Q&A on Indoor Training, Effective Sleep, Recovery Needs for Women, and Vitamin D with Jennifer Real

Medical doctor and elite Zwift team manager Jennifer Real talks with us about indoor training and racing, and how to achieve effective recovery including monitoring sleep and taking Vitamin D. 

Jennifer Real

Jennifer Real is an athlete with many talents. She races for and manages the Saris | NoPinz Elite women’s Zwift racing team. She’s also and M.D. in internal medicine. Dr. Real joins Fast Talk to talk about indoor training and racing, sleep monitoring, recovery in women, ERG mode on the trainer, and vitamin D for athletes.

The Monotony of Indoor Training 

This question comes from Michael Bevan:  

I train exclusively indoors, for Time Trials. My racing power is currently about 320W 

To get past the monotony of indoor training I decided to do the following, two times per week. 400w for 1min, then 150w for 1min and repeat for 23 intervals, as that is all I have time for. The normalized power was 330w for 43 minutes. 

Weather permitting, I would do a road session on a Saturday – 2 x 20min mostly. I was able to TT at 320w for 30 minutes. 

Any thoughts on this approach?

WHOOP Sleep Data 

This question comes from Giancarlo Bianchi in Colorado: 

I’ve been using Whoop since last October. I feel like it’s most useful in helping you hone the skill of “listening to your body”. One thing I’ve been having trouble/issues with lately is sleep. It would seem I don’t sleep pretty much. On average I get about 5.5 – 6 hrs of sleep and somehow am able to function. I am in bed by 9-10pm and usually wake up pretty early (5-6am) with the sunlight, without an alarm and usually feel fine.  

One thing I’ve started to see is, when I wake up at 5 or so, my whoop reading would be in the green and HRV will be in a good range. However, despite this reading it would say I slept something stupid like 4h50m. Sometimes I would try to get another sleep cycle in and just fall back asleep. I usually would sleep another 30 minutes to an hour. When I do, I take a new reading and both the score and HRV are usually worse than before. I found this quite puzzling.  

When I was talking to my wife about this, she asked if I always slept such short hours since I got the whoop. I told her, well I don’t know, so I created a graph in TrainingPeaks and saw something interesting. There is a definite shift in my sleep around the time I started more formal training/training with structure (Beginning of March). So I would suspect that I am carrying more cortisol in my body and that’s maybe why I am sleeping less? 

My questions are: 

  1. Is the whole needing 8 hours of sleep a myth? It would seem I am able to function just fine (work 40 hrs of week, training 12-15 hrs a week on average), so should I be worried at all? 
  1. What might have caused the shift in my sleep when I started training? Is my theory about cortisol sound or are there other things causing it? 

Relevant graphs below: 

Graph of Sleep hours from beginning of Whoop use 


Sleep hours overlayed with HRV:

Recovery Needs for a New Female Cyclist 

This question comes from Sasha Helmy:  

I’ve recently started listening to your show. It has really helped my training! COVID got me into riding a bike and now that racing has started, I’ve decided to try my first race this spring. I’m nervous but also really excited for my new adventure.  

What I wanted to ask you about is recovery. You’ve talked a lot about it on the show, but I was wondering if it’s different for someone like me – a woman who is fairly new to the sport. In particular, does my cycle impact the amount of rest and recovery that I need? 

ERG Mode on the Trainer

This question comes from Jeff Pugsley: 

I love your podcast! I have been working through all the episodes and have found many valuable training tips. As someone with a science background (MD – radiologist) who is regularly digging into methods sections of journal articles, I really appreciate the level of science understanding and critique that you bring to the podcast. My cycling interests are primarily MTB and I do a variety of events from 100 mile races to enduro. I have a question for which I haven’t found answers: 

ERG mode on trainers wasn’t really addressed on the trainer podcast, and I can’t find any articles that specifically address pros/cons in the literature. Erg mode locks you into a certain wattage and you get to choose the cadence. While there are obvious downsides to using this all the time (don’t develop a feel for maintaining a certain effort, not very specific to the real world), I have found that in certain types of intervals it allows me to go longer and dig deeper than I would otherwise be able to do. For example efforts around threshold or VO2max I can hold the effort significantly longer in erg mode. I know some of this is mental and some is the ability to select precisely a preferred cadence. If the goal is to fatigue the system to induce adaptations it seems like ergo mode could be a good thing, but it is not the same as real world riding. I’m wondering what the science is on comparing erg to non-erg training and if there are times you prescribe erg intervals. 

What About Vitamin D?

This question comes from Doug Rousho in Rochester, NY: 

I am curious about Vit. D supplementation as here in Rochester, NY the winter season rarely sees sunshine and even when it does peak out, you are riding with full skin coverage.  What are your thoughts? 

I typically stay away from supplements in general but have done the beet thing and add maca root to pre/post ride drinks and foods.  Not sure about actual results but they can’t hurt and are classified as food rather than supplements anyways I believe. 

Mixing Zwift and Non-Virtual Racing 

This question comes from Alexa Cross: 

I really got into Zwift racing in 2020 and 2021 when there wasn’t any racing going on around me. It’s a lot of fun and keeps me motivated.  

This year, on-the-road racing is coming back and I’m wondering how I balance the two. Can I do both Zwift and weekend road races at the same time or is that too much intensity? Should I give up my Zwift events until the road season around me is done? 

Episode Transcript

Trevor Connor  00:05

Hello and welcome to another episode of fast talk your source for the science of endurance performance. Today Rob and I are doing a q&a session with a highly experienced coach, Jennifer real. We know you listen to fast talk to help you discover new ideas and think about your own training. But there’s a lot more we can do to help you.


Rob Pickels  00:29

At fast talk labs. We can help you solve questions and overcome personal challenges. Start with a free consultation,


Trevor Connor  00:35

visit fast Doc labs.com. And you can set up a time to meet with our coaches, like our head coach, physiologist, Ryan koehlers. Sit in front of me right now. Brian is a level one certified USA Cycling coach and holds a Master’s in sports nutrition.


Rob Pickels  00:49

Let’s talk I can help you with training workouts, nutrition or just push your thinking


Trevor Connor  00:54

schedule a free consult today at fast talk labs.com. Well, Jennifer, real Welcome to the show we had you on not all that long ago when we did an episode talking about Swift racing. But you are not just as swift racer, you are also a doctor, you’ve managed a team. So you are bringing a wealth of experience to the show that we’re very excited about.


Jennifer Real  01:17

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here and happy to talk with you all again.


Trevor Connor  01:22

Well, we’ve actually got a bunch of questions that we pulled together for this one. So why don’t we dive into it? And I will read the first question. This comes from Michael Bevin, I don’t know where Michael lives is a recent question. Said, I train exclusively indoors for time trials. My racing power is currently about 320 watts. To get past the monotony of indoor training, I decide to do the following two times per week 400 watts for one minute, then 150 watts for one minute and repeat for 23 intervals is that is all I have time for the normalized power was 330 watts for 43 minutes, weather permitting, I would do a road session on a Saturday, and he does two by 20 minutes. Mostly, I was also able to tea tea at 320 watts for 30 minutes. Any thoughts on this approach? Thanks, Mike. Well, Jen, you want to take the first crack at this one.


Jennifer Real  02:20

So my thoughts on this are that there’s a lot of ways to reduce the monotony of indoor training, interval workouts, a lot of people, maybe that’s enough for them, I can’t stand doing intervals. So I actually replace interval workouts with lift races. So once a week, I’ll do as with Racing League with my team. And that’s kind of my high intensity for the week. And I think that that can keep it more fun. And I personally am able to hit higher powers in a race and I’ll ever be able to hit in an interval. And it makes it much more interesting. And what you can do is looking for races that look for the type of intervals that you’re looking for. So say you want one minute efforts, do a race on innsbrook ring. So you want more really short sprint type efforts to equip city race, if you want a 20 minute interval, or look for something on the innsbrook UCI or the epic KLM. So there’s ways to do that. And then using these lifts, which has what 100 races an hour these days, you should be able to find something and I think that helps keep it fun. The other thing is you can use team time trials for a really nice over under type workout, which is what I did yesterday. So there are definitely ways to break up the monotony of indoor training and keep it more fun.


Rob Pickels  03:47

Yeah, I think that indoor training offers us this opportunity. Right? And, you know, we’re things with specifically in Swift is great. Swift is what I use, Trevor, I think that you’re on a two there are other platforms. So if somebody has a different platform that they love, then that’s great. For me, the biggest takeaway of this is, I’m surprised that to deal with monotony, they’re doing a workout, that’s one minute on one minute offered for 23. This is somebody that can handle monotony without much issue, because I would fall over out of boredom from from doing something like that. And, you know, Jen, I think that I agree with you that racing is a really great way to reduce that monotony. It might not be specific to a type of energy system. And so I do love to do some workouts in addition to the racing. But I think that you’re sort of spot on with a good way to do that. And maybe take a rest break in here that could break up some of that monotony to


Trevor Connor  04:35

my biggest comment on this is making sure you’re targeting the right energy systems. So I noticed he brought up the one of my normalized powers 330 for 43 minutes. So I think I’m kind of accomplishing that. Getting a little above my time trial power, but it isn’t saying how you’re generating that power. How are you getting that normalized power so I would not look at that number and go Oh, that’s good for building your time trialing one. At 400 Watts, if your threshold is around 320, you’re still gonna hit that aerobic system, it’s more maximal aerobic system. So you’re gonna see some gains. But this isn’t the type of work I typically see time travelers do. Or if they do this, this is kind of after they’ve done their hard threshold type work, this is what they top off with. So I don’t think your ating your time trial performance as as much as you think you are with this workout. If you really don’t like those longer threshold workouts, I agree with what both of you are saying, which is, hop on Zwift, do a swift trial trial all met when I’m doing my threshold workout, I often do them on Swift. And if I’m feeling a little bored, so let’s say I’m doing five by fives or four by eights, I might get through a couple of them and then look for a zoo a time trial hop in and do a race and push myself a little bit.


Rob Pickels  05:52

Yeah, something that’s interesting if we want to talk specifically about workouts, and this is something Neil Henderson actually had mentioned to me, as you know, after doing a set of 3030s, or he’s doing one minute on one minute off here, to settle directly into like a 95% threshold for five minutes after that. So instead of just doing 23, straight intervals, which is 21, that’s 46 minutes worth of work here, break that in half, maybe do four sets of five minute on minute off, and then a five minute or something after that, or three sets of five, and then a five minute after each one. And I think that we’ll get to as Trevor saying, now we’re talking about how do you sustain that threshold power, not just sort of bumping up against that 120% of, you know, threshold that he’s looking at here and maximal aerobic development. All right. So


Trevor Connor  06:38

what’s our next question?


Rob Pickels  06:40

Yeah. So Gian Carlo Bianchi sent us a message. And let’s see, this is about whoop and sleep data, I think that we all three of us have experience with whoop. So let’s dive in here says hello guys and girls, I’ve been using whoop since last October, I feel like it’s most useful in helping you hone the skill of listening to your body. One thing I’ve been having trouble in issues with lately is sleep, it would seem I don’t sleep pretty much. On average, I get about five and a half to six hours of sleep. And somehow I’m able to function, I’m in bed by nine or 10, I usually wake up pretty early five or 6am with the sunlight without an alarm and usually feel fine. One thing I started to see is when I wake up at five or so my whoop reading would be in the green and heart rate variability would be in a good range. However, despite this reading, I would say I slept something silly like four and a half hours. Sometimes I try to get another sleep cycle in and fall back asleep. I’d usually sleep another half hour to an hour. But when I do the new reading and the heart rate variability are worse than they were before, which is puzzling. When I asked my wife about this, she asked if I always slept such short hours since I got the whoop. I told her I didn’t know. And I went back looked in training peaks and saw something interesting. There is definitely a shift in my sleep around the time I started more formal training or training with structure. So I would suspect that I am carrying more cortisol in my body. And that’s maybe why I was sleeping less. My questions are is the whole needing eight hours of sleep a myth? It would seem I’m able to function just fine with less. So should I be worried at all? What might have caused the shift in my sleep? When I started training? Is my theory about cortisol sound, or is there something else that’s causing it? And then there’s some relevant graphs below, which maybe we can get up in the copy on the website. But Jen, do you want to? Do you want to tackle the sleep question?


Jennifer Real  08:35

Sure. I think this is a great question. And I’m excited to speak to it because sleep is kind of my baby. The first thing I would pull out of this is that he says he goes to bed at about nine or 10 and get up at five or six, which is like eight or nine hours in bed, actually. But then he says he gets five and a half to six hours of sleep. So I’m wondering, is he not sleeping well when he’s in bed? Or is his whoop, not picking up his sleep? You know, appropriately. Like I know, if you don’t wear it tight enough. Sometimes it doesn’t pick everything up. So that seems a bit confusing to me. But forgetting that it says that he wakes up without an alarm and he feels fine. And that’s really key. Because if you’re waking up without an alarm, and you’re you’re getting up when your body tells you you’ve had enough sleep, then that’s almost all you really need to know. I know a lot of the sleep trackers not just the loop, but other ones like I have a friend who uses the polar and it just it never picks up for sleep when she falls asleep right away. And this is like the first hour every time so some of them might might do that and it may just not be picking it up accurately for him as for is eight hours of sleep and this No. There are made anywhere from one to 5% of the population has some sort of gene mutation, where they can get by Get on less than six hours of sleep a night. And that’s actually all that they need. There are a few different genes where mutations have been studied that find that, but that’s a very small percentage of the population. Is it possible that Joe and Carla was one of those people? Yes. But in general, I would not assume that you are one of those people that only need six hours of sleep, most people need more. And the best way to know how much sleep you need is, you know, to go on vacation and go to sleep when you’re tired and wake up when you’re not, and track that and see. But the other thing I wanted to speak to is his decreased sleep when he started training. So he says he works 40 hours a week, and he trains 12 to 15 hours a week, that’s a lot. That’s a big amount of work and training. And if he’s working that much, training that much and only sleeping six hours a night, that, to me raises some red flags of concern for getting into maybe an overtraining type syndrome, where lack of sleep is one of the first symptoms and poor sleep. So that’s something I would definitely be concerned about, when he talks about going back to sleep and then getting a new reading that’s worse than before. That’s not particularly surprising. Because the way that woop measures, the recovery score for your HRV is it uses your last precedes these tweets of the night. So it’s going to change if you going back to sleep, and getting another different episode of Deep sleep. And then like if that’s not his regular, if that’s not what his body wants, if it’s not what his body needs, I can see that it could somehow mess it up and give him a worse reading. I would say if you wake up and you’re not tired, don’t go back to sleep. Definitely, I think I’d like to hear him listening more to his body and not just a number in this. Well, another


Trevor Connor  11:49

thing I’ll add to that we have cycles through the night and something they have shown in the sleep research is it’s most important to complete a full cycle and wake up at the waking phase in that cycle that you will actually feel more rested doing that, then getting an additional 3045 minutes asleep and waking up at the wrong point in your cycle. So that’s the your alarm goes off, you’re you’re at the deep phase of your cycle, and you just can’t move, even though you feel like you got a lot of hours. And I did notice that he said, Why wake up naturally. So that means he’s waking up at the end of a cycle, then he tries to go back to sleep get another 30 minutes, which means if he’s going into another cycle, he’s now waking himself up at the wrong point. So I would actually recommend against doing that. And I agree completely with what you said before, you have to remember the whoop. And a lot of these trackers give you two bits of information. One is your time in bed. The other is the time that it thinks that you were asleep. And depending on the individual, sometimes it’s going to underestimate the time that it thinks you are asleep. But you’re right. He’s in bed eight hours. So he’s getting a good night.


Rob Pickels  13:01

Yeah, there’s definitely sort of two things here, right? There’s the whoops specific stuff, which is fine. It’s a device that has its quirks, love them or hate them. That’s sort of your decision. The other side of this is the sleep side. And maybe that’s something that we have a little bit more science and a little bit more objective knowledge. And, you know, personally, I think that there is there’s a range of I guess how much sleep you need, right? Because need are optimal. And all of that is sort of relative per person. And, you know, John, I think that what you’re saying and correct me if I’m wrong is that, you know, for being optimal for optimal performance for optimal recovery for optimal adaptation, maybe even for optimal health and longevity over time, because we know that lack of sleep can have health consequences. That’s where we want to be, you know, eight hours for most people is fulfilling the more of the optimal side of things, right?


Jennifer Real  13:49

Definitely, yeah, not just for performance, but for for longevity and health. And mean are studies showing that sleeping less than six hours a night increases your risk of dementia. And so you know, we’re all athletes, but we’re also many of us are also concerned about our long term health. So sleep is not just important for, for athletic performance and recovery, but for your longevity.


Rob Pickels  14:14

Sure, I just want to touch on one thing too, because he asked specifically, again, as you pointed out, he’s working a lot he is writing a lot is increased cortisol levels, potentially the reason that, you know, because I know that this happens to me if I train a lot, I tend to sleep less as well. And I will say one of my personal first signs of of really reaching overtraining is that I begin waking up at about I fall asleep, dead tired, and I wake up about two o’clock in the morning and I cannot fall back asleep until four or 5am and then I fall back for an hour or so. Is it cortisol that might cause these disrupted sleep patterns or is it something else


Jennifer Real  14:50

is definitely multifactorial, but cortisol is a big part of it. And I totally agree with you that sleep being a first sign of maybe a bit of a warning when you’re getting into You overextending yourself or overtraining, because that’s the same way for me. If I start not sleeping well and getting cranky, I know that I need to start paying attention and watching out because I dug myself into a very deep hole like that. And I’ve learned. Yes, sir. And what the other thing that I thought was interesting, you know, he said, he didn’t mention when he trains. But it definitely shows in his graph that when he started with structured training, his sleep went down. I also wonder, does he train at night to get in that big hour? Yeah, yeah, that could be messing up his sleep, as well as he’s doing some hard training and then trying to go to bed a couple of hours later. Not sure. But that’s something to think about.


Trevor Connor  15:43

So I took a look at the research last night because I was interested in that as well. And there were a bunch of studies on cortisol and sleep showing that it does actually have a big impact on sleep. And so I’m actually looking at one right now, this has nocturnal cortisol release in relation to sleep structure. And I found this line in the their conclusions quite interesting, which says, cortisol increases. We’re not I can never pronounce this word committed to it. You want to say thank you, with a specific sleep stage, but generally accompanied prolonged waking periods. These findings tend to imply the cortisol releasing mechanisms may be involved in the regulation asleep. Fair enough. So there we go. Jen, I


Rob Pickels  16:26

think that your training later in the day theory is interesting. And whether or not you and Carlos doing that I think that a lot of listeners do. Are there best practices for when we ought to be finished with training in relation to when we’re trying to go to bed? Is it an hour, how do we even know when we need to be wrapping things up?


Jennifer Real  16:45

A lot of it will depend on the type of training you’re doing, if you’re just doing an endurance ride, recovery ride, that shouldn’t affect your sleep at all. But if you’re doing something super high intensity, you’re doing high intensity intervals, or you’re doing a race, it’s gonna take you some time to wind down and everybody is a little bit different. But I would say that, to give yourself at least a couple of hours before finishing one of a high intensity workout or race before trying to go to sleep. Now, that being said, a lot of us are time crunched, and we we do what we can with what we have. And if you know you got three kids and your only time to train is after you put them to bed. Well, you do what you can and maybe try some melatonin right after to try to help your body get into the sleep mode.


Rob Pickels  17:31

Nice. I love it. So Giancarlo, if you’re out there listening, separate the whoop from the sleep itself, try to get a little bit more sleep in if you need to maybe bring down your training a little bit, then that’s going to help your adaptation. And sleep is important, you know. And Trevor looks like the next question is kind of a recovery question too.


Trevor Connor  17:48

Yep. So this comes from Sasha Helmy. She says, Hi, Trevor, I recently started listening to your show, it has really helped my training. COVID got me into riding a bike. And now that racing has started, I’ve decided to try my first race this spring. I’m nervous. But I’m also really excited about my new adventure. What I wanted to ask you about is recovery. You’ve talked a lot about it on the show. But I was wondering if it’s different for someone like me, a woman who is fairly new to the sport in particular, does my cycle impact the amount of rest and recovery that I need?


Jennifer Real  18:19

So I think this is a great question. And I’m excited that women are starting to think about how this training and recovery affects me differently as a woman, and especially women who are new to training. I know when I started training, I had a very hard time taking rest days, I just felt like, oh, I have to train all the time, and you don’t really trust. I didn’t trust the process. And I dug myself into a deep hole and got an injury. And it took a really long and painful process to learn to take rest and recovery. Now I take to rest days a week, I don’t even usually do recovery rides on my rest days, I do nothing, I enjoy it. I walk around with my dogs, I try to do things that are relaxing, peaceful, and I really give my body that recovery that it needs. And it is harder for women to recover. I mean, science shows that women cannot recover to the same amount as a man. And that has to do with the lack of testosterone. I mean, testosterone is a great recovery agent. It’s very important for women to get the recovery that they need. And even as a new athlete and a new trainer, you have to build that and build recovery days into your week and build recovery weeks into your training cycle. Because your body needs that and if you don’t do it, it will catch up with you eventually. As for this question about this recycle impacts the amount of rest and recovery that she needs. That’s a super good question. And we do know that in the first half of a woman’s cycle where Your estrogen and progesterone are the lowest, that’s when you have the best ability to recover from hard training. So if you want to try to put your harder intervals and your hard training into that timeframe, you might find that you’re better able to recover and you’re better able to absorb that training. I don’t particularly train around my cycle, I know some women do, I really tend to do more of the traditional, you know, three weeks training one week of rest. Now, that being said, if I ever want to hit my next plateau, I think that’s the next thing I’m going to do is try to train around my cycle with the intensity and see if I can get some extra games out there, which I find interesting. Stacey Sims has a lot of great information about training for women and the cycle. And I would I would suggest Sasha, maybe look up her book roar, or check her out on social media.


Rob Pickels  20:56

Yeah, I think that there’s so much interesting stuff to unpack here, the beginner cyclists, the beginner athlete, as you’re pointing out, Jen, there’s so much that you’re trying to recover from, right, we’re not just talking about the endurance load, we’re also talking about the musculoskeletal stuff of being a new runner of being in a bike position, right, and it takes those ligaments and tendons and everything along time to really get up to speed even though your muscles might be adapting a little bit faster. So I think always with with a beginner rider or runner, it is important to take that time, the other thing that we see is that people tend to train too hard when they don’t know better, right? And that alone means more recovery. So you know, as as you’re building into your journey here, yeah, it’s okay to take a bit more time off, it’s okay to listen to your body, it’s okay to get rid of all of that soreness, whatever it takes, Jen in regard to this menstrual cycle, then, you know, as you’re pointing out, it is interesting, I love sort of your idea of putting the harder work in earlier, because we also know that that’s when the body is better at using glucose. And carbohydrate in general is fuel. And so some strength training, adaptation might be a little bit better during that time of the cycle, you know, but at the same time, I think as you’re pointing out, we’re getting to marginal gains at that point, right. And solid training is solid training. And that comes first I would not, you know, time to the cycle and forget training principles. But yeah, if everything else is going well, then that’s a marginal gain. That might get you a little more.


Trevor Connor  22:27

Yeah, something I want to add to that, because several of the women that have been contributing at fast talk labs have actually had this discussion with us that there has been this bit of a misinterpretation that when you’re in the luteal phase, which is the second part of your cycle, the second half. So basically, your your hormones are high, and they’re catabolic, which means your body’s breaking down a little bit. There’s this misinterpretation, that training during that phase is pointless, which is not how you should see it, it’s not going to be as productive. So I agree, if you’re going to do a big training week, do it in that earlier phase, but training still is productive during the luteal phase, you just might have to build in a little more rest might not be the best time to say hey, I’m going to do a big five day training block, that might not be the best time to do it.


Jennifer Real  23:17

One other thing that I just wanted to add into this question that I that I didn’t mention earlier, is that it’s really easy for new athletes to do too much intensity, which which you touched on. And I think it’s important for new athletes, especially for a woman to really try to keep your intensity to two no more than two days a week. And the rest of your rides should be easy. It is a new athlete, honestly, you may want to just do one day of intensity a week or one day of hard hard riding and the rest of it should be comfortable endurance, easy riding because it takes time to build those adaptations and the resilience in your body to tolerate more hard training,


Trevor Connor  24:01

which is a great point. And when you’re a new athlete, it does not take a lot of training stress to produce adaptations. That’s a great thing about being a new athlete pros train 30 hours a week because they have to their such a high level to get any more game they have to train at ridiculous levels. But if you’re new you don’t have to be anywhere close to that. As you said even just one intensity session a week you’re gonna see some big games.


Rob Pickels  24:26

It’s all relative. Yeah, important point.


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Rob Pickels  25:21

Accelerate your practice. Join now at the new coaching essentials member level or get access for free through your USA Cycling coach membership. See more today at fast talk labs.com. We have Jeff Pugsley wrote in about using ERG mode when you’re on the trainer and just real quick ERG mode is sort of when the trainer is controlling the effort that you’re doing. And you can vary your cadence and the trainer adjust to make sure that you’re doing the same wattage as opposed to more of a free mode where you shift you ride harder, your watts are gonna go up. So just just for listeners says, let’s see, I love your podcast. I’ve been working through all the episodes Thank you and have found many valuable training tips. As someone with a science background, they’re a doctor, they’re a radiologist who is regularly digging into the Methods section of journal articles. I really appreciate the level of science understanding and critique that you bring to the podcast, I can just feel so good. My cycling interests are primarily mountain bike and I do a variety of events from 100 mile races to enduro, he’s my kind of guy. I have a question for you, which I haven’t found answers. Erg mode on the trainer wasn’t really addressed on your trainer podcast. And I can’t find any articles that specifically address pros and cons in the literature. Berg mode locks you into a certain wattage and you get to choose the cadence. While there are downsides to doing this all the time you don’t develop a feel for maintaining an effort so on and so forth. I have found that in certain types of intervals that allows me to go longer and dig deeper than I otherwise would be able to, for example efforts around threshold or vo two Max I can hold the effort significantly longer in ERG mode. I know some of this is mental and some is the ability to select precisely preferred cadence. If the goal is fatiguing the system to induce adaptations, it would seem ERG mode, could be a good thing. But it is not the same as real world writing. I’m wondering what the science is on comparing ERG to non ERG training. And if there are times that you prescribe ERG intervals, Jen, I know you spend a lot of time on the trainers is erg mode, something that you use regularly.


Jennifer Real  27:34

I used to I don’t really use ERG mode anymore. The times I use it are if I want to do like endurance ride on the trainer or recovery ride. And I want to keep myself honest from going too hard. But I pulled I did pull myself no pins, teammates, and some of them have coaches and all of them are pretty elite athletes about their thoughts on Earth. And it’s really funny because you really, it’s very polarizing people either love it. And they do it all the time. Or they hate it and they never use it. So I think he really hit the nail on the head when he says that there are downsides to using it all the time. And that is very true. If you’re always doing ERG and your goal is training for outdoors, you do lose that ability to produce the power yourself without being forced to make it think of ERG mode as a riding up a climb, you’re forced to produce that power. But if you’re always riding up a climb, and then you get on a flat road or downhill and you you can’t be can’t do the same power. So that can be a negative if you’re doing ERG mode all the time. Some of the our teammates will who are coaches will tell their athletes to if you’re doing you know, maybe four, four by five intervals, do a couple of them in ERG mode, a couple of them not an erg mode, but I would say do do what you like and if he likes doing ERG mode and it enables him to hold his intervals longer. I think that’s great. And I would say definitely go for that. Now, don’t ride always in ERG mode and don’t lose that ability to produce power on your own. I like the idea of throwing in a couple intervals that are not in ERG mode. And I’m not aware of any science that says ERG mode or non ERG mode is better, it seems that people have just more of a passion about it. Different trainers also do irgendwo differently, and some trainers are not very good at bringing the power up slowly or keeping it and so a lot of it is also trainer dependent on if you’re going to be comfortable and happy in ERG mode.


Trevor Connor  29:43

That’s a really good point because I’ve had some bad trainers where let’s say I set an interval at 300 watts. When it gets to that start at that interval it’s going to jump up to 400 then go down to 250 then go up to 375 and it does this back and forth until It finally lands on the right wattage and that can really kill your legs.


Rob Pickels  30:04

Yeah, I’m gonna I’m gonna throw in an unpaid plug here, right? Because Jen, you’re on the Cyrus no pins cycling team, right. And I have written pretty much all the trainers on the market and the stars The hammer is by far the best at intervals. So you know, unpaid plug. And, you know, thanks for making a good product out


Jennifer Real  30:23

there. Yeah, that’s fair, Facebook is a great trainer, it does a really good job with third mode and the intervals. I imagine if you’re if especially if you’re riding like an older trainer, or you’re doing a wheel off trainer, I could see how ERG mode would be would be rubbish and you might not even even want to try it. And it’s definitely ERG mode is not good for short intervals, I wouldn’t, I would never use it for anything less than a few minutes. You don’t want to use it for your, you know, your 4020s or your sprint workouts, things like that Forget are remote for that it’s too slow to react in any trainer and it’s not going to accomplish your goal.


Trevor Connor  30:59

I did want to try a set a 2010 to bottos, an erg mode just to see what it was like, couldn’t get through the set, because it would the break mechanism couldn’t keep up. And within a couple of intervals, it was locking down the resistance so hard I couldn’t pedal anymore. So agree with you. It’s great for more of a threshold type interval. But I would definitely not use ERG mode for for short, high intensity.


Rob Pickels  31:25

Trevor, is this all feel? Is this all subjective thing? Or do you know of any research? Jen said she didn’t. I don’t but you’re the you’re the research guy.


Trevor Connor  31:36

Never see well. So I do vaguely remember seeing a study a while back and I looked for it last night, I couldn’t find it. That looked at the neuromuscular recruitment patterns between ERG Bode and self pacing. And there were slight differences. And my guess would be, you’re probably in ERG mode, the the power phase is going to be a little bit longer, because it’s keeping that steady resistance against you. So but that’s a guess I have not seen any specific studies comparing them. So I think all of us are just giving our opinion, my personal opinion is I actually really like or mode in the winter. And in December, January, I use it for almost all of my intervals, because it’s just, to me makes it easier. Just get it done. It keeps the workout high quality and you don’t have to think too much. But I do agree that if you’re always in ERG mode, you don’t learn how to pace yourself. So even if you use it for a while you need that period of time, where you do your intervals, either self paced on the trainer or out on the road and learn how to hold that power.


Rob Pickels  32:43

Yeah, I think that Jeff really in his question, his question answers his question if you think about it, right, because he’s identifying all of the pros and the cons of using ERG mode. And I think that we’re all agreeing with him that you have to learn how to suffer, you have to be in control of your own pain if you do want to have high performance. But ERG mode can be a great tool, maybe it’s not a tool that you use all the time, you have to do some workouts outside where you can’t do it. But you know, I’m kind of on the same page, at least travel with U of M ERG mode all the time, if I’m on the trainer, and when I say all the time, I mean literally every single ride my base rides on the trainer are actually an erg program called base intervals. So if anybody follows me on Strava, you’ll just see base referrals base rules base revolves all day long. And it’s just like a little fluctuating, you know, within my base sort of zone, I put that on, I want you to buy zone out. You’re doing your base for it. Yeah. That way, I don’t have to pay attention to it. You know, here’s the thing that I struggle with, right? I, you know, I think they kind of I started doing this in when I was using like TrainerRoad and other programs, you know, and I didn’t want to just say set it at 200 Watts, or sorry, I didn’t want to sit at my base at 325 watts. Because Because I already did the sleep question because that’s monotonous ever dreaming later. So I did that but then when I moved over into Swift and I hate to say this if you go up and down hills in Swift, and it changes your resistance, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. Yeah, so I don’t like watching the screen and having to shift because I want to watch I want to watch the I watched like whole episodes or seasons of all different shows. You know, that’s this the alternative into should be on your bike and look at what’s ahead. It’s turning into a lame story. I know but you know, for me, you know, with as much time I spent on the trainer with kids and everything else I just I don’t want to focus on the trainer unless I’m doing a race or something. But that’s that’s me. You know you do you


Trevor Connor  34:35

we have learned something new about Rob, thank you for sharing that. Good to know. I want to find out what else in your life you do in ERG mode.


Rob Pickels  34:44

What else I do in ERG mode, I make it through my day in ERG mode pretty much based on the schedule I keep.


Trevor Connor  34:50

All right. So let’s move on to this next question. This comes from Doug Russo from Rochester New York.


Rob Pickels  34:56

Wait, why do you keep reading the short questions you give me the ones that are three paragraphs long.


Trevor Connor  35:00

Yes. Because the three paragraphs long.


Rob Pickels  35:04

Oh my god. Listeners Trevor set this up. He’s like, Let’s do every other question and all start like, I think he stacked the deck against me.


Trevor Connor  35:13

I completely stacked the deck and I feel no guilt about that whatsoever. Okay, so Doug asks, I am curious about vitamin D supplementation as here in Rochester, New York, the winter season rarely see sunshine, it even when it does peak out, you are riding with full skin coverage. What are your thoughts?


Rob Pickels  35:32

I’m gonna let Jen ultimately take this because I’m gonna throw it to you for as a doctor. Well, I’m jumping in baby. Yep. And the reason I’m jumping in Trevor is probably the same reason you want to I’ve lived in Lake Placid. I’ve lived in Ithaca. And I will say I know the struggle of upstate New York, the struggle is real. So yep. So


Trevor Connor  35:48

what are your thoughts?


Rob Pickels  35:49

I have no thoughts. My thoughts are what are Jen’s thoughts as the internal medicine doctor, I’m gonna let Jen you know, take care of this. She’s she’s the one with the with the knowledge that I definitely don’t have.


Jennifer Real  35:59

So I’m excited to answer this question. Because I love vitamin D, and I’m a huge proponent of it. And there are huge prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in this country. data suggests that is up to 70% of the US population is deficient in vitamin D. At any given time, obviously, that’s more likely going to be in the northern parts of the country, definitely more so in the winter. But even if you if you live in a very northern latitude, even even in the summer, you know, your the sun might not be getting out totally overhead, you might not be getting all those rays, and you could be vitamin deficient year round. Also, if you have darker skin, you have a higher risk of vitamin C deficiency because it takes more sunlight to produce that Vitamin D, Vitamin D is an incredibly important vitamin, because it’s not just a vitamin, it’s actually a pro hormone. And it’s something that your body has to synthesize from sunlight. And now if you’re out, and you’re wearing sunscreen every time you’re out in the sun, which is great, so you don’t get skin cancer, but you might not be getting as much vitamin D from the sun as you think. And there are all sorts of things that can inhibit your body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sun, or obesity is one of them, because that acts as a reservoir for the pro molecules. And so it can’t be synthesized into the active form of vitamin D, so much. So the big point is that lots of people are vitamin D deficient, and they probably don’t know it, it’s a very easy blood test that you can get done with your doctor. Now, when you look at that report from that blood test, it may say it’ll give you a number. And then it’ll often say if you’re deficient or not. Now, a lab test will usually define vitamin D deficient as less than 30. Sometimes they have a lower threshold. But there’s a difference between deficient and optimal. So I think optimal vitamin D levels for athletes should be at least 50. And that’s where I like to keep mine. So that’s the best way to check your level. As for some interesting data about vitamin D, it’s one of the few supplements that actually has some information on improving performance. So there was a study recently on male soccer players, which took they took 6000 units of vitamin D, which is a pretty high dose, most people don’t take that much. And it showed number one, that almost all of them were vitamin D deficient in the winter, which they probably didn’t know. And then number two, after that supplementation, they increased testosterone levels, and they increased their maximal sprint performance. And there was another recent study that was done that gave athletes 2000 units of vitamin D daily for two months. And that showed that they increased their maximal oxygen, oxygen consumption by 28%. And increase their muscle strength by 18%. And that was a twin study where they took identical twins, and they gave half of them vitamin D and half of them they didn’t. And so those are, those are pretty impressive numbers for taking a vitamin. And so I’m a huge proponent of vitamin D, I think everybody probably should get your levels checked or just take some I personally take about 4000 units a day, which is is probably the maximum level that you can safely take without ending up with problems because more is not better. You can get vitamin D toxic, you can take too much and end up with high calcium levels. So don’t do that. Don’t think more is always better. But most people it’s pretty safe to take up to 4000 units a day.


Trevor Connor  39:46

So it’s really early on there. There actually is a kind of a mixed opinion on this. There was research that was done back in about 2010 where they reanalyzed how they came up with the recommended Asians, which right now, I think is one to 2000 iu per day and show that they’re actually mistakes and those calculations. And so these researchers have proposed that our needs are actually much higher closer to the 5000 iu per day. FDA has not adjusted those recommendations. But you know, I read that research and it was pretty convincing to me. So I’m the same as you, I actually take 5000 iu a day. But recommendations are lower than that. And you brought up a really good point that even though we call it a vitamin, it’s actually not a vitamin, it is a pro hormone that has many impacts on our body. You know, it’s essential to our immune system, it helps bone health, as you pointed out, it impacts calcium absorption. And a lot of Americans are, are vitamin D deficient. So it’s a really important one to address.


Rob Pickels  40:52

All right, let’s see. Next question is from Alexa cross here. And it’s about Swift racing. So Trevor, thank you for letting me have a short one. It’s two very short paragraphs, another


Trevor Connor  41:02

long one to give you unfortunately,


Rob Pickels  41:04

let’s see it says I really got into Swift racing in 2020 and 21, when there wasn’t any racing going on around me. It’s a lot of fun and keeps me motivated this year, on the road racing is coming back. And I’m wondering how I balanced the two. Can I do both Zwift and weekend road races at the same time? Or is that too much intensity? Should I give up my Zwift events until the road season around me is done? Jen? Again, I think that you’re a perfect person to answer this. You were telling us earlier that you got into Zwift racing, and that became primary when you lived in Hawaii. And there wasn’t really racing around you. But you’ve moved and there’s racing again. So you and Alexa, basically the same person?


Jennifer Real  41:46

Yeah, we are in the same boat? And I think it’s a good question. And it’s, it’s pertinent, especially this time of year, when the road races are coming back on. I think for me, personally, I love when Zwift racing, I have a team that I raced with. And it’s, it’s fun. So my Tuesday, my Tuesdays with Racing League with my teammates is it’s fun, I get my high intensity in and I have a blast. So I keep doing it almost year round, even with in real life racing on the weekends, but you have to be careful, because especially as a woman, you know, you can’t recover as quickly. And so you really have to listen to your body. When you’re doing things like that. What I would say is, if I’m racing Zwift on Tuesday, and racing on the weekend, I don’t do any other intensity the rest of the week, everything else is just endurance, and volume. I’m not trying to do you know, 4020s on Thursday as well or something like that. And then I also make sure that I have a strong focus on sleep, and recovery days, when I’m trying to do things like that. And you can do it, you can definitely do it. But you have to balance that you have to be careful, you have to do a good job with your nutrition and your protein and your carbs and all of that. If it’s fun and keeps you motivated, I would say try to do it. But listen to your body and make sure you’re not you’re not overdoing it. And there may be weeks where you need to take a break. Don’t forget, you still need rest week. But do what’s fun.


Trevor Connor  43:12

I think you hit on the the most important thing with using Swift racing during the season, which is it is intensity. So if you’re gonna hop on a Tuesday or Thursday night Zwift race, that’s instead of some sort of interval work. And I would in that case, make sure that it is high quality, that you’re hurting yourself that you’re getting that intensity that you’re getting that workout that you need. But otherwise, I agree, I think it’s a great way to get a good hard workout and to have some fun.


Rob Pickels  43:41

I personally am a proponent of people thinking about races as workouts specifically sometimes and you know, maybe for peak performance that really only matters in certain things, say A state championship or something like that, in that you don’t necessarily have to be perfect for every single race, or finish first or on the podium. And maybe this goes against how some other people feel. But I know personally, it was swift racing. For me, sometimes I go in with a specific goal. I’m going to crush every single client as hard as I can. And then I’m going to back off and I’m going to recover and I’m gonna sit in the pack. And it’s not so much about trying to win the race be first across the line. It’s about using that race and those competitors to motivate me to help me do my workout that much harder. Then if you want to do both, maybe that’s an interesting way to look at this situation, too.


Jennifer Real  44:28

I really liked what you said about using races as training. And I know this isn’t exactly a question, but I think it’s something I’d like to speak to. Because since I moved to Texas in December, I’ve been able to do a lot more outdoor races and I was ever able to do before. And using races as training has really helped me to take my racing ability kind of to the to the next level. Because if you’re only doing a couple races a year, you know there’s so much pressure in every single race To perform well, if you’re racing every week, there’s no pressure like you’re going to do it again next week. So going into these races with an internally focused goal that you can control, like you said, mashing the climb, or, you know, I’ll go into a gravel race. And my goal is to stay with the front pack of men, you know, as long as possible and work on my positioning and work on hitting it harder to climb, that type of thing. And the goal isn’t the placement. The goal is to learn and to grow. And I think that that is important mentally.


Trevor Connor  45:35

Well, we’re getting near the end of our time here. I think the Gen. Thank you. You gave a lot of really great answers. So it was a real pleasure having you on the show again.


Jennifer Real  45:44

Thank you. It’s great talking with you all again.


Trevor Connor  45:46

So that was another episode of fast talk subscribe to fast talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review the thoughts and opinions expressed in fast talker those are the individuals and yes, Rob, I’m reading this because it’s short. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums dot fast talk labs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of fast talk laboratories at fast talk labs.com/join Become a part of our education and coaching community for Jen real and Rob pickles. I’m Trevor Connor. Thanks for listening