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The Do’s And Don’ts Of Getting Leaner

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published Aug 7, 2013
  • Updated Aug 19, 2013 at 7:15 PM UTC
Photo: John David Becker and Sue Fan

A Quick Start

It’s not possible to maximize fitness development and fat loss at the same time. That’s because the actions that are required to maximize fat loss—particularly substantial calorie restriction—limit the body’s capacity to train and adapt to training. So when you’re preparing for an upcoming race it’s important that you make fitness development your clear top priority and train and eat accordingly. You will get leaner as your race approaches, but probably not as quickly as you would if you were totally focused on fat loss.

There is a proper time to make fat loss your first concern, and that’s during a four- to eight-week period before you start the process of building your fitness for a race. I refer to these brief periods of intensive fat loss as “quick starts” because their purpose is to give you a quick start toward your optimal racing weight. Within a quick start, your diet and training should be different than they are within the race-focused training cycle in five key ways.

1. Moderate caloric deficit
Aim to consume 300–500 fewer calories per day than your body burns. This moderate caloric deficit is big enough to yield fairly rapid fat loss but not so big that you will be lethargic or constantly hungry or lose muscle mass.

2. Higher protein intake
Try to get 30 percent of your daily calories from protein within the quick start. (The typical American diet is 18 percent protein.) Eating more protein while eating less overall will help you avoid hunger and prevent muscle loss.

3. Gym work

I recommend that triathletes perform three full-body strength workouts per week in quick-start periods. This will ensure that you hold onto your lean muscle mass and lose only fat.

4. Power intervals
Once a week, do a set of very short (10–20 seconds) sprints at maximum intensity in each of the three triathlon disciplines. This type of training stimulates a lot of post-workout fat burning through an effect known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

5. Fasting workouts
Every other week, do a long bike ride early in the morning without consuming any carbohydrate before the workout or during the ride. (Do consume water, or water plus electrolytes during the ride, though.) In alternate weeks do a fasting long run. This type of moderate intensity training enhances general fat-burning capacity during exercise, which increases raw endurance and reduces the likelihood of bonking in longer events.

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance (2nd edition now available) and a training intelligence specialist for PEAR Sports.

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