June 4, 2009

The Weight Game

I've mentioned the struggle with my weight since starting Ironman training and have learned it’s not an uncommon issue so I wanted to post a bit about it.

We've all seen the Kona broadcasts with stick thin people and I spent the day at Ironman Wisconsin last year and saw my fair share of sub-5% body fat athletes. So when I took on the challenge of doing an Ironman, I envisioned the pounds just melting away and imagined I’d literally be unable to keep weight on. This was somewhat the case with my Olympic and sprint training last summer. I lost eight pounds in one month and had significantly less body fat for the first time since high school.

But after 16 weeks of Ironman training I have not only not lost weight, but I've gained a few pounds. My body fat is also high. I had a test done back in February and weigh myself daily on a composition scale and it hasn't budged. After complaining about this several times to my coach he had me keep a detailed food log and made some recommendations for cleaning up my diet. He only did this, however, after explaining that some women have this issue when training for extreme endurance sports. Our bodies sense trauma and in an effort to protect the procreation of the species, holds onto that body fat for dear life.

An evaluation of my diet revealed that I wasn’t eating too terribly, but there were definitely some improvement areas. A subsequent check in on my overall lifestyle – diet, sleep, stress, etc. – identified a few more. Here is what I’ve done so far:
  • Eliminated refined grains. Bye bye English muffins, cereal, pasta, regular bread and my favorite jasmine rice. Hello sprouted grain bread and English muffins (almost as good as the real thing… almost), brown rice, occasional potatoes, tons and tons of vegetables (yuck) and fruits. These replacements keep my carb levels up enough but are much healthier choices. I still occasionally eat Eggo Nutrigrains before a race or long ride because that’s what I like and figure I can burn it off and I still have my favorite pre-race dinner of spaghetti with turkey meatballs, only the spaghetti is whole wheat now.
  • Reduced total calorie consumption to 1,800 - 2,000 per day depending on activity level. I was simply eating too much and all the processed stuff was making me hungrier.
  • Cut the coffee from my usual 4-5 cups a day to two cups, one large and one small.
  • Increased sleep to seven hours per night as many nights as possible, and aim for eight 1-2 days a week. I’m trying to make the 5-6 hour nights, my average over the past three months, a thing of the past. Not only does sleep deprivation hinder weight loss, but it’s hindering my ability to recover and train well.
  • Reduced drinking significantly. I reserve it only for weekends or social outings and am keeping it to a minimum (under most circumstances).
  • Increased protein intake. This has made a huge difference in my hunger levels.
It took a couple weeks of adjustment but the difference I feel from having a cleaner diet and a little more sleep is remarkable. It's something I have to really work at but it’s worth it. I may not see a difference on the scale but I feel a difference in my energy level and overall well being. That's enough for now.

I woke up feeling much better this morning and had a solid tempo run. I did two long intervals at anaerobic pace and was surprised by how easy it felt. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing little improvements.

Distance - 5.62 miles
Time - 45:00


  1. Reduced drinking?!? Damn I will never train for an Ironman then :p

    Good luck with your changes, I know you'll rock the place at your IM ;)

  2. As you know this is a tough one - even doing everything right - the stress levels make me hold onto weight... not fair...

  3. LM,

    Have you considered the fact that you are gaining muscle mass from becoming stronger? Muscle weighs more than fat. Just a thought...

  4. Wow - Thank you for posting this! I was dealing with the same issues when I did Ironman Canada in 2008! I'll keep checking back to see how your training is going! It sounds as if you are doing all the right things!



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