The Coach-Athlete relationship and process often is a back and forth and by no means a one-way street. And frankly if it is, then I’d beg to differ your coach may be more authoritarian than open-minded. Nonetheless, I’m open to athlete suggestions and this often comes from other coaches theories, articles, social posts, blogs, etc. In this case, referring to weight loss (which I strategically re-termed “optimization” because of the redistribution of body composition) they brought a Training Peaks article to my attention and keyed in on some specific numbers.
I’m not hurt when athletes bring other coaching information to my attention as I know they are growth-minded and this is how I and we collectively learn. So I quickly dug in using what was in Wallenfels article and individualized it some more. Because let’s be honest I’ve written some articles for Training Peaks and they are much more generalized for the masses than what can be done in 1-on-1 coaching. Which is A-OK!
Anyways while I agree a focus of weight management should be targeted around the off-season, I don’t exclusively agree. Often the natural training process, longer days, more training volume/intensity, and frankly athlete focus can bring the weight optimization to a crescendo while during the competitive process. Which in this case, needs to be executed correctly.
We dug down on a few of the numbered items; specifically #2, #5 and #10, which I’ll recap and cover below in detail.
2. Next eliminate alcohol, candy, cakes, chips, sweets and all junk food. For many athletes this step is enough to create their gradual weight loss mode.
This is often an easy step which why it makes so much sense in the weight loss list as these are relatively “empty” calories. 1st I’d want to ensure the athlete is in-fact eating sufficient calories and maintaining a healthy relative energy balance. Because if not or these calories are part of a subpar energy availability then the body needs more nourishment 1st and foremost. But also one doesn’t need to reduce further energy balance possibly causing worse issues. If that is the situation a serious ground-up overhaul is needed. But given the overall diet has nutrient-dense options, variety, etc. then we can address this a bit deeper on this psychological level.
Some athletes are “all-or-nothing” that can only go cold turkey on some things whereas others can operate in a state of moderation. Reflec within to identify where you fall. I know for the all-or-nothing crowd, cutting all of these items out may be necessary. Eliminating them from the cupboards, shopping lists, etc. But for others, some of these things can be a sense of enjoyment, social, or even add to the psyche. And when the work is hard, removing every sense of enjoyment is often not my directive approach. So if any of the item/s serve as a weakness, I encourage these to be consumed when they may possibly have a positive effect or at minimum, the least deleterious effect. To accomplish this have these “cheats” when the body is sensitive and/or depleted so at least you’re filling a void not just adding on. For example, ending a ride with scone at a coffee shop or turning a recovery ride into a family bike ride to have a cookie or ice cream with the kiddos, or ending at the brewery for a post-ride microbrew. Although latter doesn’t offer much benefit the other examples can at least be the means so that high GI foods go towards replenishing glycogen and not storing as fat at rest. This is often better than holding out from all forms of enjoyment and then giving in with a late-night binge because you drained your willpower. With all that said, moderation needs to be practiced. You can’t put back pints of Ben & Jerry’s and the microbrew ending shouldn’t turn from enjoying a pint into a gluttonous growler!
5. Reduce your carbohydrate intake on rest and recovery days. These are the times when training glycogen depleted has little impact on your fitness progress. Eat a light, low-carbohydrate, high-protein dinner the evening before a rest day.
This is a very solid recommendation, but again context matters. Especially when original recommendation is referring to off-season whereas we are talking competitive season now. The individualizing of this concept depends on your rhythm of what I call crests and valleys of training. The crests are the building, demanding, intense or depleting days whereas the valleys are the lower points of recovery, maintenance, or adaptation. So if you have some closely spaced crests like an individual rest day sandwiched between two demanding sessions, (especially if the next crest requires an early start) then the dinner composition may be ideally balanced normal carbs. I’d just encourage high quality with nutrient density, not just empty “white” carbs. But for the most part, once you’ve accomplished #4 “fueling the window” this #5 can be addressed. I’d also forwarn if seriously depleted from a block of big training or ending a cycle that you don’t shortchange your adaptations by immediately swapping to too low carb or undernourishing. Rebuilding takes energy.
10. Utilize nutrient-timing techniques. Instead of a recovery drink after training, time your training session to end at meal time and eat one of your daily meals for recovery. This can eliminate 250 to 400 calories from your daily intake without any drawbacks.
This is great advice as sports nutrition companies and frankly, their marketing department gets paid very well for making you think you need all this fancy nutrition when in fact, most time real food serves you best. Don’t get me wrong, I use and support many sports nutrition products, but there’s a time and place. Firstly scheduling your training to also perfectly coincide with meals doesn’t always work, but if you have the ability, I think this is a great habit. So if you can, I think guiding the decision when a recovery shake is necessary and when isn’t is key. For example, when you know a proper meal won’t be soon coming off a depleting session or you have subsequent days ahead still demanding you recovery, maybe mix up a recovery shake. Also since we’re talking in-season, once you get lean you almost need that recovery habit to maintain a relative energy balance and can help provide the signal to the body that you’re not in a deficit so the body utilizes it’s intake accordingly. The key to recovery in my eyes is on those key intense and/or depleting days. Often the energy expenditure from these sessions still leaves you in a deficit so getting something in immediately covers your bases IF you don’t end with a substantial meal. Worth noting though, I’ve observed that most can “eat” (and by that I mean drink) a shake and not feel satiated and then still eat the same amount as if the shake wasn’t consumed. Maybe this is because there’s no act of chewing or that the food sources is already “pre-digested” with the processing necessary for a shake format, but nonetheless something to be aware of. So for most recovery, even if it doesn’t align with meal time, erring towards real food that you chew and adding the aspect of satiety is important.