You don' t have to be a Skinny Minnie to sign up for a triathlon, but you might hope to become one during training. Adding hours of running, cycling and swimming to your workout routine can help you burn substantial calories to assist with weight loss. All that exercise helps, but it won't help you slip into a smaller size of bike shorts unless you also make changes to your eating plan and stress levels.
Put together a training plan with a coach or using online resources that gives you at least eight weeks to train for a sprint distance, 16 weeks for an Olympic distance or six months for a half Ironman distance -- 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run. If you are brand new to exercise, give yourself even more training time.
Plan to train in each of the disciplines at least twice per week. Begin with just four to six hours per week of training and increase the amount of time you spend training gradually -- by just 15 to 30 minutes per week – until you reach your peak training levels, which are determined by your goal distance and training plan. Aim for at least 50 minutes of training per day, or 250 minutes of workouts per week, which can help you lose significant weight, says the American College of Sports Medicine. Give your body time to adapt to training so you don’t burn out or injure yourself, which will interfere with your weight loss and competition goals.
Weight train along with your specific workouts. Make time for a 20- to 30-minute weight regimen in addition to your swimming, biking and running two or three times per week. Train all the major muscle groups with at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions using a weight heavy enough to make your muscles feel fatigued by the last few reps. This regimen will help you add lean muscle mass, which burns more calories at rest and can improve your triathlon performance by increasing power and strength.
Opt for one or two sprint-training sessions per week in each discipline. Train with intervals of 30 to 60 seconds of a very intense effort alternating with a lesser effort of equal time for recovery for the duration of your planned workout. For example, in swimming, you might do 100 meters of a fast freetyle followed by a slow crawl for 100 meters to catch your breath and repeat these eight to 10 times. Interval training helps improve your efficiency and oxygen usage as well as encourage fat loss.
Create a moderate calorie deficit daily of 300 to 500 calories to lose between 1/2 and 1 pound per week. Avoid cutting more drastically or you may see a reduction in performance and loss of muscle mass.
Eat three meals per day and snack strategically to support your workouts. Eat a healthy snack, such as a banana, before an hourlong workout only if it has been three hours since your last meal. Consume a post-workout snack only if your next meal is an hour or more away. Make these post-workout snacks consist of carbohydrates for energy replenishment and protein for muscle repair. Keep the calorie range for post-workout snacks at 200 to 400, depending on your size, workout length and intensity, and goals.
Make carbohydrates at least 45 to 60 percent of your daily calories so you have energy for your workouts. Avoid carbo-loading, unless it is just two to three days before your competition. Make sure the carbs you do eat come from whole grains, starchy vegetables, greens and fruit. Avoid sugary snacks and refined flour products. Fill in the rest of your diet with lean protein options such as soy, beans, flank steak and skinless chicken or fish; a higher protein intake can support muscle mass and reduce hunger.
Curb your intake of commercial, high-calorie energy foods. Use sports drinks only if you are doing a workout that lasts longer than 90 minutes or you are exercising in extreme heat; opt for water instead. Support long runs and rides lasting longer than 90 minutes with bars, gels or chews -- but skip these foods if your workout is shorter.
Keep a food journal to accurately record your daily calorie intake and note the impact it has on your training energy levels. Consider eating slightly more than your calorie deficit allows for if you feel weak during training or regularly can’t complete your workouts.
- A healthy loss of about a pound per week is sufficient so you don’t lose energy or too much muscle.
- If you feel weak and fatigued, but feel you are getting enough calories -- consult a physician. You may be missing specific nutrients, such as iron, that keep you energized.
- Don't allow a big workout session to be an excuse to gorge. Exercise can't compensate for frequent ice cream or french fry indulgences. These foods don't support energy levels for training, either.
- You may have big goals for weight loss, but avoid becoming obsessed with the scale. Your ultimate goal is to complete a triathlon, and trying to lose too much weight too fast can interfere with your performance.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.