Joe Friel: World-Class Coach of Elite Athletes

Oct. 9, 2015

Joe Friel has trained endurance athletes since 1980. His clients are elite amateur and professional road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes, and duathletes. They come from all corners of the globe and include American and foreign national champions, world championship competitors, and an Olympian. He is the author of ten books on training for endurance athletes including the popular and best-selling Training Bible book series. He holds a masters degree in exercise science, is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified Elite-level coach, and is a founder and past Chairman of the USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission. Joe conducts seminars around the world on training and racing for cyclists, multisport athletes, and coaches, and provides consulting services for corporations in the fitness industry. In this episode of the podcast, Christopher Kelly interviews Joe about a wide variety of topics. It’s a rare glimpse inside the mind of a pioneering coach that you’ll enjoy.

Curiosity drives Joe Friel to seek answers for athletes.

Joe Friel is a man driven by curiosity. His blog contains thousands of articles he’s written over the years, chronicling his studies of diet, exercise, and everything related to training and performance. He wants to know why things happen the way they do and how to use that knowledge to make improvements in health and performance. That curiosity is what has made him into a world-class coach, and he’s willing to share it with anyone who cares to listen. In this conversation, Christopher dives deep into that knowledge to find some gems.

Fast After 50: An instruction manual for masters athletes.

In 1998, Joe wrote the book Cycling Past 50. Turning 70 prompted him to revisit the science, and he started writing up his latest findings on the blog. The feedback from that series of posts was overwhelmingly positive, and so Joe was prompted to start work on Fast After 50. The book is well-referenced, accessible and prescriptive.

Good coaches bridge the gap between science and experience.

“If you don't look good, we don't look good” - Vidal Sassoon. Coaches make recommendations that work, even if they’re not backed up by science. Often, the science is playing catch up. For example, coaches knew that the Fosbury Flop and aerobars worked long before there was science to show why. That’s why it pays to know someone like Joe!

Strength training is an incredibly important part of the mix for older athletes.

That’s because as we age, we naturally begin to decline in muscle mass and therefore, strength. The right kind of strength training, varied through the year will enable older athletes to maintain their ability to compete at a high level and preserve their health at the same time. Joe Friel recommends working the larger muscle groups during the off season on a regular basis, as much as 3 times per week. Then, during competitive seasons, cutting back on the degree of weight training, but not stopping altogether. When followed, this practice helps older athletes maintain their strength, which impacts endurance and performance. Get the details to Joe’s thoughts about strength training on this episode.

Here’s the outline of this interview with Joel Friel:

  • [0:05] Welcome and introduction of Joe Friel - coach and author.
  • [1:40] How Joe met the co-author of his book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Loren Cordain, and how he started practicing a Paleo lifestyle in the first place.
  • [3:22] How the book “Fast After 50” impacted Christopher differently each time he read it.
  • [4:28] What was it about Joe’s 70th birthday that inspired him to write this book?
  • [6:33] How does Joe reconcile a situation when as a coach he knows something works, but there isn’t scientific evidence to prove it?
  • [8:06] The differences between athletes and “normal” people and why many studies don’t apply across the board because of those differences.
  • [12:02] Why decreased aerobic capacity declines as an athlete ages, and what they can do to prevent it being as severe.
  • [15:46] How Joe came to the conclusion that most aging athletes are defaulting to training over long, slow distances.
  • [17:22] How does Joe reconcile his beliefs on these issues with the research recently shown by Dr. Phil Maffetone.
  • [20:13] Why do aging athletes begin keeping larger stores of fat?
  • [22:05] Joe’s insights on how the accumulation of stress plays into these issues as well as how genetics impacts it.
  • [24:51] Has the Paleo diet been helpful for his clients in keeping body fat off?
  • [26:16] A 10% carbohydrate intake along with 60% fat: Joe’s personal diet ratios.
  • [27:43] Why Joe doesn’t think a low carb diet will cause problems with high intensity workouts for aging athletes.
  • [31:30] Carbohydrate loading before events: Joe’s opinion about the practice.
  • [35:50] Why do older athletes lose muscle mass? What can be done to counteract it?
  • [38:54] Strength training tips for older athletes.
  • [40:43] Strength training suggestions for high performance athletes.
  • [42:40] Joe’s response to the recent press coverage raising questions about the safety of endurance events.
  • [45:41] How lifestyle issues figure into the safety of endurance athletes.
  • [47:25] Joe’s thoughts about people who could be taking advantage of his knowledge and resources through coaching, etc.
  • [49:15] Joe’s current coaching company and his role training coaches.
  • [50:29] Resources Joe recommends.


Joe’s book: Fast After 50

The cardiac stresses of excess exercise - blog post from Dr. John Mandrola

Book: Fitness Confidential

Joel’s blog: - Joe’s coaching company


Loren Cordain

Dr. Phil Maffetone

Stephan Guyenet

Tim Noakes

Mark Allen

Dr. John Mandrola

Vinnie Tortorich

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