A: When training for a race, your goal should not be solely weight loss. You need the right balance of nutrients to fuel your workouts without compromising performance. So drop no more than 1 percent of total body weight per week to preserve lean mass and performance—and don’t get discouraged if the number on the scale does not change as you may be losing inches instead of pounds as you change up your fat-to-muscle ratio. Here are three key components to keep in mind:
1. Avoid skipping meals or drastically decreasing food intake.
Missing opportunities to refuel or not consuming enough can cause unhealthy cravings and overeating later in the day. This can result in a decreased consumption of important micronutrients, specifically calcium, vitamin D and iron, which can lead to a higher potential for stress fractures, and impair muscle function through inefficient oxygen transport to muscles. Calcium can be found in dairy or green leafy vegetables. Vitamin D is in fatty fish such as tuna or salmon and in fortified cereals, milk or orange juice. Iron can be found in meat, poultry, fish and beans. To increase the iron’s absorption, pair iron-containing foods with vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits.
2. Focus on post-workout refueling.
This is extremely important. Consume a 3-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within 30–60 minutes after your workout. During training you’re utilizing glycogen stores in your muscles while tearing down your muscles as well. Consuming 20–25 grams protein will help repair your muscles. Pair it with 60–75 grams of carbohydrates to aid recovery and get you ready for the next training session. A good post-workout meal would be 20 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk and half a medium banana, which will give you 70 grams of carbs and 21 grams of protein.
3. Avoid mindless snacking.
What else are you eating throughout the day? Are you picking up the mini candy bar in the dish as you walk by a coworker’s desk? If you’ve skimped on meals or inadequately refueled post-workout, chances are you will find yourself eating more throughout the day without realizing it. Energy requirements vary from day to day depending on the volume and intensity of your workouts. Most athletes can decrease total intake by 250 to 500 calories while maintaining their training plan and not hindering performance. I recommend keeping a food log, either online or on paper. Track what you are taking in to ensure you are not over-consuming. Not sure how many calories you should be consuming? A sports dietitian can help you figure it out.
The key to weight loss is consistent food intake throughout the day. Make time for a post-workout meal or snack. Plan ahead and consume healthy whole-food sources. The goal should be to eat properly to fuel your body to meet your performance goals.
Christina Bologna is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a two-time Ironman finisher working as a dietitian for the U.S. Navy. Find her at Runawayrd.com. Note: The views expressed are those of the individual only and not of the Department of Defense.