Essential Sports Nutrition

2/5/19

In pursuit of race weight


With January behind us, there's a good chance that you are getting a bit more serious with your training and diet. Motivation is high, all with hopes that this will be the season when you reach your BIG performance goals.

With an extreme drive to succeed, you may be looking for the many ways that you can optimize performance.

Body composition has and will always play a role in performance. Many athletes are on a never-ending pursuit to achieve the perfect weight for race day. However, being lighter isn't always better.

I've touched on this topic many times in the past but I don't think it can be discussed too much. In a media-driven world, body image has become an obsession among athletes - particularly how you compare your body image to the body image that you see on others. In today's "visual" society, it's not hard to compare how you look to other people. This may cause you to question your looks and lose confidence in your abilities. With this comes a strong desire to look for ways to "fix" yourself - often in hopes of becoming a better athlete (or to "look" more like an athlete).

Whereas you would think that athletes would be obsessed with eating "enough" to perform consistently well in training in an effort to become strong, fit and healthy enough to tolerate the demands of racing, athletes are often anxiously worried about eating "too much". However, lighter isn't always better.

Sadly, for many athletes, the attempt of reaching "race weight" becomes detrimental to health and performance. When an athlete is trying to train for an endurance event while attempting to lose weight/lean-up, it can be rather difficult to adapt to training and recover properly from workouts. This is why far too many athletes fail to improve performance when attempting to intentionally reach "race weight" and often become sick, injured or burnt out. And for those who are able to change body composition from increasing the training load and restricting calories, it's rare to see an athlete become a better athlete in the long-term. Overtime, they become the opposite - weak and fragile. In other words, just because you reach race weight, this doesn't mean you have achieved the fitness level necessary to perform to your physical, emotional and mental capabilities on race day.

I'm a firm believer that if you fuel and nourish your body properly throughout the year, your body can adapt to every phase of training and you'll arrive to your races with a fit, strong and healthy body. This idea of unintentional weight loss means not trying to proactively lose weight through restricting calories, watching every morsel of food that goes into your body, eliminating carbs (or food groups) and performing fasted training sessions. Understanding the changing demands of your training as you progress throughout the year, your nutrition should also change. There are going to be times when you need more calories and carbohydrates to support the energy demands of your training. If you restrict calories and carbohydrates, you'll eat too little to support your overall training load and your body will become compromised. Then there are times when you are burning a mix of carbohydrates and fat and overall energy expenditure is rather low. This doesn't mean that you should avoid carbohydrates and follow a low calorie diet but instead, you need to be mindful of what and how you are eating.

By matching your nutrient intake to the demands of training, you can maintain the quality of your training so you can optimize performance for race day. As you improve your sport-specific fitness through consistent training, your body will adapt by oxidizing fuel more efficiently. Naturally, your body composition will change - without extreme measures. Remember, sport isn't about body image. It's about performance. Every athlete has an optional body weight that allows for optimal performance. How you need to look to perform at your best may differ than how you think you need to look.