My journey with weight in triathlon started approximately 18 months ago when deciding to race properly and attempt to bring my race times down from a casual competitive level, to more competitive age-group/elite level. Starting at just over 82kg, and with most triathletes my height being around 70kg, I was at a significant disadvantage. Although a rather crude and unrealistic portrayal of weight in triathlon, imagine lugging around a 5kg plate at the end of a 10km run or cycle and it somewhat demonstrates the role that being 10kg+ heavier plays in endurance sport. Again, whilst not as linear, it’s definitely a significant factor in performance.
Initiating my weight loss journey difficult. Being only around 8% body fat, I realised it would mean losing significant amounts of lean muscle and in the process losing some of the aesthetic physique I’d spent my teen years training. Something that sounds rather ridiculous, but mentally was actually quite challenging and difficult. In that first race season from January at the English Championships, to June at the World Championship Qualifiers I lost 3kg. Not a huge amount but considering the training demands and improved performances that came, it reinforced to me that there was more to be gained. However, on heading to summer camp, as expected I ended up putting a little back on in the full-on environment and returned to my starting 82kg.
This is where we begin this part of the story, competing at the Europeans I ended up weighing in just under 80kg (likely the heaviest in my age-category), and faced myself with a question: would I like to see where I can take my times, or do I want to relax and continue in my current way. So, with lockdown coming around I decided it was time to change it up and offer myself a fighting chance at developing further as a triathlete. Over the 3.5 months of lockdown whilst in Exeter I cut from this 80kg down to 75.5kg- having lost almost 10% of my body mass, and for none of it to come from fat is quite astounding to think about.
Over the coming year I aim to steadily lower this to around a 73kg race weight although as stated in the disclaimer below, it’s important to constantly assess the impact of weight loss or gain on overall health, mentally, physically and socially to determine if it’s worth it for only a possibility of improved performance.
But here are my top 5 KEY strategies to help cut the calories…
1. Delay Breakfast –
Note it’s not skip breakfast. I found that holding off breakfast to 11am or later depening on what your'e used to (just having a coffee and water beforehand), meant that I didn’t graze as much during the day. Having lunch and breakfast in close proximity meant I felt fuller for longer, and I didn’t have the urge to snack as much. Cutting calories, and playing a major role in my weight loss so I believe.
One point to note however is that if training in the morning, it’s important to fuel and recover properly. Doing low intensity, easy sessions can still be done without breakfast. But strength work, intervals, tempo efforts all require readily available energy to maintain. If I was doing a low intensity session, I’d often recover with a protein shake and banana or two before breakfast- it still kept calories fairly low and eating protein in the morning has been linked to reducing hunger throughout the day.
2. Avoid simple sugars and refined foods at least for the morning where possible -
Having lots of fruit and oats, or Weetabix in my case for breakfast in an excellent way to start the day. If you add in the protein from milk then it offers a good, slow-release meal to start the day. It means that blood sugar doesn’t spike in the morning, whereas eating lots of processed foods, high-sugar cereals or even fruit juice will spike sugar levels early on and lead to a slump an hour or so later. We often then compensate for this slump with caffeine OR more sugary foods, entering a vicious cycle of snacking and spiking to maintain energy levels throughout the day. Eating a balanced, hunger-satisfying breakfast helps to beat this cycle at least until later in the day!
3. Track what you eat, not necessarily the calories-
I use ‘myfitnesspal’ to track what I eat on SOME days. I don’t necessarily look at the calories I’ve eaten as this can fluctuate significantly based on training done, but I use it to reflect on what I’ve eaten already that day. If I’ve been snacking and gone through too many biscuits (packs of), it offers a reminder of my goals and reinforces that I don’t really need more sugary foods, but to have a proper meal or that enough is enough in the evening and bed-time doesn’t need a second pudding! Without this feedback it can be easy to fool yourself, or forget things you’ve eaten and ultimately consume much more than you think you’ve had!
I find it does also raise awareness about the calories within food, and so when making choices out shopping, dining or even training I understand more about what I’m putting into my body as fuel.
4. Being non-restrictive-
Dieting has become a very negative word, associated with hunger, struggle and failure. So instead of looking at restricting foods, I find that being conscious of what you eat, your goals, and the reasons for wanting to lose weight a much more positive frame of mind. I actually restructured my diet around several aspect’s I’d been taught about in both my Biological Sciences degree and in coaching qualifications with the aims of eating more sustainably, naturally, and with more consideration for what was actually entering my body (more about this in another blog post/video!).
So instead of cutting out chocolate or carbs or anything ridiculous along those lines, understand that if you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. Will those biscuits really satisfy your hunger more than a large bowl of soup and brown bread? The answer is almost certainly no, and if you’re looking for a sugar fix then make sure you’ve fruit readily available- even 3 pieces of fruit will have about as many calories as 1 or 2 biscuits and offer a much greater level of satiation. Still eat the foods that you enjoy, just be mindful of how often you are eating them- is it really a treat if it’s 4 or 5 times a week?
5. Cut yourself some slack-
Losing weight is hard. You will feel hungry at times, and you will have moments where you give in, binge, treat yourself, or go out and enjoy yourself with friends. These are completely normal and a part of losing weight. Don’t lose sight and try not to slip into a negative mindset. Weight loss needs a holistic approach, if you do end up having a bad day then accept it and move on, attempt to change your attitude THAT day, and not say ‘I’ll start again tomorrow’. Instead accept your decisions and start again, being conscious to your goals and why you’re doing it (have a picture as your lock screen or in your room or work to remind yourself regularly).
But bad days happen, bad weeks happen, and putting on weight may happen on occasion. The important part is to accept what has happened, evaluate if there’s anything you should change (don’t buy in so much unhealthy food each week to be readily available?) and move on.
Let me know via email or instagram (jakekeast_tri) what your approach to dieting is and please give this a share if you like / agree with some of the points made!
I am consider making a nice video version of this with some added tips, tricks and considerations towards implementing these points on a low / student budget. So let me know if it’s something you’re interested in! I’ll be discussing my approach to the food I eat at a later date as well.
Disclaimer: Weight and performance in endurance sport are two very interconnected variables, however the correlation isn’t as linear as the lighter you are the faster you are. A lower weight may significantly reduce the ability to produce power, limit training efficiency and workout recovery thereby reducing long-term performance. Therefore it’s important every athlete consider the reason for wanting to lose weight and regularly check in around their mental, physical and social health and wellbeing. One should be listening to their body, and ideally have a soundboard such as a coach, friends or family that offer feedback to them about changes to their mood, fatigue, energy levels etc and responses should be taken appropriately. Particularly as is the case with most of us where we’re not professional athletes!
These are the strategies I implemented and found to work- hopefully they offer some ideas of ways to become more conscious of what you’re eating and methods to try to reduce your calorie intake should you so wish.