Science and the Secrets of the Older Athlete with Training Bible Author Joe Friel- EP026

 In Podcast

Human civilization has been searching for the Fountain of Youth since at least the 5th century BC. And while we know that particular legend is a myth, today’s guest reveals how the right kind of training can offer athletes a means to aging gracefully—preventing sarcopenia, avoiding injury and maintaining heart health while they continue to train and compete well after the age of 50.




Joe Friel is the founder of TrainingPeaks, the premiere training software for athletes and coaches. He has been training endurance athletes for 37 years, and his clients include elite amateur and professional road cyclists, mountain bikers and triathletes. Joe has written a number of training books, and he is a sought-after presenter, offering clinics, seminars and camps for athletes and coaches all over the globe. He also serves as a consultant, offering his expertise to national sports federations and businesses in the fitness industry.

Joe is a Colorado State Masters Triathlon champion, a Rocky Mountain region, and Southwest region duathlon age-group champion, and a perennial USA Triathlon All-American duathlete. Today he explains how consistent training keeps stem cells going strong, the appropriate balance of high-intensity versus easy exercise, and the best tools available to measure stress and prevent overtraining. Listen in as Joe shares his personal nutrition plan and how he has continued to train and compete into his 70’s!

Topics Covered

[1:08] What inspired Joe to write Fast After 50

  • Approaching 70th birthday, decided to give himself present
  • New research on aging athletes since Cycling Past 50
[2:19] How training affects stem cells and telomeres

  • Body constantly rebuilding via chromosome division
  • Telomeres (caps on ends of chromosomes) shorten as we age
  • Vigorous consistent training helps telomeres last longer
  • Stem cells (organelles that repair damaged muscle cells) die off as we age
  • Intense exercise correlates with number of stem cells
[4:56] Joe’s definition of ‘intense exercise’

  • Takes you up to anaerobic threshold (7 out of 10)
  • Stresses body in unique way
  • Challenges body to adapt
  • Gives us tools to keep stem cells, telomeres going strong
[6:05] Joe’s take on the fear of injury and cardiovascular stress in older athletes

  • Many older athletes (especially runners) struggle with injury
  • Must be patient, work up to threshold
  • Give body time to adapt to stress applied to it
  • Likelihood of cardiovascular disease increases without exercise
  • AFib rate is about 5% in normal population
  • No data specific to athletes
  • Polarized model promotes 80% easy, 20% high-intensity exercise
  • Read The Haywire Heart for more information
[10:25] The role of stress in training

  • First explored by Austrian endocrinologist Hans Selye in 1930’s
  • Studied how organisms respond to stress
  • Physiological stress from training at appropriate level is good (eustress)
  • Overtraining results in distress
  • Fitness is realized during recovery (more means less)
[13:04] How to measure stress

  • Study in 1970’s suggested using heart rate, training impulse (TRIMP)
  • In early 2000’s, sports psychologist Andrew Coggan developed TSS
  • Used power meters to create formula that measures stress
  • Monitor TSS over time to create balance, avoid overtraining
  • Uses reference point (anaerobic threshold) to know when experiencing stress
  • Measure fitness, fatigue, form, race prep
  • TrainingPeaks is best tool available
[16:47] The evolution of TrainingPeaks

  • Currently measures Training Stress Score (TSS)
  • Eventually plan to develop a Life Stress Score (more difficult to quantify)
  • Apps already measure sleep, quality of sleep
  • Would include other aspects of life
[17:56] How Joe uses CTL to measure fitness

  • CTL = Chronic Training Load
  • Proxy for fitness (increase training load, increase fitness)
  • Calculated via 42-day rolling average of TSS scores from every workout
  • Measures changes in fitness, identifies trends
  • Understand rate of change over course of time
[19:53] The CTL numbers an athlete should aim for

  • Depends on level, experience
  • Novice athlete in first year, CTL rise to high of 40 TSS/day
  • Tour de France GC contender, CTL rise to 160 TSS/day
  • Learn more at
[22:02] How Joe recovered from his 2014 cycling crash

  • Broke seven bones, sustained concussion
  • Blood clots in both legs, frozen shoulder
  • Slowly worked way back to health, then training
[23:33] Joe’s secret to rehabbing quickly and well

  • Consistency
  • Joe works out every day when he’s home
[24:56] Joe’s approach to nutrition

  • Made change in 1994
  • Got rid of ‘junk food’ (including bread)
  • Focused on vegetables, fruits and animal products
  • Training volume improved significantly
  • Wrote The Paleo Diet for Athletes
  • Noticed physiological changes in 2012 (insulin resistance)
  • Changed diet again to keep body weight down
  • Sports scientist Tim Noakes suggests more fat, less carbs
  • Joe incorporated that advice, serves him well
[28:06] The role of nature vs. nurture in determining aerobic capacity

  • Upper limit on VO2 max determined by parents (nature)
  • Study of twins demonstrates sharp decline in VO2 max without exercise
  • Implication that nurture plays bigger role
  • Born with high VO2 max but don’t exercise, lose very quickly
  • Continue to train, VO2 max hardly declines at all

Learn More About Joe Friel

SuperFly Coaching

Resources Mentioned

Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life by Joe Friel

Joe Friel Books

Cycling Past 50: Ageless Athlete by Joe Friel

The Haywire Heart: How Too Much Exercise Can Kill You, and What You Can Do to Protect Your Heart by Christopher J. Case, Dr. John Mandrola and Lennard Zinn

The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance  by David Epstein




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