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 Carmichael Training Systems

Posted: October 1, 2004

Multisport: Don’t Gain What You Don’t Want To Work Off

Written by: By Jim Rutberg

For many people, shorter days somehow coincide with increased bodyweight. As soon as the leaves begin to fall, extra pounds start creeping back onto our bodies. The first five pounds are barely noticeable, but before you know it, you’ll roll out of bed one December morning with a 12-pound layer of flab to keep you warm. If you’re like me, you’d rather just put on a sweater.

Winter weight gain is the perennial curse of the warm-weather athlete. Either by the structured design of a training program or the natural course of the seasons, cyclists, runners, and triathletes tend to be most active during the summer, less so in the winter. As the cold months approach, training volume and intensity decrease. Even when it’s time to build again for the upcoming spring, the workouts are not very intense. This can lead to a significant disparity between reduced energy expenditure and excess energy (food) intake, which in turn leads to increased fat mass.

Rather than emerge into the spring sunshine with the goal of slimming down to last summer’s lean figure, wouldn’t it be more productive to avoid most of winter’s weight gain and instead focus on reaching new and more ambitious fitness goals? The biggest step is realizing that your nutrition program has to change to reflect the diminishing demands of your training.

During the height of the summer racing season, a competitive cyclist may consume 4-6 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight per day (g/lb/d), which equates to 2,640-3960 calories for a 165-pound person. If carbohydrate makes up about 70% of this athlete’s daily calories, he or she would consume between 3770-5660 of them each day. That’s a lot of food, so much that it can be difficult to realize how significant a reduction is necessary, once the season is over, to avoid gaining weight.

In the periodized world of training, summer athletes enter the Transition Period in the fall. Exercise continues, but structured workouts are replaced by general aerobic activities and cross-training. You need far less food to support exercise at this level, about 2.0-2.5 g/lb/d. For our same 165-pound athlete, carbohydrate intake would be cut nearly in half to 1320-1650 calories. The balance of nutrients shifts as well, and carbohydrate intake represents about 60% of total daily calories, 2200-2750 in this case.

Fortunately, neither reductions in activity level or caloric intake have to happen suddenly. Rather, they are gradual processes that occur simultaneously over the course of three or four weeks. Cutting calories like this shouldn’t be done cold-turkey; a body accustomed to processing a lot of food doesn’t deal well with sudden deprivation. Gradually reducing calories along with exercise load tends to prevent the hunger pangs, headaches, crankiness, and lethargy that often accompany significant caloric restriction.

Telling someone to reduce caloric intake, even if you provide numbers and calculations to help, is about as useful as ice skates in the desert. Numbers are great for explaining and illustrating how nutrition periodization works, but what we need here is practical information we can use in real life. So here are just a couple of tips:

Tips to Keep You From Gaining What You Don’t Want to Work Off

* Rearrange your meals: Breakfast is important to eat when you wake up, but try a small mid-morning meal and another small mid-afternoon meal. This puts your afternoon meal within 2-4 hours of your possible post-work exercise session. It also prevents you from being famished by the time you get home for dinner, a situation that often leads to over-consumption.
* Brown bag it: You can prepare more nutrient-dense, calorie-stingy, small meals than you will ever find in a cafeteria, restaurant, or take-out menu.
* Vegetable-laden turkey, roast beef, or even cheese sandwiches on whole grain bread or stuffed into pita pockets will do you well.
* Throw in a piece of fresh fruit (and one more piece for an afternoon or morning snack) for the energy, vitamins, minerals, and filling fiber.
* A can of soup travels well (as long as you have a can opener and bowl in the office), or you can use a thermos. To increase the energy from this meal, add instant rice to your cold soup before microwaving. The rice soaks up most of the broth as it cooks, and you end up with a nice stew.
* Drink water with lunch: Most Americans are chronically dehydrated, and athletes are no exception. This is a good time of year to adopt better habits, and consuming 20-30 ounces of water with lunch will likely help increase your total daily water intake. It also reduces calories; 16 ounces of fruit juice or cola can contain 200-300 calories.
* Learn to like espresso: Tea works well too. The point is, reducing your intake of cappuccinos, lattes, and other calorie-heavy coffeehouse drinks will go a long way to keeping your winter weight down. Ordering your drinks “skinny” or fat free gets rid of some calories, but there are still hundreds left. Sipping a simple espresso, a cup of tea, or even a plain old cup of joe is a lighter option.
* Don’t Overcompensate: Many athletes inadvertently overcompensate for after-work training sessions with all-day eating. Believing they will either need the energy for the workout, or that they’ll simply work off whatever they consume, people sometimes eat entirely too much food throughout the day. You’re evening workout is most likely under two hours; you don’t have to carbo-load. You have to find the balance that works for you, but try starting your workout a little more hungry than usual, and then be sure to consume calories from sports drinks, energy bars, or energy gels during your workout. You’ll likely consume fewer calories overall, but feel stronger and more energetic during your workout.

Jim Rutberg is a coauthor, with Chris Carmichael and Kathy Zawadzki, of "Chris Carmichael's Food For Fitness" (Putnam, 2004). For more information on what Carmichael Training Systems can do for you, please visit

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