By: Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, METS II
Sport nutrition is a balance of daily nutrition and training nutrition, but when it comes to losing those extra pounds, the steps and different methods can be quite confusing. Although some like to argue that out are the days of simply counting calories and training more to burn excess calories to lose weight. Don’t get me wrong, calories do matter, but not within the same framework as we used to use in the past.
Let’s look at some relatively new concepts as it relates to manipulating your body weight to get healthier and faster on the bike.
A Bit of History
Before jumping into this topic, it is first important that you understand a bit about where we came from and where we are now. In the early 2000’s, I created the concept called “Nutrition Periodization”. If you are a follower of the PowerTap blog and educational series, you have likely read some of my content on this topic. The overall message of Nutrition Periodization is to adjust (periodize) macronutrients to support your physical training needs.
So, if you are in base training and logging more aerobic miles with not much tempo or speed work, then your daily nutrition should support this without overfeeding total calories or a specific macronutrient. As you progress to higher intensity training and your competition season, your daily nutrition should support this also to account for the increased carbohydrate needs and overall greater energy expenditure.
Much of the research has been poking around the concept of Nutrition Periodization but mostly surrounding periodizing carbohydrates. As much as this specific macronutrient is important, let’s remember that protein and fat are also just as important (more on that later).
A recent research review paper (1) is garnering a bit of attention these days as it is highlighting different methods of periodizing carbohydrates in an athlete model. The study is more interested in how training and carbohydrate manipulations are related to cell signaling and skeletal muscle adaptations versus specific body weight changes but I believe there are some interesting messages we can use from this review as it relates to getting you down to race weight.
Let’s take a look at the four different types of training/carbohydrate manipulation the review article highlighted and more importantly, how to possibly use this information in the real world.
1. Fasted Training
I’m guessing you already know about, or have tried, this type of training. Wake up, hop on the bike and spin away without having consumed any calories. Afterwards, you enjoy your breakfast and morning cup of joe.
This is a method to teach the body to burn more fat by means of improving certain enzyme functions and gene expression. Some say this is not really the fasting that triggers this improved fat burning but rather, the carbohydrate restriction. Nonetheless, it is a decent method to implement to try to nudge the scale and reduce body fat. Just be careful not to try this before higher intensity morning training sessions. If you work with a coach or performance advisor, be sure to consult with them first regarding when this would be most ideal.
Tip: I have seen many athletes safely manipulate their body weight with this method. Just be sure not to overeat the second half of the day.
2. Sleep Low, Train Low
This method is a bit more complex and requires more planning and preparation. Train in the evening, pass on the carbs for dinner (or eat very little), then wake up and do another training session in the morning without eating anything. This method will favor enzyme changes and has some research to support improving actual performance.
However, there are limitations on this approach as not much data has been done to really solidify the benefits. For now, it’s interesting and if you want to give it a go, just know that it will definitely be more of a “n of 1” approach until more research is done.
Tip: Because this is a relatively new method with little research support, I can’t say how beneficial it will be for weight loss. It takes fasted training to the next level though if you are able to fit it into your training schedule.
3. Twice Per Day Training
Not all of us have the luxury to train twice per day but with this approach, you train in the morning under fasted conditions, then restrict (eat low amounts) of carbs until the second training session of the day. Some refer to this as the “recover low” method.
Nonetheless, research has shown some benefits including improving fat utilization and performance. I believe this has great merit if you are in a base training phase and can carve out the time to implement this 1-2 times per week in early season.
Tip: For weight loss, the increase in calories/kilojoules burned within a carbohydrate restriction parameter could nudge the scale in the right direction for weight loss. This method may be worth a shot if it doesn’t negatively affect your cognitive functioning at work from the carbohydrate restriction during the day.
4. High Fat Feeding
It can be quite tempting to fall into the thought process of “eat more fat to burn more fat” and just cut out the carbohydrates altogether. From my point of view, this may be too drastic of a measure and will not support positive long-term, sustainable habits.
The concept I created over a decade ago, Metabolic Efficiency Training, would be much better suited to follow in this case as it focuses on the control and optimization of blood sugar via carbohydrate, protein, and fat periodization. This will yield better hormonal control and will likely improve the body’s ability to burn fat and lose weight.
Tip: I believe high fat feedings are not necessary but rather, the optimization of blood sugar is ideal when it comes to weight loss.
Remember, eating more fat along with carbohydrate and protein will only lead to weight gain so if you try this high fat feeding approach, be sure that you manipulate all of the macronutrients, otherwise, the scale will likely move in the opposite direction than you want.
Take Home Messages
Out should be the days where you try a “crash diet” or a “diet” that simply does not support your health and performance goals as a cyclist. There are many diets out there that you can use to drop weight fast. However, these temporary fixes will likely have a negative effect on your performance at the same time.
Fight the urge to search for the quick fix and take a hard look at your training plan, talk to your coach, and plan when and where you need to approach training cycles, blocks, and sessions with more or less carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It will benefit you in the end if you have a bit of patience.
1. Impey, S.G. et al. For the work required: a theoretical framework for carbohydrate periodization and the glycogen threshold hypothesis. Sports Med. 2018 (Epub ahead of print).
Check out his newest book, Metabolic Efficiency Recipe book (second edition) at the eNRG Performance website.
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