The idea that there is an ideal weight, or racing weight, that an athlete needs to achieve to have their best performances has long been endemic endurance sports. However, the pressure to get and stay lean can wreak havoc on an athlete’s fueling and nutrition, ultimately derailing performance.
Performance nutritionist Scott Tindal sits down with pro triathlete Skye Moench to talk about her experience of navigating nutrition and body composition when she went pro. After working with a nutritionist to lose weight and better fuel her training, she felt confident and ready to compete on the world stage. Her race results further indicated that she was on the right track, but a new coach thought otherwise, telling her that she needed to lose a few kilos if she truly wanted to be the best.
Assumptions about racing weight and body composition impact all athletes, not just women. Tindal explains how targeting a specific body composition or weight needs to be rooted in science—biometric screenings and training data—and achieved gradually, even over multiple seasons, to avoid compromising performance. With recent advances in sport nutrition, the top pro athletes are vying to increase their carbohydrate intake in intense training sessions in preparation for the demands of racing, which means fueling performance needs to be the pro’s top priority.
Moench now uses Tindal’s Fuelin app to take the guesswork out of her fueling. Fuelin uses a red, yellow, and green system as a stoplight for carb consumption before, during, and after training sessions as follows:
- Red directs the athlete to consume less carbohydrates, about 30 grams.
- Yellow directs the athlete to consume a moderate amount of carboyhydrates, about 50 grams.
- Green directs the athlete to consume a higher amount of carbohydrates, about 100 grams.
Specific fueling goals are individualized according to the athlete’s training plan as Fuelin syncs with platforms like TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan. The guidelines that follow identify the objective of each fueling window (pre-session, in session, and post-session) and account for duration and intensity.
As the recovery protocol indicates, the athlete’s goal can be either to improve performance or improve body composition. If athletes are targeting weight loss, the recovery protocol includes fewer carbohydrates to create a modest caloric deficit.
Scott Tindal 0:03
You know, I think there’s certainly a lot of things that we’ve talked about over the past few weeks that sort of, you know, made me think a bit about, you know, working with pro athletes and age group athletes and the pressures that are faced by professional athletes and not just age group athletes. And certainly when it comes to nutrition, there are a lot of pressures and maybe more pressures on females than males. You know, do you want to tell us how you got started in triathlon from … and when you got started in it?
Leveling up to pro triathlon
Skye Moench 0:34
My background is not elite sport. I dabbled in distance running as a teenager and really fell in love with running but then I pursued my degree and master’s degree in accounting and tax accounting. So my focus was on school and everything. And it wasn’t until about four years into my career at Ernst & Young as a business tax compliance, you know, person that I just really wanted to chase my dream of triathlon. And I just had this inner confidence. Like, I don’t know where it came from, but I just really strongly felt like I could be a good pro if I got a coach. And I worked hard at this, because prior to that, I’d just done local events—local running events, local triathlons—and I performed well locally, which gave me enough confidence to think that I could go on the world stage and perform well, which was kind of crazy, but it’s kind of cool that I just had no idea what I was really getting into. And I didn’t … I wasn’t worried about it, I was just going to figure it out as I went.
So, pertinent to this conversation with nutrition and athletes, I do want to highlight that when I got into triathlon, you know, obviously, being a human being, and maybe even more specifically a female, I was very aware of weight, and how eating—you know, sitting at a desk all day, I learned very quickly how if I ate whatever I wanted, then my pants were going to be a bit tighter, that sort of thing. But from a sports performance perspective, it never occurred to me that I would need to maybe even worry about my weight, because up until that point, it was like, I told my body to run faster, it ran faster. I told my body to ride harder up the mountain—you know, I love beating guys to the top of all these mountains I have here—and I did it. Like, my body was strong and it performed. And that’s kind of the mindset I had going into triathlon.
Scott Tindal 2:30
So when you first started was, like—and the coach you got, did they talk about the need to lose weight?
Skye Moench 2:37
You know, it’s funny. Overall, I would say no, but I remember the very first time that I met him, he made a comment to me that was just like, “You know, the top athletes are really lean, you’re probably going to have to, you know, get lean.” And I remember my response being, “Well, literally, I just finished a tax busy season sitting at my desk all day. So I think just by the sheer nature of not sitting at my desk all day and exercising all day, that my body’s going to take care of itself.”
And honestly that that was the last I had heard of it from that coach. It wasn’t until later in that relationship when I decided that I wasn’t getting my nutrition right that I [or] we even spoke about weight. When I brought that up to my coach, he said, “You know what, I support you. And I know a great nutritionist you can work with.” And I went and met with her and learned more—like, I’ve read some books and, you know, articles here and there. But I learned even more specifically what I needed from a macro perspective and a safe, sustainable way of losing weight. Like we’re talking a very small deficit every week to help really lose weight and not have it affect my performance. And it worked. Like, I did what she had recommended and yeah—no injuries, no mental breakdowns at all. It all worked well.
Scott Tindal 3:53
Well, I think there’s a very important point which you sort of glossed over: You did it gradually.
Skye Moench 4:00
Very gradually. Yeah.
Scott Tindal 4:01
And I think that is something that I definitely see a lot. Like where a lot of athletes go wrong—professional and age group athletes—is that desire to lose weight extremely quickly, which obviously pushes you into a huge, usually, a large caloric deficit, which then negatively impacts the training, your mood and everything, and you just give up.
Skye Moench 4:22
Scott Tindal 4:22
Because it’s just too hard. And it’s always, like, just that patience.
Skye Moench 4:27
Yeah, well, and the thing with probably most endurance athletes, and certainly at like the pro, very elite level, is we don’t have that much weight to lose. So, you know what I mean? Like, I mean, I think I was seeking to lose like seven or eight pounds? Like, that’s really not that much. I mean, it’s—it was impactful for me, but, like, as a percentage of my body weight that would, that would have been a lot to lose overnight. So …
Scott Tindal 4:53
Yeah, completely. And then, so you obviously—you know, that coach worked for a period of time. You then decided to get a new coach and you started to see some great results.
Skye Moench 5:04
Scott Tindal 5:04
But behind the scenes, you faced a lot of pressure. Can you tell us more about that experience?
Balancing racing weight and performance goals
Skye Moench 5:10
Yeah. So I felt after a few years with my first coach, I just wasn’t developing and progressing and performing at the level that I believed I could. And so I had started to make more friends in the triathlon community and made friends with more coaches. And so I went with a coach who was getting results on the world stage with athletes.
It was a great relationship, but almost immediately after starting with him, an arbitrary number was thrown out of what my race weight needed to be. And I had already expressed to him that I was, I had been working to lose weight already. And I’d already been down, I think, seven or eight pounds. But you know, sure, I would keep working at it. You know, if he thought I needed to be another six or seven pounds lighter then that’s what I needed to do, because that must be what it took to be the best.
But I will admit, I remember thinking like, “Wow, I don’t really know where that’s gonna come from,” because I felt really healthy and happy with my body, and I was performing well. So that was a little shocking to me. But I wanted to get better, right? So I just, I processed it, but I didn’t necessarily go to an extreme. I just kept doing what I was doing, which was fueling my training, eating well. And frankly, I never lost the weight that he told me I should. So that’s kind of from the beginning, weight was a thing that I needed to lose to perform.
Scott Tindal 6:37
And then, obviously, like, you know, coming into this, like, in weight before you started the sport, you’re a confident person.
Skye Moench 6:43
Scott Tindal 6:43
I can—having known you for a while now, you’re a confident person. Yeah, how did that play a role in all of this? Like, could you see the other side of it?
Skye Moench 6:53
Yeah, I mean, for sure. It made me … it made me more self-conscious, I think in a way. Or it made me think about my weight, or it affected my confidence if I stepped on a scale, and I wasn’t at that number, right? If I stepped on a scale, and I wasn’t at the number that my coach had told me I needed to be at—which I never was—then in my head, I’d have to like, talk myself out of, like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be too fat on the bike, I’m going to be slow, I’m not gonna be able to run fast.” Like, those thoughts just naturally pop into your head. And I would have to unwind and like pep talk, pep talk myself into, “No,” like, “you’ve trained well, you’re healthy, you’re happy, just block those thoughts out.” And I think that’s how it ultimately affected my confidence is just having a number in my head that if I didn’t hit, then I wasn’t prepared to have the performance of my lifetime.
Scott Tindal 7:48
During that period of time where you were being told you need to lose weight, did you start to consciously reduce, say, in-session fueling or out-of-session recovery meals and things like that?
Skye Moench 7:59
Yeah, I … basically, what I had usually done is I focused on fueling my training. You know, like, I always ate breakfast, I fueled my hard sessions, my big hard sessions I fueled. And then if I felt like I wanted to try to be more conscious, it was more a matter of, you know, not snacking after dinner. Because it really doesn’t take much, right? Like when you’re training that much, it doesn’t usually take much, it’s just being a little more conscious, on quality intake. Because the other thing for me, and this is something I’m proud of, is I’ve never had a stress fracture. I’ve never been injured. I don’t have to change training because of injuries. Like, I don’t miss races because of injuries. I’ve never lost my period. Like, all these huge signs, like, I’m—I feel like I fuel well. That’s something that I do well.
So I didn’t want to compromise my training, because what’s the point? What’s the point of going to race if I can’t even complete the training well, right? So I’ve just always focused on the fueling, and the training, and trying to eat well, and fuel well, and letting my body composition take care of itself.
Scott Tindal 9:09
Ultimately, you changed up your coach, and you began with a new coach.
Skye Moench 9:14
A new approach to fueling and nutrition
Scott Tindal 9:15
And then a year after, I actually sent you a message on Instagram. You finally reached out to me and said, “I’m really embarrassed, I’m actually now replying to you. I’d like some help because I think I need to get my nutrition in order.”
Skye Moench 9:30
Ultimately, I wanted to work with you, Scott, because I had just spent years with thinking, I guess questioning my nutrition in a way. Like, okay, if I’m constantly three kilos overweight, then I must be not getting my fueling right. And then I was just sick of playing the mind games and I just wanted to have the clarity and reassurance that this is what my body needs. And this is what, you know, professionals—nutrition professionals—are recommending. And so yeah, I was really grateful when you wrote back very quickly because I was like, “Sweet, I want to start this, like, tomorrow.”
Scott Tindal 10:11
No, no, I think I still remember that first conversation and you explaining. And it’s really sad that the perception is that it’s all about, if you work with a nutritionist, it’s about losing weight. And yes, there is that component for, again, a lot of athletes, especially, again, age group athletes, who maybe get into the sport of triathlon to maybe lose some weight. And I can understand that where nutrition becomes super important from that perspective.
But, you know, in your situation, it’s about performance. And it certainly instills a lot of confidence in me that that team around you is actually working towards, not just your performance, but also your health.
Skye Moench 10:51
Scott Tindal 10:52
Because I think you touched on a number of areas where—female specific—where things can go wrong very quickly when a chronic caloric deficit is applied with high training volume and high training intensity and, ultimately, high training load.
Skye Moench 11:09
The cost of underfueling
Scott Tindal 11:10
You know, those things where I know a lot of listeners will—and females are now way more aware of it, of LEA, low energy availability, and the effect on, in particular, females. So, you know, menstrual dysfunction, bone injuries, whether that’s a stress injury, a stress reaction, a stress fracture, you know, in the hip, most commonly in the hip, unfortunately, and we see this a lot. We are seeing it on social media more and more, unfortunately, where athletes are—at least they’re owning it and saying, you know, “I have a stress fracture.” I think what’s always funny, and I think we talked about that is where they’re like, “We’re searching, we’re searching for the answer, we’re not quite sure.” And it’s like, well, if you look at the research, LEA, or low energy availability, underpins all of this.
Skye Moench 12:00
Scott Tindal 12:01
And so it’s like, don’t search for the answer, like, just own it that you were underfueling. And you need to focus on actually consuming more. And so I think, you know …
Skye Moench 12:10
It’s easy to underfuel. I mean, some people maybe are doing intentionally, but it’s easy to do it unintentionally as well. And that’s also the value I see in working with you, because I don’t want to underfuel. I don’t—I want my long-term health. And I want my short-term health as well for racing well, and I think it’s really important that there’s not the stigma of, “Oh, you’re working with a nutritionist, you must want to lose weight.” It’s like, no, your entire job isn’t to help people lose weight. It’s to help us accomplish our performance goals. Because what we put in our body and timing and all of that is really important.
Scott Tindal 12:46
I think that’s ultimately what I want to hear from athletes …
Skye Moench 12:50
Scott Tindal 12:50
It just makes my life easier.
The impact of comparison and stigma
Skye Moench 12:52
It absolutely does. Like I said, it takes the guesswork out. And another huge component for me is taking the guesswork out of fueling my sessions. Because, you know, I’ve even had instances where I’m the only one eating on a ride, and then you’re like, “Oh, am I just like overeating now?” And then you sit and play these mind games. And now I don’t think about it because I’m like, “Well, Scott told me that this is what I need to eat. So this is what I’m eating.” [Laughs] It’s nice.
Scott Tindal 13:17
It’s so funny, it’s so funny you say that, though, because I was talking to another male pro, and he was saying, well, when he first started this, it was like, if you had a sip of water on, like, a three-hour ride, you were, like, you were just not part of the team. And if you were eating you were cheating.
Skye Moench 13:36
Scott Tindal 13:37
And it’s like, it’s getting that mentality of, like, “You know what? Screw what the rest of everyone’s doing, they’re silly and they’re not actually going to fuel what you need.” And it’s not saying you need like 90 or 120 grams of carbs for every session.
Skye Moench 13:50
Scott Tindal 13:50
As you know, like, some of those lower-intensity rides, it’s just getting calories in.
Skye Moench 13:55
A guide for macronutrient intake
Scott Tindal 13:55
The way that the Fuelin system works is there’s a traffic light system. So red—when Skye sees her program, she sees a combination of red, yellow, and green before and after sessions and also during sessions. And in terms of meals, the 30, the red will signify lower amounts of carbohydrates, so around 30 grams of carbs; yellow is around 50 grams of carbs; and green is around 100 grams of carbs. In terms of the red and green … red, yellow, and green for in-session fueling, again, red is lower amounts of carbs but with additional fat added in; yellow is around that 50 to 60 grams an hour; and then the green, depending on the individual athlete and the data that they put within it, they will be aiming for somewhere between 70 and 120 grams an hour of carbohydrates.
So you can use some whole foods, you can use sandwiches, you can use trail mix, you can eat whatever it is that will provide you with the necessary calories. But then when we go into those high-intensity sessions, if it’s carb fluids, if it’s chews, if it’s gels, obviously you’ve got your specifics. You know, “I’ve got to hit this number.”
Skye Moench 15:06
Scott Tindal 15:07
And that’s what we’re looking at now. And I love, I love that, you know—where are you at? If you’re happy to tell, I don’t know if you’re happy to say where you’re at in terms of grams per hour, sort of what you’re—what you’ve been targeting and how, you know, what you targeted?
Skye Moench 15:21
Scott Tindal 15:21
Skye Moench 15:22
Yeah, I mean, at Frankfurt [2023 Ironman European Championship], um, we were targeting … I think it was even slightly over 100 grams [of carbohydrate] an hour … and I managed to, on the bike, and I got in around 90, just a little over 90 [g/hr.].
Scott Tindal 15:33
I think what we talk about a lot, and you can maybe talk about this more is like using those training sessions to refine your racing.
Increasing carbohydrate capacity in training
Skye Moench 15:40
Yeah, I think the biggest difference for me now in training, like I said, I was always quite good at fueling the training. But I, I wouldn’t have a specific goal, per se. I mean, I kind of had this goal of like, you know, I need to fuel probably half the calories I’m burning.
So I think the biggest difference is that I’m now really focusing on like, way more carbohydrates in the more intense sessions, whereas before, maybe I would have done more of a mix of like bars and or like cookies that I like to make, and stuff like that. So now I’m definitely doing a lot more carbohydrates for the intense sessions.
Scott Tindal 16:15
It’s like the SAID principle isn’t it, it’s specific adaptation to implied demand.
Skye Moench 16:20
Scott Tindal 16:21
And so that that is where like, you know, much in the same way as training, you’re doing the same thing with nutrition, you’re training your body to become adapted to what you’re putting on it … putting into it. And the stomach is a muscle, it can be trained like a muscle. You can improve the ability to cope with these high amounts of carbohydrates—the way your body absorbs them, the way your body utilizes them, can be trained over time. It’s not going to be a single session, it’s going to be …
Skye Moench 16:54
Scott Tindal 16:55
Again, like, I can hear you saying, like, “I don’t want to do this again.” It’s like, “Just do it again.” And that’s fine. Like, and that probably, you know, in terms of like, you know, starting to wrap up—we are emotional creatures. And it’s like, but sometimes you’ve got to take, you know, the emotion out of what’s happening and just look at like, again, look at the science, look at what it is you’re trying to achieve, and then be purposeful with that. And then, you know, if you do it over and over again, it’s that adherence and consistency, it will bring results.
Skye Moench 17:32
Scott Tindal 17:33
Is there anything you want to add for any listener out there—any triathlete or any endurance athlete—sort of about your experience that we’ve discussed today?
Happiness as a factor in performance
Skye Moench 17:42
I mean, I guess I would just say like if an athlete out there is dealing with pressure to lose weight, whether from themselves, like comparison games, or from a coach, or anyone else, then find a way to remove that pressure, whether it’s, you know, a coach change or just working with someone to help you. Like for me, working with you, Scott, really helps me relieve that pressure because then I just, like I said, I take the guesswork out of my nutrition. And then I can just take confidence in what I’m fueling, day in and day out. Because ultimately, I think for performance what really matters is fueling and being happy, like you cannot put a value there.
Like I cannot overstate how important it is that you’re happy when you’re out there racing and that you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Like that, I believe, would make up for any couple pounds that someone’s trying to shave off. That far outweighs you know, how we sit and nitpick our bodies over a few pounds. So focusing on performance, proper nutrition, and, you know, life happiness is really … that’s my goal, honestly, because I know I perform my best when I’m doing those things. So I think for others, that’s what I would say.
Scott Tindal 19:00
Very well said. Well said.