article by Lynda Wallenfels
Your fastest self on the racecourse is light and lean. Combining “light and lean” with “strong and healthy” is the Holy Grail of optimal performance, and together work to create those peak moments you train so hard for. While under-fueling is the fastest route to over-training, over-fueling will not make you into a lean performance machine. The perfect balance takes action and attention to detail.
It’s All About the Food
For endurance athletes to lose weight, nutrition plays much more of a vital role than exercise. Athletes should be focusing their exercise habits on performance development first and foremost. Training solely to burn extra calories leads to either eating more calories or over-training by under-fueling, neither of which results in fat loss. It’s all about the food.
Fat loss takes time. Water loss can happen overnight. Your goal should be fat loss, which means patience is required. Avoid being too aggressive with your calorie deficit goals. Aim for a 300- to 500-calorie deficit per day for healthy long-term fat loss that is sustainable while base training and building fitness. Starving yourself with too few calories will make your caveman brain switch on starvation mode. This shuts down fitness development and locks down fat stores. Extreme under-fueling will sabotage your training and lead to a litany of other problems such as hormone imbalance, bone loss and immune system depression. To achieve your optimal race weight, you must stay healthy.
When Should You Ramp Up the Weight Loss?
You have more flexibility with nutrition during lower intensity off-season and base training periods. Once you have moved into your higher intensity build, peak and race periods, your fueling and recovery demands are too high to maintain a calorie deficit while building fitness. Don’t wait until eight weeks before your peak race or assume the weight will just come off while training. That only happens to a lucky few with the right genetics. The rest of us need to take action by following a detailed plan to achieve our optimal race weight.
How-to Steps For Practical Weight Loss
Follow this list of actions one by one until you reach the point where you are losing 0.25 – 1.0 pounds per week of body weight. If you are within three to five percent of your race weight it is likely you only need to follow steps 1-3.
If You Measure It, You Can Change It
Use a food diary app (or good old-fashioned pen and paper) to measure your calorie intake for three days. Learn the nutrient profile of foods you are eating to make accurate dietary decisions.
Track your body weight or body fat percentage in TrainingPeaks and graph it out over time using their dashboard tool. Seeing your milestones and goals achieved on a chart is motivating.
Additional Tricks and Tips to Stay on Target
Join a challenge for social support and motivation. Groups often get together for a nutrition or weight loss challenge such as The Whole-30. Sharing goals, recipes and excitement with friends can make staying on plan fun.
Read up while losing weight to keep your mind focused and brain waves full of information leading you down the right path to your goal.
Set realistic goals and provide rewards for yourself. These can be tangible, such as a blingy bike part or intangible, such as dropping your threshold mile pace by 10 seconds.
Throw out all junk food from your fridge and pantry. If you don’t have easy access to your trigger foods, they don’t go in your mouth.
Use smaller plates to help with portion control.
Add a glycogen-depleted training session. Once or twice per week do a steady 30 to 60-min aerobic training session in heart rate zone 2 or power level 2 in a fasted state first thing in the morning. Refuel with breakfast immediately after. Training in a glycogen depleted state will enhance fat burning and boost your fat loss.
There is no doubt getting down to race weight is challenging and requires sacrifice. Embrace the hard work and earn your rewards. It will put you in the position to have the best races of your life.
Lynda Wallenfels is a Level 1 certified USA Cycling coach. She coaches mountain bike, cross country and endurance athletes to personal bests and national championships. Lynda has been coaching off-road athletes for 20 years. Contact her through her website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting at lwcoaching.com. She’s also a contributor to the TrainingPeaks Blog.
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