Weight Loss for Vain Triathletes

I wasn’t fully aware of it until recently, but triathletes have the same vain and usually unproductive relationship with being lean that cyclists have. Maybe not quite to the same degree, but it’s certainly a thing, and probably more so for women than men.

For triathlon, there’s not nearly as much reason to get super light as there is in cycling. Even the hilliest triathlons are pancake flat when it comes to comparing them to most non-crit bike races, and the only reason to be light on the bike is for the climbs. Statistically, bigger triathletes do better on the bike than smaller ones. None of the best guys on the bike are sub 155. For swimming, having extra weight doesn’t hurt you at all either. Running is really the only one of the three disciplines that extra weight will weigh you down, since running is purely power to weight, whereas swimming is mainly technique and cycling is mainly power to drag surface area. However, even having extra muscle on the run isn’t necessarily a bad thing since that muscle meant you didn’t have to dig as hard on the bike, and will help hold you together deep into the race.

Training is hard. Losing weight makes training harder, which begs the question of whether or not it’s worth it to lose weight. In my humble and always 100 percent correct opinion, getting super lean should not be a priority for most triathletes. If you aren’t classified as ‘overweight,’ focusing on weight loss will most likely lead to decreased performance, decreased motivation, and decreased sex drive, all three of which lead to increased depression and burnout. I think the only reasons that anyone should really try to lose weight is if they’re:

1) Already a pro who has been racing and training at a high level for many years, they haven’t naturally leaned out during those years, and they won’t see any gains simply with more seasons under their belt or better training; and
2) Triathletes who are actually classified as overweight.

With that said, these are the techniques that I’ve used in the past to get down to race weight. I can’t remember if I already did a blog about this; if I have it’s been a while.

First, let’s look at the pros and cons of attempting to get “shredded,” as the kids say:

Pros (assuming everything goes perfectly):

You’ll…

  • Run faster
  • Go uphill slightly faster
  • Race better in the heat
  • Be able to look down on people who aren’t as lean as you

Cons

You’ll…

  • Get sick more often
  • Get overtrained easier
  • Face burnout more often
  • Be angrier
  • Possibly lose power on the bike
  • Get injured more often
  • Not have as much energy for high quality training
  • Piss everyone off who lives with you
  • Have a much, much worse life

Okay, now onto the basics for getting that sexy Week 14 holocaust look that everyone’s talking about.

The first rule is that there are many rules. And if you break even one of them you’ll fail at the whole endeavor. Just kidding, there’s only one rule, which is that you have to go to bed hungry. Not starving hungry, but hungry enough to only be thinking about food and nothing else. To achieve this, in the past I’ve used the following methods:

  • Counted calories consumed and calories burned. Counting calories isn’t very accurate, but it gives you an idea of how much you’re eating and where you can cut things out. I always aimed at cutting 500 calories per day, though it was probably more like 200 per day when things get evened out throughout the weeks or months.
  • Eaten a large breakfast, plenty during training and up to one hour afterwards, and a very small dinner.
  • Adhered to a rule of no food past 7PM, assuming lights out are at 10PM. You can push that rule back to 6:30 eventually, and sometimes as far back as 6PM (or no food for four hours before bed time). Dinner should be a stir fry of spicy peppers and chicken breast, maybe with broccoli, chard, or kale. Or, it can be some sort of spicy vegetable and chicken soup. Once you really start getting serious, especially if you had a larger, late post-workout meal, try making some homemade pico d’gallo and crushing a large handful of tortilla chips in. Bon appetite.

Dieting needs to be consistent, as in throughout months, not a week here and a week there. The best time to lose weight is during the winter, as far as possible from race season (if you’re already lean, do the opposite–get fat during the fall and winter and burn it off in the spring). Anyways, in order to be consistent, you can’t be too hard core about always dieting every day of the week. Once a week shouldn’t be a “cheat” day, but more of a normal amount of food day.

Foods to eat a lot of include all vegetables and fruit, coconut oil and milk, lean meat, beans, squash, tubers, eggs, and fish. Nuts, red or fatty meat (aside from fatty fish), all dairy, bread, tortillas, rice, cereal, and other high dense foods should only be eaten at certain times for recovery, or be minimized to some degree, especially the ones that don’t serve a purpose like ice cream, cheese, and alcohol. You can see why dieting will make you slower, since rice, bread, pasta, chips, and the like are the key to refueling glycogen.

Once you’ve half starved yourself for about five or six years you won’t have to worry about dieting anymore, since it takes that many years for the body to get used to being a certain body fat percentage. That’s all it takes! Just half a decade or so. The same goes for muscle mass. Elite athletes, after training many years, have great difficulty building muscle.

Weight loss techniques that I’ve tried and didn’t like or found to be too detrimental to performance:

  • Cutting out all animal products (great for the world but not beneficial for recovery). My goal throughout all my years of starvation was to lose muscle mass since I was top heavy from rowing and climbing. I thought being vegan would help accomplish this. I didn’t last long before getting a cold. Years later I tried doing a meat-reduced diet, which did seem to help lose muscle a bit.
  • Going on a walk or easy run before breakfast.
  • Doing a long ride without breakfast.
  • Riding long rides with little to no food.
  • Low carb diets. If you’re focused on losing weight, the only time you should minimize carbs is during dinner. For everyone else, carbs should be eaten all the time. Adelaide and I might be known for just having salad every night for dinner, but that doesn’t include dessert or dinner number two.

I hope this helps you achieve your weight loss and/or mononucleosis goals!

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