Nu­tri­tion­ist Nigel Mitchell ex­plains how to lose weight with­out com­pro­mis­ing train­ing

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Reach your race weight with­out com­pro­mis­ing your train­ing.

Weight man­age­ment is a topic that com­pet­i­tive en­durance ath­letes love to dis­cuss. The is­sue, though, is how do you re­duce your calorific in­take enough to lose weight but en­sure you have ad­e­quate en­ergy for train­ing?

In en­durance sport, car­ry­ing ex­tra weight slows you down. On the bike when climb­ing on a six per cent climb, 1kg is equiv­a­lent to hav­ing to pro­duce about an ex­tra six watts of power.

To un­der­stand this we need to ex­am­ine and chal­lenge some of the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of nutri­tion. In very sim­ple terms, the body stores all ex­tra en­ergy in the form of adi­pose (fat). We store a small amount of en­ergy in car­bo­hy­drate, in the re­gion of 60g, in the liver and a few hun­dred grams in lean tis­sue. Even in a lean per­son, the body will store about 10kg of fat and the rea­son we stock all of this ex­cess en­ergy as fat is be­cause fat yields more en­ergy than any other or­ganic nu­tri­ent.

One gram of car­bo­hy­drate pro­vides 3.75kcal and 1g of fat pro­vides ap­prox­i­mately 9kcal per gram. Body fat (adi­pose) is not pure fat, so 1g of adi­pose is around 7kcal. That means 1kg of adi­pose is worth about 7000 kcal. There­fore, to lose 1kg of body fat, you need to be in an en­ergy deficit of 7000 kcal. In ex­er­cise terms, that’s the equiv­a­lent to some­one run­ning about

70 miles, or in food terms this equates to about 28 Big Macs or about 6.5 kg of cooked quinoa.

When we train, we use more car­bo­hy­drates, and if we do not have them in our sys­tem, it will af­fect the qual­ity of train­ing; we have all un­der-fu­elled and felt the re­sults of ‘bonk­ing’.

One other point we must con­sider is that when we are los­ing weight, we want to lose fat, not mus­cle but, all too of­ten, when we re­duce en­ergy in­take we lose both fat and mus­cle. There are many rea­sons for this but one ma­jor rea­son is when we re­duce en­ergy, es­pe­cially from car­bo­hy­drate, the body will use more pro­tein as an en­ergy source. How­ever, there are both di­etary and ex­er­cise strate­gies that can help re­duce and pre­vent the loss of mus­cle.

Be­fore start­ing a weight­loss plan, peo­ple should con­sider whether it is worth the ad­di­tional work and stress. Also, how much weight have you got to lose? To­day there are many body com­po­si­tion mon­i­tor­ing de­vices, such as scales, that use bio im­ped­ance to gauge body com­po­si­tion. The pre­ci­sion of these can be vari­able, but they can pro­vide a guide for weight loss and also the mon­i­tor­ing of weight loss.


Fol­low­ing a weightre­duc­ing diet can add ad­di­tional stress to the body. Only start this if you have good health. Have your iron lev­els checked and, if low, con­sider an iron sup­ple­ment too.

Plan grad­ual weight loss. This will com­pro­mise train­ing and re­cov­ery less than rapid weight loss. 0.5-1kg a week is about the max­i­mum you should aim for; this equates to a deficit of 500-1000 kcal per day.

En­sure you have about 1.5-2g of pro­tein per kg of body mass a day. This should be split up through­out the meals, eg, a 70kg triath­lete would re­quire 100-140g of pro­tein a day. Dairy pro­tein is good, and there are plenty of good veg­e­tar­ian sources of pro­tein. Foods, such as quinoa, soya, pulses and nuts, are ex­cel­lent.

Pe­ri­odise your car­bo­hy­drate in­take. If you are do­ing light or low-in­ten­sity train­ing, re­duce the car­bo­hy­drate around the train­ing ses­sion. If, the next day, you have a hard ses­sion, then the car­bo­hy­drate should be in­creased af­ter train­ing.

Base your car­bo­hy­drates mainly on low glycemic in­dex (GI) foods such as por­ridge, sweet pota­toes and quinoa. These are more slowly ab­sorbed.

In­clude a mid-morn­ing and mid-af­ter­noon snack – banana or about 40g of pis­ta­chio nuts work well. A com­mon mis­take is for peo­ple to cut fat back too far. Like pro­teins, we need es­sen­tial fats as well. I al­ways rec­om­mend that peo­ple in­clude fats ,such as oily fish, eggs, av­o­cado, milled seeds, pis­ta­chio nuts, olive oil. Iʼd sug­gest an omega-three sup­ple­ment high in Ei­cos­apen­tanoic acid (EPA), aim­ing for about 1-2g a day. Also, with elite ath­letes, I may in­clude a CLA sup­ple­ment as well.

Mon­i­tor your weight. Try to get weighed on the same scales at the same time each week, and keep a record of this to spot trends.

In­cor­po­rate some strength work to help re­duce mus­cle loss.

For most triath­letes, weight man­age­ment should not be a big is­sue, and for any­one who is re­ally un­sure they would ben­e­fit from some pro­fes­sional di­etary in­put. The SENR reg­is­ter pro­vides a list of suit­able qual­i­fied sports nu­tri­tion­ists (senr.org.uk/ find-an-senr-nu­tri­tion­ist)

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