Heather Jackson, sponsored by Herbalife, has a dedication to nutrition and fitness that has allowed her to enjoy a successful career as a professional triathlete. Since turning pro in 2009, she has taken 2nd Place at the 2013 Ironman 70.3 World Championships, set a course record at the 2014 Wildflower Long Course Triathlon and taken 3rd Place at the 2015 Ironman 70.3 Pucon, among other achievements. From her training camp in Bend, Oregon, she recently participated in a live webinar hosted by Herbalife Senior Director of Sports and Fitness, John Heiss, Ph.D., where she answered questions from fans about her nutrition, training and competitive racing. Below is an edited transcript of some of her comments.
Which event are you preparing for right now and what is your training regimen like?
I have the 70.3 World Championships coming up in six weeks, so I’m making the final push in terms of the second half of the season. I’m putting in a lot of base miles and building back after an injury. I’m really working on getting my speed back on my run. I just had a swim and I’m heading out for a little ride after this. And I have a big training weekend ahead. It’s 95 degrees in Bend right now, which is playing an important factor in my hydration and caloric intake. We’re at about 4,000 feet here, which factors in as well.
Throughout June, July, and August I’ve been putting massive miles on the bike and in the pool. The positive is that it has been great for my swimming. Four of five years ago I came in strong on the bike because of my ice hockey background, so it’s really been a chance to get back to that level of strength. With six weeks left, I have another week or two of base miles, and then at four weeks I’ll really dial in and shift to 20 or 30 minute efforts that are longer and more moderate. I really want to go for that peak, so I’ll pick the efforts up to 15 minutes, and then 10 minutes and then five or under. It’s a progression as I get closer to the race of shorter and harder. I’ve got a five hour ride on Saturday with some 20- and 30-minute efforts, and the next three or four weeks after that I’ll just continue to get more intense across all three sports. I bring the volume down as I get closer to the race and increase the intensity. Three weeks out from the race, I don’t need to be doing it as long. It’ll have a negative impact and I’ll be tired.
I want to go into the race super fresh. The week before a race I barely do anything, maybe 20 minutes a day of each of swimming, biking and running. I want to be itching to race, like I just can’t wait for that day to get there because I feel like I’ve just been sitting around doing nothing. I want to leave it all out there on race day.
How do you carry your Herbalife24™ Hydrate and Herbalife24™ Prolong when you’re training and racing?
In terms of training, for the half distances, I love the Herbalife24™ Hydrate packs because they’re tiny enough where I can just throw them in my back pocket and then fill them into my bottle. Same with the Herbalife24™ Prolong – I can take a couple of scoops in a bag. I’m fortunate enough that my fiancée Wattie is there on my long runs so he has bottles waiting for me. I have friends who put bottles out ahead of their runs or they wear a hydration belt. For the halves I’m able to carry the three to four bottles that I need on my bike so I don’t have to rely on nutrition on the course because you never know what you’re going to get out there.
If your goal is to build muscle and you’re concerned about losing muscle by running and doing long distance, how do you structure your workout plan? Also, on race day do you increase carbohydrate intake by much?
Your body needs to be strong so you can hold your form and not break down through a full race. Having core strength is critical. These past few weeks I’ve been lifting three days a week doing squats, lunges and working on core strength, and I’m feeling it the next day. When I have a hard workout the next day I just have to keep in mind that I’m going to be a little bit lower on power, effort and speed because of fatigue from the day before. Six weeks out from the race it’s okay to know that. A week or two later, I’ll shift the lifting to the same days as my hard workouts and that way I won’t be affecting the next day. As the race gets closer, the weight training won’t affect my key sessions.
As for carbohydrates, I’ve experimented the last five years with restricting carbs, calories, protein, and walking that thin line with race weight. The thing for me is that I need to be ready on my hard days. The night before, I have a bigger meal with a lot of carbs and then on race day I take in a lot of carbs. For my long rides I take two or two and a half scoops of Herbalife24™ Prolong in a bottle of water. I have my watch set so that every 20 minutes I try to get through a third of the bottle. For the easier days I’ll use only one scoop, or maybe even just Herbalife24™ Hydrate. But I definitely don’t want to skimp on carbs – if I’m feeling tired or fatigued, I take those carbs in.
To increase from a sprint distance to an Olympic distance in a triathlon, what do you recommend as far as training structure and nutrition?
Lay out a plan early. Swimming is tough and the more consistent you are with your training the better you will get. Even if you can only get in the pool 20 minutes a day, I have found that 20 minutes seven days a week is better than an hour twice a week. For the bike, pros race a competition length in about an hour so that’s really fast. If you’re at an hour and a half or two hours, just build into that longer ride and don’t worry about intensity. Get those longer rides in maybe twice a week. As you get closer, get more intense efforts in – first 10 minutes and then five minute efforts. With the run, if you run a 10k, whatever your time might be – 40 minutes, 50 minutes, an hour – start from there and build into those longer runs with low intensity. As you get closer break that longer run into more specific intense efforts.
How does your nutrition change depending on the temperature?
That’s been a big consideration here in Bend. The other day it was over 100 degrees. For me the biggest thing is I always need to take in a solid like bananas. I’ll leave for a ride with three bananas in my pocket, and that along with my Herbalife24™ Prolong and my Herbalife24™ Hydrate, does it for me. As it gets hotter, it’s harder for me to eat the solids so I find myself shifting to more liquids just because I’m so thirsty. As I crave the liquid and strive to get those calories in I tend towards drinking the Herbalife24™ Prolong. I’ll also tend to add a Herbalife24™ Hydrate pack or two to the Herbalife24™ Prolong to get that extra sodium, magnesium, potassium. I’ll take a picture of one of my jerseys after a long ride, five hours out here in 100 degree weather, and it’s just white with salt.
How did you make that transition from triathlons being a hobby to being your job?
I raced the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside as an amateur and I actually placed 10th overall in a pretty stacked field. I was a year out from playing college ice hockey and I out-biked everybody by probably five or six minutes, granted I ran and swam like 20 minutes slower. I was kind of at that turning point thinking wow, I can outride these girls and I can place amongst them. I felt enough confidence there and I had the support of my now fiancée who told me I could always go back to teaching. I had been teaching for two years out of school, and so I finished out the school year and applied for my pro card. The biggest thing is if you can compare yourself to that top level and get on the starting line and be competitive, or at least be around them, then that will raise you to that next level. If you still have work to do I wouldn’t rush it.
When you train, what kind of parameters do you use to gauge your performance?
My first three years as a pro were purely by feel on the bike. Every session I would hammer and you kind of plateau after a while of doing that. I finally got a coach a year and half ago and I’m also fortunate enough to be sponsored by SRM Training System so I now have a PowerMeter (which measures the force coming from the legs of a rider). It’s more for my coach’s use so he can give me my effort levels. I use it, but I don’t dwell on it on my longer rides because a lot of it is done by feel. I’m constantly asking myself “could I race at full speed like this, could I race a 70.3 like this, could I hold this for 2.5 hours?”
Which of the three disciplines do you find you’re strongest in and which do you find you’re weakest?
The swim is definitely my weakest. This summer for three weeks, twice a day, I was in the pool swimming almost 35k a week. My bike and run, given the time of year, I fluctuate with one of those being my strongest. Last year it ended up being the run near the end of the season and I had given up a little bit of my strength on the bike. Right now I have my strength back on the bike and I’m just trying to build back up on the run.
If someone is just getting started with triathlons, what are some training tips you can give them?
The biggest thing is to lay out some schedule that maps out your weeks so that you’re not going out every day as hard as you can in all three sports. I did that my first year because I thought that’s how you get faster and I was just thrashed after each session. Have your weeks with three key days mapped out in all three sports and the rest of the days just let your body recover with easier sessions and have fun with it. Coming into the sport, just enjoy it, do it because you love it and don’t take it too seriously.
Listen to the full Heather Jackson webinar
Watch Heather Jackson raise her game through performance testing with Herbalife in Partners in Performance: Taking Athletes Beyond Nutrition