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An improper weight can keep you at the back of the pack.
Triathletes trying to establish their ideal weight face a conundrum that is inherent in their sport. The body type for swimmers, cyclists and runners differs greatly, but in triathlon, you are expected to excel at all three. Your ideal weight provides enough heft for buoyancy in the water, adequate lower-body muscle to power you through the bike course and just enough lightness to keep you from being weighed-down on the run. Finding the weight that is right for you requires experimentation and careful attention to how you feel during training and how you recover.
A report published by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in 2007 studied 457 college triathletes and found positive correlations between low body fat percentages and finishing times at the 2006 Ford California Ironman Triathlon. The researchers concluded that body composition is important to triathlon performance. Too low of a body fat percentage can also impair performance, however. When you are underweight, you are susceptible to frequent illness and lack the energy to give it your all in training.
An ideal triathlon weight depends on your body type, genetics, gender, age and size. Men usually weigh more than women because they are larger. Taller people tend to be heavier too. Older folks may also find they feel better at slightly heavier weights than younger people. Triathletes also vary in terms of body type -- endomorphs tend to have a larger bone structure and trouble dropping body fat, mesomorphs are medium-sized and have low body fat levels while ectomorphs tend to be long and thin. Each of these body types will feel differently at the same weight -- so setting an ideal weight that fits every person is nearly impossible.
Finding Your Weight
The perfect weight for you to compete in triathlon is one that makes you feel strong while swimming, cycling and running. You know you are getting too light if you lack the energy and strength to make it through tough workouts. Certified sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald writes in "Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance," that your body reacts to an inadequate calorie intake by imposing fatigue during training so you just can't burn as many calories or train as hard as you'd like. Instead of focusing on a number on the scale, pay attention to how you feel and emphasize fat loss rather than weight loss. Competitive triathletes usually have a body fat of 5 to 12 percent for men and 10 to 15 percent for women, according to Sports Fitness Advisor.
Figuring out how to train, compete and shed fat is a challenge for triathletes. When carefully employed, counting calories is a valuable strategy. You don't have to worry about being perfectly accurate in your counts, but you do want to increase your awareness of the types of foods you are putting into your body. Eating slightly fewer calories than you burn daily can help you lose weight, but avoid creating a deficit greater than 500 calories per day as this can cause your metabolism to slow down and defeat your efforts. As a triathlete, you do need carbohydrates for fuel -- but focus on healthy carbs such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables rather than junky carbohydrates such as white pasta, white bread and simple sugars. Also emphasize lean proteins, such as white fish, skinless chicken and tofu, and leafy greens. Timing of your meals is also essential. You'll want more carbs in a meal preceding an intense workout to provide energy and a healthy mix of protein and carbs post workout to assist in energy restoration and muscle repair.