In this edition we hear from the newest recruit to Team Brownlee for the Sub7 challenge.
Alistair Brownlee has appointed a world-renowned clinical dietitian to the world’s biggest sporting names and teams in sport. His name is Nigel Mitchell, and he will be Alistair’s technical project manager for the Sub-7 assault.
Nigel has over 25 years of clinical and elite sport nutrition experience, and is the author of seminal cycling nutrition book Fuelling the Cycling Revolution: The Nutritional Strategies and Recipes Behind Grand Tour Wins and Olympic Gold Medals. Tour de France, triathlon, rowing, sailing, swimming — you name the sport, he’s provided his expertise in performance nutrition to elite athletes in it.
However, Nigel’s clinical experience working with immunocompromised AIDS and cancer patients also developed his understanding of the gastrointestinal tract and how it delivers much-needed nutrients. This allowed him to individualise Alistair’s nutrition plan: Alistair now uses a specially-formulated drink that he can digest properly so his body can continue to transfer carbohydrate from the gut into the blood (and from there into muscle and tissue) throughout the duration of a long-distance event. Alistair had complained about bloating and running out of energy toward the tail end of his races; after working with Nigel, he broke a full distance course record.
Nigel’s role grew organically as they began to look into other matters related to Alistair’s performance. He says, “One of the things I’ve always been interested in is the optimum performance of athletes… What is it we’re trying to do? Let’s break that down into how we can then solve this problem.”
The “problem”, in this case, is how to go Sub-7. Where can they save time? Where can gains be made?
The men’s full distance record has inched down throughout the years. Part of this has been selection pressure having the fittest and best athletes competing at the top level of the sport. But technological breakthroughs in materials used, in aerodynamics, and in race tactics have also contributed their own marginal gains. Nigel’s job is to help Alistair bring all these marginal gains into play.
Just as the race to go sub-2 over the marathon brought about the carbon sole revolution in running footwear, the Sub-7 could mean game-changing developments for the sport as a whole.
“Is there anything we can do with the bike, the tires, the tri suit, the wetsuit, the shoes… My task was to connect with groups and people to see what we can then look to influence to increase the chances of Alistair making the project. And one of the really cool things with this is it isn’t just about Sub-7. The learning we get from this can then be transferred.”
Nigel views himself as a facilitator of his athlete’s aims, while Alistair is still very much the captain of this ship. “His charisma is what drew me to work with him on this project. The details that we’re looking at this moment are the things that’s going to enable him to do that, but without his leadership and without his vision and his drive, then none of that work would be done… If we’re successful — which I’m very calm and confident as long as Alistair is in one piece — it’s all down to his work.”
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