The holidays are now well behind us and our thoughts begin to take shape regarding training, racing and just how many calories were in that cheesecake I ate at the New Year's Party. There are a brave few who have stepped on the scale and with a gasp say out loud, HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE. Well after one to many helping of mash potatoes and a few too many glasses of wine we can see how the scale doesn't lie regarding our over the holidays slackitude. The knee jerk reaction is to go on a crash diet, starve oneself, and get back to race weight but the problem is this is the worse option available. Sure in a few weeks you step on the scale and voila, your down 10 pounds but have you ever stopped to think about where did that sudden weight loss come from. For most, a good part is simply water weight but the other portion, the more important portion is from muscle. Muscle you say, how is that possible. Well, the body does an amazing thing when put into a significant caloric restricted situation in that it will catabolize muscle before it will start to burn fat. There in lies the problem, we are power athletes and require muscle in order to perform our chosen sport, additionally, by decreasing our muscle mass we decrease our basal metabolic rate, meaning we burn even fewer calories even when we are doing nothing.
So what is a well meaning triathlete to do?
The first thing is we need to stop being obsessed with the scale, it's just a number, it doesn't really tell us all that much other than we weigh Xlbs. What you really need to focus on is body composition or our percent body fat compared to our Lean Body Mass. Our overall weight is made of factors we can't change, skeletal and organ mass, and factors we can change, fat and muscle mass. When we step on the scale we see our weight and then say I need to lose this number of pounds but what we really mean is lose this much fat or put a better way, decrease my body fat percentage to X%
This is all well and good but how does one begin to figure all this out, sounds a lot like the new math my kids bring home and I'm at a loss to help them. In reality, it is not overly complicated at all. We do need a scale, if your lucky one that does weight and body fat% (be careful here because there are a lot of poor ones on the market, I prefer the Garmin or the Withings scales) and body fat calipers (available on Amazon for $6) if you don't have a body fat scale. The other option is to visit a local health club which will probably perform a body fat test for a nominal fee.
Once you know your weight and body fat percentage we can go about determining the desired weight loss based on body composition. The goal is to decrease your percent body fat while maintaining or increasing your lean body mass (muscle plus the unchanging factors).
Here is an example and all you need to do is plug your numbers in:
Triathlete Gumby weighs 185lbs and has a body fat of 22%. A realistic goal would be say drop his body fat percentage to 17% over the course of 8 weeks. So how much weight are we talking here.
First we need to determine Gumby's lean body mass which is 185 (his weight)x.78 (this number is 100-his body fat percentage) and get a LBM of 144lbs. This number, hopefully will not change over the 8 weeks.
Next we we can determine our target weight dividing his LBM by his desired lean body percentage (again 100-desired % body fat)
Desired Weight= 144/.83 and we get 173.5lbs with a fat loss of 11.5lbs. Not to shabby.
While doing this I recommend weekly weigh-ins and body fat testing, done on the same day, at the same time, in the same clothes and at the same level of fluid and nutrient intake to monitor your progress and to ensure you are truly burning fat.
In a nut shell this means Gumby has lost 11.5lbs of unnecessary weight without affecting his ability to perform the activities he needs to do to help achieve this weight loss.
Next week I will go into the nuts and bolts of how to burn fat, lose weight without sacrificing muscle or performance. Until then happy testing and stop at a single serving of ice cream for a little while.