A Practical Strategy for Improving Body Composition

The holidays have left us, a new season has begun, and it’s time to get serious about preparing for our races this year. Our community has developed some cool strategies and perspectives about improving body composition and we’d like to share them with you here.

Body Composition is the 5th Sport of Ironman® Triathlon

  1. Swim
  2. Bike
  3. Run
  4. Execution (includes race day nutrition)
  5. Body Composition

That is, if you can race at 175lb vs 185lb, 152 vs 158, 118 vs 122, all things being equal, you will be faster. Of course, the usual caveats apply: everyone is different, there’s definitely an unhealthy vs healthy weight for all of us, can’t lose weight too quickly because training and recovery will suffer, etc.

So as long as we are spending so much time, money, effort, SAU’s, and more on items 1-4, we might as well apply similar focus to #5 because it can only help us.

Calories Out > Calories In
In the end, burning fat is about creating a calorie deficit: calories out (exercise) greater than calories in (eating). You need to create a 3500cal deficit to lose 1 pound of fat. That is, a deficit of 500 calories per day will create 1lb of fat loss per week.

However, you can couldashouldawoulda all you want, but you can’t improve something until you measure what you’re doing. It really is that simple.

This is the basic method we recommend when folks are interested in improving Body Composition:

  • You can use an iPhone app called Lose It! There are others out there, Livestrong has a good one that also works with the Blackberry and can be accessed from a desktop or laptop. LoseIt! is dead simple — it displays the info you want/need to see, and if you don’t eat out much you won’t need a huge food database of restaurant menus.
  • Simply enter your age, weight, goal weight, and choose to lose from .5lb to 2lb per week.
  • It then spits out a daily calorie budget (ie, this is how much you can eat each day and achieve your goal of losing x lb per week). This calorie budget typically assumes a sedentary, desk jockey lifestyle.
  • Simply log your food and exercise into Lose It! It keeps track, tells you how many more calories you can eat today, etc.

Most importantly, the simple act of logging what you eat will allow you to identify very easy opportunities to consume fewer calories. For example, your grande non-fat, no-whip mocha that you treat yourself to every morning is about 175 calories x 7 = 1125 calories per week x 4 = 4900 calories per month = a weight loss of 1.4lbs per month if you were to just switch to black coffee.

How much to lose each week?
Our team has found that a weight loss of .5-1.0lbs per week is sustainable during Ironman® training. Anything more aggressive than that and your calorie deficits will very likely have an impact on your workouts and recovery. So our advice is to start working towards your race weight goals NOW–don’t put it off until 10-12wks before your event. You’ll be at your peak training volumes and will be unable to sustain aggressive calorie deficits.

We have a Killer Tool to Help Us
We exercise a LOT, and therefore burn a lot of calories. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to lose weight if the ONLY tool you had was to not eat. If you don’t have the habit of exercising & burning calories every day, then you don’t have anything working for you on the calories out side of the equation. Fortunately, we have that in spades. Your lightest day, as a TeamEN member or training plan athlete training for Ironman, will likely be a swim-only day. Probably about 600-700cals for an hour of swimming (total SWAG). Most other weekdays will be 1-2hrs, or about 600-1200cals. Weekends? Not too hard to burn north of 3000 calories.

So in the end, all you gotta do is:

  • Hit the ground every day with your EN training plan. Do it, burn calories.
  • Track what you eat and focus on making better choices.
  • Frame those choices as calorie dense vs nutrient dense. That is, choose to eat nutrient dense foods (fruits, veggies, lean meat, etc) vs calorie dense (breads, starches, etc). However, feel free to slide to calorie dense foods before, during, or immediately after exercise to help fuel or recover from a workout.
  • Realize that # of cals we burn (a lot) gives us some slack to not have to go all crazy with making whack choices — particularly on the weekends. I personally understand that on my run-only days it will be tough for me to stay inside my budget and I won’t sweat going over a bit because on my cycling days I won’t have any problems at all meeting or exceeding my goals.

Keep It Simple
Make no mistake about it, the above process won’t work for everyone. But it’s a great first step — you’ll find out pretty quickly if you have the willpower to back up your aggressive body comp goals. Secondly, if simple works…stick with it! As trigeeks we are very prone to making things insanely complicated out of the box, and that’s not always to our advantage. Thirdly, even this simple foray into reviewing and attempting to manage your body composition will be very instructive. At the very least should you need to take things one step further, you’ll have some great insights as to what does/doesn’t work and how you respond to different calorie levels.

Good luck!

Rich Strauss

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