Q: I have a niece that I think could cut the mustard as a triathlete for the next Olympic Games. I don't know how she does on the bike, but she seems to have a lot of horse power. In high school, she ran a 5:18 mile as a freshman and a 12:25 (indoor) 2 mile as a sophomore. She swims a 5:20, 500yd freestyle event.
I'm wondering if she should be involved in some athlete training program that can help her development?
A: Your niece definitely has potential. The time standards for Junior Elite Squad athletes associated with a program sponsored by USAT include a 12:30 for two miles and 5:35 for short course yards. She is within the time standards.
You can find the time standards on this link on the USA Triathlon website. Select the link titled, "Junior Elite Squad Criteria".
Know that a there are a couple of different classifications to help athletes get prepared to be an Elite Olympian. The first is a "Junior" and that is an athlete between the ages of 16 and 19. The second is called U23 (Under 23). There is some potential crossover between the Junior, U23 and Elite age ranges.
One example of crossover is Portugal's Vanessa Fernandes. Vanessa ended 2007 ranked number one in the World, at the age of 22. Her first World Cup win, racing as an Elite, came in Madrid in 2003 at age 18. She has won an incredible 19 World Cup races as an Elite, won World Championships and been on the podium numerous times. You can find a summary of her results here. Select "Athlete", then enter her last name.
Back to your niece and what can you do to help? If you can help her have some fun in short, local triathlons that is the first step. Help her fall in love with the joy of the sport. If she's having fun going fast, take it from there.
Q: Hello Gale, I was wondering if you would know how low a percentage of body fat someone could get down to without loosing power? I've got one of the scales that measure body fat and at 167 pounds it says I'm at 13% and wondering how low I should go. Thanks.
A: Good question. The chart below is one that is referenced often, from The American Council on Exercise:
32% or more
26% or more
I did not see any ages associated with these numbers.
The book, "Exercise Physiology" by McArdle, Katch and Katch lists body fat percentages for different types of athletes and professional cyclists (roadies) run 11.6 percent and distance runners go 11.8 percent. For the gals, distance runners go about 17.2 and there are no numbers on the chart for cyclists.
So, back to your personal question - how low can you go without losing power? First, let's assume that your scale accurately measures body fat and you are indeed 13 percent. That puts you on the top end of the athletic scale - a pretty lean guy.
My gut feeling, based on experience and knowing you, is that any lower than 10 percent would cause problems (loss of power). The only real way to know would be to gently work your way down a little at a time and keep tabs on how you feel, speed and power.