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Interview with the Expert: Once Again with Dr. Jamie Cooper, PhD

Quick Hit Summary

In this interview, we have the privilege of talking with endurance athlete and sports nutritionist Dr. Jamie Cooper. Amongst other things, topics discussed include her prep for the Ironman Canada Triathlon, role of strength training and common nutritional mistakes she sees with endurance athletes.

Dr. Jamie Cooper

Figure 1. Dr. Jamie Cooper bearing down on the bike while completing the biking phase of the Ironman Canada Triathlon. Image reposted with permission

In this installment of Interview with the Expert we have the privilege of talking with Dr. Jamie Cooper. If you think this name sounds familiar, you would be correct as we previously did an interview together back in 2009 (CLICK HERE). Recently Dr. Cooper took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her triathlon training leading up to the Ironman Canada Triathlon in Penticton, BC, as well as sports nutrition.

Before discussing your meet, I was curious, how did you get involved with endurance training?

I started out as a runner. I loved cross country as well as track in school and set a goal to run a marathon the summer after I graduated from high school. I was 18 when I started endurance training and I haven’t really looked back. It’s just something I love to do.

Speaking in terms of generalities, can you briefly describe what your training loads/volume looked like 12, 6, 3, & 1 week out from the Ironman Canada Triathlon?

12 weeks before an Ironman (IM)

  • Training about 16-17 hours a week.
  • Swimming 3x a week for about 1 hour each time. This was about 5 miles a week.
  • Biking 3x a week for a total of about 8 hours (1 workout session, a steady ride, and a long ride). This was about 130 miles a week.
  • Running 5x a week for about 4.5 hours (2 transition runs, a long run, a speed/tempo session, and an easy run). This was about 40 miles a week.
  • Weight lifting 2x a week for about 45 min each time.

6 weeks before IM (Peak training)

  • Training about 22-25 hours a week.
  • Swimming 3x a week for about 75 min each time. This was about 6-8 miles a week.
  • Biking 3x a week for a total of about 11 hours (1 workout session, a steady ride, and a long ride). This was about 180 miles a week.
  • Running 5x a week for about 7.5 hours (2 transition runs, a long run, a speed/tempo session, and an easy run). This was about 54 miles a week.
  • Weight lifting 2x a week for about 30 min each time.

3 weeks before IM (Week 1 of taper)

  • Training is the same as what it was for 6 weeks before the race with about a 25-30% decrease in training volume.
  • Training intensity remains the same.
  • Weight lifting stops altogether until after race.

1 week before IM (Race week – last week of taper)

  • Training about 10 hours.
  • Still swimming 3x this week for about 2h total (about 4 miles).
  • Biking 2x this week for about 3h total (about 50 miles).
  • Running 2x this week for about 90 minutes (1 60-min run early in the week and a 30-min run later in the week).

I also take 1 rest day two days before the race. The day before the race, I swim for about 10 minutes, bike for about 15-20 minutes, and run for about 10 minutes to stay loose for the race.

What role does strength training play in your overall training cycle?

I think strength training is a very important component of triathlon training. It helps with muscle balance, injury prevention, and improved efficiency/economy of movement in the sport. That being said, triathletes usually do 2-3 workouts each day during the season, so there’s not a lot of extra time for strength training. I try to lift weights and do core work 3x a week in the offseason (October-December), 2x a week in pre-season/training (January-May), and then I either keep up that 2x a week, or stop weight lighting during the racing season (May-September). I still try to do core training year-round though.

How did the Ironman Canada Triathlon go for you?

The race went pretty well. My primary goal is always to finish. I do set secondary time goals, but I am always happy with a finish. I finished in 12 hours and 9 minutes. I was hoping to break 12 hours, so I came close to my time goal. The marathon was a little rough for me, which is unusual because I’m usually the strongest on the run. I had to deal with some nausea and flavor fatigue problems which made it difficult to keep up with my nutrition during the second half of the marathon. This caused my marathon time to be slower than I had hoped for, but overall, I was still really happy with how the race went.

How did this past year’s racing season go for you? What does the 2013 schedule look like for you?

I had a busy 2012 season. I did 2 half Ironmans, a couple sprint triathlons, and capped off my season with Ironman Louisville in August. Right now, I am just running a lot and doing a good amount of core training and strength training. My triathlon training will resume in early spring. I am signed up for Ironman Florida (November 2013), so most of my training and races next summer will be geared towards preparing for IM Florida.

For those not familiar with these distances, a full ironman includes a swim of 2.4 miles (3.9 km), a bike ride of 112 miles (180 km), and a marathon run of 26.219 miles (42.195 km); A half marathon obviously equals 1/2 distance on those events. The sprint marathon consists of swimming 0.47 mile (0.75 km), biking 12 miles (20 km) and finishes with a 3.1 mile (5 km) run.

What advice do you have for those looking to get involved with marathon/triathlon training?

I recommend finding some training groups or friends that already compete in marathons or triathlons. There are organizations or clubs in just about every town/city so if you’re just getting started, that’s a good place to learn about training and racing. I also recommend going out of your comfort zone. I know so many people who want to do triathlons but are afraid of the swim (or say they can’t swim). I was not a good swimmer when I first started the sport, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and started swimming and asking for help on my swim stroke.

Finally, as a sports nutritionist, I recommend that any aspiring marathon or triathlete get some help/coaching in nutrition. I am continually amazed at how much work people will put into training yet they don’t fuel their bodies properly. Don’t just follow what other runners or triathletes are doing – get some expert advice and help!

You’ve written extensively about sports nutrition for triathletes, (I refer you to Dr. Cooper’s book The Complete Nutrition Guide for Triathletes – please know that I receive ABSOLUTELY NO compensation/financial kickbacks if you choose to purchase this book). Following up on your answer to the previous question, what are the key mistakes that most people are making with respect to fueling their bodies for triathlons? How should they go about correcting them?

I think the biggest mistake people make is underestimating the power of proper nutrition for triathlon, or any sport really. I see so many triathletes and runners spending a lot of time, effort, and money on training and equipment. Yet, they often overlook their nutrition. Second to that, I think there are 3 mistakes that I most commonly observe.

The first is fluid intake. Most athletes have no idea what their sweat rate is, or what optimal hydration is during training/racing. Most athletes don’t come close to meeting their fluid needs during exercise.

The second most common mistake I see relates to carbohydrate intake during training. Research shows that for ultra-endurance athletes (4+h of exercise), adequate carbohydrate intake ranges from 60-90 grams per hour. Many of the triathletes and runners I know only get about 40-50g per hour. Getting adequate carbohydrate helps delay or slow down glycogen losses which has been directly linked to endurance performance.

The final common mistake I see is about electrolyte replacement. For athletes training for several hours, salt or electrolyte pills are usually necessary. Most endurance athletes I know do take salt tablets. However, many fail to realize that sodium content varies drastically from brand to brand. For instance, some only provide 40mg of sodium whereas others provide up to 340mg of sodium. Unfortunately, many athletes simply follow the “a pill is a pill” line of thinking; therefore, they take the same number regardless of which brand they are consuming.

There are several other commons mistakes that athletes of all sports commonly make, but these are the three that are both very common and likely the most detrimental to performance. My book addresses these three issues in detail as well as many others.

Are there any supplements that you recommend as part of a sound nutrition program for endurance athletes?

In general, I think athletes should follow a healthy, balanced diet to meet their nutrient needs. With that being said, many athletes fall short of this goal. Therefore, I recommend that all athletes take a multivitamin/mineral pill daily. It can be viewed as an insurance policy; if you’re not eating a healthy, balanced diet, a multivitamin will help ensure that you are getting the micronutrients you need every day.

Any peri-workout nutrition advice for endurance athletes?

Here are a couple of brief tips:


Never train on an empty stomach. A pre-workout meal should be rich in carbohydrates and can contain small amounts of protein and fat. This meal should be consumed AT LEAST 1 hour or more before exercise.

During workout

If exercising for longer than 60 minutes, consume at least 60 grams per hour of carbohydrates. Drink 1 cup of fluid every 15 minutes during biking and 1 cup every 20 minutes during running, including some electrolytes.


Consume this meal within 15-30 minutes after exercise. This meal should contain carbohydrates (about 60-70 grams with some simple sugars for rapid absorption – high glycemic index foods are good), protein (6-20 grams of protein that contains all 9 of the essential amino acids – this can be found in any animal protein as well as quinoa, etc), and very little fat if any (it slows down digestion and absorption of carbs and protein).

Although our focus to this point has been on endurance training, I know that you’re pretty well versed in all facets of sports nutrition. One key aspect of nutrition is making sure that you’re getting in enough energy to fuel your body. The readers here at CasePerformance are likely familiar with the Harris Benedict equation to obtain BMR kcal requirements. For those looking to make quick estimations of needs (or regular sport coaches looking to give their athletes an idea of how much they need), the RMR is usually multiplied by an “activity factor”. Although I know one can get a lot more specific than using general “activity factors”, what type of multipliers would you recommend as a starting point for the following situations…

I know this isn’t what you’re asking, but I just wanted to mention that there are several other equations that can be used to estimate RMR (resting metabolic rate) such as the WHO equation and the Cunningham equation. I particularly like the Cunningham equation for athletes because it is based on fat free mass rather than total body weight. This may be a more accurate equation for athletes. The Cunningham equation is actually for TEE (total energy expenditure), not RMR.

As for activity factors, certain equations have different limits/recommendations for activity factors. For example, if you use the DRI equation, the activity factors are very different than those used for the WHO equation (which ranges from 1.6 – 2.4). Also, I don’t use the Harris Benedict equation as much (it seems to overestimate RMR a little bit compared to other equations), so I will give you my best guess to your scenarios below, but they will probably be more appropriate for the WHO equation than the Harris Benedict equation.

1) In-season basketball player lifting 2-3x/week plus practice 5 days/wk. High school/college

This athlete is probably at about a 2.2-2.3

2) Off-season soccer athlete who is taking 4-5 weeks off of any “formal training” following the season. May do light activity, etc – riding bike to/from classes on college campus 5 days wk, scrimmaging a little bit 0-2x/wk, but nothing too intense.

Activity factor of about 1.7

3) Off-season American football athlete, lifting intensely 4 days/wk + 2 speed training sessions

Activity factor of about 1.9-2.1

4) Non-competitive athlete who has a desk job, but lifts hard 3-4x/wk + bikes 30 min 1-2x/wk

Activity factor of about 1.8-1.9

5) Non-competitive athlete who has a physically demanding job (ex-construction worker) and runs 3-5 miles, 4-5x/wk

Activity factor of about 2.0-2.2

Also, do these activity factors take in the thermic effect of food (TEF) or is that something additional that one must add into the equation?

The thermic effect of food is about 10% of total daily energy expenditure. While these equations do not specifically say that the TEF is included, they do appear to take that into account. If the correct activity factor is chosen, the estimated energy expenditure is quite close to actual energy expenditure.

Switching gears a little bit, can you share with us some of the latest research that your group has been doing at Texas Tech? Are there any results (published or preliminary) that you can share with us?

My research lab has been busy working on a number of different studies related to metabolism, satiety, and exercise performance. My research lab (Human Nutrition Lab) now has a website which can be found by CLICKING HERE. Once on that site, if you look at the left hand side of the site you will see the heading “HNL” under the search box. Under that heading you can find a tab to our current research projects as well as a tab for our recently published studies.

One particular research project that we’re working on, that I believe will be of interest to the CasePerformance community, is focused on interested is examining the effects of a popular dietary supplement on exercise performance in endurance athletes.

The primary ingredient in this supplement is Echinacea, which is purported to stimulate red blood cell production via increasing erythropoietin (aka – EPO) levels. Red blood cells are important for carrying oxygen to working muscles during aerobic exercise. More red blood cells —> more oxygen delivery —> improved endurance performance. We are testing whether or not supplementation with this product increases maximal aerobic capacity and a number of parameters in the blood, including red blood cell number. Unlike many studies that use untrained athletes, this one is being conducted in 45 endurance trained athletes (mostly cyclists, runners, and triathletes). Thus, the results should generalize a little better over to the population who is most likely to be taking the supplement.

This study is a double blinded, placebo controlled study, so the participants are getting either the supplement or a placebo. We do baseline testing, then a 5-week intervention period (where the subjects take either placebo or supplement), and then post testing. The double blinded portion means that neither the study participant nor the graduate student researchers know which treatment contains placebo and which treatment contains the supplement. We are hoping to finish subject testing in the next couple of months, so the results of this study should be published hopefully in 2013. [Editor note – I refer you to Jamie Cooper’s previous interview where she discusses more in-depth how articles go from “lab data” to publication in a research journal.]

For those looking to work directly with you, where else can individuals find you?

For anyone interested in specific sports nutrition/endurance sport coaching, I can be reached via my website. Additionally, I post nutrition tips on the Competitive Nutrition Facebook Page that are beneficial to both athletes as well as those simply interested in leading a healthy lifestyle.

Thanks for joining us here today as I realize it takes time to answer these questions. Keep up the great work!

Last but not least, for those CasePerformance readers who’d like to find out more about how to maximize their triathlon performance via proper nutrition, I encourage you to check out The Complete Nutrition Guide for Triathletes. (And again, I stress that I receive ABSOLUTELY NO financial compensation if you choose to order this book. Rather my goal is to provide you with a resource to assist you on your training journey!)

Click Here to find out "Why we do, what we do."

Written on December 04, 2012 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: December 04, 2012

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.