Lose fat, not muscle
What's the best motivator for losing weight? If you answered "to look better," think again. I would suggest that it is really more about how you feel.
Shredding a few pounds of extra body fat is like wearing a pair of sandals for the first time in spring. It feels good. More than providing a cosmetic change, your internal psyche is recharged and a "can do" attitude is back. You can crest a hill at full speed and run faster with less effort. It is a feeling that money can't buy.
For endurance athletes, early spring is the perfect time to cut some body fat. A between season taper leaves more time and mental energy to focus on diet. Carbohydrates and calories can be safely reduced during the off season without serious risk of muscle loss or fatigue.
If you are ready to get leaner, then let's get started.
Eat an orange
What do oranges have to do with burning fat during exercise? Although most people know that a severe vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy, vitamin C has many other functions. It is involved as a cofactor in the biosynthesis of carnitine, a molecule required for burning fat for energy (fatty acid oxidation). When plasma levels of vitamin C are insufficient, the body is limited in its ability to produce carnitine, and fat burning capacity is reduced.
A recent study published last year in The Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared what happened to fat utilization during a submaximal exercise test when the same subject was tested in a vitamin C depleted state vs. optimal vitamin C state. The results were amazing. There was a 25 percent decrease in fatty acid oxidation (per kilogram body weight) when vitamin C levels were low, as compared to exercise done when vitamin C status was optimal. When exercising with depleted vitamin C plasma levels, subjects also felt more fatigued during the exercise test.
So, how much vitamin C per day is advised?
In 2000, the recommended dietary allowance was raised from 60 mg/day to 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men. Currently, the American Dietetic Association recommends 200 mg per day for athletes. While it is tempting to rely on a vitamin C supplement, investigational studies done with mice have shown that vitamin C levels can be raised five times more quickly when natural fruits with C are eaten. Flavonoids present in produce are thought to enhance absorption of vitamin C by maintaining it in a reduced state (versus an oxidized state).
Fat Burn Tip No. 1: Keep vitamin C levels saturated daily to maximize the fat burn. Do not rely strictly on supplements. Look for vitamin rich foods or fortified foods to fill the gap. If you do supplement, limit amounts to no higher than 100 mg/day to avoid a pro-oxidant effect. Vitamin C is not stored, and the content in foods is reduced by heat, chopping and light exposure.
Get your daily vitamin C from kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, mangoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries and raspberries.
Build muscle, maintain metabolism
Losing body fat and gaining muscle is relatively easy when you are 20. Even at 30. But after age 40, things begin to change and it becomes harder to gain muscle, yet remains very easy to add body fat.
Most athletes know that all muscle is made from protein or amino acids. However, certain amino acids are considered essential, because they cannot be made by the body, but must be obtained from meat, fish, eggs or milk. Of these essential amino acids, the branched chain amino acids (BCAA), isoleucine, leucine and valine, are of particular importance for athletes.
BCAA can be taken up by the muscle and burned as fuel during aerobic exercise and help to prolong endurance when glycogen stores are depleted. Although all BCAA can be oxidized, only leucine controls the synthesis of muscle protein. As the gatekeeper of cell signaling, without leucine present in the bloodstream, no muscle cell growth or repair can take place.
Fat Burn Tip No 2: Instead of spending an extra half an hour doing an aerobic workout, think about swapping that time for some high intensity resistance training. Although resistance training does not burn as many calories, pumping some iron will stimulate protein synthesis for as long as 48 hours afterwards.
Keep a ready supply of leucine available by having a high protein snack before and after resistance training. To maximize the power of leucine to stimulate muscle growth, add some carbohydrate to the post-workout snack.
Got milk? That's one marketing campaign based on science. Lift. Drink. Dump some body fat.
Adjust carbohydrate-protein ratio
A diet of 50 percent to 60 percent carbohydrates is essential for endurance athletes when training volume is high. Carbohydrates are needed to replace depleted glycogen stores. Typically in the off-season athletes gain a little body fat, even when they attempt to reduce total calorie intake. What is often overlooked with this simple approach is how the balance of carbohydrates and protein is affected with a reduced calorie intake.
For example, if an 80 kg (176 lb.) male normally ate 2,700 calories per day, with 55 percent of the calories from carbohydrates and 19 percent from protein, he would average around 130 g of protein per day. This is about 1.5 g per kg of body weight, and actually above the recommended level for endurance athletes, which is 1 to 1.3 g/kg body weight.
If this athlete were to drop his calorie intake to 2,000 per day but keep his usual pattern of high carbohydrate food preferences, protein intake would now be 95 g per day. While still within the recommended dietary intake guideline levels, this level of protein intake would not favor body fat loss.
To reduce the glycemic load from carbohydrates and preserve muscle during a calorie deficit, a higher percentage of calories from protein is needed. The ideal diet pattern for this off-season athlete would be to obtain 30 percent of his 2,000 calories from protein, which translates to about 150 g per day.
Fat Burn Tip No. 3: Adjusting the ratio of carbohydrates to protein is not difficult and does not require taking protein supplements. Aim for reducing the nonessential carbohydrates, such as added sugar, and right-size portions of carbohydrates at meals.
It is easy to eat more than one-half cup of pasta, rice or potatoes. Include some high biological value protein at each meal, such as eggs, low fat dairy, poultry, lean meat or fish.
Have a game plan
Although many endurance athletes have a fairly structured training schedule, when it comes to eating, it is a whatever-I-can-manage type of existence. Busy schedules and lack of effort towards planning meals is common and the end result is often weight gain.
A study done at the Carolina Population Center University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, looked at the change in the frequency of eating meals or snacks and found that the time between eating has decreased by an hour since 1977. Adults now eat about every three hours, and calorie intake has increased as well.
Fat Burn Tip No. 4: Better timing of meals and snacks reduces impulse eating and calorie intake. Aim for eating no more than five times a day, and go no longer than five hours between meals.
Donna Marlor, MA, RD, CSSD, is a registered dietician specializing in nutrition for endurance exercise and weight management. She offers motivational coaching and behavioral skills training to change eating patterns. Marlor is a consultant to the Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan, and works with many individual athletes from novice to elite. A former collegiate alpine and Nordic skier, Marlor still enjoys master's level competition as a skier and runner as well as spending time with her family and chocolate Lab in the Upper Peninsula. She can be reached via www.DonnaMarlor.com and at 906/360-9049.