In the second episode of our podcast series, we discuss with coach Aaron Geiser his data-based approach to triathlon training. Aaron is a USA Triathlon All-American as well as a Gold Ironman All World Athlete. He has qualified for USAT Age Group Nationals (United States of America Triathlon Association) and is a World Championships qualifier for Ironman. He is also an Endure IQ certified coach with plenty of experience training with triathletes.
We speak about using data to improve training and performance, following every athlete's specific needs. We discuss using the core body temperature data to improve pacing and the differences between the treadmill and the bike trainer. Aaron also explains his views about peppermint and menthol for cooling and nutrition strategies for athletes while racing. He has plenty of experience on these topics, we have learned a lot with him, so don't miss it!
Christopher Jones: This week on the Next Level, we’re welcomed by Aaron Geiser, the coach from performance in science, personal coaching for the endurance athlete, and also an Endure IQ coach. And you're in Kentucky – welcome!
Aaron Geiser: Thank you, Chris, for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to be on today.
Christopher Jones: Fantastic! So, let me ask you about Kentucky at the moment. I'm calling over from Europe, where we're experiencing a wonderful spring at the moment, great weather, a little bit cool though. And what's the weather like with you over in Kentucky at the moment?
Aaron Geiser: We still have not hit that spring point of the year yet. Last week, we got hammered with about 15 inches of snow, and yesterday it was 62º. So, we have a little bit of both ends of the spectrum in just a matter of a couple of days. But the outlook for this week is kind of a little bit gloomy, with some temperatures in Fahrenheit, from 30º up to 50º, so we'll bounce around quite a bit this week.
Christopher Jones: That reminds me to get my Fahrenheit to Celsius calculator ready. You're actively training yourself. And how does that work at the moment going outdoors?
Aaron Geiser: Absolutely. I don't take myself as a much of a real cold weather cyclist. I don't go outside when the temperatures are below 50º for me. And yesterday, I was able to get out and run. I will run in the colder weather, but I tend to not go out much when it's too cold, and especially last week, with all that snow, you didn't really have any place to do it in a safe manner anyway.
Christopher Jones: Let’s just talk a little bit about your coaching business, which is performance in science. You look after athletes, probably of differing different abilities, what kind of athletes do you have, and what are their aspirations?
Aaron Geiser: I have really athletes from every spectrum of the triathlon world, and some that are just cyclists. So, I have some cyclists that I coach that are really just not even looking to compete, they're just looking to be the best version of themselves. So, we have a plan in place for them to continue to kind of up their FTP, I have other cyclists that do race in criteriums. Then, I also have the triathletes that are looking to compete for their first Ironman event, all the way up to individuals that were looking to try to get their pro card. So, I kind of hit all the spectrums in that particular case, from an athlete standpoint.
Christopher Jones: We've spoken in length before, and your business name performance in science suggests that science has an important role to play in performance for athletes. You have a lot of relationships, such as with Hyperice athletic blood test, HRV for training and also Endure IQ, so what role does science play? Is it the missing link?
Aaron Geiser: I put in or implement science into the plans and into the performance of my athletes luckily, working with Dan Plews with Endure IQ, and also working with other individuals in the science community, it's really developed my knowledge of the physiology of the body while we are exercising. So, I really kind of take that aerial view of exercise physiology along with the performance aspect, to make sure that we are making the proper gains in all aspects, not just the performance. But I want to make sure that you're enjoying the process, you have time for your family, so we try to take and incorporate all these different aspects. And I really feel that science is the cornerstone of that because it allows us to measure and find what direction we need to take.
Christopher Jones: It seems almost like the holistic view, whereas perhaps in the past, it was essentially only the training you did, and maybe missing out on some of the other aspects which we know today belong to performance. Perhaps you could argue a modern view of how coaching and how training should work.
Aaron Geiser: Absolutely, absolutely. And one thing that we take for granted is the stress that we build up through the day of just our normal lives. And then you add on top of that the stress that we put on our bodies from the training that we do. And by the end of that story, there's a lot of stress. So, by adding that into the mix and managing that, it really helps with kind of that work life exercise balance that really provides that direction to have a strong healthy life and enjoy it while you're doing it.
Christopher Jones: It's now time to have a look at one aspect of training, which is called Body Temperature Monitoring, and you could argue that this is complementary to many of the other training methods and approaches that you might need to take. So, how does this work for your athletes? Is this something which is relevant for some athletes and not for others. What do you think?
Aaron Geiser: Well, the wonderful thing about the individuals that I have learned from, Dr. Dan Plews, professor Paul Larson, they always use this thought of “You don't know what you don't measure.” So, having that ability to measure, really anything from a competition standpoint, I find to be valuable. Really, with the Core Body Temperature Monitoring, I feel that it is valuable in all aspects of my athletes. Because we're going to run into races or training protocols that are going to affect the physiology of the body and how the body responds. And it’s known that, as we turn up the temperature, we sometimes have a decrease in performance. So, having this monitor out there, to allow us to manage and see how you react in these certain environments, it allows us to then build protocols specific to you, and allows you, when you toe that line, it gives you that opportunity to best perform on that given day.
Christopher Jones: I’d like to move across to the topic of pacing during a triathlon and the impact of thermoregulation. Pacing will probably be impacted by a number of different factors on the day, environmental factors, for example, the wind, the temperature, but with regard to the Core Body Temperature, what role does this play, and what should an athlete be looking out for?
Aaron Geiser: Well, this is where I'm really, really excited to use the core body thermometer, is that in the competition environment. Of course, due to Covid, we've had a little bit of issues of getting to races, But I feel that the ability to build your race pacing around your core body temperature is going to allow you to produce at the best of your day. The great thing about the core unit is that it ties in with - whether you have a Wahoo or Garmin unit - you're able to see it if you're cycling. And then, also, when you get onto the run, you're able to have those metrics right there on your wrist. So, when you get into the points and the key points of the race, you're going to be able to see, “Well, where is my body temperature?” And if you start to get close to that 40ºC in the body temperature, you really are flirting with how long you're going to be able to produce at a high level at that particular case. So, it's going to be able to build in the race plan is taking those ice when you pass the hydration stations, or if you have the ability to get the cold sponges, it's going to allow you to implement those into your race strategy, to manage that core body temperature. And you're going to have all that information either on your head unit of your bike or right there on your wrist. So, that's where I'm really excited to implement this in the race environment, just because when that body temperature starts to increase, we're going to have a game plan in place for my athletes of what to do. When you see that number start to escalate, here's what we need to do to implement to get that body temperature back down, so we can manage it, and continue to move in that pace that we're moving forward on.
Christopher Jones: Would you see this as a metric, which stands alone, or would you see that it could be combined with other metrics, for example, if you have an athlete who might prefer less information - could this be combined or incorporated somehow to have, let's say one number, or is it important to have this separate and individual that stands alone?
Aaron Geiser: I think that that's where the individualization of the athlete themselves comes in. And also with the testing, prior to the race, is going to give you some of the answers to that question, Christopher. Just because some athletes don't want a whole lot of information when they're racing, other athletes want as much information as they possibly can. So, one, probably you want to give those individuals what best works for them so they can manage the race, and not put too much stress on them on that particular day. But also, I see it as if you do the proper testing going into the race, putting that athlete through a number of protocols, they can match that up with heart rate or wattage or pacing on the run. So, if they do just like one number, we might be able to just bring in the core body temperature thermometer on the wrist, they kind of have that paired up with where that kind of falls with their heart rate, or they might have that internal feel of where their heart rate is to maintain whatever pacing that we've set up for them. I just think it all kind of falls onto the testing and the protocols leading in and also adapting it to what the athlete wants. But I do feel like having that particular metrics knowledgeable on either that head unit or your wrist, I think is going to play a big part, just because you're going to have that information.
Christopher Jones: You've done a lot of testing with core, both on the indoor trainer and on the indoor treadmill, I'd like to learn a little bit more about the core body temperature, and whether it behaves the same. What's your experience with this?
Aaron Geiser: Typically, I do not see a big change in the difference between the treadmill and the bike trainer, but the one thing that you typically get on the open road from the bike, you're going to get a heck of a lot more wind that you're generating, from the pace that you're developing, also with crosswinds, headwinds, all that - you're going to get a little bit of that convection cooling, which is going to allow your body to cool from the movement that you're putting on. You don't get that as much on the run, so typically you are going to have a little bit higher heat on the run just because you're not generating that same airflow, should we say. But in the indoor setting, I really like it because I'm able to control the environment. One day, I might pump up the heat in the particular room that I'm working out, the next day I might add some fans into the process. And then, looking at that and seeing how my body changes, with having those workouts fairly similar, I can then see, well, when I had the heat pumped up, this is where my body temperature started to raise, at this point of the workout. When I had the fans, I was able to maybe maintain that temperature for a longer period of time. So, those type of aspects are really going to allow us to then develop what type of heat acclimation that we need to put our athletes through. So, I found it to be very similar between the two. It's just again when you're out there riding and racing, you kind of get a little bit of a different component from being on the open road anyways, just because of that airflow.
Christopher Jones: One of the things that we have also talked about in one of our discussions before, I found it very interesting, it was menthol, and we've also got peppermint. And these are two, let's say, supplements you could take, which change your perception. There are some triggers, let's say, some physiological triggers, but it's largely a mental process in which you believe you are cooler. I've also asked, and I chatted to some of our expert colleagues to find out more about this and the literature that they had to understand what's going on. What are your thoughts on using these type of things, perhaps you could call it the placebo effect in a way, in that you're not actually physically cooling your body, but you're giving your body the effect or the thought that it might be cooler? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Aaron Geiser: Well, depending on the race distance, and really how fit you are, and prepared for the event that you're doing, I do find these to be a fairly large detriment the longer the race gets. And the reason I say that is that, as you pointed out, when you add these peppermint or menthol, it provides a lower rating of perceived exertion or RPE. And in that case, you're still not adjusting your core body temperature. If you give your mind the perception that you are operating in a lower body temperature, but yet, you're still operating at a higher temperature than you feel, you're really flirting with an opportunity to overheat and cause disastrous finishes to your race, or maybe not even finish. Because when you take that elemental or that peppermint, it just gives that cooling sensation that you feel like, “Hey, I'm not going as hard as I was 10 minutes ago.”, or before you took it. But next thing you know, that body temperature is still staying, if not rising at that point. It's staying at that same level. And you're going to end up running into trouble the longer that you kind of fight that battle.
Christopher Jones: Do you think that it is negligible anyway that the effect might be so minor, and your body would be smart enough to recognize that this has such a minor impact, that it might be okay compared to more dramatic methods such as an ice vest?
Aaron Geiser: I would probably say it depends on where you are at the race. If you're just getting started on the marathon aspect of a full Ironman, I would probably think -- I mean in most cases, pros are coming in the 2:40 to 3 hour-range, and then, your really successful age groupers are kind of coming into that 150, or 255 to 320 range. If you take it in at the beginning of that time frame, that's a long time that your body has to really be fooled. And that's a long time that you're going to be operating at that higher body temperature than you actually think that you're putting out. I would think that doing it too early would be very, very detrimental. Now, to your point, maybe adding it in the last 5k or the last 2k might be a very, very beneficial aspect to do because then you're going to forget how painful this process might be. Therefore, getting you to the finish line just a little bit quicker, feeling that it's not as hard as it's supposed to be, or that it's not as hard as it was before you took them.
Christopher Jones: But this also brings us into that danger zone and our favorite topic of bonking. I've learned from you that we can divide bonking into two different ways: we can divide it into nutrition, in terms of not getting enough calories, but also the endurance that I just don't have the physical strength to do this. I'd like to learn more about you and perhaps your athletes, and what you do there to help avoid bonking?
Aaron Geiser: That's a very, very good question. And, again, this is one of those aspects that is very individual for that particular athlete, and it takes from the coaching standpoint, you really need to dial into each individual athlete and see how they respond on particular nutrition. And really, with especially my learning from Dr. Dan Plews, and through the Endure IQ community, we hold 40 to 45 000 calories of fats on our body at any given time. And that is for any individual, whether you're tall, short, larger, smaller, while only if we do that kind of carb loading properly, we can typically only hold about 2 000 calories of carbohydrates or glycogen on the body at any given time. And if our body is not developed to burn fat, if it's not oxidizing fat and turning that into energy at a high level, it could cause us to be burning more carbohydrates or glycogen through that process, thus giving you a smaller window of time that you're able to perform at a high, high level. Especially with that, you're only able to absorb, at the top end, about 60gr of glucose per hour, and you're only able to absorb 30gr of fructose per hour. The only problem is, when you take in fructose, it suppresses the fat oxidation ability, so you're calling upon more glycogen and more fructose in that particular case, and burning less fat. Therefore, kind of making that window even shorter in that particular case because you're not fully using your three-energy systems in that particular case. So, really, I put my endurance athletes through some race-like scenarios. We put some time under their legs, under certain nutritions well before the race, so therefore, we have a good idea of how they respond and how their output is in those particular surroundings. And we make those subtle adjustments, based on what we find each time, to try to find that right balance for that particular athlete. Of course, when you're talking about 20 different athletes, they're all going to burn carbohydrates and fats at a different level. So, trying to hone into that particular idea, and what each individual athlete has the capability of doing, it's going to allow us to kind of project and avoid that bonk. I coach a lot of my athletes in the low-carb healthy fat lifestyle, and through that process, we take them through a called Keto phase, which is, it's a couple of weeks, it's really teaching the body to oxidize fat at a greater level. I also teach my athletes to go into workouts carb depleted. Therefore, we're not taking out that path of least resistance because our body wants to utilize those glycogen stores or carbohydrates, but we want to train that body to oxidize fat at a higher range. By sending them into training situations, carb depleted, we find that they burn a greater amount of fat, which then translates over to race day, which avoids those bonks.
Christopher Jones: It seems that this is essentially a very good reason why to go to a coach. I think that, for the average aspiring competitive person, the amount of knowledge that you have to accomplish, or have to attain, to be able to get to this level - and this is just on nutrition alone - this is quite, quite incredible. So, I'd imagine that, when you think about the marketing of all the gels and nutrition products, that the average Joe, or the average sports person, would look through there, and be overwhelmed, and think that they need certain things, but it appears that obviously with the whole help of an experienced coach, then, very quickly, you've been dialed down into a bit of a point, where you can say, “Okay, let's start with this, but it's a much narrower field, and then, I can actually get to that point where I need to be, much more easily.”
Aaron Geiser: Absolutely. And the one thing that we sometimes forget is that these companies that sell these gels and everything else, they're a company. And also, they have these smart marketing individuals that make this stuff look like it's the greatest thing on earth, and you have to have them, with all this research that's done behind them. But really that's what it is - they're there to sell a product. Not all the time their focus on giving you your best results. When you work with a coach, that coach wants you to have the best results on that given day. And I do find that it's extremely important working with the coach. Just because they're going to have a lot, really, when you go through a situation, you have your own experiences, you might gather some experiences from other, but that coach, if they're working with a bunch of different athletes, they're going to have a lot of sample size or a larger sample size to really pull their knowledge from and share that information with you, giving you the opportunity to perform at your best, not just on race day but in training in life.
Christopher Jones: So, if I'm an aspiring athlete, I've come to you, I've got four weeks to go to a major competition, I haven't left myself any time to train – so, you're going to have a look at them and tell me what is the fastest method that I can get up to speed for this. Am I changing my equipment or just changing the tires on my bike> What can I do to get ready in those four-weeks-time?
Aaron Geiser: It's going to probably be a little bit more of a conversation than just that, Chris, because I'm going to want to know what race they're doing - there's a lot of different parameters. If they're coming to me four weeks out of a full Ironman, and they haven't done any training, I'm going to probably not be supportive of that particular decision.
Christopher Jones: That could be a reality check.
Aaron Geiser: It's one of those “I'm fairly realistic, and I'll tell you exactly what's going on in my mind.” That's one of those situations where I'm probably going to talk you out of it. But if that individual has been training quite a bit, and is fit to do that, it's kind of a deep dive into what they're doing, how they've trained, just because it's one of those things that one size doesn't fit all, in that particular case. So, just saying the tires, or get this particular race helmet, it's not going to come down to that, it's going to be analyzing what they've done, and then, kind of building a plan around that particular group of training protocols and testing that they've done. So, therefore, we can set them up for the best race day in that four weeks-time. But that would be a very complex situation in that case.
Christopher Jones: Obviously, when you're thinking about the everyday people taking their first small-distance or a short-distance triathlon, it's a scenario, it's set as a goal, and perhaps a first step into this type of sport, obviously looking for fast gains and maybe the last-minute scenario. But, yeah, it seems that probably coaching them, like many other field, the bigger view is important. So, it's not just about the event and just knowing that these one, two or three factors will contribute, but rather the bigger picture why you're doing it, how to get us prepared. And, yeah, I sent you a bigger picture.
Aaron Geiser: Absolutely. There is a huge picture to triathlon. And when you also look at the other aspect that you want to be an ambassador for the sport as well. And I feel that it's almost every coach's obligation to be an ambassador for the sport itself and try to bring in new athletes into this sport because it really has a way of just revolutionizing your kind of mindset, your athleticism - it just is a very powerful sport. So, I feel like being realistic with that athlete because I want them to have that best experience, I don't want to just be them a one-and-done situation, I want them to come back and continue to race and continue to find what this sport can provide to them. So, looking at that situation, and let's probably back it off a little bit and make sure that, let's push it out maybe to six or even 12 weeks in that particular case, so therefore, you can enjoy the experience and also become an ambassador of the sport, so therefore, we have more people attracted to the sport.
Christopher Jones: So, I’d like to also understand a little bit about remote versus live training. So, probably in the old days, you can imagine the coach is always there with an athlete, we've got the internet, which has obviously contributed to the digitalization, and the ability to be remote, the ability to train athletes overseas - how would it work for you, how does that fit into the way that you coach?
Aaron Geiser: Technology is a very important piece of that. I'm able to meet with an individual in Australia because of zoom. I'm able to have this conversation with you because of Zoom. So, I can have these one-on-one conversations on a weekly or monthly basis, with my athletes, due to the technology that we have. The other great thing about it is that, with all the different technologies, through Garmin, Polar, Core, through TrainingPeaks, through Today's Plan - I mean, all these different aspects allow us, and not even to mention what Zwift is doing worldwide, it allows us to really, as coaches, dial in to what our athletes are doing, even though we're not right there next to them. All the connectivity between all of these different applications and all these different pieces of tech really allow us to -- I'm able to see somebody doing a workout in Britain, I'm able to look and see what their heart rate response is for the same workout a person doing a workout in Arizona. I can look at these things based on technology and the communication, whether it be through the TrainingPeaks or Today's Plan, communicate like adding a comment, Zoom, or texting, or WhatsApp - it all gives us some opportunity to stay engaged. Therefore, yes, there might be a time deficit between the person that I have in Australia to hear, I work it into my calendar and just act like they're right next to me, but I continue to keep that strong relationship, and build those up, or build that relationship through the opportunities that I get to connect with those individuals.
Christopher Jones: So, the access probably to data at all, as a basis, so you can actually see their training, their workouts, their sessions. And you essentially have a complete picture or a 90% picture?
Aaron Geiser: Really, when they add their comments of the session, it pretty much gives you a complete picture of what you're doing. Now, if an individual goes out and rides outside, and has a crosswind for 40% of their ride, and then headwind for 40% of the ride - those are factors that you might not be able to get unless they provide that. But if your athlete provides you that kind of detail, with me being able to see what their cadence was, what their power was, what their pace was, heart rate - all these different parameters that are uploaded to the systems that we use to coach, it gives us the opportunity to really feel like we were right there next to them on that particular training session. It's phenomenal, and it just speaks to how great technology makes and gives us the opportunity to coach athletes internationally, and continue to have them progress just like they were sitting next to us on the couch two or three days a week.
Christopher Jones: I guess the Covid has probably not the benefits per se, but it comes with the ability that we're at a technical age, where it can still continue. I guess the season was a bit of a disaster in 2020, but we've got hope coming into 2021, and you're also competing this year in a few events.
Aaron Geiser: I do. My first one has already gotten canceled for the year, but that's going to happen. I have currently three on the calendar, with a hopeful of a fourth, but I'm going to wait a little bit of time to see how things are progressing. But, yeah, the big event that I have for the year is Ironman 70.3 World’s in September. And that's in St. George, Utah here in the United States. So, a lot of works being put to really kind of put out my best effort on that particular day, but the race schedule is out there, and I'm just hoping that we're going to be able to toe the line a couple of times this year.
Christopher Jones: Well, I wish you all the best for your competitions this year. And I hope that they do go ahead. I'm sure that our listeners have learned a lot in this episode of the Next Level with Aaron Geiser. Thank you very, very much for taking part. So, for any listeners who would like to find out more about you and find out more about your services, how can they find you?
Aaron Geiser: Well, I appreciate you having me on today. And I want to definitely tell your listeners, visit me at www.performanceinscience.com or www.endureiq.com, and both of those websites are ways to get in contact with me. I'd love the opportunity to, even if you just want to talk shop, I'm open to have that conversation and would love the opportunity
Christopher Jones: Fantastic! We'll link up those two websites in the description, and then also, the long text format. Thank you very much, Aaron. And look forward to this year and your successful season for 2021.
Aaron Geiser: Thank you, Christopher. You continue to put the hard work that you guys put down, and I look forward to continue using your product and moving forward with it, as well with my athletes.
Christopher Jones: Brilliant! Thank you.
Aaron Geiser: Thank you.