There has been quite a bit of talk in the endurance athlete and coach arena regarding racing weight and I have been experimenting with this during my higher fat, controlled carbohydrate nutrition experiment. First off, I think it is important for me to explain a few things before getting too much into the body of this blog.
Point 1: There is no such thing as an "optimal" weight. As a Sport Dietitian, I work with athletes to find that weight that supports good health, a strong immune system, quality and uninterrupted sleep patterns and for females, regular menstruation. As athletes, do we sometimes give and take a little in these categories? Of course! But that is the important part of experimenting with your individual body to see what is right for it. Do not compare yourself to others from a quantitative (scale number) or qualitative (aesthetics) point of view. What is important is the point at which your body weight and body composition supports optimal health and performance (read: the combination of both is utterly important). Now, I have seen many athletes get too low in their body weight and while they may run well, they start to get sick more often or they cannot recover as fast. There is no secret equation that professionals use to determine if your weight should be different during race season versus the preparatory or pre-competition training cycles. This is a journey that you must explore on your own and I recommend keeping good quantitative and qualitative data to help you in this process.
Point 2: If you are a triathlete, too low of body weight and fat (while it may be aesthetically pleasing), may actually compromise performance. You should not measure your racing weight (if there is such a thing for your particular body) in terms of the number on the scale. Rather, you should look at your quantitative performances for the swim, bike and run. You can use your 100 yard/meter time or a field test such as a 3x300 time trial set for the swim. The run can be a threshold test done in the field or in a performance center to measure velocity and lactate levels and having a power meter on the bike for field testing in or out of a lab is crucial to determine threshold power movements. It is these data that will help you quantify if and where your body weight and composition should be for optimal performance.
Point 3: If you aren't healthy, you cannot perform. Far too many athletes try to get their body weight or fat levels so low that they compromise health and get sick. If you are sick, you can't train. If you can't train, you can't race. If you can't race, you don't have a season and thus you cannot really be an athlete. Take care of your body and think of improving and supporting good health first.
Back to Coach Bob. As I have been navigating this higher fat with controlled carbohydrate nutrition plan with higher intensity short course triathlon training, I have been playing with my body weight and composition as an experiment. Interesting what I have found. I noticed that I initially lost about 8 pounds on this nutrition plan and while I was pretty lean, I also noticed that I was not swimming well and had a hard time generating power on the bike. My run was great but as a triathlete, that is only 1/3 of the game.
So, I started shifting my body weight and fat a bit while measuring my performances (quantitatively as noted above). What I found was that my body was not efficient in generating power in the swim or bike when my body weight was too low. I have noted that, at this point in my training (very important to consider due to nutrition periodization), that my quantitative performances and recoveries are enhanced when my body weight is only about 4 pounds lower than my "normal" (meaning when I was not eating higher fat and controlling my carbohydrates) body weight.
Interesting data so far and even more fascinating since I am soon entering my triathlon race season. As I continue to dial this in and experiment with my swim, bike and run numbers, I will report back my findings in hopes that you too can learn more about your body and at what physiological markers it is most efficient.
Until next time...