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Interview with athlete Nils Brüggemann

Nils Brüggemann is an avid triathlete and cross-country skier. Among his greatest sporting achievements is placing second in the relay at the 2021 DATEV Challenge Roth – the world’s largest triathlon competition. He has also made it onto the podium at many long-distance races in his native Germany, and at Sweden’s legendary Vasaloppet cross-country skiing race, Brüggemann placed 28th out of around 8,000 competitors.  

And all this, as he explains in this interview, despite pursuing “only” a semi-professional sporting career in addition to his real job. He spoke with us about his passion, the best way to train, his future athletic goals – and the major role nutrition plays in his physical performance. 

What does sport mean for you? What place does it have in your daily routine?

For me, sport is like cleaning my teeth – it’s just part of the programme. I try to get some exercise every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes’ worth. But I count myself lucky that motivation is not an issue. For me, training is not an option, but rather something I do automatically. That is the only way to achieve and maintain a certain level of athletic performance. 

So my sporting activities are an important part of my life, second only to my girlfriend, who shares this passion with me. If you don’t make sport a priority, you will never achieve the continuity required to get good and stay good at it. 

Do you prefer to train alone or as part of a team? And why?

I was a keen volleyball player for many years, so I know how to be a team player. During that period, I was also a member of a rowing crew, so I know exactly what it means to be part of a team. Today, I am a team player when it comes to training, but I compete alone. This was the basic distinction I felt I had to make a number of years ago. To be a professional athlete, going it alone offers a tad more flexibility.  

At the moment, my sport programme consists of triathlons in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. Although it was not my original plan to pursue these activities, I now do so at a semi-professional level. I have the option of training as part of a group, but I don’t have to. That is precisely the flexibility I value. When my girlfriend and I go to the beach, she can read her book and I can go for a swim by myself anytime I want. If I were on a team, I would have to plan my holidays according to the group’s training plan.  

How do you prepare for a training session?

I usually start getting ready the day before by tailoring what I eat to what kind of training I will be doing the next day. If I’m going to be training hard, I make sure I get plenty of carbohydrates. If my training is going to be less intensive, I have a small breakfast and eat protein-rich foods.  

I also prepare myself mentally; especially if I’m planning a tough training session, I have to accept the fact that my body will be sore for a few hours. I visualise what I want to achieve – otherwise I am unable to reach the intensity I am aiming for. In contrast, for less intensive training it is crucial that I stay relaxed – in every sense of the word. If you have a completely different training focus, it won’t bother you when you’re being overtaken by professionals.  

Preparing for competitions is an entirely different matter. In the five or six weeks prior to competing, I cut out chocolate and beer altogether, which helps me achieve my target weight pretty quickly. No wonder really when you remember that when I train, I burn 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day rather than the usual 3,000. In that time, I can – or have to – really shovel it in. After all, the engine needs fuel, so to speak. Minerals and vitamins are really important in making sure my immune system doesn’t give out when my body reaches its energy limit.

What are the ideal conditions for when you train? 

I most like to train when it is 30 degrees Celsius and sunny outside. I can’t stand training in the freezing cold. Plus, training sessions go better when they come easily to me – even if what I am doing is difficult. Nevertheless, the fitter you are, the easier it is to train. This is why it is so important to train regularly.  

To help boost my inner strength during training, I like to take Basica® Sport. This is still the only food supplement I can tolerate during strenuous exercise. I can feel that it raises my performance, allowing me to cycle for three to four hours without a problem or getting hungry. The exciting thing is that I first noticed that it was having a positive effect when I stopped taking it for a while. That is why I take Basica® Sport regularly all year round, so that my body always has a healthy balance of minerals. This is hard to achieve through a normal diet alone.

What are your tips for the best ways to regenerate after sport?

What you eat plays just as big a role after exercise as it does beforehand. For me it depends what kind of training I’ve been doing. After less intensive sessions, I won’t eat anything for two to three hours – I’ll simply drink lots of water so I get the maximum benefit from the afterburn effect. After more intensive sessions, I make sure my body gets a delivery of minerals, proteins and carbohydrates as quickly as possible. Ideally, I do this even before I take a shower – otherwise my metabolism goes into standby mode due to the lack of nutrients.  

In addition to my diet, I make sure that I stretch properly and loosen up my muscles.

Do you adhere to specific training routines?

Yes, I have a certain routine for the year: from mid-December to the end of February, cross-country skiing helps me build up a solid level of fitness in preparation for the summer season. My training regimen is still very general, but I stay active and get a lot of exercise. Once March begins, my training becomes a little more specific: cycling, running, swimming, but all at a relatively relaxed pace.  

As we move through April and May, things get even more defined. I run almost everywhere and am always working harder towards competing. Between July and September, I generally have two highlight events that I want to be really fit for, plus a whole series of other races along the way.  

By the time we get into October and November, it’s already time to start preparing for the following year. Sometimes I halt the season there, but other times I will also run a marathon during this period – it depends what I have planned for the next season. Mid-November sees the start of what I call my “cocktail phase”: for six to eight weeks, I train only when and how I feel like it.  

How do you deal with or prevent injuries?

I make a general distinction between injuries that happen suddenly and those that emerge gradually over many years, like muscle damage. Over the years, I’ve developed a degree of physical awareness that helps me respond early to the classic signs of having overdone it during training. When training starts to hurt, you should always ask yourself “Is this just regular pain, or am I about to injure myself?” Having regular physical therapy also taught me ways of hearing what my body is telling me. 

In the case of sudden injuries, like those from a bike accident, giving yourself time to heal is important. Not training for a couple of weeks will not immediately undo all your good work, and bruises can heal amazingly quickly provided that is all the body has to do.

What are your athletic goals?

My short-term goal is to place in the top three at the DATEV Challenge Roth. I also want to make it onto the podium for the long-distance category at the two biggest triathlons in eastern Germany. Looking ahead to 2023, I hope to qualify to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. I will continue to do around ten races a year, including six to eight triathlons. Two of these will be really demanding, while the rest are smaller events.  

My long-term plan is to help others reach their potential. I want my day to consist of training, rest and helping others train. So at the moment I’m gathering testimonials so that I can have an advantage over other trainers in terms of effectiveness. Because I’m an amateur who also competes alongside professionals, I think I can better understand the pains and gains of “regular” athletes. When training other athletes, my focus is less on performance and more on how efficient the training is.  

What songs are on your workout playlist?

I almost never listen to music when training outdoors because then I can’t hear other road users, which can be dangerous. Also, I don’t like having music on while running because in my experience doing so harms my technique – you always try to run along to the rhythm of the music. When I train indoors, I like listening to artists like Paul Kalkbrenner or Paul van Dyk – and when I’m training really hard, Mediterranean club hits are the best distraction from the pain.

Picture credits: Marathon Photos, Larasch