March 3, 2011

My journey from fat boy to race fit

Weight management is one of the top reasons folks train for and race triathlons.  And this was certainly true for me when I got back into triathlons over a decade ago.

So When Are You Due?

After fifteen years in the business world my over-taxed pants were trying to hold in an extra 35+ lbs. of excess Jay.  It all came to a head when we returned from a tropical vacation and I caught a glimpse of myself in a picture leaning shirtless against a palm tree.  I looked like I was going to give birth at any moment.  That was it.  I was determined to get back in shape and the best way I knew to do it was to return to triathlon racing.  And even though it would be another year or more before the first race, seeing that picture changed everything for me.

The winding road to fitness is one that continues to this day.  I, like many out there, initially followed the I can eat anything I want because I’m training for a triathlon approach to nutrition.  And this was often reinforced by non-triathletes pals who envied me because they assumed I could eat anything I wanted.  So it’s no surprise that many of us take up triathlons in an effort to lose weight without changing how we eat or, even worse, to go about eating anything we want.  Well that’s just not how it works.


Why Can’t I Eat It All?

The I can eat anything I want philosophy finally had to give way to the facts.  Triathlon is a long term (greater than one hour) endurance sport that requires continuous submaximal effort with a goal of finishing in the shortest amount of time.  From a weight management perspective I could get away with a few extra pounds in the swim and on a flat bike course but on the run and in the hills the extra weight mattered.  So I cut my calorie intake and even though I dropped weight l didn’t get any faster.

The fact is that simply restricting calorie intake alone isn’t enough.  Your goal is to increase your strength to weight ratio, which means to increase lean body mass (LBM) and reduce body fat relative to your overall weight.  Just eating fewer calories can create too much of an energy deficit, too few calories relative to training needs, and can cause the body to cannibalize muscle for energy and result in a negative impact on performance.  The exact OPPOSITE of what you’re trying to do!  So, to ensure this doesn’t happen to you here are a few simple guidelines to get you started.

1. Start with the Basics: Lose the I can eat anything I want because I’m training for a triathlon approach to eating.  You’re an endurance athlete so eat like one!  You’re going to put a lot of stress on your body in training so fuel it for success not just to fill a void or chow down on anything in your path.  For me a modified Paleo Diet works best… I like to add some carbohydrates like rice or sweet potatoes to better fuel my training effort.  This eating approach fuels hard training efforts, wards off post-race illness, and keeps me lean and focused.

2. Keep it Balanced:  Where I grew up pizza and pasta were two primary food groups.  For a long time I convinced myself that I really needed to eat the whole pizza but in truth all it did was make me fat.  So if you want to get leaner and faster then get balanced in your nutrition.  Each of your main meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) should include high-fiber, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and high quality fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.  This macronutrient balance helps your body absorb the nutrition more effectively and lets you feel satisfied longer.

3. Timing Matters:  If you want to get lean and go faster you have to fuel your training sessions, which means to get some calories in the 5 minutes before and especially in the 15-30 minutes following a hard training session or one lasting longer than 90 minutes.  This won’t make you fat… it will top off and replenish your energy stores, your muscle glycogen.

My fueling guidelines are the following:

a.  5-10 minutes before a hard session consume 8-10 ounces of electrolyte drink (60-80 calories) to top off the tank.

b.  15-30 post exercise consume 4-5 calories of carbohydrate/2.2 lbs. of body weight to replace muscle glycogen and add 40-80 calories of protein if available for best results.  The goal is a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein so for a guy like me weighing 158 lbs. I’d look to consume 300 calories of carbohydrate and 75 calories of protein.  Don’t over think this.  There are a number of very good recovery drinks on the market and if all else fails just do what I do sometimes and have a cold can of Coke or Pepsi.  Not ideal, but it works.

If you’d like more detailed nutrition information and don’t have a copy of our special report on sports nutrition, let us know and we’ll shoot one off to you right away.

Train safe, stay healthy, and I’ll look forward to seeing you at the races!

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