I received the following question this week from one of our athletes:
“Losing weight – I’ve got 4-5 pounds I want to drop over the race season – in the 4 months before IM/CdA. During the base phase I’ve put on a couple pounds mostly from over fueling/refueling. I don’t binge, just seem to eat a little more than I need to make sure I keep my energy levels
up, which I think has helped in fitness gains, but I’m carrying a few extra pounds around I want to drop. So the questions are:
– When is the best time in the season to lose weight and how quickly?
– Where do you cut the calories? I presume you want to keep your pre-exercise, exercise and post-refuel intake at optimal levels.”
First off, its great that you are forcing some calories and fluid in training which will train and prepare your gut for the huge amount of calories you will attempt to put into it while racing IM. No matter how well you train your gut to handle calories for race day, you will still be at a deficit, so the better you can train yourself, the better off you will be. Sorry to get off track. Here are the typical scenarios:
1) For folks that have more than 10 pounds of fat to lose (which we have established through body fat testing) before race day, I like them to do a focused calorie deficit type diet right off the get go during the base phase. Since there are no intense workouts to recover from, and moderate overall workout volume, the deficit won’t impact the quality of the workouts. The higher protein intake with the diet also coincides quite nicely with the lifting being done in the gym and meets the protein recovery demands of that. The objective is to get within 4-10 pounds of race weight by the end of the base phase.
2) For folks with less than 10 pounds to lose, I like them to be within 4 pounds of the goal race weight at 6 weeks out. Typically that last 6-week period is so intense that the weight comes off on its own with just a minor focus on total intake. If you are at about 4-10 pounds over race weight at 16 weeks out from race day, the best way to get down to that 4 pound number is very linearly from now to 6 weeks out through minor changes in habits. You’re right that cutting calories from workouts and workout recovery is never a good idea since this is your one chance throughout the day to restock muscle glycogen. Instead, focus on the window following your workouts that’s as long as the workout was to not over eat. Instead make whole grain choices and focus on “clean foods” during that period.
In both of these scenarios the maximum amount of weight loss each week should be no more than 1 pound. By limiting the weight loss rate to this number, eating frequently, and keeping protein up, significant muscle and power loss on the bike is avoided.
Again, I am not a Registered Dietitian or nutritionist; these thoughts just represent my experience as an athlete and coach. Take them for what they are worth.