How I reached my racing weight with the help of Nutrfy (and some training)
My body weight has never been much of a concern to me. As anyone living in places where there is a thing called "Winter", I tend to gain a bit of weight during the cold season, and when I start my spring training, the body weight will come down again pretty soon, and I would reach what I consider my "race weight" simply by training.
Due to some rather dramatic changes to my life (one: becoming a father; two: getting older), the time I can spend training is more limited now, and my body doesn't react as quickly to increased training stimulus as it used to.
During the last couple of years, I found that "automatic" race weight didn't quite come around after my first extended training block in early spring.
Additionally, as I get older, significantly improving my power output (option A for a cyclist) is getting harder and harder, so I think I have to turn to option B, which is considering wether my body composition is ideal for the sport I'm practicing.
So, for 2021, I decided that I want to not only have some training goals, but also have nutritional goals: I weigh around 75 kg, and what I would consider my ideal "race weight" is around 72 kg. And instead of hoping for the best when it comes to that weight, I decided that I wanted to manage it, and make sure that I reach that target weight at the end of my training cycle. All of that while continuing training, and preserving all my lean muscle mass. That meant, ideally, I would only lose body fat.
Before committing to this during my spring training, I wanted to collect some data and see what nutritional strategies work for me, and how my body reacts to them.
Usually, I eat based on a strategy that can be described as "feed for the work at hand", meaning that I try to match my energy intake to my calorie expenditure. Basically, this results in a weight equilibrium, and I'm neither losing nor gaining weight. (Daily fluctuations not considered.)
So, instead of heading into this directly, I set up an experiment: I would use the end of the season that never happened (thanks to Covid-19) to get a better understanding of how I can get to my racing weight while keeping up my training routine.
My goal was to get from 76 kg body weight to around 72 kg, without losing lean muscle mass. A ballpark figure is that you can lose around 0.5 kg per week without losing muscle as well, so in theory it should be possible to reach that goal in around 8 weeks.
What would happen if I reduced my daily calorie intake while keeping my training up? How would my body react to it? How about the quality of my training, or my overall wellbeing?
They key to this kind of weight loss is to do it slowly, otherwise the body will respond in a negative, not intended way: If calorie intake is restricted too much, the body will react by reducing so called “metabolic mass”. Metabolic mass are parts of the body which need energy to keep running: Basically your inner organs and your muscles. Instead of tapping into the fat stores to meet the energy need, the body tries to lower the energy needed by removing muscle, while leaving the body fat (that doesn’t need any energy) intact.
Absolutely not what we want.
But if you want to lose weight, you need to go into a calorie deficit. So, how can you do that? A basic rule of thumb is that you can go into a deficit of 400 to 500 kcal per day without losing too much muscle mass.
If you do that, and keep training your muscles, you should be able to lose around 0.5 kg per week, ideally mostly body fat.
I have a daily energy need (without training) of around 2.100 kcal. Instead of reducing my intake by a fixed number, I set my Energy Need Modifier in my athlete profile to 80%. With that setting, my deficit would be dynamically set to 20% of whatever energy levels I was actually putting out (on training days and on rest days).
For a rest day, that gives me a daily energy intake of 1.680 kcal. That’s well within the ball park of 400 - 500 kcal deficit per day, and will be slightly higher on training days.
I also cut out all diary and refined carbs like bread and pasta. I also significantly reduced my egg consumption.
Finally, I changed my macro nutrient split. While the standard recommended macro split of 55% carbs, 15% protein and 30% fat is fine for endurance athletes, it is not ideal when going on a calorie deficit. In order to protect my muscles and encourage the body to tap into its fat reserves, I used a macro split of 50/35/15.
Setting up Nutrfy
Since I don't want to do all this math for every meal, I set up Nutrfy to create the details of my nutrition plan for me.
In my Athlete Profile, under "Advanced Settings", I defined an energy modifier of 80%. Nutrfy calculates daily energy need by adding your training output to your base energy need. This number is multiplied by the energy need modifier. In my case, this reduces the input to 80% for both training and rest days.
In this menu, I also set a Custom Macro Split. By default, Nutrfy uses the standard split of 55 % Carbs, 15% protein and 30% fat.
If you are going on an energy deficit, you need to make sure that you eat enough protein to keep your muscle mass intact. Since my training was still mostly of endurance type, I opted for a 50/35/15 macro split: 50% carbs, 35% protein and only 15% fat. As it turns out (spoiler-alert!) keeping your intake to 15% fat while eating healthy and tasty is no easy feat!
The meal where I typically consume dairy is breakfast - I usually eat some sort of oatmeal or Müsli, both with milk and often with yoghurt.
I figured that cutting out dairy and adhering to the 20% energy deficit would be easiest by removing breakfast and implementing a Time Restricted Eating strategy. Often called Intermittent Fasting, this protocol calls for extended daily periods where you do not consume food. I worked with TRE before, and generally had good experiences with it.
So, under Nutrition Protocol, I selected Time Restricted Eating, defined my fasting window to last from 20:00 until 12:00, and selected Lunch, Afternoon Snack and Dinner to be included in the plan. I would skip the breakfast and morning snacks, and also the evening snack after dinner.
And with that, my setup was done. Now it was just time to create the nutrition plans for the upcoming days.
The final plan
This is what my final plan looked like:
- Switch training from pure endurance to more intensive sessions, and include functional fitness sessions
- Go into a controlled calorie deficit of 80%
- Remove dairy and refined carbs like pasta and bread
- Go with more complete carbs like rice and potatoes
- Reduce the fat content of my diet to 15% while increasing protein intake
- Switch to a Time Restricted Eating protocol for easier implementation of the plan
And here's the cool thing: Once the plan was done, it was practically zero work for me to stick to my nutrition goals. When creating my daily plans, Nutrfy just followed what I said it should, creating the plans automatically for me.
I just had to follow it.
I picked the first monday in september as start date, and counting 8 weeks from there meant that my expirement would end on the first of november (sunday).
My weekly training consisted of 2 to 3 short, intensive cycling sessions (mostly Maximal Aerobic Power intervals) of around 45 to 60 min duration, and 2 to 3 functional fitness sessions based on body weight exercises (a lot of burpees. Call me if you need to listen to a rant about burpees.).
For the first couple of days, this worked very well. As you can see in this graph, my weight dropped steadily from around 76kg to 73,6kg over a period of a bit less than 3 weeks.
So, within around 3 weeks, I already reached around half my target reduction, meaning that I would hit my body weight target after around 6 weeks, and not 8 weeks as intended.
Even though you have to be really careful about overreaching and being faster than you planned for, I still think this is well within the range of acceptable progress.
But then, something happend and knocked me right off my trajectory.
Life makes it difficult
So, instead of comfortably progressing towards my goals, some dramatic things happened in my life (everybody is fine and healthy, don't worry!), and I was able to encounter the effects of such events on your ability to restrict your diet first-hand: For a couple of days, I couldn't find the motivation to train, and I also stopped caring about my nutrition altogether.
The result was that I gained 2 kg over a period of little more than three days, nearly putting me back to the start.
This was not very encouraging. Many people are afraid that even a few slip-ups in their nutrition can ruin weeks or months of progress. Was that true? Did a minor fault in my behaviour really eradicate three weeks of hard work and dedication?
The data at hand sure made it look like it.
Getting back on track
On the other hand, let's figure out what would have been if that didn't happen and I would have continued with my training an nutrition as planned.
The red line shows the trend in my bodyweight measurings. Smaller daily fluctuations aside, it's pretty clear that the plan was working, and my weight was coming down just as it should be.
That fresh look at the data not only gave me a better understanding of what was happening, it also gave me the confidence needed to get back on track. I've seen now that the trajectory is right, and that the plan is working. It's just hard to follow it sometimes.
That one episode nonwithstanding, I was able to stick to my routine for 4 weeks. I knew that week 5 would be challenging, because I had some travel scheduled. I was about to speak at a conference, and business travel and healthy nutrition are not really made for each other.
Additionally, I found that the combination of intermittent fasting and energy deficit put too much stress on my body. It already had to deal with a switch to high intensity training and a calorie deficit of 20%. Not eating for half of the day was simply too much, resulting in headaches, mild nausea, dropped training performance and a bad feeling.
Since I knew that I couldn't follow my training and nutrion plan for a couple of days while travelling, I decided that once I'd be returning to my regular routine, I would opt for the simple "4 Meals a Day" feeding strategy, which is also a standard strategy in Nutrfy. I would have breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner.
And while I really tried my best to keep a healthy diet, you can see the results of business travel and lack of exercise between 7.10. and 18.10.:
Again, a small increase in body weight.
From then on, the downward trend continued, but with more fluctuations of daily weight (which are absolutely not a problem).
And, as planned, I stopped my experiment on 30.10., 8 weeks after it started.
After 8 weeks, this is what happened:
I lost 3,3 kg of body weight, resulting in an end weight of 72,89 kg. This is 890 gram short of my target, but given the two periods of non-adherence to the plan, that's of little wonder. If you extrapolate the first trend line, I would have reached the 72 kg weight mark at or around 23.10., one week before the end of the experiment.
3,3 kg is a weight loss of roughly 4,3%, while there was no negative performance impact on my training. Actually, my power data slightly improved, but this was most likely due to the switch in training from tempo and FTP work to more intense MAP-based intervals.
On the other hand, during these 8 weeks, I often felt hungry, but never up to a point where I developed any cravings. On the contrary, I never had the feeling that I was malnourished or putting too much stress on my body. I also never really felt that I had to give up on something. Instead, focussing on fresh food made me apreciate my meals and made me feel healthy and good. By keeping the carb intake high and timing my feedings well, I always had enough energy to finish my training sessions.
Checking in with my macro split report, I also found out that I was able to stick pretty well to my plan:
I actually had a bit more protein than I planned for, but generally speaking, I'm very happy with this.
When planned correctly, you can easily get down to low body fat while still eating normally and healthy.
Sure, being in a calorie deficit all the time is not the nicest thing to experience. But when done correctly, it is not as bad as people might think. And when done in a planned and controlled manner, you can still eat normally and healthy.
Reducing the fat content of your food to 15% is really, really hard.
This might be the biggest surprise (at least for me). 15% doesn't sound like much, but keep in mind that 1 gram of fat has 9 kcal, while 1 gram of protein or carbohydrates has only 4 kcal. Also, fatty foods are much denser than sources of carbohydrates or protein. For example, oils are 100% fat. While the truth of this fact is apparent, be honest, it's a bit surprising as well.
So, for example, if you plan a 1.500 kcal day, and want to consume no more than 15% fat, that's 26 gram of fat. If you're eating salad with a vinegar-oil-vinaigrette, that's probably half of the fat you're allowed to consume. Salmon with that salad? Nope, too much fat. Actually, I never ate salmon during these 8 weeks.
You will feel hungry, most of the time.
Ain't gonna lie to you here. I often felt hungry during this 8 week experiment, especially when going to bed. The nutrition plan made sure that I didn't backload my days, and ate too much in the evening. Instead, my days and training sessions where well fuelled, meaning that I ate enough in the morning and during the day. But what I did not experience is any sort of craving. I noticed that I put my body in the slightly inconvenient position of getting just not enough food, but my body never responded with any kind of serious hunger or lust for over-eating.
Planning and recording your meals seems like a big additional work while you do it, but provides a lot of data that helps you understand what is going on in your body and training.
For me, this is a big one. I know that during my hectic days, juggling work, training and family, I would never have the nerve or time to calculate macros, count calories and record intake. By planning ahead, I not only made my life tremendously easier, I also got the benefit of gathering lots of data that was very helpful in making sense of my expierences.
Getting rid of the final couple of kilos is pretty hard.
As my experiment progressed, I noticed an increase of stress my mind and my body were experiencing. This was either because of the duration of the experiment itself, or - as I would argue - because it was getting harder for my body to further reduce body fat. It takes time and patience.
Eating for fitness goals is a continuum. It's not about getting all the meals right, all of the time.
Eating for fitness is not an All-or-Nothing proposition. Weight gains and losses are not linear, and so are our eating patterns. It's ok to not follow your plan, be it for a meal, a day, or a week. The important thing is to get back to it sooner or later.
This 8 week period has been really informative for me. It showed me that it was reasonable to expect a drop in body weight by around 0.5 kg while fully training (and having a bunch of other things to do in life, too), and that not being able to stick to the plan for a couple of days was not the end of the world.
Nutrfy has been a great help in all of this, not just because it took care of all the planning and math involved, but also because it made my life so easy when it came to nutrition. With a week planned ahead, all I had to to do was follow the plan. This was especially useful when standing in the kitchen after a hard workout and a growling stomach ...
Will I do it again? Absolutely.
Have any questions or want more information? Curious how to set up Nutrfy for your personal training goals? Drop me a line, I'm always interested in an exchange.