Five Ways To Compete In Endurance Sports Without Getting Too Skinny

Affiliate Disclosure


This is Part 7 of 7 of the new “Getting A Better Body” series that I'm writing for the upcoming Thursday, January 12 launch of Tri-Ripped, which you can read more about by clicking here (which will also give you access to the other 6 articles in this series)

So if you read the first six articles in this series, then you’ve learned so far how to get nice shoulders, a better butt, a flat stomach and an impressive chest. You’ve learned how to sculpt legs like Lance Armstrong and how to look very, very good in a t-shirt.

But can you keep that amazing body and still do endurance sports…like triathlon? After all, it’s pretty typical among the triathlon crowd to have tiny arms, a thin neck, a stick-like midsection, a weak body frame and even a “skinny-fat” look, with a little bit of weight in the belly and waist.

Let’s face it, folks – that ain’t sexy.

Even though triathlon is the fastest growing sport on the planet, and races sell out thousands of slots in just a few minutes, it can still be a bit depressing when you realize that traditional triathlon training doesn’t really give you a nice body – and just makes you either really skinny or skinny-fat.

And the fear of having that emaciated, marathoner-like appearance is a legitimate concern if having a nice body is important to you. I know that it was a big concern for me when I got into the sport of triathlon – I didn’t want to watch in the mirror as my lean, hard muscle wasted away and I ended up looking like a skinny weakling.

But the truth is, when you train for triathlon, you don’t have to lose precious muscle, get extremely skinny, or become a scrawny endurance athlete. You can actually train for triathlon while still adding incredibly functional muscle and athleticism. You can swim, bike and run fast – and still have an amazing body.

Here’s how, in five easy steps:

1. Lift Right

There are two styles of weight lifting that most triathletes do:

1) high-repetition, low-resistance endurance style lifting, such as a circuit of 20 reps of several different exercises;

2) heavy, slow, football-style lifting, like deadlifts, squats or benchpress. In reality, there is a third style of lifting that is neglected among endurance athletes, but a long-kept tradition of the bodybuilding industry: “hypertrophy” style training: multiple sets of 8-12 repetitions.

With hypertrophy training, you can add and define lean muscle very quickly. But the problem is that it is very easy with this bodybuilder-style training to build non-functional muscle that actually slows you down when you’re competing in a sport such as triathlon.

The solution to this issue is to still do the hypertrophy-style training, but to avoid single-joint exercises like biceps curls, and instead to choose full body, functional exercises while scattering in just enough explosive and heavy weightlifting to keep your muscles extremely functional and fast.

2. Eat Right

This may be a bit of a news flash for you, but fat doesn’t make you fat. Instead, fat – the healthy variety, like olives, almonds, walnuts, fish and avocadoes – is a hormonal precursor and gives your body the building blocks it needs to develop lean, hard muscle, as well as competitive drive, mental energy, drive, and every other advantage that comes from adequate hormones.

On the flipside, carbohydrates, especially the type that are really favored by endurance athletes, like bagels, sports drinks, and cereal, give you that soft, pudgy look in the mid-section, accompanied by a complete inability to build impressive, defined arms and legs.

So here’s what to do about this:

if you’re trying to be fast at triathlon and also have an amazing body, you should eat a diet comprised of a high amount of healthy fats (40-50% fat), add in moderate helpings of natural protein to keep amino acids elevated for your muscles and brain, and top it off with strategically timed carbohydrate doses when they really matter, such as before or after your exercise sessions.

3. Train Right

For years, sports scientists have know that short, hard and intense intervals give you just as much fitness and performance benefit as long, slow, aerobic exercise. But like a mouse on a wheel, it is tempting and even addictive for an endurance athlete to continue plugging away hours pounding the pavement, turning the pedals, or swimming back and forth.

Not only does this long, slow aerobic training completely nullify any attempts to add lean muscle or get a nice, defined body, but it also depletes hormones, causes overtraining syndrome, and takes away precious time from family, career and other hobbies.

Instead, for the triathlete who wants to avoid the skinny-fat look and get an amazing, muscular body, the training plan should incorporate strategically targeted high-intensity bursts of energy, a moderate amount of slightly longer “tempo” work, and finally, a low amount of long aerobic training…

…strategically saving long rides, runs or swims for times when they are completely necessary and crucial to the program.

4. Supplement Right

Inadequate hormones are a big issue for both men and women, and especially physically active men and women. “Andropause”, the decline or imbalance in male hormones and “Menopause”, the decline or imbalance in female hormones can begin to occur when you’re as young as 27 years old – and only gets worse as you age.

Although hormonal deficits are the biggest problem among endurance athletes, there is also a prevalence of nutrition deficiencies, mineral loss, and very low fatty acid and amino acid levels – all of which keep you from both getting fast and having an amazing body.

These deficits and imbalances can occur because the body simply needs extra help if you’re lifting, swimming, cycling, running and cross-training on a regular basis. This level of activity is just more than the human body can naturally handle!

The extra help comes in the form of completely legal sports nutrition supplementation like digestive enzymes, fish oil, vitamin D, greens supplements, magnesium and Chinese adaptogenic herbs. While there are countless supplement ads in magazines and on websites, you really only need a few of these key supplements to have your body ready to both go fast and maintain muscle.

And yes, if you are pushing your body beyond it’s natural tendencies, then even in a situation where your diet is perfect, supplementation is a must if you want to be fast and also have an amazing body.

5. Live Right

There are little hacks or tweaks you can make to your lifestyle to simplify this whole process of performing fantastic and looking good.

For example, you can sleep more deeply by using magnesium, melatonin, keeping your bedroom completely dark, and even using sleep applications like “White Noise”. You can de-stress at the beginning of the day with a very simple 5-10 minute yoga routine. You can keep bouncing back from your workouts day-after-day by using a ice, compression and foam roller. You can detoxify your body by making sure you aren’t using body-damaging chemicals to clean your house or cook your food.

These are just a few of the little lifestyle tweaks that you can make, but they’re incredibly important if you want to add muscle and athleticism while getting the body of your dreams and still being fast for triathlon.

Questions, comments or feedback? Leave them below.

If you want to learn more about how to swim, bike and run lightning fast, but also have a nice body that looks good, (and get access to the other 6 articles in this series) then head over to for a brand new approach to training for the ultimate triathlon body.

Coming January 12, 2012…

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14 thoughts on “Five Ways To Compete In Endurance Sports Without Getting Too Skinny

  1. Sharon Chestnut says:

    You can no longer access the other 6 articles by going to the link provided. You get the following error “This site can’t be’s server IP address could not be found.
    Search Google for tri ripped

    Please help!!

  2. Jeremy says:

    Good article… except the diet part… carbs do not make you pudgy. If you stay within your desired caloric intake (whether it is a deficit or surplus) you can absolutely eat carbs and be ripped.. not sure where your info came from for this section

    1. Ian Maddox says:

      100% true. For example, I eat ice cream and cookies all the time but track my calories religiously. I sit around 10% body fat. My blood work is good. Training is focused on high intensity plus lifting and not a lot of LSD (longest runs are no more than 8-10 miles and rides, 30 miles max, swims usually less then 2000m).

  3. Sarah says:


    I recently purchased your triathlon dominator plan. Would you say tri-ripped is better? I am switching from more of a body-building background, but still want to keep at least a little bit of muscle tone. What are the major differences in the two programs? Would you have recommendations for how to make the dominator program more like the tri-ripped program if you think that one is better?

    1. Great question. In contrast to Triathlon Dominator, Tri-Ripped A) includes Sprint and Olympic distance options; B) includes more weightlifting; C) includes fewer bonus items that have a specific focus on Half Ironman and Ironman. Given you want to retain muscle… go with

  4. Benny says:

    Awesome article! Couldn’t agree more…. I’m sticking to sprint events for sure!

  5. Jeremy says:

    All credibility in this article was lost when you said carbs make you pudgy. Carbs are ESSENTIAL to muscle growth and performance.

  6. Anthony Torres says:

    Hi Ben,

    How many times would you suggest a endurance athlete weight train in a week? Also, can you recommend a lifting protocol? Thanks!

    1. It depends. Listen to this podcast:… I'd be happy to help you with your lifting protocol via a one-on-one consult. Just go to and then choose a 20 or 60-minute consult, whichever you'd prefer. I can schedule ASAP after you get that.

      Additionally, if I'm "out of your price range" (yes, yes, I know I can be a spendy guy to access) I have a team of coaches I've personally trained who can help you here:…

  7. Rob says:

    Great points. Thanks for summarising all this knowledge so concisely.

  8. john says:

    the guy on the video was swimming with the worst technique I have ever seen , you don't stick your head out to breathe! You keep it inside the water! Unless he was practicing for open water competition in the sea !

  9. Reka says:

    Awesome article! Special thanks for pointing out that healthy fat is not bad, and the hacks / tweaks at the end!

  10. hksparky says:

    Not clear on the Lift Right part. Would like to have more examples of each of the 3 types of weight training. Great article by the way!

    PS: when I click 'facebook' below to login to add my comment I always get an error message. Any idea why? I'm using Chrome browser if that matters.

  11. Dear Ben,
    This is the best synopsis of the key points of healthy training that I have ever seen. Well done and thanks.
    Dr. David Minkoff

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