5 Steps to Becoming a Smarter Athlete

There are countless questions an athlete will ask themselves throughout a season. Here are five items that all athletes should consider when making training and racing decisions.

Are you recovered enough for your key workout? How long should your key intervals be? Should I run my 800’s today even though my fatigue numbers are high? There are countless questions an athlete will ask themselves throughout a season. While these questions are important during a training day, they become even more important during a race. This is why the best attribute an athlete can have is being an educated athlete. Here are five items that all athletes should consider when making training and racing decisions.

Knowing Energy Systems and How They Factor Into Your Sport

As an athlete, you need to know what you can, and cannot do from a physical standpoint. For example, if you’re a 1600m runner and you sprint through 600 meters, you will need to drastically slow down as your body works to process oxygen. However, for that same runner, if you ran the first 1200 at your v02 pace, you can sprint the final 400 because you’re going fully anaerobic. Knowing the different energy systems and how to maximize their usefulness in your sport gives athletes an advantage in knowing when to burn their match.

If you have access to a power meter, heart rate monitor, or other tools to measure work/stress, you can begin to understand what numbers are associated with what energy system and how to best maximize your training/race strategy.

Knowing Training Load and Monitoring Fatigue

An educated athlete is going to know how each workout affects their body. The metrics of training load and fatigue give athletes a day-to-day view of how ready their body is to train or race. As athletes begin to understand these metrics, you can also utilize them in your actual training. If you’re training for an Ironman Bike, but live in the mountains, you will want to train towards training load instead of 112 miles. It’s possible that a 70 mile ride in the high mountains puts the same stress on your body as 112 miles at sea-level. An understanding of where your metrics are will give you the decision to rest when you need to, and push through when it’s a key workout. You no longer need to ask yourself if you’re too tired from yesterdays training, the numbers will help guide you.

Knowing Your Strengths Relative to the Competition

As an athlete, all training can be summarized in these three words… “maximize your odds”. When we are training, sleeping, recovering, eating properly, and sacrificing a night out so we can wake up early, we are maximizing our odds of success. You need to take that same mentality into your races. How do you maximize your odds of success in a race? Simple, you maximize your strengths in relation to the competition. If your strength as a runner is your threshold, then why would you run easy in a pack? If your strength as a runner is your kick, then why would you try to drive the pace? If you’re an ultra trail runner and exceptionally light weight, why wouldn’t you push the uphill sections? You need to maximize your strength as it puts every other athlete at a disadvantage. Know your strengths and watch your results quickly improve.

If you do not know your strengths, you should test each one of your energy systems and muscular makeup to see which performs best. You can test these in field tests such as a 100m, 400m, 3000m run. There are different tests for different sports, but the basis remains the same.

Knowing Your Own Nutrition Strategy

Nutrition will be a key determining factor in how well you do in training or events. Knowing what works for you and making it a dedicated focus is what separates the best from those “hoping” for a good day. Do you respond better to a high carb diet, or high protein? Can your body handle 400 calories/hour when exercising, or are you better with 200? Do you like liquid nutrition when exercising? How does your body handle calories at high temperatures? How does your body handle nutrition at 160 bpm?

All of these are questions you can answer during your normal and focused training days. The most educated athletes have dialed in their nutrition and remove it as one of the items that can go wrong on race day.

Knowing When to Focus and When to Relax Mentally

A properly designed training plan will have areas of focus, and times to recover. Just like your body needs time to rest, your mind needs to relax as well. While outcome goals can be very motivating for year-long progress, each athlete needs to know when they are in a relaxed portion of their calendar. The best athletes make recovery a priority. By doing so, they ensure the mental focus and strength needed to hit their key periods of training.


The best athletes are those that understand their sports and the tools used to help them. Throughout training and competition, there are thousands of questions that pop up. While many athletes will have a coach to help with this process, a coach can not be there with you on the trails, in the peloton, climbing the rock wall, or hiking up Everest. In those moments, it is about your preparation and decision-making skills. The more educated you become, the more you make the right decision. The more times you make the correct decision, the more you maximize your odds of success. By learning about these 5 topics, you will continue to evolve as an athlete. Keep learning and go explore perfection!

Derek Dalzell
Derek Dalzell

Derek is a member of our Sports Science team, focused on sports performance. He has worked with beginner to elite athletes in the sports of Cycling, Triathlon, Running, and more. Having coached over 20 national champions in multiple disciplines, he has a passion for helping athletes understand the “why” behind the training.

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