altered as a result of the training you were doing?  Were you concerned about that at all? Mirinda:  I was kind of concerned, but I never had any issues.  I fed on demand, and I wasn’t away from my babies very regularly.  I kind of had a routine where I would wake up, feed the baby, pump.  Once they were big enough, and once I needed to be out training for three, four, five hours, then they would get a bottle, and then I would come back from training and I would always be quite engorged, ready to feed the baby.  Then the rest of the day I was sort of on-demand when the baby wanted it.  I think because I let them climb on me and feed whenever they wanted to, my supply just kept going.  Also I slept with my babies too, so even in the night they were feeding multiple times. Even Finn, recently he would wake up once or twice in the night to have a little top-up.  I think that helped keep the supply going.  I think if you keep feeding them, then it’ll keep reproducing. I think it’s when you go for really long periods of time that it might be different.  But this was my experience in how it worked for me, it might not be the same for everyone. Vanessa:  What about you, Sara? Sara:  I was just thinking, when I was about six months postpartum and I was still breastfeeding, and I went to St. Croix to do the half there, and my pump broke.  I don’t know what year that would have been, 2011 maybe?  I don’t know if you were there, Rinny, I know you were there a couple years when I was there. Anyway, at that point I would always do that extra feed, like you said Rinny, start from the beginning, do an extra feed and pump so that you have milk supply so you can buy your own freedom for training, or whatever you want to do out of the house later.  So I had bought myself a weekend to go to St. Croix to do the 70.3.  I think my home-stay must have thought I was crazy.  I was having warm showers three times a day.  People can’t see me, because it’s a podcast, but I’m standing and massaging myself to try to get rid of the milk.  In retrospect, that was probably a little too soon to go away that far for a race.  I would probably do that differently.  But definitely I was going to say food, right away when you asked the question.  I’ve also seen a number of athlete friends, their bodies react very differently.  I know someone, for example, who had to be hospitalized because she kept losing weight, losing weight, losing weight.  She even stopped exercising, and she just couldn’t hold weight on.  Then I know other people who just don’t feel themselves.  I always felt a little bit puffy in that phase, like I couldn’t get “lean” again to feel like I was race ready until I stopped breastfeeding. That was just my experience, and everything in between. Vanessa:  I do think I’m in awe of people who are capable of having intense training hours and who are also breastfeeding, because Rinny you said that when you got back from your training session and you were engorged, training with “milk boobs” as I refer to them, when they’re super-engorged and really uncomfortable, how do you get through your training session?  That’s next-level grit, getting through a training session with these engorged breasts, that’s incredible. Mirinda:  Well, my first Ironman – I don’t know, Sara, how your first full-distance race was – mine, Isabelle was 10 months, but I was still breastfeeding a lot, and yeah, the end of the marathon – I mean, there’s so much other pain you’re in in that moment, but yeah, I was immediately across the finish line, and in the recovery area with Isabelle, and yep, my boobs are out.  I need her to feed, and she wants to feed.  These are full.  It just is what it is. Vanessa:  Are there any signs for an athlete and new mother that she could look out for if she’s overdoing it, if the training is too much?  What would be a sign for a new mother to look out for? Sara:  I would definitely look out for the symptoms of low energy availability immediately. That’s the first thing that comes to mind, because we talked about before, the number of calories.  It can be 500-plus calories you need more per day, especially if you’re breastfeeding.  Then like we talked earlier about the sacral stress fractures, all of those things can compound really quickly.  With LEA, you’ve probably talked about it in other podcasts, but the symptoms are all over the map.  We used to think it was the female athlete triad – lose your period, disordered eating, and bone health.  But now you can have all kinds of different symptoms related to your hormones or your immune system.  So if anything feels wrong, definitely talk to an expert, talk to your doctor, and I would look at LEA first as being the problem.  With any female athlete, if anything, I would almost look at that first, but particularly when you’re needing 500-plus extra calories because you’re breastfeeding. Also there’s more energy.  I used to go to the pool in the morning, have breakfast, and go to sleep.  Then when you have a kid, that’s not your regime anymore.  You probably have extra movement and stress in your day as well that needs to be accounted for. Vanessa:  Before we wrap this up, I want to thank you both for joining me and opening up the conversation regarding women’s health in training.  Rinny, I have to be honest, I’m a little bit starstruck that this just happened.  And Sara, I just have to say that there will be change in the world with people like you. You’re making waves, you’re creating community, talking about subjects that can easily be swept under the rug, and we really do need this kind of work. We need change, and we need people like both of you, so thank you so much, Rinny and Sara, from the bottom of my heart for being open and honest and candid today.  As my son always tells me – he legitimately tells me this on a regular basis – “the future is female!” Mirinda:  That’s amazing. Sara:  That’s really cute. Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down. Vanessa Ronksley: It’s Coach Cooldown Tip time, and I’m Vanessa, your Average Triathlete with Elite-Level Enthusiasm!  I’m here today with TriDot coach Gina Rymal, and let me tell you, she has an absolute heart of gold. Gina started her triathlon journey while studying kinesiology, and she became hooked right from the get-go. Gina had her first swim coach role at the age of 13 and continues to do so, in addition to personal and group training at a fitness center in Texas.  Gina started coaching triathlon in 2017, and since then has worked with beginners through to Ironman finishers, youth, retirees, and para-athletes. She does have a special place in her heart for first-timers. Whether that is toeing the line of a local sprint or a full-distance tri, she loves helping her athletes create an amazing first experience, because it only happens once. Gina has completed seven 70.3’s, and she’s training for her fourth full. She’s done the half and full marathon thing, has twice been in the top two at the Texas Mountain Bike Racing Association Championships. Very impressive if I say so myself!  Something that most people don’t know about Gina is that she has four degrees, and is currently working on a Masters in Human Performance.  So Gina, not only are you addicted to tris, but it sounds like you’re addicted to school as well! Gina Rymal:  Yes, you could say that.  My parents joke that I’m going to be a lifelong student.  But I had a career change.  I did safety and accounting in construction for ten years, but when I discovered triathlon I fell in love with it, and I went back to school to get my bachelor’s in kinesiology.  I loved the education side of it, and now I’m getting my Masters in Human Performance. It’s just a perfect fit for triathlon coaching and endurance coaching, it’s great. Vanessa:  That’s a pretty crazy career change that you experienced, and all because you found a love for this sport, which is totally amazing.  I love that so much.  What tip would you like to share with our listeners? Gina:  I want to share a tip about listening to your body.  TriDot does a really good job about giving us the right training, and we just need to do it right, and take the training seriously.  When it says an easy ride, keep it easy.  When it says easy run, keep it easy.  When I first got into triathlon, I definitely didn’t listen to my body.  I went down the whole RED-S or female athlete triad role.  I had major health issues, nutrition issues, eating disorders, and if I had just stopped and listened to my body, I think those things could have really been avoided.  It’s so important, you realize as triathletes, there’s a certain level of tiredness you're going to have, especially the closer you get to a full Ironman, but you shouldn’t be constantly tired.  You shouldn’t be hungry all the time, or grumpy all the time. You should still be able to have a life, and listen to your body.  Doing the right training right is important, but so is knowing, “I think I need to skip this session today,” Or, “Maybe instead of doing this run, I’m going to go do some yoga.”  Just knowing what your body needs in this moment and in this training phase is so important.  And it’s a good plug for coaches – they can walk you through that too, but nobody knows you like you know you.  You should be able to know if you’re more tired than normal, or you’re just having a different kind of day, and it’s okay to skip.  We tend to be very Type A as triathletes, we want to see all the checkmarks and to get a good score in TriDot.  It’s okay to skip, to listen to your body and rest, or go on a family vacation and not try to cram in a 16-mile run or something at the end of it.  Just listening to your body is so important. Vanessa:  I think you had mentioned some really great signs that might be an indication of overtraining or under-nutrition.  Can you just give us an even broader range of what those signs that we might have to listen to, in terms of what we’re feeling in our body? Gina:  Yeah, for sure.  The female athlete triad, it’s recently been renamed to RED-S, because it’s shown that it affects males too.  The guys aren’t excluded from that.  One of the things that it affects is your menstrual cycle.  Women have a nice red flag if our bodies aren’t functioning right, we lose that cycle or that rhythm.  For guys, you may just have that lower sex drive, you may just be feeling really tired.  Part of that triad is also just not getting enough to eat, so you’re either worried about how much I ate and how much I worked out, thinking they’d balance themselves out, or you’re just not fueling yourself enough.  Energy is a huge part of triathlon, and if you’re trying to do anything like work or school or even add strength training or walking the dogs around the block, that adds an energy need to your day, and you have to make sure that you’re eating enough.  And don’t be afraid of the carbs.  Make sure you’re eating enough to support your goals.  If it gets more serious, you can start getting stress fractures and bone density issues.  Then you’re injured, you’re out, and we don't want to get to that point.  So taking care of your body is a huge part of triathlon, because we want this to be a lifelong thing.  We don’t want you to get hurt and sidelined, and then you never pick up the sport again. Vanessa:  That’s a really great point, thank you for sharing that.  I think something you just mentioned that’s really important is paying attention to that extra activity that we might not classify as training, but it still adds load to our program, like walking the dog.  I know when I was training for my first half, I would go on massive adventures with my kids after my training sessions, and it would be like a four-hour bike ride, and I didn’t necessarily think that it was adding to my energy need because we were riding at less than 10 kilometers an hour. But at the same time, I was still expending this energy in terms of concentration and making sure that everyone was safe.  I was still putting this load on my body, and I didn’t necessarily equate that to needing extra energy.  So I think that’s a really important point that you’ve made. Gina:  Yeah, it adds up.  You get up, you make the bed, that burns calories.  You go make breakfast, that burns calories.  You go do a two-hour bike session with a run off the bike, then you’re going to do housework, it all adds up really quick, and you have to remember, not all activity is exercise, but it accumulates throughout the day. Vanessa:  Yeah, so some things to look out for in terms of signs that we might need to listen to our body might be feeling tired, so our energy levels, feeling hungry, maybe waking up in the middle of the night feeling hungry, or even our mood.  Our mood is definitely affected by our energy availability, and sex drive as well.  So those things that you’ve talked about have been really important things for us to look at in terms of listening to our body and making sure that we’re taking care of it.  Like you said, maybe it's not necessarily related to food all the time, but it might be getting an extra hour of sleep, going to bed a little bit earlier.  It might even be that we replace one of our training sessions with yoga or some mobility work or something like that.  I think those are really great tips for all the out there.  So thanks for coming on the show, Gina! Gina:  Thanks so much for having me! Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.
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