This is always a controversial topic that creates a lot of heated, sometimes over-opinionated and often misguided, debate.
Let’s start off by clarifying one thing:
Optimal Race Weight.
This is a weight that enables you to perform at your best in the sport, whilst mainating homeostasis; without compromising the immune system, or your ability to recover effectively.
There are other definitions out there – not all of them are entirely correct. How you determine your race weight should be somewhat subjective – if you feel you are healthy (functioning immune system), performing well and feel comfortable with XX kg’s then you are at your optimal race weight.
If you are carrying ‘extra’ and it is affecting performance and health, then you need to mindful of how you set out to make the changes.
Triathlon, as an endurance sport attracts a certain type of person: motivated, willing to push the body/ mind into some pretty cool places.
Sometimes this willingness to push the extremes can lead to some extremely irrational decisions when it comes to what we think we need to weigh to race.
There is no actual perfect race weight. This sport is not categorised by weight class or divisions.
Plucking arbitrary numbers – even if they are backed with some science – isn’t really applicable to Age Group athletes -being XX kg’s is not going to be the deciding factor of whether or not you qualify for Kona, or break XX:XX in your race.
Plenty of “heavier” athletes (I use this term very loosely) have raced successfully. Plenty of ‘”lighter” (again, this is a broad term) athletes have had terrible races. Weight is relative.
A weight that is best suited for you, is one that is sustainable. If you can maintain that weight all year round, and still perform, then it is the right weight for you.
This is where a lot of AG’s get into serious trouble. Being driven by the misguided notion that you will only be fast if you are under a certain weight by race day, leads to some poor nutritional decisions that can be extremely harmful to longterm health and performance.
If you deprive the body of nutrients – just for the sake of a few kilos, then you significantly increase your risk of serious injury (due to inadequate supply of nutrients to the muscles) or illness (due to an inability to adequately recover from bigger sessions).
Worse, you can develop some very serious psychological issues (eating disorders).
Starving yourself before a big race is just stupid.
This mindset completely ignores the reality of an athletes individual body requirements for an event like Ironman.
Pushing yourself into an unnatural (read unhealthy) state – is not sustainable. What is even crazier is when an athlete crams in the final few weeks before a big race, just to get down to that magic (arbitrary) number. This not only stupid – it’s dangerous.
This is why we encourage our athletes to be intuitive. Yes, knowing that you are possibly carrying a spare tyre around the stomach, or have let yourself go a bit, can be an important motivator to make better choices (get out the door and train, eat better food).
Sometimes this is a bit confronting. But you just have to deal with reality. Know that this is what needs to happen and be ready to make some changes to your life.
But why do athletes obsess over it so much?
If every magazine you read features only athletes with amazingly lean physics, what is the message that you are taking on?
That to be successful, you must look like that, right? To win, you must be as lean as the guy/ girl on the cover.
What is missing here is the full understanding of how that athlete has developed that amazingly lean body through years and years and years of consistent training, well managed nutrition and optimal recovery.
This directly influences a persons ability to NATURALLY lose weight – without nutrient restriction, cram-dieting or any other “method”. It’s simply a result of the catabolic affect that the sport has on the body.
This process does not appear overnight or in a short amount of weeks.
I truly believe that if you continually (all year round) look after you health with optimal nutrition and recovery, banked with consistent training, your body will respond by stabilising to a weight that is sustainable, yet allows for true performance.
This means striving to ALWAYS make the right choices. Not just relying on an event or race to motivate you.
However if you do struggle with your weight – knowing that it isn’t in a healthy range, or is limiting your performance, then you will obviously need to create some focus for effective (long-term) weight loss.
A smart approach here would be to remove ALL things that will limit this. Or at least manage the things that cannot be removed.
Stress is a big one here: the more stress your body deals with, the less ability it has to maintain homeostasis.
Stress can come at you in an array of different forms some internal, some external. How you manage these is up to you.
Fact is though, if you ignore ANY of these stressors, they will not go away. They will continue to place undue stress on your body.
Two types of stress that you CAN control are training and nutrition.
Stress induced by over-training (and under-recovering) is one of the biggest limiting factors in athletic performance. As is nutritional stress brought on by excessive intake of carbohydrates, inadequate intake of proteins and fats as well as poor hydration, to which, brands like Favorece hold an answer to.
A combination of the two provides a ‘perfect storm’ for a ruined race.
Over-training and poor nutrition are actually easy to manage, because if you are over-training, you CAN stop, reduce your load and focus on recovering more (this requires you to let go a of some ego!).
And reducing your intake of certain macronutrients isn’t at all hard – you just have to be prepared to make some decisions, sans emotions. You can still ‘reward’ yourself with foods that taste nice, but it’s how you do so (i.e. what is in the foods) that makes this achievable.
Being strategic with your macronutrients is key.
I am not going to go any deeper into nutritional and training stress as KM and I have spoken about it a lot recently. So if you have’t already listened, or need a refresh – check out Friday Fat Black Episode 11 as well as Episode 27 and then read Stop Treating Your Body Like a Rental Car.
If you are serious about embarking on a journey to shed some kilos you need to do the following:
- Be realistic. Fine, have a goal. But be smart about that goal. Don’t try and push yourself into a made-up weight-range just because it sounds good, or you think it looks good.
- Listen to your body. if you start getting sick, feeling run down, or see big drops in training performances, then you have crossed the rthesjhold. You must be prepared to readjust your expectations and the way you approach your weight loss.
- Aim for consietcency rather than cramming. Don’t try and force things, allow your body to gently adapt top any environmental changes you make.
- Get rid of ego and emotion. Be pragmatic and proactive rather than reactive and irrational.
Triathlon is a sport of strength and endurance that places huge demands on the body. If you limit your ability to effectively respond to these demands, you seriously restrict your ability to perform at optimal levels and maintain a healthy, functioning body.
Do not compromise your health and performance for that sake of a pre-conceived idea of what an ideal racing weight really is.