Nutrition Case Study: The Fourth Discipline

Case Study #2: Max

Max always had a great deal of trouble losing weight, regardless of how hard he tried. Fad diet after fad diet only led to an endless cycle of weight loss and gain, with no real opportunity to maintain any consistency. Max believed that restricting his training fuel, during workouts, would result in some good news from the scale, due to the reduction in calories. A constant battle with feeling light-headed, fainting episodes, and midday fatigue prompted Max to seek my help.

I encouraged him to consume the proper training and recovery fuels before, during, and after training, and explained that not doing so was the likely cause of his symptoms. Though reluctant at first, Max eventually took on my recommendations and dropped a great deal of weight and body fat.

Because Max was prolonging his body's want of fuel by not replenishing muscle glycogen, his metabolism had actually slowed down to a mere crawl. Though his body was screaming for fuel, its cries went unanswered, and in desperation Max's body held onto fat with the tightest of grips, because it could never be sure of when it might be fed.

Once adopting a new mindset, and approaching workout fuels as friend, not enemy, Max was thrilled to see those numbers on the scale finally plunge downward—all the while eating more than he ever had on the fad diets.

He was simply choosing foods based upon their nutrient density, and consuming them during the proper times and in the proper ways.

The above scenario, that of restricting workout fuels, is something that I commonly see among women athletes, as well as Max. Unfortunately, more often than not, this often backfires in a variety of ways:

  1. As the athlete trains, performance is limited that day, possibly even having to cut the workout short due to a fade toward the end of the training day.
  2. The athlete hurts performance for future training, feeling "flat" and exhausted the next day due to unreplenished muscle glycogen stores.  This results in starting a new training day with a half-empty tank.
  3. The athlete slows down metabolism due to going long periods of time without taking in any nutrition. You actually need to eat, in order to lose weight!
  4. The athlete's systematic atmosphere becomes catabolic in nature, many times loosing muscle which is counterproductive for those athletes that are strength limited.
  5. The athlete overindulges during the remainder of the day, thinking that the lack of calories during the workout created plenty of room to splurge. This is a major culprit in taking in excessive calories, and thus hindering weight loss.

The message is quite clear: You can do all of the training in the world, and be the most disciplined swimmer, biker, and runner imaginable, but turning a blind eye towards nutrition will limit your ability to truly benefit from all of your hard work.

Why make such tremendous sacrifices of time, in an effort to be the best that you can be, only to miss out on these opportunities to improve? If you can find the time to train for three individual sports, then you can find time to fuel and recover from them properly, too. You may just find that it is that final piece to the triathlon puzzle that you have been searching for all along.

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Amanda Cassell is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian at The Core Diet under the direction of elite triathlon coach Jesse Kropelnicki. She holds a Bachelors degree in Food, Nutrition, and Dietetics, and is a marathoner and Ironman triathlete. The Core Diet is a sports nutrition specialty group working with athletes from age groupers to world class professionals. Visit their website TheCoreDiet.com to explore how they can help you meet your body composition, health and performance goals.

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