Triathlon and Weight Management

Triathlon and Weight Management

First things first – you can take part and compete in triathlons at almost any weight. So long as you’re healthy, excess pounds need not prevent you from getting out in the water, on the bike and down the road. As I lined up for Ironman UK, I quickly noticed people of all shapes and sizes. An Ironman triathlon has a cut-off time of 17 hours and, having looked at the number of finishers, it’s clear that the majority of people around me finished within that limit. Having said that, weight is one of most important factors to consider if you want to finish triathlons in as quick a time as possible. I’ve always believed that the best way to improve in any field is to identify those who excel, analyse what they do and then copy it as best you can. A quick look at the physiques of professional triathletes reveals a certain uniformity. These are men and women with very low body fat and, to a certain extent, muscle mass that is concentrated in the lower half of their bodies. Have a look at the Brownlee brothers or three time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander. They are exceptionally lean. Thinking about the three disciplines involved in triathlon, this leanness makes a lot of sense. Though effective swimming requires upper body strength (and accompanying muscle mass), the swim discipline of triathlon only accounts for around 10% of a competitor’s time on the course. 90% of your time will be spent either on a bike or running. You only have to look at the body types of professionals in these two disciplines to understand that a lack of excess weight, particularly on the upper body, is paramount to success. Mo Farah’s bones almost poke through his skin. Bradley Wiggins’ weight loss in his Tour de France winning year was astonishing. If you want to cycle or run as fast as you can, you need to keep an eye on your weight. Every extra pound you lug around the course is going cost you time and energy. Every hill you climb on the bike will be tougher and every mile of the run will hurt a little bit more. So what’s the ideal weight for an Ironman triathlete? A fellow blogger has analysed the height to weight ratio for Ironman world champions from 2001 – 2002. By dividing the height of the winners by their weight, he arrived at a ratio of pounds to inches. Craig Alexander, for example, stands at 5ft 11 and weighed 150lbs. His weight to height ratio was 2.11 – for every inch of his height, he weighed 2lbs. Renowned for his running, Alexander is at the lighter end of the scale in terms of world champions. The average ratio was 2.25. This gives you a ball park figure to aim for. What you must also bear in mind is body fat percentage. To be the best you can be, you need to aim for single figures in this area. It’s no good weighing 147 pounds if most of that is fat rather than muscle. After all that theory, let’s have a think about some practical advice for managing your weight. The following advice is from personal experience. I was out of shape for at least 6 or 7 years. At 5ft 10, I tipped the scales at 190lbs (13 stones 8lbs). Slimming down for Ironman UK, I dipped below 140lbs (10 stones) for a couple of weeks whilst I was concentrating on cycling training. On the day of the race I weighed 144lbs. My finishing time was 12 hours and 15 minutes – including a very fast bike split. I’ve no doubt that keeping my weight down contributed to me being able to finish my first ever triathlon in a respectable time. If you do decide to slim down, there are some sure-fire ways to get there. The most important thing to accept is that there are no quick cheats! Deliberately losing weight requires effort and discipline. There is only one way that you’ll shed pounds – by consistently maintaining a calorie deficit. To put it simply, you must burn more calories than you consume. 1lb of body weight is roughly equivalent to 3,500 calories. If, over the course of a week, you eat 3,500 calories fewer than you consume, you can expect to lose 1lb. Many doctors recommend that a loss of 2lbs per week is a healthy goal to aim for. That means that over the course of a week, you must achieve a deficit of 7,000 calories – or 1,000 per day. At first glance, that might seem like a large number. I’ll show you why that’s not the case in a minute but, first of all, some more helpful information. If you’d like to maintain a deficit of 1,000 calories, you first need to know how many calories you’re burning in the first place! Government guidelines currently recommend that men consume 2,500 calories per day and women consume 2,000. This consumption will result in the maintenance of an individual’s weight. For triathletes like you, however, this information is far too vague. Not all men and women are the same, after all! Luckily there is a nice equation to figure out how many calories your body needs in day-to-day life: (Your weight in pounds) x 15 = calories required per day Here’s an example for you: I currently weigh 156 pounds (after eating and drinking copiously in the six weeks after Ironman!). I can put this into the equation to figure out how many calories I require: 156 x 15 = 2,340 calories required per day If I want to maintain my weight, I need to consume 2,340 calories. If I consume more, I will put on weight and if I consume fewer, I will lose it. Now remember the figure from above. A deficit of 1,000 calories per day will result in a 2lbs per week loss. This seems pretty extreme – 1,340 calories is not a lot of food for an adult! Things look better, however, when you realise that a deficit isn’t only achieved through diet – it can also be achieved through exercise. If you’re training for a triathlon, they’ll be plenty of that anyway! One hour of vigorous exercise is roughly equivalent to 500 calories. That’s half your deficit right there! I suggest the other comes from cutting calories from your food. Of course, if you have more time for training, you’ll be burning calories there. It’s important to understand that calories are all that count when it comes to losing weight. Food type matters not one jot. In 2010 an American professor of nutrition ate only terrible junk food whilst maintaining his calorie intake at 1,800 per day. Despite his voluminous consumption of Twinkies, he lost 27 pounds – nearly 2 stones – over a couple of months. When it comes to weight loss, calories are king. That’s not to say, however, that you should do the same. If you’ve adopted a strenuous exercise regime, you need to fuel your body sensibly. A good mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats are essential for your body to recover and repair in time for your next workout. A sensible, balanced diet is essential. Particularly important is providing your body with calories before a workout – make sure you don’t skip breakfast if you’re planning to exercise. One last tip – I personally found that high intensity interval training (HIIT), when combined with nutritional discipline, really helped me shed pounds. The higher intensity of training really gives your metabolism a boost, helping your body to burn calories quickly. I think that’s enough reading for now – entire books have been written on weight management and my aim isn’t to add to that category. Have fun and get faster! Conor 10516811_10204530310678107_6413628927201346730_n.

2 Comments

  1. Andy Barnet

    Great read Conor! I will be sharing this over with my friends who are attempting to conquer 2015 IMUK!

    Reply
  2. Amanda Kirtley

    good read,sensible explanation on how to lose weight.think am going to give this a go to see if I can shift some weight for next season.well done on your ironman!!

    Reply

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