Lighten up to boost V02 max
Six easy steps to slim down and speed up
For an endurance athlete, a few extra pounds can make the difference between sticking with the pack or dropping back and racing solo. If your excess belly fat is dragging you down like an oak leaf stuck in klister, then it's time to lighten up. Forget about spending more cash buying expensive equipment. Instead, invest your time and money in improving your diet. It may just be the most effective way to make hanging with the pack a possibility again.
Here's how to get started.
Step 1: Get motivated
Duluthian Malcolm Macaulay, MS, PT, OCS is the founder and creator of LightSpeed Running and Rehabilitation Systems, and an expert on how weight affects running efficiency.
"Feeling is believing," he promised, talking me into a giving his device a test run. Similar in concept to an AlterG, the LightSpeed trainer is an anti-gravity device that easily fits over a treadmill. "We have found that by lifting 15 percent of body weight, a person can run one minute per mile faster. So instead of running at a nine-minute mile pace, the person can run eight-minute miles."
Although the weight reduction is temporary, he explained, the body learns from the quicker leg turn over and more efficient body position produced on the LightSpeed running system and that carries over onto the road. It felt great to be speeding along with no effort. And it was definitely a motivating experience to keep my weight in check.
Step 2: Go for the gold
Elite athletes improve because they train consistently and focus on their weak areas. If diet is yours, then that's where you should be putting your energy - mental energy, that is. Knowing what gives you an emotional high is the "gold" that can provide the motivation to stick with a weight loss plan.
Next, set a target weight and deadline. To stay on track, revisit that motivational scene daily, using visualization or journaling. Talk about your goal with your friends and get excited about the process. The more you live it, the more likely it will happen.
Step 3: Feed your willpower supply
Giving up comfort eating, starting to plan meals, changing your diet - it all takes mental energy and self-control. Fortunately, most endurance athletes have a ton of self-control. Just think of the mental perseverance a marathoner has when muscles scream to stop and rest but their brain wills them to go on.
Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., social psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainsville, has studied thousands of people to learn how they use willpower to successfully make behavior changes. A consistent finding from his research is that the brain has a finite amount of energy to use on willpower each day. This "reservoir" of willpower is the same, no matter what the task.
In other words, while you may enjoy a late afternoon workout before dinner, you still draw from the same supply of willpower to get to the trail or gym, navigate through traffic and resist stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way home even though you're starving. Competing mental tasks drain our willpower and make us susceptible to doing exactly what we are trying not to do: eat. Why? Because our brain needs sugar to get rebooted and continue to work.
Set yourself up for success by making a better diet a priority and ditch as many extra obligations as possible. Use your mental energy to focus on a single behavioral change at one time.
Step 4: Create a personalized plan
Research has proven that there is high variability in response to a diet intervention, whether it is prompted by a person's need to lose weight, reverse heart disease or recover from cancer.
For example, in a study where fish oil supplements were given to a group of subjects with high triglycerides, the average change in triglycerides was a drop of 35 percent. When this research was published, the supplement industry immediately started to promote fish oil for heart health based on the results. However, what the supplement industry failed to state was that fish oil doesn't work for everyone. In fact, the original study showed that the effect of fish oil on triglyceride levels ranged from a decrease of 114 percent to an increase of 88 percent, a variance which the researchers attributed to genetics.
The response to weight loss diets is just as variable. Unfortunately, genetic testing is expensive and nutrigenomics as a science is still not mainstream. Should you eat a vegan diet? Paleo? Or high protein? Mediterranean? Flexitarian? These are just a few of the popular diets currently promoted, all promising successful weight loss.
To actually lose weight as body fat, however, research has shown the one common denominator no matter which diet is followed is that there must be a calorie deficit. That is, take in fewer calories than your metabolic needs for rest, plus exercise.
Most athletes should reduce their calorie intake by no more than 10 to 15 percent. If you've been maintaining your weight eating 2,500 calories a day, cut out about 250 to lose about two pounds per month. This is a great approach for people who can identify where they have a consistent habit of nonessential calories.
For example, skipping that one soda, beer or glass of wine on a daily basis, plus the cheese and crackers or peanuts, can easily do the job. Or perhaps you are in the routine of taking a second serving at the evening meal. As with exercise, just being consistent with a small change can reap great benefits.
For an individual who has never dieted, or can't imagine following a diet plan, ditching one habit that is repeated often can create enough of a calorie deficit for gradual weight loss.
Step 5: Keep it structured
Athletes benefit from transferring training skills that they regularly practice and changing their eating patterns. Routine helps with exercise training, and it also helps with one's diet.
Research recently published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism on elite athletes at eight Canadian sport centers showed the majority of athletes followed structured eating patterns. On exercise days, 98 percent ate three meals and 75 percent had an afternoon snack. About half of the athletes ate a morning and evening snack on days that they trained. Overall, snacks contributed to about 25 percent of the daily calories. On rest days, far fewer athletes consumed snacks, but again, nearly 100 percent of athletes ate three square meals.
Structured eating patterns are the norm in France, where obesity has been much less of a problem than the U.S. In a country that is known for delicious food and wine, the typical Frenchman eats three times per day, and one or no snacks. Studies which have looked at the benefits of snacking versus limiting food intake to meals do not support snacking as a means to avoiding overeating at meals, at least in a sedentary population. On the other hand, skipping meals has been linked to obesity problems.
Whether a three-meal or six-meal pattern of eating is more helpful for weight loss is probably dependent upon the individual based on his or her lifestyle. However, if you choose to eat more frequently than three times per day, scheduling regular "mini meals" times versus random snacks is essential.
Step 6: Monitor & compare goals
No one likes to record their food intake on a daily basis. However, studies show that writing or logging on a computer is still the best way to be successful with initial and long-term weight loss. Regular weight checks, at least once per week, is recommended for both weight loss and weight maintenance. While the intuitive eating (IE) approach for weight loss is appealing because it doesn't require setting a calorie goal or committing to a specific food plan, the latest research (2012) has not found the IE method to be as effective as setting a calorie goal and monitoring intake.
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.
10 tips for getting leaner
1) For at least one meal per day, make half of what you put on your plate vegetables.
2) Eat at least two plant-based protein meals per week.
3) Eat fish (not fried) 1-2 times per week.
4) Limit red meat to 4-5 ounces per week.
5) Aim for consuming no added sugar.
6) Use whole fruit as a natural way to satisfy a sweet craving.
7) Eat low fat dairy - light cheese, skim or 1 percent milk, low-fat cottage cheese or unsweetened yogurt if you do need a snack.
8) Limit your intake of alcohol.
9) Limit portion sizes but include healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, canola oil and avocado.
10) Make whole grains your primary source of carbohydrate at meals.