Lose Weight This Winter with Purposeful Eating

by Raynelle Shelley, RD

Fall is the start of the “off-season” for many road cyclists, mountain bikers and triathletes.  Off-season, as we all know, does not mean ceasing all forms of exercise but it is the time to reduce the volume of activity so the body can recover.  This can be a hard time of year as far as nutrition is concerned because we are used to eating a large volume of food to support a large volume of training.  However, this new exercise regime cannot support the intake of all those calories consumed a mere month ago – so many riders tend to put on excess fat weight during this recovery time.  On the other hand, this is actually the perfect time of year to reduce unwanted pounds since there is less concern with the fatigue that accompanies calorie reduction.  So what do you do?  Since the body needs less fuel, one thing that works for some athletes is to reduce the rigidity of eating on a schedule when exercising.  Cutting back slightly depending on the activity can help reduce the daily calories.  Another method that works for others is to go back to eating every four hours during the day versus every two to three hours, as was the case during race season.  This means not skipping meals (yes, you do need to eat breakfast) but making those meals as nutrient dense as possible.

Nutrient dense is defined as getting the most vitamins, minerals, and fiber with the least amount of calories. During times of reduced training, carbohydrate consumption should be reduced compared to at higher training times of year, so athletes should choose these carbohydrates wisely. A nutritionist can help you target a level of carbohydrate consumption appropriate for your body size, weight goals and activity level.  The best sources of nutrient dense carbohydrates are vegetables and fruits because they are typically packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  There is a reason that vegetables are listed first, and that is because they generally contain fewer calories than fruit due to their lower sugar content.  Do not be afraid of eating fruit, however, because both fruits (i.e. prunes, apples, and oranges) and vegetables (i.e. broccoli, carrots, and spinach) also tend to contain more fiber.  Fiber not only aids in the digestive process, but also helps individuals feel full.  The same is true for whole grain foods (i.e. old-fashioned oats, brown rice, and 100% whole wheat bread) and legumes (like pinto, kidney, and navy beans).

Legumes are also an excellent source of protein and when combined with rice, tortillas, or breads, they can provide all of the essential amino acids.  Other protein sources that contain all the essential amino acids and are absorbed well by the body include dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat.  The protein needs of an athlete during this transitional time of the season range from 0.55 – 0.64 g of protein per pound of body weight.  It does not take a lot to meet your needs since you are recovering right now, but when weight lifting begins, you may want to increase the amount to 0.55 – 0.77 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  Try to meet your protein needs in ways other than protein bars and powders.  Utilizing ‘real’ foods can not only lower the cost of your grocery bill but also provide you with the best sources of absorbable protein.  All of the protein sources mentioned above are good choices but remember protein and fat typically go together – so make sure you are choosing proteins that have the least amount of saturated fats.

Speaking of fats, you do need some in your daily intake for your body to work properly.  Fats are a very compact source of fuel. In other words, 1 gram of fat has almost twice the number of calories (9 kcal per gram) compared to protein (4 kcal per gram) or carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram).  You will be doing less exercise so you do not need a lot of this potent fuel. Actually, you only need about 0.36 – 0.45 grams of fat per pound of body weight and the calories from fat sources should be no more 30% of your total daily calories with only 10% from saturated (solid) fats.  Some of the best sources of unsaturated fats include vegetable oils (i.e. corn, sunflower, soybean, canola, and olive oil), nuts and seeds (i.e. walnuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds), and even some fish (i.e. salmon, tuna, or halibut).

A lot of the high protein – low carbohydrate diets will lead you to believe that you will lose weight as long as you do not consume carbohydrates.  The truth is that regardless of whether you are eating carbohydrates, protein, or fat, if you eat too many calories you will increase your fat weight.  Gaining body fat is a task to avoid during the off-season for most athletes.  A good way to find what your body needs to maintain its basic functions is to have your resting metabolism measured.  Check your local university’s kinesiology department and see if they will test you for a fee using what is called a metabolic cart.  Some gyms also have methods of testing using smaller units made by New Leaf or Body Gem.  All of these methods will give you a measurement that will enhance your ability to maintain or lose weight.  So, even though this article gives you an idea of how many grams of each macronutrient you need, remember the calories consumed remains the most important aspect of weight maintenance and weight loss.  Eat what you need to meet the body’s basic functions at rest plus any additional calories to support activity and you will be ahead of the game come spring.