by Jim Gazzale
Triathlons, especially Ironmans, can be great for weight loss. Perhaps you want to drop a few pounds to get better at climbing hills on the bike, to be lighter on the run, or to simply live a healthier life. Whatever your weight loss motivations, a triathlon is a fantastic place to start. However, weight loss isn’t easy and can definitely be a frustrating aspect of endurance sports.
You’re logging 10+ hours per week of training, intervals, long endurance efforts, strength training, you name it. You’re doing it all, yet the scale won’t creep downwards and here’s why: you’re eating too much.
You can’t out train a bad diet
Just because you train for endurance competitions doesn’t give you free reign to eat like a madman. Your energy intake still matters even though you’re burning upwards of 10,000 calories per week during exercise.
Oftentimes, and I’m certainly guilty of this myself, we justify unhealthy food choices by thinking, “we need to have calories.” You do need to eat, yes, but what you eat matters. If your post-workout nutrition consists of carb-heavy pastries and sugar-laden drinks, chances are you’ll blow through your caloric deficit in no time.
Instead, focus on proper portions, lean proteins, and vegetables. This will give you more bang for your nutritional buck while at the same time keeping your calories in check.
Just because your cycling app or running watch says you burned 700 calories during a workout doesn’t actually mean you burned 700 calories during a workout. It’s important to understand that these metrics are taking an average caloric expenditure from the average person. You may fall into that bucket, sure, but chances are it’s not exact. You need to figure in a roughly 20% fluctuation up or down in this data.
Much like the above, food labels are often wrong and what’s even worse is they aren’t required to be accurate! The FDA allows for food labels to be off by 20% in either direction. So let’s say your protein bar is 200 calories according to the packaging. That means it could really be anywhere between 160 and 240 calories. When you’re trying to maintain a caloric deficit to lose weight an 80 calorie difference can be a huge factor.
That’s why it’s important to track your food intake, to see after a few weeks where you’re at and make the adjustments necessary. Just because the label is off doesn’t mean there isn’t value to them. Use it as a guide and plan accordingly.
Stepping on the scale daily is doing you more harm than good, in my opinion. Once per week on the same day fresh out of bed in the morning is plenty. Our weight fluctuates constantly. One morning you’re 165, then next morning you’re 170. You didn’t gain five pounds overnight, trust me.
The scale takes everything into account. Did you go to the bathroom? Did you eat before stepping on it? Did you drink something? Did you eat salty food the night before? Drink alcohol? Eat more carbohydrates than normal?
All these things will influence the number on the scale and not in a way that you’ll see as favorable if you’re trying to lose weight. Carbs, along with salty/high sodium foods, have our bodies retain water so if you enjoyed a meal out at a restaurant then hop on the scale the next morning, chances are it’ll read higher than you’re expecting.
One common misconception among endurance athletes is that the intra-workout fueling doesn’t count towards your caloric intake because you just burn it right off. That’s not true. It does matter. You must still account for this in your daily calories.
Fueling your workouts is essential so don’t skimp on calories while exercising because it’ll lead to some poor sessions and a lack of recovery. But we can’t ignore total intake either. This is trial and error for most athletes. Find the right amount of food and drink to consume during each session and stick with it. By eating nutritionally dense foods later on, things like lean protein, fruit, vegetables, quality carbohydrates, and avoiding the processed junk food, you’ll naturally place yourself in a caloric deficit to lose weight.
SPORTS NUTRITION SPECIALIST, USAT, USAC, PN1, CERTIFIED ONLINE TRAINER, Proprietor SENS Fitness
I'd love to tell you that I've always been in shape and athletic. But the truth is that I used to be overweight and pretty unhealthy. My lifestyle was holding me back. When I decided to make healthy, sustainable change I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Having a personalized nutrition plan helped get my lifestyle on the right track. It's afforded me the opportunity to experience some of life's greatest moments without being self-conscious about my weight or appearance. My relationship with food has changed dramatically through habit-based coaching techniques and a desire to make incremental improvements each day, each week, and each month.