Triathlon Training: Avoiding Mid-Season Weight Gain

By Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

By now you’re likely well into training for your next goal race, the one that will wrap up a great season in the next couple of months. And if you’re like many endurance athletes who measure their training in months, not just weeks, you may be dealing with an unwanted surprise: the sudden addition of body weight. On paper, these couple of extra pounds don’t make any sense. Despite training up to six days a week for 12 hours or more per week, eating relatively well, getting enough sleep, etc., the numbers on the bathroom scale may be starting to creep up.

It’s important to keep this weight gain in perspective. While not ideal, it isn’t necessarily bad news. It likely means that your body has adapted to the training load you’re throwing at it. Or looked at another way, your body is now so efficient at processing fuel and propelling you through your swim, bike, and run that your nutrition program is supplying a surplus of energy. It’s another example of how extraordinarily fast the body adapts and then acts to preserve itself.

Minor weight gain can also occur from an increase in plasma volume or water retention in response to exposure to hot environments or training load. One of your body’s responses to training in hot weather is to increase plasma volume so you can better regulate core temperature. This added fluid can increase your weight slightly, but the thermoregulatory benefit of acclimatization far exceeds the detriment caused by carrying some extra plasma volume.

But if the weight gain is in the form of fat, hauling around those extra pounds will slow you down. To lose them, you’ll need to put a mild shock into your diet and training to push the body to drop the weight. I’m not calling for anything drastic here, just enough to melt away around a pound or two each week (Anything more will have a negative effect on your training, since it means you’re not getting enough calories to fuel quality workouts and sufficiently recover–and grow stronger.). Here are some smart ways to do it.

* Check your training intensities

Now that you’ve boosted your endurance, your training zones (both heart rate and power) might need adjustment; you may now be training below your lactate threshold. Turn one of your cycling or running interval days into a threshold testing day to reset your training ranges. Then make sure to train at the specified intensities listed in your plan. No slacking. There are a lot of different field tests you can use for this, and if you have already used on, now is a good time to re-do it. If you want to use the CTS Field Tests, for cycling you can do 2 eight-minute all-out efforts on a flat road or slight climb separated by 10 minutes of recovery. Use the average heart rate or power number from the second effort to set your training ranges. For the run, wear a heart rate monitor and run a mile as fast as you can. Use your new pace and average heart rate to set your training intensities.

* Knock out a food group from your diet

I don’t mean giving up carbs or fat, here. Instead, think about skipping desserts if you always have one after dinner. Or give up alcohol until you complete your next race. Replace juices and/or sodas with plain water. These items are what I call "empty calories" in that they don’t offer much, if any, nutritional value. You can go cold-turkey or spread out the changes over a few weeks. Start by giving up that wine or beer in the first week. The next week, nix that after-dinner dessert. The week after that, replace your daily soda with water (Even if it’s a diet soda, replace it with water. There’s some debate that sugar-free sodas actually spur people to eat more than they should.). Keep doing this with various foods/snacks until you see your weight start dropping again.

An easy one that worked for me was to drop cheese from my diet completely. Cheese is one of those high-fat, high-sodium foods that’s added to a huge number of meals, so removing it is a simple way to eliminate hundreds of calories per day and perhaps 70-100 grams of grams of fat each week.

* Eat a salad for breakfast

I’ve long believed that a good breakfast of whole grains, whole fruits and some protein will set the tone for the rest of your day’s energy levels and eating habits. But while it’s not a traditional breakfast food, a salad in the morning can be a great way to shake up your diet by filling you up with vitamins and minerals, along with a healthy dose of fiber that can keep you feeling full for the rest of the morning. A simple balsamic vinegrette dressing is a good choice; since the fat from the olive oil will help release the fat soluble nutrients found in leafy greens.

* Don’t eat after 7 P.M.

It’s not that there’s anything magical that changes the way your body processes food after 7PM, it’s more that the food choices most people make in the evening aren’t beneficial to training or weight management. In fact, most of the eating that people do after 7PM isn’t beneficial in any way. If you’re eating a good dinner and going to bed a few hours later, then it’s likely that anything you’re eating as a snack before bed is unnecessary and prompted by boredom. If you’re really having trouble cutting out this snacking, consider delaying your dinner by an hour (to 6-7PM).

Keep in mind that the tips above aren’t limited to in-season training. They work well year-round to help you fuel your body with the energy it needs and will burn instead of turning into extra pounds. Doing so will help keep your body in racing shape all year long, while still giving you enough opportunities to indulge every once and a while.

Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems and co-author, with Chris Carmichael, of “The Time-Crunched Triathlete” and “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”. CTS is the Official Coaching Partner of Ironman. Visit www.trainright.com/ironman, call 719-635-0645 x1, or email Sales@trainright.com for information on Ironman Florida and Ironman Arizona Camps that include entries into these sold-out races! 

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