How Triathlete Morgan Pearson is Attacking His Olympic Dream Through Nutrition

Photo courtesy of Ventum.

While every athlete wants to get an edge, triathletes are all about marginal gains. A stroke adjustment that slashes a few seconds of a swim PR, new shoes that are a couple of ounces lighter…the list goes on and on. Yet for triathlete Morgan Pearson, a two-time World Cup medalist recently selected for the 2021 US National Team, being brilliant with the basics is more important. As he readies for a final push toward qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, Morgan sat down with Momentous and his UK-based sports dietician Claire Fudge from 4th Discipline to discuss diet, supplementation, race day nutrition, and more.

How has your approach to nutrition changed over the past few years?

Morgan: In college, I was only running. I’d get a quick session in most mornings and then have practice in the afternoon. So that made my diet pretty simple. Nutrition is a lot easier when you’re just doing the same thing every day. With triathlon, I’m often training most of the day in three separate disciplines, so I have to be more precise about what I’m eating and when I take in protein, carbs, and fats.

Claire: I like what Morgan’s saying about the journey of nutrition. Some people think it’s just an overnight thing. You get on a quick diet plan and that’s it. But with athletes, you have periodization in training and then micro periodization in your day-to-day training. Your nutrition needs to align with this. How you fuel for and recover after a short, easy run is going to be different to what you need before and after a long, hard swimming session. Morgan was already fueling well, which was a great start. We just needed to dial in those variations between different types of training, which included making sure he was getting enough protein to recover.

What have some of the advantages of this new approach been?

Morgan: Claire and I started working together last August. I was coming off a running injury, and with the COVID lockdown, all my races were canceled. I was doing a lot of research on how I could go from a pretender to a contender in triathlon and realized I needed to turn cycling from a weakness into a strength. That meant adding volume and intensity. Having Claire come up with a nutrition plan helped me adapt to this greater training load a lot faster than I would have otherwise.

Claire: Morgan had a really good baseline, so it was just a matter of dialing things in to support his recovery, help him come back from the injury, and reduce the chances of him getting hurt again. He’s been very open-minded and willing to try new things like a photo food diary, which has been a big advantage.

Claire, Morgan mentioned how COVID has affected his competitive calendar. Have you had any chance to dial in his race-day nutrition?

Claire: For the Daytona event, we worked on a flight plan and a race plan for nutrition and hydration. The goal was to get him from door to door. At first, he wasn’t sure exactly what his macronutrient breakdown was because he’d never looked at the labels of his supplements. So first we had to figure out when he was getting carbs, fats, and protein, and how much. Now we’ve started looking ahead to Tokyo and planning for how Morgan will fuel and hydrate in the heat there.

How did you get connected with Momentous, and why did their products stand out?

Morgan: [Momentous founder and CEO] Matt Wan and I started messaging back and forth. I get a lot of companies contacting me and offering to send free stuff if I’ll do some social media posts in return. But I could tell from the beginning that Matt was actually interested in me as a person and an athlete and was into endurance training himself. That made a big impact on me. Then once I tried Momentous protein, it tasted so much better than what my roommate was sharing with me, and I started saving it as a special treat.

Claire: Being a UK-based dietician and sports nutritionist, I’m used to a different range of products here. When I started researching Momentous, I was glad to see that they batch test everything, which is a big deal for professional athletes. They’ve also gone through the Informed Sport and NSF Certified for Sport programs, which meant I could recommend them to Morgan as having products that are as pure as they could be. It’s also important that Momentous works with sports dieticians and performance experts and is very research focused. That gave me peace of mind from a clinical perspective.

Where do you fit Momentous products into your daily routine?

Morgan: I often use Momentous protein right after training. This could be when I’ve driven up into the mountains to run or ride. Afterwards I might crave something salty and fatty like McDonald’s, but I don’t want to really eat it, so I’ll mix some Momentous powder in water. Or it could be that I get home after training and need to refuel but am not yet hungry for a full meal. Yesterday I got back from a track session and put some rice on, but it was going to take a while to cook. I needed a top-up as I had to go do a swim-to-bike session at 4 PM, so I drank a shake. I’ve also been stirring Momentous Collagen into my morning coffee and taking it again in a kale smoothie in the evening. Since college, I’ve struggled with Achilles tendonitis off and on, and I feel it’s helping me manage that.

Claire: Sometimes a hard session can affect your appetite and satiety, but you still need to start the recovery process, which is where protein supplementation is perfect. With Morgan, we’ve also found that it’s crucial to spread his protein intake out over the course of a full training day, so he doesn’t lose muscle mass. With collagen, it’s effective for him to take some in the morning before high-impact sessions and more at night when evidence suggests that it can aid repair. It’s one of those supplements that you might not notice an immediate difference from taking once, but if you stick with it, you might look back after using it daily for six months and realize you haven’t had any tendon injuries.

Morgan, you mentioned the disruption of the pandemic. How has that impacted your approach?

Morgan: Initially, it was confusing. I was meant to be flying out to race in Abu Dhabi, but I saw that the UAE Tour riders were locked down in the same hotel I’d be staying in. The next day they canceled my event. When pools started closing, it was hard to swim more than an hour every few days, and I had to join multiple gyms to get any time in. Although extending the Olympic cycle has made for a mental grind, I’ve tried to frame it as an opportunity to get fitter and stronger and improve my biking.Then that led to me and Claire teaming up on my nutrition.I don’t just want to make it to Tokyo – I want to compete there and eventually be the best in the world. So I decided I was going to use this extra year to get better.  

Claire: I think this mindset shows that Morgan makes good decisions and is all about consistency, which is key to nutrition in general. It’s the same with the other main pieces of the puzzle, like his triathlon training and strength and conditioning. It’s OK to have a cookie now and again, as it’s like comfort food for the soul. That’s not bad at all. But if you can make good choices most of the time, it will help you perform and recover better. A lot of athletes will spend $10,000 on a new bike or invest in a new helmet, but they often forget about nutrition even though it’s a controllable that they can take in hand. Morgan’s been really good about knuckling down on it.

Morgan: While I miss going to Great Britain, Germany, or Japan to race, I really enjoy training and now it’s the same with nutrition. Instead of thinking, “What am I missing out on?” I’m continually asking myself, “How can I benefit from this?”

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