Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Endurance Athletes and Body Weight

This conversion comes by way of Coach Chris Hauth. He can be reached via email at chrishauth@gmail.com.

It's that time of year where I like to chime in again regarding some of the posts on your website. Especially when it comes to Body composition and nutrition.

Weight is not a training tool.

As most of you know already from this site, I coach about 15 athletes every year towards Ironman. I usually work with athletes that have prior IM experience, but every year I have a few that join my program that are IM rookies. My requirement is that this athlete has some prior athletic ability in a competitive sports arena, usually one of our three sports. Some of my athletes have been working with me now for 4+ years. I don't really like to just help any athlete get to the finish line, I enjoy coaching those athletes that are looking for a boost, to get out of that grey area, that comfort zone, and try to achieve all they can at Ironman. Mostly these athletes are looking to qualify for Hawaii and enjoy working with someone who has qualified the past 7 years.

Every season we go through some very similar discussions about body composition and nutrition. Those athletes that have worked with me for 2+ years no longer partake, but the newer athletes all repeat in this theme. There are a few point I always like to make to newer triathletes looking to 'break through'.

  • Triathlon is a sport that requires a few years of disciplined commitment before you will see the full results of all your work and time. You might be good now, but give yourself 2-3 more years and you might reach your own personal potential. I make this point because our body changes over this time period too. Your body will get leaner from the training. Your body composition will change from the sustained training and, you will develop a more efficient fat burning engine inside of you. Hence, be patient, don't force your body to look and be like some of the best athletes in our sport. Allow your own body to develop itself into the most efficient, powerful, lean machine that fits YOU and YOUR needs the best. A shorter body that has a strength in running will develop a slightly different body than a taller body that has a background in swimming. Never try to fit your body into the mold of another, build your own unique machine that propels your forward to the best of its ability.
  • Triathlon is a sport that goes through cycles. We cannot train at the same volume and intensity all year long. You have heard Gordo and I talk about that enough. But with that comes hopefully the understanding that our nutrition and body weight will go through cycles too. An athlete's caloric needs will change in the off season vs. at the height of it - logic dictates this. I have athletes ask me every year how to lose weight for the coming season. They want to race 'lighter' - or lately I have been discussing more about how athletes want to increase their power to weight ratio. I struggle with these comments since why are athletes getting so ahead of themselves? If the training is properly built through the season, the weight will come off. The body will adapt to the nutrition it gets. If we are properly feeding the 'fire', it will burn it effectively, and as I once read, the hotter that fire burns, the more efficiently it will burn everything thrown in it. The point I am making here is to not try to lose weight in the off season, prior to all the work and volume. Don't try to lose weight before allowing the body to determine what it needs. Why start the main part of the season when the demands of the body are at its highest at a deficit, created by this off season weight loss? Let's not focus on the weight until we get closer to the race. Patience and your body will give you what you want and it needs. If you get in the training you are looking to do, take care of the body that is going to give your the performance you are looking for.

I write most of this, and I know Gordo does too, based on a lot of personal experience and work with some of the most gifted athletes in our sport. We pass on this information because often we have thought about your concerns, and possibly even applied them ourselves. Prior to Kona 2002 I lost too much weight in my training. I not only was losing some weight based on my aerobic efficiency to burn very hot, I was also restricting my calories too much when replenishing. This felt good on my training days, my run felt really strong. But come race day, when I had to put it all together I had no energy and power. I might have been light, but it came at a big price. With regards to my first point, I am a bigger guy for this sport. 6'2" with a weight that fluctuates between 172 and 183 for racing and off season training respectively. I have a big swimming background that gives me a bigger upper body. That is what I have got to work with. I will never be like Peter, Tim, Macca, or even Cam Widoff. While some of these guys are big too, I have learned my body is what I am working with. But, I will say my body has changed over the past 7 years. I have become leaner, need more calories, and have become 'cleaner' burning machine.

As a famous general said: "I have to fight this battle with the army I have, not the army I want". We all have our given body, now let's have it work the best way possible, not the way someone else's works. Listen to it, give it what it needs, and it will reward you with a great race performance.

Or as Gordo says - keep it simple. If the only way you are going to get faster is by losing weight, well, then congratulations - because you have reached all the athletic potential that your body can give.

Weight is not a training tool.

Chris Hauth

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This is good. Some other ideas for you.

  • Athletes that focus on weight, rather than nutritional quality, nearly always end up going short on recovery nutrition. I know some that chronically dehydrate to "stay light". This is counterproductive.
  • Nourishing our bodies through nutritional excellence sustains the virtuous circle of training, recovery and improvement.
  • NEVER lose the last kilo, by the time a Ironman athlete thinks that they are "about right", they are underweight.
  • "If it was all about weight then there'd be a scale instead of a finish line" -- Scott Molina
  • The core of my nutritional platform is similar throughout the year -- a wide range of the following: fresh fruits; fresh veggies and quality protein. I adjust my use of sports nutrition products and recovery carbs to balance my overall energy needs with my training.
  • You will find that periods of training and nutritional ease are linked to getting enough sleep and being happy with the overall direction of your life.
  • The speed-through-stamina protocol that I recommend is also designed to enable you to get the most out of your life as well as your training. Nuking yourself through high intensity training has a lot of knock-on effects than just a decline in athletic performance.
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