3/28/13

Racing weight - do you have one?


Yes, I am pouring ice down my shorts at Ironman Kentucky (2009). This was one of my favorite races because it was great to be in my home state. I loved the rolling hills on the course and I always like to see nature/wildlife when I am racing. I have been known to say out loud "Hello" to the cows and horses that I spot along course - I am sure they say hello back but I am too busy riding fast on my bike. 
This was also a favorite race of mine because it was my Ironman PR - a hard definition to use in racing because I have PR'd in separate races for each the swim, bike and run but here I put it all together for a "fast" Ironman at 10 hours and 53 minutes. But as we all know, you can't compare race to race for every race is different. I will take my 10 hours and 57 minute finishing time as my "best" race at IMWI for it was super challenging and likely the hardest IM I have ever "raced". In Kona 2011, I PR'd on the bike but I have yet to learn how to "race" that race so hopefully I will have the honor to race there for the 3rd time in the future (hopefully with Karel).

As far as racing weight goes, I hear a lot from athletes who feel as if reaching a certain weight will allow them to race better. I understand that we should not be carrying more weight on our body than is needed for that can increase risk for injuries. But in terms of a healthy weight vs a racing weight, how can we figure out what is our ideal weight for performing well on race day?

Here's how I see it  - from both a coach, an athlete and someone who has worked with many athletes on race day/race week eating along with sport nutrition and weight loss. 

If you are a newbie, you likely have no idea what is an ideal racing weight. Focus on your training and getting stronger with consistent  performance gains. A number on a scale or comparing your body composition to others will not give you a PR. Your work in the pool, on the bike and/or while running will give you the race performance you trained your body to do by race day. As for wanting to lose weight and being a newbie? That is fine and likely why you started a new sport in order to "get healthy". Never should a workout be compromised or life be extreme just to "lose weight". Create a healthy foundation diet that will nourish your body and leave you satisfied and then prioritize nutrition around (before, during and after) workouts. This can be done best with someone (ex. sport RD) providing feedback to nutrition logs to tweak the diet for better nutrient timing and of course, learning how to not over/under-eat.

Here is the big reason why veterans talk about "Racing" weight. Someone who refers to a past weight and explains that "at x-weight, I performed the best ever so that is my racing weight" is simply identifying the weight as the highlight of the training. In other words, it wasn't the weight loss or change of body composition that happened first (or in the off-season or while doing nothing) and then the performance gains but instead, the change in body composition and "ideal" racing weight was the result of training. You didn't perform well on race day because you stuck to a diet plan and sat on the couch doing nothing but instead, you likely provided your body with the right fuels at the right time to make performance gains and your body took care of itself. It got stronger, faster and perhaps leaner and you performed well on race day. Now you are likely more efficient and may be struggle with getting back to that weight but in hindsight, it wasn't that specific weight that made you have a great race but instead the training that came with it.

IMKY was a PR but I was also at my "heaviest" for IM racing. I do not perform well with a low body weight and also, it isn't fun because I don't like to feel hungry or restricted so that's a choice I make as I will take performance over a number on a scale. I don't like my body weight going under 108lbs (I'm 5 feet "tall" and I create muscle very easily thanks to genetics and good nutrient timing) and that weight only occurs during IM training. Throughout the year I hoover around 111-112. I'm fine with that as I feel energized, satisfied and most of all, healthy and balanced. I know that if my weight gets to 115 - no biggie but more than that, risk of injuries goes up for me and I am aware of that so to be respectful to my body, I need to adjust something with training/diet to get back to a healthy weight. So although at IMKY I was heavier than most IM's, I performed the best ever and at the end of the day when writing my race reports, it wasn't the weight that hopefully inspired others to reach personal health goals but rather my attitude, performance and approach to a fun, active lifestyle. Hopefully you can do the same. 

If you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you likely are using your body to perform. If you are a swim suit, cycling shorts or running top model, you are using your body for a picture. There's nothing wrong with either one but from my perspective as an athlete, I would rather use my body in my swim suit, cycling shorts and running top to get to finishing lines and feel fueled and strong along the way. 

Since we are in a society that is stuck between "healthy eating for health" and "healthy eating for weight loss", I thought I'd share an article (or parts of it) from one of my favorite nutrition journals as athletes are always quick to remove food to lose weight or follow a fad diet (heavy on products or "bad" food) and I find that nutritional irresponsible and often times disrespectful for the body that we expect to be 100% all the time. For me, I'd rather work with an athlete to identify strengths and weaknesses in the diet alongside lifestyle habits that may be affecting the timing, amount and types of nutrition before assuming that that athlete has to go to any great lengths in terms of restrictive eating when it comes to meeting personal weight and performance goals. I have heard many athletes blame certain foods for GI upset and feeling 'unhealthy' but for me, I'd rather find any triggers for the reasons behind not feeling well during the day or during training rather than blaming a food source and removing it without it being the true cause.

Nutrition Action Healthletter Jan/Feb 2013 issue.
GUT MYTHS: Clearning up confusion in the GI tract.

(there are several myths listed on pg 3-5 so I will share one of them)

MYTH: Got gas? Beans, vegetables and milk are the main culprits.
Beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, milk, bran. Those are some of the usual suspects when people are trying to figure out why they're experiencing, ahem, gas. Ant those foods can cause gas.
But most of us overlook a growing source of the problem: inulin, or chicory root extract, one of the most popular ingredients in "high-fiber" foods.
"Of all the fibers added to foods, inulin is the one that probably causes the most intestinal gas, " say fiber expert Joanne Slavin, professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota. "Inulin contains sugars that our digestive enzymes can't break down."
The enzymes do just fine with sugars that have only one or two basic units (called saccharides). Sucrose, or table sugar, for example, is a disaccharide, that is broken down in the small intestine into fructose and glucose.
But when it comes to sugars made up of three or more units - often called oligosaccharides - our enzymes are useless. So the sugars end up as food for the bacteria in the gut.
"Inulin is quickly and completely fermented in the large intestine," explains Slavin. And when your bacteria finish fermenting it, you get stuck with the gas they give off.
"Beans are notorious for causing gas because they have sugars like raffinose and stachyose," notes Slavin. Raffinose has three sugar units. Stachyose has four.
"If you look at literature on treating or cooking beans to make them less gassy, it's mostly t get the oligosaccharides out of there," she adds.
(Beano tablets can prevent gas because the contain an enzyme that breaks down raffinose and stachyose).
Whether inulin is a problem depends on how much you eat and who you are.
"Our review of studies found that inulin is generally well tolerated at levels up to 15g a day," says Slavin. But at around 20 grams, flatulence or bloating is more likely. "So does is a big issue and there is also individual variability."

Each serving of FIber One 90 Calorie Bronies, Fiber One cottage Cheese and Yoplait LIght with fiber has 5 grams of fiber and much of it is inulin.
Some Fiber One Chewy Bars have up to nine grams.
"If you have a serving of beans you'll get about 3 grams of oligosaccharides, not nine grams," says Slavin. "Any they're more manageable in a real food because they're digested more slowly and usually mixed with other foods."

Another hidden source of gas: sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol. "They're low-calorie carbohydrates because they're not completely digested and absorbed," explains Slaving. "Typically if you are eating sugar-free candy or gum, your exposure to sugar alcohols is low, but if people eat the whole bag of candy, it can cause gas."
Sugar alcohols aren't all equal, though. In small studies, some people complain of gas when doses of sorbitol reach 10-20g but few complain unless they get at least 30-40 grams of maltitol.
Most foods don't have that much. Breyers Vanilla or chocolate CarbSmart and No sugar Added ice creams, for example, have 4-5 g of sorbitol per half cup, but many people start at a whole cup. And Baskin Robbins No sugar Added Caramel Turtle Truffle ice cream has 25grams of maltitol per scoop..

Of course, some people may eat more than one food with sugar alcohols during the course of a day. And people vary. "Most people can tolerate normal doses, but not everybody is the same," say Slavin.

On the plus side, sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugar and inulin spurs the growth of Bifido bacteria, which may be good for gut health (that's why it is called a prebiotic). But the more bacteria in your gut, the more gas they give off.

"Scientists argue that gas isn't bad for you, but most people say it's not acceptable," say Slavin. "If you hve gas, you should definitely consider what you're eating. If it's a lot of fermentable fiber or sugar alcohols, that could be the explanation."