by Mark Wolff

The Yo-Yo Effect

The number of athletes that hit hibernation mode in the colder months, especially after their goal races are quite large in number. So to are the volume and type of calories which they consume on a daily basis. This of course leads to a big wake up call when spring suddenly appears. I get to hear lots of “I need to shed so many kilograms of weight and get into shape”.

The problem is that coming out of winter a fair amount over weight actually means that getting back to fitness is a lot further off than you imagined. These are the kind of athletes that use exercise as a means to try to lose weight. I actually find it quite amusing because on one hand training at a much heavier weight places unnecessary strain on the body and of course in their minds they still thinking about paces they ran or rode while at a much lower weight. Also you cannot focus on losing weight and hope to perform simultaneously. Performance happens at an optimal weight and one cannot focus on quality and expect results when they dragging a ball and chain behind them. This will only lead to injury or illness and even more setbacks.

There is no excuse for anyone who spent many months getting into shape just to let themselves go and then battle back up again. It is all about consistency and of course proper nutrition. 

When it comes down to proper sports nutrition food consumption needs to fall in line with volume and intensity of exercise. If exercise is reduced significantly then the calorie requirements need to drop down and fall in line. If you are not training then I am sorry to say you are not an athlete and you will need to eat according to sedentary individual nutrition guidelines. 

Get back into shape with Proper Nutrition 
Lets forget about what you should have done through the toned down training months. Now is that time of the year that you need to get back into shape and training is not the main focus to get back to shape and health. Its proper nutrition. 

The aim of this blog is to get you back on track and hopefully to good fitness and health without placing yourself at risk for injury and illness. 

When it comes to working with any athlete I first calculate what is called the rest metabolic or basal rate. They are different in how they are calculated but each is unique to an individual based on age, weight and of course the kind of body composition and metabolism. Although there are standard calculations, some people have slower or faster metabolism’s than others and this needs to be taken into account. 

The RMR or BMR (Rest Metabolic or Basal Metabolic Rate ) of an individual will help me determine the approximate amount of calories that an athlete burns off on an average rest day. Once I understand this I then add in the weekly training and determine a physical activity level for that individual based on time and intensity. This will allow me to understand the type of calorie burn rate that an individual goes through during the week. When it boils down to sports nutrition each day is a different day and while some dietitians focus on an average daily intake for the week I disagree with this approach.
Take the shaped nutrition approach 
I suggest focusing on a shaped nutrition approach where the volume and type of macro-nutrient intake revolves around your training. The reason its preferable is that each day our training differs. As an endurance athlete I can have a rest day or even two in a week and some weeks are completely loaded with heavy volumes and even more so on the weekends. Quality sessions also demand more from our body’s. This means on some days my calorie burn rate is very high and on some days its down pretty low.

The issue with just an average calorie deficit program is that if the dietitians are not themselves endurance athletes and not experiencing these major demands on the body from day to day and week to week then how can they understand what we go through. Its not just theoretical it has to be practical. If I have power numbers and paces to hit, I need proper fuelling and recovery. If strength is added in I need to again look at what I am consuming especially in the form of protein o help with recovery and training adaptations. It is not a constant number.
When talking about actual fuelling the human body has two major fuel tanks glycogen and fat. Some days, exercise dependant, I chew up more glycogen and some days are higher fat burn session days. This also determines the kind of fuel I should be consuming to ensure proper recovery between sessions. On days where I deplete glycogen stores a higher carbohydrate intake is required to help replenish them quickly to ensure I recover properly for the next session. On days where my glycogen stores are untouched I can afford to lower my carb intake. This is a form of carbohydrate cycling and works very well for endurance athletes who need to push decent numbers and ensure they recover quickly and properly between sessions. 
Weight Loss and Power Maintenance
Lets talk about weight loss (specifically fat loss) and power maintenance. This is where the problems could be seen. Generally we see most dietary guidelines placing an individual in approximately a 500Kcal deficit to pull down the weight. I agree with the larger calorie deficit approach to weight loss however its not advisable during peak volume and hard training bouts.  It’s also not just about the deficit its also very much about portioning each meal correctly to ensure that when you are training you actually able to also maximise elevated metabolic rate and fat burn through each day.

A few weeks ago I was standing at the Kauai in the gym next to a guy who was ordering a large smoothie. This particular smoothie was around 600Kcals. I asked him what training he did and he said he had done a 40 minute jog on the treadmill. Taking this session into account and the fact that he only burned off around max 400Kcals his recovery meal was already in excess of what he had burned off. I chatted to another athlete who ordered a healthy wrap but this wrap had a calorie content of of over 800Kcals and here we go again with a burn rate way lower than what the consumed after his session. Many people don’t realise that even if food is perceived as healthy it still means you can over eat the health. 

With the above in mind I am not going to stop you from ordering your favourite health food but what I am going to do is make a suggestion so you can ensure you burn the fat and drop the weight. When it comes to body fat gain its all related to blood sugar, insulin and fat storage. If you can manage your blood sugar properly and keep your metabolic rate elevated you can absolutely burn a lot of fat through the day. The idea is to train, elevate the metabolic rate ( high intensity intervals work best) and then limit anything that will cause a major rise in blood sugar. This comes down to portion control because even a large piece of meat can elevate blood sugar due to its glycemic load when it breaks down.

How to still enjoy your Favourite Meal
One such way for example is to order your favourite smoothie. Just make sure you have the correct amount of protein in there to count towards getting your daily needs. Drink only half the smoothie post exercise and then an hour to ninety minutes later have the other half. If you go for a large calorie wrap then get it cut into quarters or thirds and split that meal over the day spaced nicely apart so as not to play havoc with your blood sugar and give yourself a fighting chance at burning that fat.
One thing I want to add is that if you are in peak racing season you cannot expect to be pushing out major mileage, power and pace numbers and expect to achieve your goals and recover properly with a large calorie deficit. In this case we narrow the deficit to ensure we can perform properly without fatiguing. 

I will touch on macro nutrient recommendations in another blog but for now take note of where your focus should be. Don’y play Yo-Yo with your training and nutrition, keep it healthy keep it controlled and make sure to burn that fat.

all the best


Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focused on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery and health


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