Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Periodization and Body Composition - Offseason and Weight Loss

Congratulations! You just finished your big race last year. You did ok, but think you could do better next year at B2B. For right now, the important part is basking in the glow of that finish line. Maybe have a celebration with family and friends and start the recovery process.

I have to force myself to take an entire month off from everything after a full ironman. During the big day, my body sort of expands; like the joints all get very loose, and it takes about a month for everything to come back together. One time I started swimming too soon after Ironman, and my ankles were killing me by the end of the warmup. How do your ankles hurt from swimming? makes no sense.

The offseason is the time to cut loose. Nutritionally, cheeseburgers and chicken wings are ok. Bring on the beers. Re-introduce yourself to your friends and family. It's a good time to burn your ex's house down (kidding).  But I do feel like it's important to note here that we are not dogs. We don't need to use food as a reward. I just try not to feel guilty about enjoying the Standard American Diet during the offseason.

Your racing weight is not supposed to be a number that can be maintained all year round. It's supposed to be a target that you can hit and sustain for one day to give you the best chance at a successful race. There is nothing wrong with a little weight gain after the big day.

Training during the offseason is only supposed to be the fun stuff. No structure, no plan, just do whatever you want whenever it feels right. We get into this crazy multisport lifestyle because we enjoy 3 sports and training hard for 3 sports at the same time. Some people want to run marathons during the offseason. Some choose a structured weight training program. So do what you want.

One thing I can highly recommend. Speed follows endurance, so after months of slow training for a really long triathlon you might be surprised at the speed that is laying dormant right now. Jump into the next local 5k just to see what happens. I set my last 2 PR's each a month after an Ironman. It was surprising and fun.

There are two ways for the offseason to come to a close. My favorite was always hitting my Maximum Allowable Offseason Weight (MAOW). In 2010 I was losing weight in preparation for Ironman training, and I got under 190 lbs for the first time since before the turn of the century. As a reward I got the giant cherry tree tattoo on my right shoulder. That means now when my weight creeps up close to 190 lbs it's time to go into a weight loss phase. Anything else would be to disrespect my tattoo and my body. And sure enough, January 2016 is the only time since then that I've gone over 190 lbs.

The offseason is also a great time to write up your training plan. For our B2B half ironman race, let's assume the training plan is written for 20 weeks. Let's assume we already know our racing weight target for B2B, and assume we know our training weight for the start of the training plan. My weight loss phase typically averages 2 lbs per week of fat loss, so if I'm 14 lbs over my training weight right now and plan to hold that through the offseason, then I need to start my weight loss phase 7 weeks before my training plan starts.

My racing weight is 165 lbs, but I usually come in closer to 168-170. My training weight is 175 lbs, that's always my target for starting the training plan. Typically I'm in a weight loss phase (for 10 to 14 lbs) around February into March or April, and spend my summer in a heavy training plan and between 170 - 175 lbs. But that's only typical for me.

The weight loss phase has a very specific structure. I want to go into some detail here, but it is important to note that every body is different and responds differently to the same stimuli. I've tried every diet plan that I can find to determine what works best for me, and you should too. Check with your doctor if you have more than 20 lbs to lose or have concerns about heart disease or how certain diets will affect your medications. I don't regularly take any medications and I do know my family medical history. I am not a medical doctor, just a former unhealthy fatass. My advice is what worked best for me, and I can certainly do other posts about weight loss or health trends that did not work out for me. Disclaimer over.

Tracking your progress is very important for a weight loss phase. I highly suggest using a scale that will show weight as well as body fat percentage. Especially if you did a bunch of strength training over the offseason, the purpose of the weight loss phase is really to lose body fat, not just pounds. So yes, I want to go from 188 lbs to 175, but I also want to see the scale go from 21% bodyfat down to 16%. Then I can also multiply those two numbers together to get the amount of bodyfat (in pounds) that I'm currently carrying around. For reference, visible abdominal musculature appears in men who have a maximum of about 11% bodyfat, and for me that's around 17 lbs if my weight is down to 162 lbs and I can maintain some muscle mass.

Everything has a starting point, and it is important to record your starting point. Take pictures if you want to. Start tracking your weight and bodyfat percentage (weekly) even if you need to buy a new scale. Find a food and fitness tracker and start logging what you eat. I use My Fitness Pal, but have used others in the past including the Livestrong tracker. Input EVERYTHING that goes into your face-hole and every workout you perform to establish a baseline of how you got fat. This will show you which foods are "bad" for you, and which foods are "good" for you. MFP also has a calculator to help determine my resting metabolic rate and helps me identify which meals were too big and pushed me over my limits for that day.

My structure for the weight loss phase is limiting myself to 1800 calories a day and going vegetarian. After a few weeks of logging everything into MFP I get used to what works, establish the patterns of portion control and learn what my high calorie treats can be.

Going vegetarian has a ton of benefits. Most Americans don't get enough fiber. Most vegetarians do get enough fiber. That's what happens when you eat a lot of plants. You can also get a lot of bulk out of your food when it's all plants. How big is a 16 oz steak? better get a couple of sides with that. Bust into an entire 1 lb bag of spinach and you'll fill up before getting the whole thing down. And the spinach has more protein, less fat, and plenty of iron. Spinach is really one of my power foods, I can't take in too much.

Take a closer look at how bodyfat gets released. You hear the phrase "burning calories" a lot, and what happens when something burns? It generates smoke and leaves ashes behind. The mass that was once something solid turns mostly into smoke and the resulting ash (waste product) carries a small percentage of the original mass. So literally when we lose weight by burning fat (high consistent metabolism) it leaves the body by exhaling.

That's right, up to 75% of weight loss is breathing. The rest of the waste product gets collected by the blood stream, delivered to the colon through our filtration systems (kidneys, liver, etc) and pooped out. That's why fiber is so important. It acts like a toothbrush for your colon.

I'm also pretty big on keeping it low fat. Avacados are pretty high on my normal diet, but in a weight loss phase I will even curb those. Calories from fat just don't get the job done for me. Some people love it, but I prefer sugar/salt instead. My youngest kid is all about the butter but thinks ketchup is too sweet. So this is what works for me. Low fat, high fiber, 1800 calories a day vegetarian.

One last trick.... Some people call it intermittent fasting, or just cutting out the late night snacks, or timing your meals. But if you try to pick a 12 hour window during the day to get your food in, then it will end up better in the long run. It has to be timed with your workout, but I tend to eat breakfast around 7 am. If dinner is done by 7 pm then don't eat anything after then. Going to bed hungry (but not too hungry) is a good thing. Eating right before bed forces your body to process/digest that food during sleep, when it should be doing other things like muscle repair from the workouts. 

Workouts during the weight loss phase are more about consistency than volume. Don't do too much! The time for 3 hour bike rides is during the build phase of the training plan. Weight loss workouts should be no more than 45 minutes in duration. Anything longer than that, and you will have to eat more than 1800 calories to recover from the workout. Even my beloved Masters Swim Team practices go for an hour and 15 minutes, and afterwards I need to eat about 300 calories. My favorite weight loss workout is a 5 mile run. Run 5 miles, 5 days a week, and maybe sneak in a 45 minute bike ride one other day and it's done. Funny thing about doing a ton of 5 mile runs while you keep getting lighter - you end up getting a lot faster too. This is how I went from10 minute miles down to 8 minute miles regularly.

That's what worked for me. Low fat, high fiber, 1800 calories, vegetarian, 45 minute workout. Plus maybe some stretching/yoga to keep my mind sharp.

So here's the breakdown of a typical day:

Breakfast: 7 am
Oatmeal (1/2 c instant oats, 1/2 c milk, 1/2 c water microwave for 2 min) topped with a banana, rasins, cinnamon
385 calories

7:30 am yoga/light stretching/meditation - prepare for today!

11:30 am lunch
Amy's organic veggie burrito (frozen), usually around 280 calories
1 actual serving size of potato chips, even if it's only like 10 chips
around 400 calories

snack or after lunch or pre-workout:
1 greek yogurt, usually about 200 calories

1 banana before workout (100 calories)

5 pm leave work and hit that 5 mile run (burn 600 calories)

7 pm dinner
spinach, preferably
roasted veggies, beans, quinoa, fruit, tons of delish vegetarian recipes out there.
fill the plate with healthy plants! be full and happy, but not over-stuffed like thanksgiving day.
about 500 calories

If you are still too hungry at it's at least an hour before bedtime, go for some fruit, another banana, maybe a string cheese stick. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner add up to about 1300 calories, snacks make up another 300 or so leaving you under the 1800 max on this sample day. Sometimes for lunch I'll have a salad or some leftover veggies from last night's dinner instead of the burrito.

Tracking is important at the end as well. You want to see the weight and bodyfat percentage both drop over time. Multiply those together and you should see that number drop as well. That way you know you are burning off fat as well as just getting lighter.

Be sure you drink enough water. I start every day with a 24 oz bike bottle of clean water, then drink at least 32 oz while I'm at the office, a glass with lunch and dinner, another bottle during the workout, and another bottle after dinner. Water helps the fiber move through the body, and that's really where the weight loss comes from.

So this is what I do for the offseason and the weight loss phase. There are lots of other points I could add here about specific recipes, portion control, recovery protocols, and resting metabolic rate. But this has gone on long enough. I hope this helps explain how to prepare your body for a heavy training plan, because when the hard work starts, it really gets going. Next up: how to build our 20 week triathlon training plan for B2B!

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