5 Key Performance Tips and Strategies learned from Preparing for Ironman

22769632_10105524512284900_2559039511289659906_o      In the process of preparing for my sixth Ironman competition, I have increased my knowledge, refined my training techniques, and sharpened my perspectives on the training necessary to best prepare for an Ironman competition. Training for this super endurance race has enabled me to improve my understanding in various areas of sports science, methods of sports training and ultimately myself. As I approach Ironman Florida I am certain that the advancement in performance strategies, training techniques, and nutrition will allow me to best previous times in all three disciplines of the 140.6 mile endurance competition. More importantly, undertaking this monumental task has allowed me to adopt and reaffirm effective strategies that can potentially help improve the health and sports performance of my clients and athletes.

14199666_10104207690007300_8668785579854542734_n     Looking back, the most notable changes in this stint of Ironman training preparations has been a greater focus on training specificity, the adoption of new appraisal methods for performance and training compartmentalization to overcome the stressors common to a voluminous and technical event. Despite these changes, the most sizable part of this training preparation comes in the form of nutrition periodization, planning, and meal customization.  These three nutritional concepts have enabled me to accommodate greater levels of performance stress, reach higher levels of performance, and improved my body composition to elite level standards.

Strategies such as nutrition periodization combined with various exercise methods have led to training adaptations which have reaffirmed several key principles regarding nutrition and training. In this blog post, I will share these training principles and strategies and provide scientific evidence that supports its use. Adopting these key exercise, nutrition and training steps can significantly improve your performance potential and help you crush your next competition challenge.

22769662_10105524511576320_1765078582855897700_oAfter evaluating past Ironman performances one of the areas I focused on during this training preparation centered on training specificity. Past experience forced me to re-evaluate the specificity of my strategy and technique during my practice sessions. Experience has taught me that success for a given goal is incumbent on the specificity of training sessions for that particular goal. As such, I made sure to fine-tune training factors such as speed, intensity, and equipment to center closely on competition characteristics and demand. Researchers regard the principle of specificity approach as an important element of exercise physiology. This principle states that training responses/adaptations are tightly coupled to the mode, frequency and duration of exercise performed (Hawley, 2002). Furthermore, the principle of specificity predicts that the closer the training routine is to the requirements of the desired outcome (i.e. a specific exercise task or performance criteria), the better the outcome will be.

Tip 1: Train Specific to your Training Goal (Volume, Pace, Intensity)

Training specificity is integral to success within any sport competition, test or challenge. The more specific you are in preparing for the various challenges in a competition the greater the likelihood for success. While this strategy, may seem simple and obvious we can sometimes lose sight of or forget this basic premise during the training process.

Training specificity is demonstrated through your ability to:

  • Train at competition speeds and intensity.
  • Train for competition volume.
  • Train specifically for the particular stressors or unique characteristics of an environment.
  • Train specifically with the exact type of equipment for a given competition.

IMG_1027     If training specificity is part of your training program and performed correctly, competition days should be relatively routine and contain minimal surprises. Competition is nothing more than a reflection of your rehearsals produced during your practice. As you reach your competition resist the urge to deviate from the seemingly mundane tasks of practice.  One of the largest mistakes one can make during competition is to try something new. This can occur when individuals make changes to equipment, nutrition intake, or training strategy leading up to or during competition. Ultimately, training specificity is practicing your competition before your competition. It is the ultimate way to succeed before you succeed.

Training Specificity is the ultimate way to succeed before your succeed.


Examples of strategies and Practical Applications for the “Training Specificity” Tip (based from training experience).

  1. Train in your competition gear with your competition equipment – The focus here is to eliminate as many surprises as possible and to be specific to the environment for which you train at. This mean getting our the fresh new gear you plan to wear the day of your event and practicing with it.
  2. Train at competition pace and volume – While this statement may seem a bit hackneyed it’s one that many choose to dismiss during their days of preparation. The consequences of competing at an unfamiliar pace or volume can be disastrous to performance and lead to potential injury.
  3. Train specifically to the environment of your competition – Mimicking training environments can be a challenging and sometimes impossible endeavor but it is a strategy that is sure to improve your chances of success come day of competition.

Tip 2: Compartmentalization of Training


There are of course some limitations to training specifically for a lengthy, taxing and extensive competition like Ironman. Additionally, competition volume and intensities over a period of time can result in greater risk for injury and reduced performance. Compartmentalization or implementing multiple focused sessions with varied objectives and relatively shorter durations can help to alleviate the stress associated with competition training. They also provide the opportunity to break down various parts of competition training for appraisal.

 This strategy has a number of benefits.IMG_0778

  • It allows athletes to understand various areas of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Multiple sessions implemented throughout the day also means frequent rest and recovery periods which can enable an athlete to reach greater levels of intensity for meaningful competition training while lowering risk of injuries related to training volume.

In addition, varying the training stress and/or goals can enable athletes to focus on developing a specific discipline, or applying stress to a specific region while providing rest and recovery to another utilized from a previous training session. This can be achieved through changing training factors such as exercise modalities, training intensities, and training technique.  As you vary your objectives and focus on key factors or parts of competition during training it’s important to trust the process and meet the specific goals of a given training session.

Multiple, relatively short and varied sessions allow for improved efficiency, lower incidence of injury, and greater potential for improved performance.

Tip 3: Test, Assess, to Confirm and Trust the Process.

IMG_0832     As you compartmentalize training sessions and/or focus on the specifics of your competitive event it is always important to evaluate your overall progress. You shouldn’t “trust the process” without a reappraisal method. Thus, good training requires you to focus on establishing consistent, objective means of testing. Each phase, week or training cycle should focus on establishing a test day to determine if your process can indeed be trusted. This reappraisal method is important because it can also give you both insight for developing avenues or new objectives for various measures and a platform on how to create an effective measure for improvement.

Examples of Strategies and Practical Applications for the “Test & Assess” Tip (based from training experience)

  • Listed below are several assessments which helped me to to trust the training process. Consider adding the following assessments to your training routine
  1. Bi – weekly Body Composition Assessments
  2. Bi – weekly Speed/Pace Tests –
  3. Weekly Weigh – ins
  4. Weekly Nutrition dietary Assessments


Every week or two weeks I performed assessments on factors important to my performance potential such as body composition and speed. These assessments helped me to determine if needed changes were necessary in my training program. Each area of assessment evaluated a specific objective in mind; whether it was to focus on improving or maintaining a certain amount of lean mass or decreasing completion time for a certain activity. Ultimately, by consistently measuring these factors I was able to build performance potential and confidence towards my goal.

Tip 4: Understand that Nutrition & Exercise are inseparable when it comes to Training

The most influential strategy towards improved performance potential for me resulted from the combination of exercise and nutrition. Preparation for this event reminded me of the symbiotic relationship between exercise and nutrition. When designing and/or implementing training programs these two factors of training should not be viewed as separate from one another. On the contrary, exercise and nutrition must be equally acknowledged in order to maximize training adaptations and potential. Changes to performance potential and body composition require contributions from both nutrition and exercise equally. As evidence for this statement consider the fact that nutrition responses can dramatically change in the presence or response to exercise and exercise response can dramatically change in the presence or response to various nutrition interventions. Furthermore, changes in any of these factors can greatly impact training status. Thus, it’s necessary to consider both nutrition and exercise equally when discussing training. As evidence for this relationship consider the fact that when a particular energy system is used by an individual during exercise, factors such as type and duration of exercise in concert with the consumption of certain macronutrients results in a cascade of chemical processes that tells the body how to respond. The responses that result from exercise and nutrition can influence training, body composition and ultimately performance potential.

Take for instance the responses from exercise, protein and resistance training in muscle development. Protein metabolism and synthesis depend on the demands of muscle mass and muscular activity as well as one’s ability to digest and absorb protein (Beradi, 2012). Additionally, in a 2017 study, researchers at the University of Toronto demonstrated that whey protein supplementation enhances whole body anabolism or growth, and may improve acute recovery of exercise performance after a strenuous bout of resistance exercise. These researchers demonstrated that a form of nutrition intervention combined with exercise can support potentially greater training adaptations through an enhancement of whole body net protein balance. This combination of exercise and nutrition can result in greater training quality and volume due to a more rapid recovery of exercise performance (West, Sawan, Mazzulla, Williamson & Moore, 2017).

As part of my training preparation, I was particularly mindful of protein intake in efforts to maintain a positive balance of protein intake in order to “protect” lean mass and to ensure the process of muscle growth and repair.  This nutrition intervention in response to exercise is a prime example of how we must regard exercise and nutrition within the same scope. In order to achieve favorable training responses, these factors are both necessary and equally important components.

This effect can also be seen in the training responses when exercise is combined with carbohydrate manipulation.  Carbohydrate loading or muscle glycogen “super compensation” for improved performance is another example where the combination of exercise and nutrition results in a training adaptation designed to improve performance. This particular strategy was first discovered by Scandinavian researchers in the 1960’s (Hackney, 2017). Super compensation involves a loading process over the course of 6 days. The process begins with a glycogen or carbohydrate depleting exercise followed by 3 days of a low carbohydrate diet and then 3 days of a high carbohydrate diet. The result of performing this procedure has been shown to substantially increase muscle glycogen levels during competition followed by producing a positive ergogenic effect on exercise performance in sporting events lasting longer than 90 minutes in duration (Hackney, 2017).  This training strategy requires the interaction of nutrition and exercise in order to produce a positive performance outcome. Training is required to deplete glycogen levels and the manipulation of carbohydrates is needed to rebuild carbohydrate stores for greater use during competition.

Nutrition and exercise can elicit a positive training response even during conditions when nutrition intake is purposely limited or eliminated under certain exercise conditions. Consider the impact of fasted cardio to fat and carbohydrate utilization. Researchers have demonstrated that chronic training in a fasted state may improve the body’s ability to use fats as a fuel source while also helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. In addition, the action of performing exercise in a fasted state may help to improve muscle glycogen post training. Ultimately, the combination of exercise and nutritional interventions results in the ability to improve the performance potential through improved fuel needs and/or improving factors related to body composition (Watson, 2016)

In highlighting the three aforementioned exercise and nutrition scenarios utilizing three different macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) I hope to demonstrate the strong relationship between nutrition interventions, exercise and the potentially adaptive response on training for improved body composition and performance potential.

Examples of Strategies and Practical Applications for the “Nutrition + Exercise” Tip (based from training experience)

  1. Fasted Cardio – During the final month of training as my volume of exercise begins to decrease, I begin to incorporate fasted cardio sessions as well as low carbohydrate/ high fat meals to help improve body composition, improve fat utilization during moderate intense exercise and to set the stage for glycogen super compensation.
  2. Glycogen Super-compensation – A week prior to competition my days are filled with relatively short intense pace sessions with a relatively low Carb/high fat diet during the first three days and a steady incorporation of high carb meals 3 days priors to competition.
  3. Protein Recovery Shakes paired with Training Sessions – Each of my training sessions is followed by the consumption of a complete protein. This is perhaps the easiest training intervention to incorporate and can potentially be the most effective training strategy towards improving body composition, decreasing negative factors associated with stress and enhancing athletic potential.


 Tip 5: Nutrition Planning, Periodization and Customization

If one can except that nutrition and exercise are inseparable concepts then the idea of nutrition planning, periodization and customization become easier to grasp. Nutrition planning, periodization, and customization simply translate to having a training plan, training periodization, and training customization. As athletes approach competition dates various changes are made to both training and nutritional factors to help facilitate improvement in both body composition and performance potential. Nutrition periodization or simply “periodization” is a strategic construction of periods or phases with various objectives regarding both exercise and nutrition. These objectives can center on phases designed to improve strength, mass or focus on periods of relatively high-intensity sessions or low-intensity sessions. Planning, periodizing and customization requires athletes to both understand the demands of the exercise session and the appropriate macronutrients for a particular training response. Regardless, the success of these three factors all rest on the following nutrition factors.

  1. Athletes must have the energy to train optimally
  2. Athletes should focus on nutrient-rich foods  
  3. Provide a resource for recovery from stressful activity
  4. Help to reach or maintain body composition weight goals

For more on meal planning and nutrition periodization please visit the following website . http://www.dairyspot.com/health-wellness/refuel-with-chocolate-milk/sports-nutrition/ 

or check out the video below:

The strategies provided in this post are the result of repeated attempts at improving performance. They are the avenues for which I have selected to improve in athletic potential, body composition and to reach the always fleeting platform of success. As I undertake this next task I am confident they will allow me to surpass previous levels of performance and will provide you with direction and tools to surpass your next challenge.


Berardi, J. M. (2012). Precision nutrition. Toronto: Precision Nutrition, Inc.

Hackney, AC. Human performance enhancement in sports and exercise: nutritional factors – carbohydrate and luids. Revista Universitaria de la Educación Física y el Deporte. 1(1): 27-31 (2008).

Hawley, J. A. (2008). Specificity of training adaptation: time for a rethink? The Journal of Physiology586(Pt 1), 1–2.

Watson, R. R., & Meester, F. D. (2016). Handbook of lipids in human function: fatty acids. Amsterdam: Elsevier/AOCS Press/Academic Press.

West, D., Sawan, S. A., Mazzulla, M., Williamson, E., & Moore, D. (2017). Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients, 9(7), 735. 

DLLDan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising Strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Boston University, A Master’s of Science from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards a Phd in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. For more articles please checkout http://www.doyou-live.com

One thought on “5 Key Performance Tips and Strategies learned from Preparing for Ironman

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  1. Really good read. Hope this upcoming Ironman is your best! Any chance I could run my daily diet (or food consumption) by you with hopes of some comments on it as I train to BQ?

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