Sports Scientist Daniel Healey shares his story and his pursuit of knowledge from very unlikely places. Also in this episode, the story of being open to new ideas, and how we filter the information we come across so we can take training and performance theory and apply them to our own cycling.

Coaches and even riders need to get information from a wide variety of sources – peer reviewed articles, peer to peer learning, athletes etc. This diversification is a strength, so is being equipped with a functioning BS meter is essential. Collecting and storing information on training and performance started very early on in Daniel’s coaching career.

We are going to explore the themes that have popped up in Daniel’s career, things like scientific theory vs real world application, how can training ideas from other be used in cycling and then pro cycling – how can that information be used for all cyclists.


Damian: Episode 1: The Folder

[Sound set-up sounds and we hear Daniel’s voice]

Daniel: Wherever I could find anything about training so just kept them from scrapbook form and then started applying them, and this is where the real acceleration in learning came from.

INSIDE Indent / sharp cut

Daniel: Um, yes, I’m a sports scientist exercise physiologist and nutritionist.

Damian: OK, [clears throat] that’s Daniel Healey Head of Sports Science at VirtuGo and on the day I recorded our first conversation we had just met for the first time. Now, I knew a little bit about Daniel. I knew he was a

Daniel: …sports scientist exercise physiologist and nutritionist.

Damian: I knew he was a coach, he has a Masters degree in sports science, I knew that cycling was his thing. But I don’t think I had any idea about all the things he’s done, of course there’s the pro cycling experience…

Daniel: I’ve worked with Bjarne and Mick in their most recent pro team. That was Tinkoff Saxo. And before that I was also Head of Sports Science at BMC.

Damian: So that’s one part of the cycling side of things – which we’ll dig into a bit later. Daniel, though, was head of nutrition for High-Performance New Zealand Sport in the 2008-2012 Olympic cycle.

So what unfolded as I got further and further into our first conversation was Daniel’s thirst for knowledge and openness to learn from any sport or professional. Which, over 20 plus years means that the depth and breadth of information that he’s exposed himself to and more importantly sifted through to develop his script, as he calls it, is just staggering…and not only did he get to see

Daniel: …how big the human engine is and how malleable it is to training.

Damian: he also set in motion a

Daniel: …constant process revising my script…

Damian: This script, which is the series of sessions he uses for the pro riders he coaches – from the very beginning, all ended up in one place – the folder.

Daniel: From those very early days looking at old journals in the back of the library, I was always just interested. How cyclists train and why you would do 3 minutes on and 3 minutes off or whatever it was. So I got interested from day one at university and just sets and reps. Then that turned into a much bigger passion where I’d go to book shops all over Sydney, I’m originally from Sydney, and in the early 2000s I put together a folder, that was actually periodised, using old terms like base training and this and this and this. And then I would find cycling weekly magazines, Cycling News, in fact it was called Bill’s cycling page back then.

INSIDE Indent Start

Damian: From VirtuGO this is INSIDE – Opening up the professional cycling and sports world…I’m Damian Ruse and this week…the story of one coach’s pursuit of knowledge. It’s also the story of being open to new ideas, and how we filter the information we come across so we can get the most out of it in the real world.

INSIDE Indent End

The Feature

Music 1

Damian: This cycle of collect and use kept on continuing in many different ways, and we are going to explore the themes that have popped up in Daniel’s career, things like scientific theory vs real world application, how can training ideas from other be used in cycling and then pro cycling – how can that information be used for all cyclists.

Coaches and even riders need to get information from a wide variety of sources – peer reviewed articles, peer to peer learning, athletes etc. This diversification is a strength, so is being equipped with a functioning BS meter is essential.

For Daniel, his formal education was his starting point collecting information.

Damian: So if we wanted to just talk about you from the beginning to get a big picture of. Where you’ve been who you’ve worked with the types of things [00:01:00] you’ve done. Um, where do we start? Like, where can we start on the side of a road at a yeah with race somewhere

Daniel: I would start there for sure. So I think it was the early 1990s. I was a member of the Sydney Cycling Club and I just started my post grad studies actually at the time.
So I was spending lots of time in the lab. Um, it was quite new to the sport of cycling so. I found myself racing a little bit getting to know some of the junior junior bike riders and of course doing all the bunch rides and as I’m doing these Bunch rides with [00:01:30] all the information that was available inside the exercise physiology Lab at the time.

I would see a disconnect between what people were doing on the road and what they were doing in their training programs outside of the academic environment. And so there was this big gap between the knowledge base. That we were taught and through very formal and structured education. Um, and what was actually being done on the road and I saw an opportunity to maybe break down some of the barriers the barriers to entry when you’re looking at scientific [00:02:00] data from journals right through to even just lab results that I produced and trying to make it more accessible for juniors Masters Riders and all points in between and that was the only 90s.

Damian: Okay. So what I’m hearing here is you looked at cycling in the training that was being done and you didn’t see any connection between the science and the new science that was developing [00:02:30] in the 90s.
And so you were trying to bring some of that back to the cyclists

Daniel: and it was multifactorial actually when I think about it. Um, there was. Discussions in the bunch about having steak before, you know big training rides some people even then were starting to avoid carbohydrates and all these little fads and Trends would eat their way into people’s training programs.

So it’s kept in up, you know, I was doing some pretty big kays at the time and my my Master’s study was using a cyclist and the [00:03:00] best Riders from around the Sydney area. So I would tune into them. They were doing long long tests in my lab like really long test to exhaustion. And allowed hours now is of just talkin time.

You know, what do you eat? How do you train and you just won that race? How did you prepare your going overseas with the national team? What sort of training are you going to do when you go to Mexico because it was legendary altitude do at the time. So all of these just the strands of information.

I was pulling them together over time and then basically going back to the [00:03:30] books and then trying to tease out what’s actually practical from very controlled scientific studies and put them out on the road.

Damian: And Daniel took this information literally, out onto the road…but before we dig into that – let’s take a moment here to understand why findings from scientific studies need the extra testing out on the road –

Daniel: Everything in the lab doesn’t nessearingly work out on the road….20-25 hours training week.

Damian: In other words scientific studies can be so narrow in their focus they miss the big picture of a cyclist – and not just pro cyclists. When Daniel took the early information about training, literally, out onto the road…

Clip In [Rain]

Damian: he started with the youngest riders…

Daniel: yep 12 year olds 13 year olds and 14 year olds. I was standing on the side of the road with the clipboard more often than not standing there in the rain. As that would right around there was no power meters, but I’d send him up and down Hills. I’d be sort of looking at the heart rate and trying to juggle three or four guys at a time.

Clip Out [Rain]

Daniel: But um, these Riders getting results is what really hooked me on this [00:07:00] thing called called training one of them one of local club race after a few months of me working with him.

And that was such a big deal at the time, you know, it was confirmation that this little kid, you know going in the right direction but also confirmation for me that taking some of this stuff from science and actually applying it to. Young Rider who still developing himself, um that there’s a pathway here that this could work that same writer fast forward a few years later went on to win.
I think it was three World titles in [00:07:30] the track World Championships in 2008 in Cape Town and they were the good events right when I say the good events. They’re the big ones the Marquee events. He won the medicine he won the team Pursuit and then he won the Omni. Well on time so this little fire that had started on this thing called coaching by standing on the side of the road instead Centennial Park suddenly got results on a much bigger stage and I distinctly remember when this rider Luke Davison’s his name when he came back from that championships.

[00:08:00] He was on the front page of the local newspaper and I just thought that was the best thing so I didn’t need much more confirmation after that

Damian: This system was also confirmed with a big win on the road.

Daniel: I got a phone call late January and I was a friend of mine [00:17:30] saying Daniel not going to believe it but Pete just one and I’m like, I did a double take I said, okay one white elite National Road cycling title…

…His name’s Peter McDonald and uh, yeah, he worked as a bike Courier. He was trained in education. So he had his teaching qualification in his pocket, which was great. But he spent all day up and down the [00:18:00] streets of Sydney delivering packages. Then after that would go to the Tuesday night racing which is super intense in Sydney.

Damian: At that time though Daniel had just started a position with High-Performance New Zealand Sport.

Daniel: Um, then it was one day this is actually quite a random. Um, but that’s preparation leads to you know, maybe there’s good opportunity and go for it. I saw an advertisement [00:09:00] for high performance sport in New Zealand. They called themselves sport in New Zealand at the time. This is like 2008 and they were looking for. Gold medal experts or people that have got the years of University training, but I’ve also got hands-on experience producing Champion athletes and I thought well that is talking to me and there was a few jobs…But this nutrition role to work with the top sports people in a big government funded Sports initiative was really really appealing.

So I sent my resume in did the interviews government jobs that lots and lots of interviews and then got the job and then so went to New Zealand at the very end of 1998 [00:10:00] 2008. Um and straightaway started working in sports. I knew nothing about. Absolutely, nothing.

Damian: And this was an opportunity to diversify his knowledge and get work in other sports, understanding different nutritional demands…

Daniel: I was working in hockey. I was working in netball, uh swimming there was after that also, yachting

Damian: but the fundamental things of nutrition of the same in those regards

Daniel: that’s the thing performance nutrition is exactly that you got the organism…So I had that background and I just applied it to lots of different spots and it went super well,

Damian: But it didn’t stop there, Daniel’s also had an insight into how other sports run their coaching programs…

Daniel: Yeah, but also have just having open ears and open eyes when you’re seeing, you know, expertly run programs world renowned program. Uh with coaches that um have fun more experience that I had at the time.

So I was in the New Zealand rowing program

Clip In [rowing coaching]

for a couple of years and that opened my eyes [00:13:30] those guys. Those girls are tough. They ride in the dark down to the rowing shit and the morning and you Zealand’s not warm. There’s three or four days of summer. Exactly exactly. They write down there in the dark.

Clip [rowing coaching talking]

Um, they get on the water in the dark, they’ll do two hours.

Clip Out [rowing coaching]

Then they’ll come back have a little snack straight into the gym. Then ride home have a little sleep come back and do another two hours and that’s almost every day and then you’ve got a specific discipline inside that I was stationed on and that’s the lightweight.

[00:14:00] So the boys and guides the guys girls have to be really lightweight, they’re generally quite tall and so managing their nutrition was really important but watching how much work they could do. Um, you know, I took away resilience and just the the. Huge potential that the human organism has to endure endurance exercise and that was really taken from the rollers.

They did stuff that I never thought was possible. Yeah. I’m at the rowing shed every every other day and seeing these guys and girls [00:14:30] also go on to win gold medals. The New Zealand rowing program is I won’t say second to none, but that’s just say for a small country. They bat way above their average.

Damian: So I think it’s important that you have this experience to me because. For so long sports are just siloed. You no one talks to anybody maybe in a high-performance system in a you know in a country that’s developing their systems like New Zealand Australia. They talked to each other a little bit but it’s kind of it’s where [00:15:00] we’re at today ten years ago.
I don’t think many sports were talking to each other at all.

Daniel: No, but I also had the benefit that I could I could duck in and duck out. Hey, I got promoted to the National lead role in um nutrition in New Zealand and it was. Being there for about one year. So I got to then cherry pick the sports. I really wanted to work in I loved working in all the spots.

I was in but I was also spread too far. So I’ve course I targeted Bike NZ. I targeted the rowing program, um Triathlon and then had a little bit of time with [00:15:30] um, netball as well, which was also fun, but I kept them as my sports and I really did I watched how the coaches prepared them. I watched their recovery technique.

Um, there was also a big Sport Science Program or Sports Science support network behind all those bullets.

Damian: And this was another area that you wouldn’t really think about in a program like this – the opportunity to learn from other professionals…

Daniel: So speaking to the physios was really important for me speaking to the strength and conditioning guys was also really important to me, you know using weight training for the Sprint athletes again, I watched how they did that and take in a few cues and few little tidbits with me and all that information [00:16:00] does find its way into the current training sessions and training programs…

Damian: And now we get to the point of years and years of collecting, and testings and filtering leads to the real test – professional cycling. Daniel’s story of how he got into pro cycling is one of persistence and honing his craft.

Love was ultimately what set a series of actions in motion that would have him on the hunt for a job in pro cycling.

During one of his trips to Belgium with Bike NZ he met a German woman – who’s now his wife by the way – but at a certain point he took a 3-month tourist visa in Germany to stay with her and follow his passion and set himself the goal of getting a job in pro cycling. Even with Daniel’s experience he is the first to admit that…

Daniel: …the chances of that happening. We’re really Slim lots of nights been staring at the ceiling…

Damian: It really came down to the wire when he only had a few weeks left and after sending out big long detailed emails to every pro team, he got a warm introduction to Allen Piper at BMC. And after a long meeting with Piper in is new home town of Freiburg, Germany…

Daniel: Um, the call came Daniel would you work with us?

[00:25:00] Damian: And what was that position?

Daniel: That was straight away into the head of sports science of BMC.

Damian: And Daniel’s career within a formal pro cycling team was underway. Starting from scratch Daniels was tasked with setting up a system with an online monitoring system to come up with a really simplified way of conveying to the management team which riders were up which ones were down who’s on form who’s looking to be on track for that race in one month, two months, three months.

Music 1

Damian: Bobby Julich a person with a strong connection to the sport as an ex-rider but also being involved with coaching at pro teams like Team Sky. Julich made an intro to Bjarne when he was putting together a new team which would later be the Tinkoff Saxo. But at this point Daniel is still on his pursuit of knowledge. And it’s here in the pro cycling where a new source of information presents itself in the most unlikely of places…

Daniel: And you’re sitting at the dinner table with…training session or workout.

Damian: And also in a pro environment you get a chance to be next to the riders to again try out these ideas – especially at training camps where you get to see first hand how your ideas play and you get to talk to the other coaches on the team…

Daniel: I’ve worked with so many coaches…

Now I’m not going to harp on it, but it will come up – but Daniel and I both work at a company called VirtuGO. And the whole aim of the company is to bring the world of pro cycling to all cyclists – you will hear us talk about VirtuGO from time to time but we are working together on this show to open up the world of pro cycling and to some extent the world of high-performance sport and taking lessons that all cyclists to use to get better and faster or whatever your goal is.

Daniel is going to be the filter – and this show is going to be the folder. The collection of ideas that have been filtered down for real world use. We will refine common topics and uncover news ones, but whatever we talk about, it’s always going to come back down to – how can we use this in our cycling – how can you use this in your cycling.

And while putting this episode together I was thinking about the most useful part of this whole topic – other than getting your hands on the folder – what I came up with was – Daniel’s process for filtering information. So let’s go through an example of Daniel’s process and how something makes it to the folder.



The Chaser

Ongoing, getting Tech Hack interviews with a manufacturer directly (of something SPC holds in high regard) would be interesting – stories behind the promise of performance enhancement.

Damian: It’s time once again for The Chaser. The segment of the show where I talk about something that will help you chase down your goals – whether it’s a product, study or performance tip…

This week I wanted to pull out something from my talks with Daniel. Something that repeatedly came up was one particular lesson…

Daniel: And that lesson is that less is more when you’re when you’re a pro Rider and this is one of the points we got them in still, uh, just through our training programs here at VirtuGO. A pro rider is no different than an executive or housewife [00:21:30] for or university student. They have their rule life except for a pro Rider their real life includes travel particularly overseas. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere and includes travel to and from by crisis, it involves the stresses and strains of the race itself, then there’s the training so it’s really easy to take a textbook approach which I did and this is a big learning um point for me to take a textbook approach.

And apply it in a textbook way to a writer that um [00:22:00] is basically living in a really randomized environment. The only certainty is the time that the race starts and then the next race the next race. So I was provided some very rich feedback from Hayden after some training sessions that were just way too hard at the textbooks.

That should be. All right, so I took that on board and I’ve kept that experience and that that’s situation. I was in very close to me the whole mess. Pro riders as humans are very similar to everyone else except they’ve got this [00:22:30] extraordinary around of travel they have to do that kind of background fatigue is very very hard to quantify.

So less is more.

Damian: A good lesson to take on board at any level. Simplification is also something we can pull from this. Not making things too hard or too complicated gives us you a chance to not occupy as much brain space for your cycling and this also frees up your time outside of cycling to recover and still fulfill the other roles you occupy in your life.


Damian: INSIDE is produced by VirtuGO and hosted by me, Damian Ruse.

If you enjoyed this show and you want to hear more – Subscribe on Apple Podcasts of wherever you listen. And tell your riding buddies – Thank you so very much for listening and we’ll see you next episode or out on the road.