I remember my first year training with a triathlon coach. I had done a few races on my own, but wanted to move up to the 70.3 distance. I decided to join a group because I enjoyed training with other people. When I started in the sport I was very overweight, so by adding in some activity I naturally lost weight. But as I continued training, I noticed my weight wasn’t shifting, so I started cutting back on calories. Well, that’s when I learned the hard way why cutting calories and heavy training aren’t a good match!
My workouts started to suffer. I could no longer hit the power numbers or paces that had been easy, just weeks prior. I was tired all of the time. My muscles ached simply from walking up stairs. I went to my coach to figure out what was going on and the first question she asked was, had I changed any of my fueling? I proudly told her that I had cut back to slim down to a better “race weight” – a term I kept hearing – and was startled by her strong reaction. “Now is not the time!” She was right. Your body needs fuel to get you through hard training sessions, to repair afterwards, to give you what you need in order to perform at your very best. And fueling doesn’t only matter during sessions – paying attention to proper nutrition all day is what is needed to gain fitness.
Now, does that mean that losing weight during training won’t happen or that it is a bad thing? Not necessarily. Everyone is different. You may find that it is natural to lose some body fat or add some muscle as training progresses. But it would be a mistake to rely on a number on the scale to measure your health. Instead, measure your successes in watts gained on the bike, weight lifted in the gym, or seconds gained in the pool and on the run. Those are the goals you should be chasing while you’re training for a race!
Does this mean you shouldn’t pay attention to the quality of the food that you eat while training? No, of course not. In heavy training, it’s often wise to avoid an excess of sugar/alcohol/processed foods – although you don’t need to avoid these things all together! Just consider your day as making sure that you are getting in a good balance of food that is fantastic fuel. Choose wisely when you’re going to indulge in food that might lead to less than stellar workouts the next day.
Nutrition can be all about balance. There are times in the year when you’re not chasing goals or working out crazy hours where you can work on your body composition in a different way. But while training, it’s essential to make sure that you are getting in enough calories, and the right kinds at the right time, to support your training. Fuel well, train hard, and race fast!