Several years ago I had a good friend of mine come watch an Ironman triathlon. He was really into general fitness and healthy eating. As athlete’s were setting up their morning race routine he commented “why are there so many overweight triathlete’s?” I mentioned to him that competing in this long endeavor was not a recipe for being the most lean you can be, as well as being the most healthy. You would think this would not be the case with most competitors training up to 2 hours a day. I will never forget how shocked he was with his observation on the body composition of the masses participating. So it had me thinking why is this so?
I remember a quote I read several years ago that said “if weight was important they would weigh you at the finish line.” Without a doubt one can be too lean for racing and getting through big training weeks, but at the same time many athlete’s are too heavy and could actually improve their finishing times with a better nutrition and recovery strategy. Below, I compiled my favorite reasons as to why, and can guarantee if you take all these into consideration you will not only lose some body fat, but will also feel better and your performance will increase!
- Eat too much- I chose this as number 1, because our culture has gotten carried away with this notion. Go to any restaurant and if the plate is too small we complain about it the rest of the day. Triathlete’s are in a different demographics than most, but we still have to eat like every other human. I was at a local 5k a few weeks ago and was blown away at how much the runners were consuming after they ran. A 5k probably burns at the most 500 calories in the heaviest runner on the course and yet people were eating as if there life depended on it. Most triathlete’s overeat due to various reasons, but in my experience they are misguided on how many calories they actually burn exercising as well as how many calories are in a certain foods.
- Environment- This is big one for a lot of people regardless if they are trying to obtain a leaner body. If you haven’t noticed lately, bad food is all around us whether it’s at a friends house, on tv, in your pantry,drive thru restaurants, at work, at a party, as well as around the holidays. Sabotage is a good word I like to use in this situation, because even when your intentions are good as far as healthy food choices, sometimes you can’t say no and endulge! I myself am guilty of this with my wife. I typically exercise more than her and years of intermittent fasting have shown up later and can get away with quite a bit of bad food. I eat healthy though for about 90% of my diet, but I do cheat weekly. If this is your reason as to why you can’t get lean, than you need to keep a journal, weigh yourself ONCE a week and see the reason as to why you let yourself go with regards to bad food choices.
- Macronutrients- For those that aren’t familiar with macronutrients they are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein and carbs each have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. Living a high fat diet is the popular trend lately, and for good reason. All the research shows that living a high fat diet has numerous health benefits. The only drawback though is that eating a high fat diet also means you need to watch your calorie intake. Having 9 calories per gram is more than double the calories per gram than protein and carbs so it is easy to overdo it!
- Stress- This is a common theme in endurance athletes and quite often it isn’t from overtraining but overliving. There are only 24 hours in a day so you have to choose your time wisely. Most of us need 8 hours of sleep, work, might have kids,etc, so fitting in a few hours EVERYDAY of exercise might just be sending your body into an “under-recovered” state. Hormone issues are extremely common in endurance athletes, whether cortisol, testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, thyroid, to name a few. I always recommend a blood panel check 2x a year for a baseline. The first one should be in the off-season, and the next one should be during the race season/heavy training period so you can compare year after year and be aware of changes happening.
- Reward system- The neurotransmitter dopamine is the reward system in our brain and can get out of whack if neglected. I myself have been guilty of using a big workout as an excuse to indulge in some high calorie junk food. Quite often the pattern is a weekend session upwards of 3-6 hours long and then Joe triathlete goes and gorges on a 5000 calorie meal. There are times when the calories are needed, but at some point your body has gotten really efficient and isn’t burning quite the calories it was in the first 100 mile bike ride as now. Paying attention to this habit and assessing just how many calories you are burning can help equalize this pattern.