Rebecca Marks Rudy, MS
Sports Nutritionist for Trismarter.com
Unless you live under a rock, you were probably bombarded with images of weight loss and popular diets to ring in the New Year. You may have even been influenced by the powerful suggestions to drop a few pounds. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a holiday treat here or there—more likely here and there? And as an athlete, despite maintaining at least a minimal training regime, you are not immune to holiday weight gain. In fact, the added pounds may be even more dramatic because you were likely still enjoying your off season during the holidays. The challenge of weight loss, then, increases for you as you transition to base training. In an effort to budge the scale, you can’t simply cut calories; you still have to fuel yourself for efficient training. You are left you wonder: How do I utilize the remaining base period to achieve fighting form for race season?
First of all you will need to know your current weight. Believe it or not, a good number of people seeking weight loss results don’t know—or don’t want to know—from where they are starting. Find a scale, be it at your gym or your home, and establish a consistent day of the week and time of day to weigh in. Keep a log of your weight so that you can observe trends. Aim for a half to a full pound per week; this is not only realistic, but comfortable. In other words, you need not suffer hunger pains and headaches while creating the 250-500 calorie deficit required per day to lose that half to full pound per week.
The most effective way to lose the weight initially is to cut your intake and to increase your output. Remember that whole cup of ice cream you have been eating at night? It can be reduced to a half cup— ceding the 250 calories from the intake side of the equation. Or in lieu of the regular ice cream, select the light version. Meanwhile, adding ten minutes to your swim session combined with walking your dog for twenty minutes in the evening could produce the desired 250 calories worth of energy expenditure.
As you can see, the idea of weight loss is not difficult; it is the implementation of the plan that is the challenge. Add to that the trials of designing—and following—a healthful meal plan which will also enhance performance. You have two areas to attack. First, you need to evaluate the nutrition composition of your current consumption. From there you can establish the makeup of your ideal nutrition plan, which evolves as the triathlon season progresses.
Enter the individualized nutrient analysis, a complete breakdown of your diet from macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein) to micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). You may be surprised to see that at .85 grams of protein per pound of body weight you are consuming more than enough protein. Or you may only be taking in 2.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight when ideally you could benefit from and additional gram per pound. And fat is yet another story. You may be within a healthful range with 25 percent of your calories from fat per day. But is your saturated fat intake twice as high as the government’s recommended limit of 10 percent of your total caloric intake?
Figuring out how to reduce your overall intake while achieving the optimal balance for peak performance is enough to make your head spin. Certainly there are resources, calculators and tools that can facilitate the process. For example, you can keep a multi-day record of your intake. Be candid (come on, you know you ate those four Hershey’s Kisses from your colleague’s desk). And be attentive to detail, ensuring accuracy. When you have recorded your three to five days worth of both food and beverage, you can begin to analyze the data.
Counting the calories is not difficult, but it is time consuming. Sorting through the protein, fat and carbohydrate is a bit more challenging. You will have to track down product information by reading labels or visiting websites. A good place to start is the item’s brand nutrition information online. If you have eaten at a restaurant, you may be able to find the desired data on the web, behind the counter or at a site called dietfacts.com. You can tally all of the nutrients by hand, performing calculations to reveal percentages of the nutrients in your diet. Another option is to enter the data into a free nutrition calculator such as mypyramidtracker.gov, created by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Once you have insight to your current diet you can begin adapting the composition to a training plan. You will likely want your carbohydrate intake to be between 55-65 percent of your total energy; your fat between 20-25 percent; and your protein between 15-20 percent. If any component is egregiously high, that may be the area of focus for reducing your overall caloric intake. For example, if your fat intake is 37 percent, and your multi-day food record reflects that fact with the routine half-cup of mixed nuts each afternoon, brainstorm ways to replace that food choice. A good substitute may be a 100-calorie snack pack of crackers combined with a reduced fat serving of string cheese. Your intake could move from 440 to 180 calories; your fat intake should decrease from 35 to 5.5 grams.
Simple, right? Not in the least. Just as any other aspect of your training plan, the diet overhaul may fall into the easier-said-than-done category. The operable word here is “plan.” At some point in your triathlon career you have either considered or acted upon the notion of seeking professional coaching and/or training plans. Why leave out guidance for the fourth leg: nutrition?
Optimizing your nutrition plan can be a complicated—and potentially overwhelming—prospect. Certainly you can take measures to tweak your nutrition just as you can opt to self-coach your training. However, a sports nutrition professional not only computes the necessary calculations with sophisticated nutrient analysis tools; he or she also translates the data into pertinent information and creates a tailored nutrition program with which you may realize your performance goals. Combined with a sound training plan, professional nutrition support can be the key to your best season on record. So, even if you are just now emerging from your rock, you have plenty of time to capitalize on the base training season and the opportunity to establish your ideal nutrition plan.