After a great open water swim and run workout this past weekend, my training and I were kicking back in our compression gear and chomping down on some well deserved grub.
After we had dived in, one of my friends, who is a good experienced athlete, just sat sipping his Gatorade and nibbling on a protein bar. When pressured on why he was not eating, he proudly commented on how he had lost twenty-five pounds and had only ten more pounds to go to reach his perfect racing weight.
“I only have two weeks before my A race to get there, so I really need to start cutting calories to get there. I really want a PR for this race.”
He then went on to talk about his training and how he just has not been “fresh,” so he cut more calories in hopes that a lighter weight would make him less sluggish.
“I just feel tired and irritable most of the time though,” he says. “Today, during the workout, I just died on the last 500 of the swim and barely got through the run after. Oh well, maybe when I get to my racing weight things will be better.”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I do not think he will get better after losing ten more pounds. In fact, I think I think his fatigue, irritability, and performance will only get worse. His focus on achieving an ideal “racing weight” is only weighing him down on his way to achieving a PR.
Media sources, diet companies, and unfortunately even some coaches- bombard us daily with the notion that a specific, calculated weight will get us to a personal best, and this is true to a point. A lighter athlete requires less energy to push himself or herself forward especially when climbing hills and on the run.
Looking at the spectrum of athlete’s weights, there is a negative correlation between weight and performance; in most cases, obese athletes are not going to be as fast as lighter ones. As an overweight athlete loses weight though, chances are he/she will get faster. However, correlation does not mean causality.
The athlete is getting fitter and faster because he is getting in better shape through training rather than through losing weight. Losing weight and getting to a racing weight therefore is a byproduct of better training rather than the cause of getting faster. Thus it should not be the focus but a result.
By making losing weight the emphasis, an athlete undermines his/her performance. Creating a large calorie deficit will leave a person weak, fatigued, powerless, unmotivated, and, over time, injured. In such a state, an athlete cannot train properly and to his/her full potential, which is the real path to setting a PR.
There are some athletes who want to loose weight and do not care about their times or setting records., which is fine. However, even in this case, they are more likely to lose weight if they are happy, healthy, and enjoying training, all of which a large calorie deficit and stressing over food can undermine.
The scale does not measure performance. To get to peak performance, an athlete needs to eat well, train hard (and wisely), recover right, and have fun (if you are not having fun you are going to lose motivation quickly and end up back on the couch). If you focus on these factors, your weight will set itself to its proper weight—no scale or calculations needed.