My Nutritional Journey – Part I
by Coach Mike Ricci
I like to eat – and I eat often. Mostly I feel that eating is a ‘reward’ for all the long hours of training and racing. Up to 1996 I weighed about 160-162 lbs. I was pretty lean and was still racing at the upper end of my age group. Somehow, I started putting on weight, and all of the sudden I was 170 lbs. during the off season, and not 165 like I was accustomed. In turn, my new ‘race weight’ was now 166 lbs. and not 160 lbs. Hmm…6 lbs – no big deal, I’m still a lean guy, I can still run close to 6:00 pace off the bike for a 10k, etc. Except in the past few years, my times have been slowly creeping in the wrong direction. It finally hit me this off season: The coach’s metabolism has changed over the years and if I want to race near my ability, I need to be more aware of what I eat. I wanted to be my old self, ripping off sub 6:00 pace off the bike, and weighing in at 159-160 lbs. Most importantly, the best way to increase your efficiency and even more directly, increase your VO2Max – is to lose body fat. I needed help and I went to the best person I could find; Ellen Coleman (read her article in this newsletter). Ellen works with the LA Lakers and the Anaheim Angels just to name a couple of her clients. Ellen had me log my food for 3 days. So, being anal, obsessive compulsive person that I am, I created this intricate Excel spreadsheet that totaled my calories, grams, and % of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat. It was so complex that Ellen, who has worked with thousands of athletes, labeled me her ‘poster child triathlete’. When I started tracking my food, it made me conscious of what I was eating – and boy was I bad eater! My log included how many calories I needed, how many I was burning during the day, and how many I was taking in. Losing weight isn’t that complicated – it’s really all about burning more calories then you take in. Of course you need to do it in a healthy way, but that was why I had Ellen’s help. In Mid-March I weighed myself in at 171 lbs., and my body fat was up there – 14.8%. I was weighed in a water tank, which is supposed to be the most accurate way to get your body fat measured. My goal was 160 lbs. by June 14th and about 9% body fat. I had about 12 weeks to lose 11 pounds. Using my expensive desk calculator, I figure that to be about 1 pound per week. Losing even 5 lbs. would get my body fat down to 11% or less, since I was adding muscle mass at the same time.
At first it was easy, I would cut back on my intake and I would lose a lb. I also added in some mega running weeks – I went from running 10 hours to 11 hours to 12 hours in one week. I was losing weight easily, right on schedule. The first 4 weeks, I lost 4 lbs. Then I hit a plateau at about 166-7. I needed to look at what I was eating more closely. My daily breakdown was percentage was 60% carbs, 15% protein, and 25% fat. I talked with Ellen and she advised me to up the protein to about 20-25% and lower the carbs to 50% – I did and started losing the weight again. I dropped to 165 in the next two weeks. Another reason for my plateau is that all the running I was dong was really turning me lean and as we all know, muscle weighs more then fat. Although I was losing body fat, I was gaining muscle mass, which is fine, but I was still only half way to my goal of 160 lbs. My next little hurdle came in the form of a taper for my marathon – which as I was cutting back on my running – I was gaining weight – I couldn’t risk a bad race over not being nutritionally ready for this race, so, I had to have my pint of Ben & Jerry’s two nights before the race. I ran 26.2 miles, ate real healthy for the next two days and got back on the scale – 168 lbs! What the flipping frick frack?!
What I forgot was there always seemed to be a lag in my weight loss – so whenever I was done logging my food on a Sunday night, I wouldn’t see the actual gains on the scale until Tuesday morning. That night, two days after my marathon, I hit the Ben & Jerry’s again, hard. 1 pint. I was so ticked that I had GAINED weight after the marathon that I didn’t care anymore – next morning, I am back on the scale – down to 165 again. Now I was ticked that I would have been 164 if it weren’t for the Ben & Jerry’s!
So – now it’s mid May and this past week after having raced in UT over the weekend, I find myself creeping very close to 163. This is the best weight I have seen going into a season since 1995. I still need to get to 160 lbs, no doubt about it. I have listed some key things below that will help you in your quest to lose those few extra lbs., and increase your body’s efficiency. Here are some of my observations:
Lag time – even though you may burn more calories then you take in, it may take a few days to see the results. Don’t get discouraged when your body doesn’t drop instantly.
1 really = 3 – if you have one bad nutritional day, really it’s three. If on Monday I eat poorly, I play catch up on Tuesday and by Wednesday night I am usually back up to my normal energy levels.
What you eat today will directly affect how you train/race two days later. Eat lousy on Friday before a Sunday race, and I will guarantee it will affect your race results. Same thing if you eat badly two days before a hard workout, you won’t be at your best for the workout.
Cut out what you don’t need – this means beer, chips, cheese, cookies, sweets. This doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself once in awhile – but don’t eat a lb. of M&Ms before your hard swim session!
Hydrate – the easiest way to increase your performance is to be hydrated. Water is needed in many of the critical functions of the body.
Short rides less than 2 hours – only drink water – this is something I started doing two years ago. If the ride is shorter then two hours, I only take water and some emergency Hammergel.
Eat often – I still eat a lot. I just eat healthier. I munch on fruit all day. I have yogurt pretzels, almonds, and/or walnuts.
Eat small – my meals are pretty small – I do aim for a good sized breakfast of between 500-750 calories. Lunch always involve a fair amount of protein. Dinner is usually a salad with meat on top. Like I said above, I am constantly snacking.
Don’t backload your calories – this is THE hardest one for me. It’s late, I am hungry, and I want to eat a 1500 calorie dinner. Don’t do it! Keep dinners small and have a snack of an apple or a some popcorn or grapes to keep the hunger pain at bay.
Do something at night – even if it’s sit ups or stretching. Keep the metabolism moving! This is the time of the day where I do my stretch cord swim workouts and core strength.
Set a long term goal and stick to it! It takes time to see results – it won’t happen overnight!
Next month I will continue this article with some meal ideas that work for me and how I get though a 12- to 15-hour training week on top of a 50- to 60-hour work week.
Michael Ricci is a USAT certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at email@example.com.