Nutrition Q & A: In-Season Weight Loss

Q: I want to lose 10 pounds to improve my racing performance. Is that possible during my race season?scale

A: This question is much more difficult to answer this time of year because most riders are in their pre-race or race season already. The best time to try to lose 10 pounds is during the transition time of year when racing ends and the focus switches to resistance training and recovery. It can even go into the initial stage of preparation or base training (check with your coach to see when these times fall into your calendar). However, if an athlete is determined to try to lose pounds during their racing season, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Make sure that you are not attempting to lose more than 0.5-1.0 pounds per week because you risk fatigue, lowered immune function, a loss of your lean mass, and your fluid and electrolyte balance may become altered causing the body temperature to increase and place excess strain on your heart. Also, remember that not all weight loss is a good thing because you may be losing fluids and lean body tissue versus the excess fat stores. The key element is not to skimp on fluids and nutrition the day before a race and the day of a race or heavy training.

The reason that both fluids and nutrition need to be “full strength” the day before a race is so the body has every opportunity to bring glycogen levels to full capacity and make sure your body is fully hydrated. Muscle glycogen provides the primary fuel source for the muscles during exercise. Topping off the glycogen levels the day before is important because the body needs to use some of the glycogen, primarily from the liver, in order to support body functions while you sleep. It also becomes important to top off these stores the morning of the race so that the amounts used overnight can be replenished.

Refueling your body during exercise with fluids and carbohydrates allows your body to use these to meet the demands of the brain, which prevents you from ‘bonking’. It also allows your muscle cells to spare some of the glycogen stores, which allows you to ride or run longer by delaying fatigue. Your race day is not over yet though, so do not think you can eat less after a ride or run to help you lose pounds.

Immediately following your race, the muscle cells become very sensitive to the hormone called insulin. Consuming some carbohydrates and a little bit of protein within the first 15-30 minutes post race helps trigger the release of insulin, which in turn helps get the carbohydrates into your cells to replenish some glycogen stores and makes protein available to help the muscle remodel. The consumption of carbohydrate calories during this time also is key in increasing blood flow to muscle, which helps remove wastes, and suppress the cortisol hormone from stimulating breakdown of tissue. The amounts needed to meet these pre-race, during, and post-race needs varies depending on gender, level of training, body weight, metabolic rate, and the duration and intensity of the racing or intense training effort.

So, make sure you approach in-season weight loss appropriately in order to maximize your performance. Keep the amount of weekly weight loss low when in-season and do not skimp on calories the day before and the day of a race or heavy training day. Keeping these elements in mind will help you stay on track with your performance goals.

by Raynelle Shelley, RD