2/28/17

Too focused on race weight?



Are you counting down the weeks until your first triathlon race of the upcoming season? I am itching to race!!

As it relates to athletic performance, changing body composition will only offer a performance advantage if goals and methods are appropriately established. With many attractive approaches for fat loss, triathletes should be cautious of weight loss strategies that promote quick results as there is great risk for losing lean tissue, bone mass or gaining body fat, lingering fatigue, illness, injury, compromised recovery and performance decline.  Additionally, a weight reduction program may trigger disordered eating habits, paving the way to an eating disorder. 

Typically, low energy availability occurs when athletes consumes less than 30 calories per kilogram of fat free mass per day. For women to stay in good metabolic and hormonal health, this number is typically around 45 calories per kg of fat free mass per day.

I'd like to think that every triathlete understands that being in low energy availability will not promote gains in fitness/performance but time and time again, athletes will train through excessive fatigue from an energy deprived body and despite the red flags that the body is not in good health, athletes arrive to race day with an underfueled and undernourished body, expecting to perform well because they reached "race weight".
And we should not overlook the athlete who doubts his/her athletic race day potential because race weight was not reached. Who says that a weight will tell you how well or not well you will perform?

With so many endurance triathletes putting more focus on body image and training hours/miles than on making sure the body can perform high quality training sessions, while recovering well from every workout, I can't stress it enough that obsessing over a "weight" will not provide an athletic advantage if your methods and strategies for body composition change are damaging to your overall health. And plus, with so much energy that is needed to balance training with life, why spend that extra energy worrying about your weight?

As it relates to low energy availability, athletes can intentionally or unintentionally not meet energy needs. 

Intentionally - athlete wants to make “race weight”, get leaner or change body composition and goes about it in an extreme way, restricts certain foods/food groups, creates dietary food rules, limits carbs and fears consuming sport nutrition/food before, during and after workouts.

Unintentionally - athlete inadvertently does not meet energy needs due to poor nutrient planning, uneducated on proper fueling/hydration strategies, never learning how to eat like an athlete, busy schedule, poor meal planning, lack of appetite, lack of food availability, stress/exhaustion.

Knowing that an underfueled or undernourished body will not perform as well as a well-fueled and well-nourished body, understand that your ultimate athletic goal for every race is to achieve a race ready body. Your body becomes ready for race day through consistent training, good recovery, life balance, mental strength, great sleep, smart training, enjoyment for your sport and a strong and resilient body.

It’s pretty incredible what you can do with your body when it is healthy, injury free, properly fueled and well-nourished nourished.  

If body composition is your main goal, you are chasing the wrong athletic dream.

A trained, happy, confident and healthy body will always trump a tired, stressed and energy deprived body.

Considering that extreme, obsessive and ritualistic eating may increase the risk for disordered eating patterns and eating disorders, do yourself a big favor this season and focus on what your body can do, and not on what it looks like. With the entire season ahead of you, keeping your body in good health requires a lot of work. Not eating enough will not make it work any better.