This is the first installment of my “lab rat” series where I perform experiments on myself to determine what works. The idea is to use a fairly specific protocol that others (or me in the future) could follow if it works (or learn from my mistakes if it does not work!)
I’ve already started a diet plan based on the 5 endurance weight loss principles and on my past experience in losing weight (I lost 40 pounds when I first started triathlon, but that is a different blog post). In a nutshell I need to eat small meals of fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and healthy proteins plus a small serving of starch. I also need to eat extra carbs to replace the glycogen I burn while training so I don’t end up depleted or even bonked 50 miles from home debating whether to eat a half eaten PB&J out of a trash can. But I can’t replace too much carb or I won’t lose fat and I’ll show up at Kona sporting the classic Quebec speedo and beer belly look.
Here’s the Plan:
- 6 Small Meals. Eat 6 small meals per day- every 2.5 to 3 hours.
- No Simple Sugars or Flour Except During (or occasionally immediately after) Workouts. Nuff said.
- Default Meal. My default meal is a moderate serving of healthy protein, a piece of fruit, 1 serving of healthy starch (see below), a little healthy added fat (usually almonds), plus some veggies. I’m already confident that this won’t spike my insulin based on this weeks experience with the diet.
- Intelligently Vary the Starch. Eat an extra serving of starch in the AM (usually a bowl of oatmeal), after workouts, and before big workouts. Unless I just finished training, eat no starch at my last meal of the evening.
- Fuel My Training. During workouts I’ll consume 200-300 cals / hour after the first half hour. I’ll try to use real food (such as peanut butter and banana sandwiches) instead of sports nutrition. This way I can replace my carbs at a time when my body is primed to stock it away as fuel rather than store it as fat. According to Justin Daerr, Coach KP reportedly fueled heavily during his legendary big training so that he could eat relatively clean between workouts.
- Healthy Starches and Portions. I’m going to stick to a limited but reliable selection of starches: quinoa (half cup), Food For Life flourless, low glycemic sprouted grain bread (1 slice), 1 sweet potato (5 in. long), old fashioned oats (1/2 cup, steel cut are better, but I use old fashioned because they puff up nice and big and fill me up longer, plus I’ve successfully eaten them for weight loss in the past.)
- Hungry (especially at night)? I got this tip from Gordo Byrn. If I’m hungry and I think I’m carb depleted I’ll eat a giant fruit salad with cottage cheese. If I’m just hungry but I don’t think I’m carb depleted, I’ll grab a handful of nuts to tide me over.
How will I know if it’s working? Simply enough I’ll be sure it’s working if I’m kicking butt in my workouts while gradually losing weight. I’ll also monitor the following 3 key indicators that will tell me if my diet is working.
3 Key Indicators I’ll Monitor:
- Insulin Indicators. If I’m not hungry or craving carbs, if I don’t have an energy slump late in the day, and if I wake up feeling alert in the morning, then I know my insulin is low. If I feel tired and start desparately seaching the house for my wife’s secret chocolate stash, then my insulin is high.
- Depletion Indicators. Am I bonking or hungry during workouts? Do I feel depleted and want to binge on carbs? Do I feel strong in my workouts? When I come home from working out am I ravenous? Do I fantasize about food during my long rides?
- My Weight. My daily weight will fluctuate, but is there a general downtrend (series of lower highs and lower lows) in my AM weight?
8/30/2010 – Day 9 Update:
Compliance: I’ve been complying almost perfectly with the diet protocol. I even stood and watched everyone eat free pizza before the full moon swim without any major physical or emotional distress.
Adaptation Period: I went through a bit of a tough transition period during the first couple of days- being hungry and feeling out of sorts. In my experience, this is the normal result of still having chronically high insulin levels but not giving the body the carbs it desperately needs with high insulin (insulin removes carbs from the bloodstream, so you get low blood sugar which makes you desparately crave carbs, which you eat, causing your insulin to climb higher, and the hellish cycle goes on and on until you are 6 pounds overweight just over a month away from your big race!) For the first few days I was looking forward to eating every 3 hours because I was hungry. Now, eating every 3 hours is a bit of a job and easy to forget.
Insulin Indicators: Good! I forgot how amazing it feels to to have low insulin levels! I no longer have an energy slump in the afternoon and I’m waking up alert and refreshed. I also don’t crave carbs or snacks.
Depletion Indicators: Good. During my adaptation period I was feeling hungry during my workouts. I was desparately scarfing down my food during a 2 hour bike ride and I was hungry during a 1 hour swim. But after the first few days I felt good and yesterday I did a tough 4 hour / 85 mile ride + transition run and felt happy and fueled.
Monitoring My Weight: Good! I started at 165, lost my bloatedness and stabilized at 162/163. Now I’m at 161/162. I’d venture a guess that I’ve lost a pound or two of fat, and the rest of it was just the general bloatedness that goes away when you start eating healthy (and which quickly comes back when you start eating poorly again). However, from this point on any weight loss should be pure fat so we’ll have a much better gauge of how much I am losing per week.
9/1/2010- Day 11 Update
Finally got a full night of sleep and weighed 160.2 in the morning! When I’ve lost weight in the past I noticed the same pattern- my weight will plateau for a bit, then I’ll get a great night of sleep and wake up lighter. I’m not sure if there is any science or reason behind this, but just a personal observation.
Compliance: good, but I’m starting to get a little sloppy about remember to eat every 3 hours and I didn’t eat enough during my 2 hour ride yesterday. I need to get on top of this or I’ll end up depleted.
Insulin Indicators: still very good. Not craving carbs, feeling alert, etc. In fact, I’m barely hungry at all lately which is making it a challenge to remember to eat often. A problem I’ve been having with not falling into a deep “carb coma” sleep every night is that I find it hard to go back to sleep if I wake up too early. My mind seems to only require 7-8 hours sleep to be alert and focused on this diet, but I think my body still needs 8-9.
Depletion Indicators: still good. No signs of being depleted during workouts. But the challenge will come in the next couple of weeks as my training for Kona gets big!
Weight: down to 160.2 this morning (so about 5 pounds total of weight loss, maybe 2-3 pounds fat loss) and I don’t think I was dehydrated. We’ll see if my daily weight is now in the 160/161 range instead of 161/162.
9/8- Day 18 Update
Compliance: went away to Yosemite for the weekend, which threw me off my routine, but packed lots of good food and ate every 3 hours. Had 2 bad meals, 1 of which was after I was completely depleted.
Insulin: feeling a little out of sorts / had some unusual hunger and cravings over the last 2 days which could be a result of high insulin and/or sleep deficit.
Depletion: planned for a 1 hour run, then decided to run all the way up to Half Dome (5+ miles steep uphill run). Didn’t bring any food. Massive bonking and dehydration ensued half way back down.
Weight: was at 159 (goal weight) the day before I left for Yosemite. Was 160 today.
Final Update: 9/19
My weight has consistently been 158 or 159 on the scale, which means I’ve lost a total of 6 or 7 pounds. I have overall been well fueled and I have felt great.
- The most challenging aspect of this diet is to remember to eat every 2.5 to 3 hours. If you are often on the go, then you need to get in the habit of packing food.
- I was never hungry on this diet, except during the adaptation phase.
- I felt that I was underfueled for only a couple of workouts (once at Yosemite when I ran to Half Dome with no food, and once I cut a swim workout short because I was hungry and bonky). But due to foot injury and overreaching on the bike, I wasn’t training particularly “huge” during most of this time.
- The biggest difference I felt with this diet has been more energy in my everyday life. I have much more energy throughout the day and my afternoon energy slump is gone.
Conclusion: It works!
I “loosened” the diet somewhat now that I’m down to race weight, but I’m down to 157 this morning. Feeling good and fueled!