Triathlon Training vs Weight Loss?

author : JeffFord
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Why it's difficult to have both goals at the same time.

Seventy-one percent of our nation is overweight or obese, and even more devastating is that 80 percent of those who do successfully lose thirty pounds or more happen to gain it back. Now why are we talking about weight loss? What does that have to do with triathlon training? Well, often athletes try to combine training goals. They assume that if I train for “x” event I’m bound to lose a few pounds. Unfortunately, this is quite the delicate matter. Concurrent goals are difficult to achieve and it’s crucial to understand what really drives our body composition. Hint: it’s not how many calories you burn. By now you’ve hopefully heard it’s 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise for weight loss. Let that sink in for a minute. Biologically speaking, a calorie is not calorie; and if you fall into thinking that because you started training for a triathlon (i.e. began burning more calories) that the weight will miraculous come off, you’re very naive. The key to weight loss is to make it highly personal and to go at it with the understanding that there’s no one way. You’ll have to assess all areas of your health including sleep, stress, and your nutrition. The good news is that triathlon training can really help you lose weight, but in three ways that you may not have realized…

The Chain Reaction Habit

Those who lose weight and keep it off don’t ever seem to make drastic changes all at once. It usually starts with one small thing at a time that leads to other small things until the result is that one big thing. This is called a chain reaction habit. When you pick up training for triathlons, you notice that you begin sleeping better, performing better at work and your nutrition choices unconsciously or consciously improve. Not only do you naturally begin fine tuning these areas of your health, but you become more aware. Why train hard and eat garbage? With an early training session the next morning, what’s the point of staying out on Saturday until 2am? What we’re getting at is that when you put up one domino and the others will topple over.

Insulin Sensitivity Ramping Workouts

When triathlon training is set up in an a holistic way -- meaning the plan includes strength training and interval based workouts -- your body ramps up hormonally. Insulin sensitivity is a fancy term describing that your body is good at burning fat and only stores fat when it’s supposed too. If you’re attempting to use your triathlon training to shed some pounds, make sure to include strength training two days per week. It can still remain sport specific in nature, therefore squats and deadlifts make sense along with circuit based bodyweight exercises or intelligent plyometrics. A traditional sport-only triathlon training program at high volume, low intensity isn’t the best for weight loss. In essence, you’re only leveraging one energy pathway and therefore making your body highly dependent upon glycogen (stored sugar in the body). This means that you’re constantly burning your smaller furnace, which tends to adversely affect hunger hormones and doesn’t improve insulin sensitivity the way strength training or intervals do. What types of intervals should I do if I’m going for performance and weight loss? Believe it or not, six rounds of thirty seconds of all out effort with a full three or four minutes of recovery is a decent place to start. Another option is the “tabata protocol”, eight rounds of 20 seconds of work and ten seconds of rest. These intervals are highly anaerobic, which not only helps you improve your endurance, yet creates an anabolic stimulus and metabolism boosting response. Aim to include two of these sessions in your weekly training schedule, especially when you’re tight on time.

Routine Reduces Reliance on Willpower            

You might fall into the belief that those who are successful at losing weight possess an innate power to do something that they really don’t want to do yet are able to stick with it for the long run. These are people who merely say no to the desserts, work out regularly even when work obligations come up, and it all happens to be controlled by being "disciplined." When you start training for triathlon instead of relying on willpower, you begin focusing on your routine. We’re all creatures of habit therefore the only way to lose weight and keep it off for good comes down to your healthy behaviors becoming second nature. The gold in triathlon training for weight-loss all has to do with the accountability it creates. The training itself redirects your focus from the number on the scale towards getting prepared for your event. It’s a structure that puts your mind in a place to focus on the behaviors. When you build that, it becomes less of a willpower game and more of a "This is just what I do" game.

Psychological Benefits Outweigh the Physiological  

Now you may have begun reading this article believing that I was going to give you some magic bullet to setup your training in a way that promotes fast weight-loss. Hopefully, you haven’t tuned out the information about nutrition. If you don’t change your beliefs surrounding how body composition works than you’ll always be on the yo-yo diet train. It’s easy to get the weight off, but keeping it off is another story. Triathlon training has the opportunity to create a chain reaction in your life. It might bring back excitement to your weekends and increase your motivation to get to the gym before you dive in at the office.  You still have to set up your training in a way that is intelligent for body composition, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about burning calories. The key to long term health is understanding that insulin sensitivity is what drives our body composition, and that comes down to the quality of what you’re doing not the quantity.  Last of all, work hard at making it routine. Once your training relies less on willpower, it will be easier to keep it up. You only have so many decisions you can make in a day, before your mind and body are going to say no; why not let your healthy behaviors off the hook?


Jeff Ford
Fitness Director
Skyterra wellness resort


Time Magazine, The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working  By Alexandra Sifferlin, June 5 2017                   Coach Yourself Thin: Five Steps to Retrain Your Mind, Reclaim Your Power, and Lose Weight for Good, By: Greg Hottinger, Michael Sholtz


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date: September 30, 2017