If you do a quick google search on race weight you get all the tips and tricks on how to eat less to achieve it. There’s the list of research to justify why you should lose the weight if you want a performance advantage. And for some, maybe they do experience improvements initially but whether that can be maintained over the long term is important to consider and rarely talked about.
I work with people who are perplexed why they can’t seem to maintain the weight loss they achieved for their first race. There are 4 reasons why it’s harder than it seems to lose the weight and maintain it. Just like you would analyze the side effects of a new medication, you should be aware of the possible negative consequences of pursuing your race weight.
1. Your Body Will Fight Weight loss
There’s a reason you need more “willpower” and discipline when you’re eating less, our bodies defend against diets and calorie restrictions. Your body, whose main job is keeping you alive, sees receiving less fuel as a threat to your life. In an attempt to help you get the energy you need your body motivates you in different ways to seek out food.
Have you ever noticed you start thinking about food more when trying to lose weight, especially the pizza, ice cream, fries and pastries that have been sworn off? That’s a normal response of your body to increase your preoccupation with food if it perceives a possible famine. Being more excited about the food you’ll eat after crossing the finish line than the actual achievement may be a sign you’re overly restricting food.
2. Following food rules disconnects you from your body
The plan or diet you’re following will encourage you to ignore the natural and normal cue of hunger. Common tips for achieving race weight I’ve seen are to drink more water, fill up on carrots, eat low calorie foods like popcorn, fake out your taste buds with halo top ice cream, stop eating after 7pm, and the list goes on.
So what’s the problem? Hunger is just like the sensation to pee, it’s a message from your body that it needs something. The more you ignore the cue to go pee the more of an emergency it will become.
Same goes with hunger, the more you pretend it’s not there the louder it gets. Eventually you can’t take it and find yourself finishing off a bag of chips. And this is when the distrust occurs, instead of understanding that this was a normal response of ignoring hunger, you blame yourself and make it mean that you just don’t have control around certain foods and your appetite can’t be trusted.
When in actuality the only thing that went wrong was the body was underfed, not a slip from being disciplined.
3. We can miss out on our life and new experiences.
You may decline invites out with friends so you don’t go off your “plan”. If you do go you just order the salad and spend most the evening thinking more about what everyone is eating than what they’re actually saying.
Then there’s constant mental gymnastics of wanting a treat, negotiating ways to have it, then feeling guilt and regret after eating it. Tracking, weighing, and measuring food and your body takes up a significant amount of mental space, if you’re not careful it can be all consuming. Training can quickly go from something you looked forward to, to something you’re suffering through and start to resent.
4. Increased risk of poor performance and injury
It’s tricky enough figuring out how much to fuel the body when training for endurance events. Trying to achieve a perfect race weight can set you up for increased risk of injury, menstrual dysfunction, a decline in endurance or power, and possibly lead to disordered eating.
In an attempt to drop weight most people cut back on the main nutrient that improves performance; carbohydrates. If you skimp on carbs at most your meals or around workouts you’ll deplete glycogen stores (the main energy supplier to the muscle).
If you don’t have the energy on board for a key workout, you’re not going to get the full benefits and adaptations that were intended if you can’t hit the higher intensities or last as long.
Something I don’t think many people realize is that exercise is a stressor especially if you’re doing high volume, high intensity training. Good nutrition and fueling is one key way to help the body reduce that stress but if you’re underfueling that will add another layer of stress and poor recovery. For some the body resists losing weight if stress is high because weight loss, like mentioned earlier, is a perceived threat.
So although you may have a list of benefits of trying reach a race weight, they’re can be equal downsides. In next posts we’ll talk about alternative ways to improve performance that don’t revolve around weight but focus on including foods that fuel your training but you also enjoy.
Until then here are some questions to consider to help you evaluate what performance improvements mean to you. Even better, answer below in the comments!
In what ways do you believe your life will be better if you were running or biking faster?
How do you think you’ll feel if you’re performing better in your sport?
How could you start creating that feeling now regardless of your body size?