For most people, competing in an IRONMAN triathlon is a lifelong dream; something they spend two years to plan and prepare for. Me? I chose to take on the challenge of completing a full IRONMAN after just six months of training.
You see, I like physical challenges. I may be a bodybuilder, making me a heavier guy—but I love cardio. I also prefer individual journeys over team sports, which made triathlon training appealing.
In case you’re not familiar, a full IRONMAN includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). I knew I’d need tons of discipline and dedication in order to conquer this massive challenge—but I was used to dedicating a ton of time to my workouts anyway. Plus, I wasn’t concerned about how fast I finished, just that I finished.
Naturally, people told me that prepping for an IRONMAN couldn’t be done in six months, which gave me a sense of urgency that I liked. It always feels good to prove the naysayers wrong.
As an insurance plan, I decided to raise money for an all-girls orphanage in India, which kept me plenty accountable. I also carried the knowledge that my parents were planning to fly out to watch me compete, and who wants to let down their family?
So how did I pull it off in six months? Here’s a look into how I trained, ate, and supplemented for success.
In addition to wanting to complete an IRONMAN-distance triathlon in just six months of training, I also wanted to build muscle and be a hybrid athlete, meaning that I was also doing powerlifting and strength training that contrasts with the endurance swimming, biking, and running elements. In order to achieve both goals, I followed two different programs simultaneously. The first was a bodybuilding program that included some conditioning to improve performance and build muscle and the second focused on endurance.
Before taking on this challenge, I hadn’t swum in open water before, cycled more than 10 miles, or run more than seven miles. Since I started with such limited experience and had such ambitious goals, I looked for a coach to help me.
That’s when I discovered the founder of Complete Human Performance, Alex Viada, through a friend. I looked at him, and thought, “I want to be like that.” He was much bigger than me and had completed an IRONMAN before. He had put in the mileage and had the knowledge.
Alex designed a program for me that was a little atypical for a triathlon training program in that it focused on training for a larger, more muscular athlete like myself. Before then, I usually trained (lifted weights) five days a week and performed cardio on top of that. This new approach would build muscle and endurance, just in a slightly different way than my usual routine.
Throughout my training I spent about an hour on cardio and an hour on weight training each day. When it came to my weight training, I performed far fewer reps than I would have normally, brought down the total volume of my workouts, and even took one more day off than I normally would to avoid overtraining. My running cardio sessions emphasized trail running, because the softer terrain means less wear and tear on a heavier runner, like myself. And while some triathlon training programs include cycling power work, that didn’t seem worth the time given the size and strength of my legs. Lastly, my swim workouts involved floats and paddles to account for my muscle mass and low body fat percentage. (I also have so much muscle mass in my lower body that I had to master keeping my hips up to avoid burning out my legs.)
On the weekends, I spent a little extra time on longer, slower runs and bike rides.
I felt great during the training. My only challenge was that I tore my rotator cuff during training, which was a big issue for the swim. While I chose to wait for the surgery until after the IRONMAN because the recovery would prevent me from completing my challenge, I wouldn’t recommend people continue training through a tear.
Supplement and Nutrition Routine
Generally, you want to test out different foods and supplements during your training to ensure your body handles them well. Once you find a routine that works for you, follow it regularly before your competition, so your body is ready when the time comes.
Before starting this training, my diet was a normal bodybuilder diet of six meals a day, a mediocre amount of carbs, little fat, and lots of protein. During training, I increased my calories because I was doing a lot more running, swimming, and cycling and required a lot more fuel. I also ate more carbs and tweaked my supplements.
On cardio days, I focused on mostly whey protein like Re-Kaged with Glutamine, Hydra-Charged, and BCAAs. This helped keep my calories up and my body hydrated. I usually had a backpack of food with me during cardio sessions to make sure I stayed fueled. For longer runs I blended oats, dates, almond butter, and Re-Kaged in a food processor to make energy balls.
On weight training days, I also used Pre-Kaged and In-Kaged. I was surprised by how much fuel I needed because of my muscle mass. The average triathlete probably doesn’t need BCAAs and glutamine, but I did. I also avoided gels because I didn’t want to consume anything artificial that would upset my stomach.
Before the actual event, I had a big carbohydrate-based meal that included some oats mixed with a scoop of Re-Kaged for some light protein.
After the swim, it was time for the bike. At that point, I had two water bottles filled with two scoops of Hydra-Charged for electrolytes and hydration, one scoop of Glutamine, two scoops of BCAAs, and two scoops of Citrulline. The BCAAs were key in helping me avoid fatigue. Along with this, I ate a solid food carbohydrate. Bananas and energy bars made of rolled oats, dried fruits, nuts, eggs, seeds, and honey worked well for me.
Finally, on the run, I carried mini bottles. At this point, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up, so these include caffeine in the form of a serving of In-Kaged to amp up energy. I also stopped for water at aid stations as needed, but mostly just poured the water over myself to keep my body cool.
As you can see, it wasn’t just the training that allowed me to succeed in accomplishing this massive task, but strategic nutrition, too, that pushed me across that finish line.