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As I prepare to race in Kona on Saturday for the Ironman World Championships, I thought I would give a small insight into one important aspect of my training: my diet, more specifically, my diet to get “down to my race weight”. I know many triathletes never have to worry about their weight when racing. For most of the elite triathletes, losing muscle to get to the race weight is not a challenge. My mesomorph body type provides me many benefits for racing. I have an abundance of fast twitch muscle fibers, I have the ability to generate a lot of top end power in all three disciplines, and I am very strong. The disadvantages of my body type are that I have to pay close attention to my recovery since more muscles mean more time to repair, I have to supply oxygen to all of my muscles, and I have to carry around a little extra bulk (most notably on the marathon).
I spent a lot of time as a child wrestling. After all, I did grow up in the wrestling capitol of the world, Iowa, home of the great Dan Gable. Cutting weight is an integral part of wrestling even at a young age. My first cutting weight experience occurred in 1993. I was in sixth grade and wrestling at the AAU Iowa State Wrestling Championships held each year in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I qualified for State by winning my district qualifier. There are 16 districts in the state and the top two finishers get a trip to the state championship.
This makes the state championship a 32-man bracket. Wrestlers compete in two year grade levels, so I was wrestling in the 5th and 6th grade division. One year at this age makes a big difference, so it is quite advantageous to be in the higher grade. My weight class was 110 pounds. I didn’t have to try to make this weight at districts since I just stepped on the scale in the morning and weighed less than 110 pounds. I did have to make this weight four weeks later at the state tournament and I remember trying to watch my diet the day of the weigh in as my mom drove me to Cedar Rapids on Friday afternoon. I stepped on the scale and weighed 113 pounds. Oh boy! 2 hours left of weigh-ins. It didn’t take long to figure out a quick bathroom break would take care of most of the weight but then I was still about a pound heavy which meant I was a twelve year old running in my sweats trying to lose 16 ounces of water by sweating. It didn’t really take long, only about a 20 min jog, and then I was good to go. I went on to win that State Tournament beating several kids who eventually became collegiate national champions and All-Americans. I loved wrestling and feel it taught me more about winning and losing than any other sport.
After an undefeated season as an 8th grader I decided to swim in high school as a freshman. I came back to wrestling my senior year and wrestled varsity at 152 pounds; this is where I truly came to understand “making weight”.
As a rookie professional triathlete I never cared much about my weight. I knew I was quite a bit bigger than most of my competitors but I took the old Lance Armstrong approach thinking I could win any race regardless of my weight. It took a few people continually telling me I needed to lose some weight before I actually got on the process.
When I committed to losing some weight for racing, I determined I wanted to weigh close to 160 pounds about 10 pounds lighter than I was currently racing, and close to what I weighed before cutting weight in high school. I first started this process in 2007 in the spring. My first race at 160 pounds was Eagleman 70.3, which I won in a record setting time. It seemed to be working.
While I still struggle to keep my racing weight, I have a solid approach about training heavy and just dipping down to my race weight prior to an event. This helps me get the most out of my training and stay strong, healthy, and vibrant. Prior to a big race, I start monitoring my weight daily and slowly begin to catabolize my muscle while I sleep. I weigh myself each night and morning using a Tanita Ironman Body Fat Scale, which gives me an accurate depiction of body fat, weight, and hydration. I record the information and track it before my race. I can tell if I am on a correct trajectory before a race and adjust as necessary. I don’t want to lose more than 2 pounds in any week so if I start to lose more I adjust.
My method of losing weight is individual and one that allows me to recover properly from training while still shedding some unwanted excess muscle while I sleep. Here are my rules for my weight cutting.
1) Twice a week do a short aerobic run (30-40minutes) in the morning with no fuel, this teaches my body to burn fat since my carbohydrate stores are depleted.
2) Limit carbohydrate consumption at night and increase fat and protein intake
3) Don’t eat after 8 PM
4) Go to bed a little hungry, not starving, just a little hungry
5) Fuel with whatever I want before, during, and immediately after my hard/long workouts. (if I want that pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mission to Marzipan, the best time is either mid workout or immediately after)
6) Supplement with HMB, I prefer using EAS Muscle Armor but just about any form of HMB will help
A little bit about my history and use of HMB. HMB was developed at Iowa State University and is a dietary supplement. It is very popular amongst power and strength athletes but it also has great properties for endurance athletes, especially mesomorph athletes. HMB has anti-catabolic properties which help prevent the breakdown of damaged muscles. What this means for me when trying to get down to my race weight, is that I can catabolize muscle while I sleep, but target muscle catabolism that has the least impact on my training. In other words, the muscles I use least are the ones catabolized.
I am not in any way prescribing this method of weight loss to any athlete and would caution even the most experienced professional about experimenting with my method. I am simply informing about what works for me.
I am only 5 days away from Kona and happy to report that I am lean and mean and down to my “fighting weight”. Just in case I get in a fight.
I haven’t been on a wrestling mat in years but I would still take on any professional triathlete in a take down contest; you still get “two points for a takedown”. I’ll just stay away from the guys who now race triathlons after spending time wrestling at either the Olympic Training Center, or have spent time training under Dan Gable. They know who I’m talking about, and trust me you won’t find a more intense group than a bunch of former wrestlers. I give a mental edge to anyone who knows what it is like to “cut weight” for an event.