My friend Gered, who weighs 138 pounds always refers to me as his fat friend. The funny thing is that at 5'11" and 20 pounds heavier I'd look at him, then I'd look at me, then I'd agree, then I'd down another cheeseburger and chocolate milk shake and be on my way. However, during my spring rash of injuries, I got to thinking a lot more about ways that could get faster once I was better. After gaining another five pounds, I decided that the quickest, healthiest way to play catch up on my improvement for the season, and make lasting improvement moving forward, was to go on a diet and lose 20 to 25 pounds.
With the exception of Gered, everyone else things I'm either crazy or suffering from an eating disorder. I'm nearly 6 ft. tall and 165 pounds (or at least I was). By any other standard, I'm skinny as I am. Agreed, my starting weight here is perfectly healthy, and some day when I retire from the sport, I will happily return to that weight, blissfully eating whatever I want.
In the meantime, I assure you I'm not crazy. This is what's running through my head: I wanna go fast.
- Fact: You run approximately 2 seconds per mile faster per pound lost. At 25 pounds, that’s 50 seconds per mile faster, putting me around 5 minute mile pace. Nearly on par with the best runners in the sport for 10k without considering any improvements made through speed work and training.
- Fact: A lighter runner experiences less impact on his/her joints. Imagine doing all your running with a 20 lb back pack on. Now take it off… how much lighter do you feel on your feet. That’s less risk of strained muscles, less risk of stress fractures, milder consequences when you roll your ankle on a pot hole. Consequently, harder runs take a less severe toll on your body, and enable you to get back out there and run hard again.
- Fact: Lighter people climb hills faster. Revisit that back pack analogy on your bicycle, climbing a mountain pass.
Now I’m not so naïve as to think that it’s all sunshine and roses when you lose that much weight. I’m sure some of what I may lose is muscle, and in turn, power. But being smart about this can ensure that I maximize fat burned, minimize muscle lost, keep energy levels up, and stay healthy in the process. My diet is simple:
Trade foods that are dense with calories and low in nutrients for foods that are less dense in calories but rich in nutrients.
What does this look like? Well for me, it was easiest just to say, “no more gluten”. No more processed grains, no more breads, no more pizza, no more chips (particularly of the pita variety, though I’ve said goodbye to all chips). Now my main sources of carbohydrate are fruits and starchy veggies like potatoes and sweet potatoes. The net effect of this approach is that I can eat what appears to be the same quantity (maybe even more), get more nutrients, and fewer calories.
So far, it’s working famously. In six weeks I’ve lost 14 pounds, my energy has remained high, my power output as remained steady, and I feel light as a feather when I’m running! The draw back here that I’ve neglected to mention is that for the last six weeks I’ve resigned to drooling over other people’s pizza and cheeseburgers. That component of discipline has certainly been difficult, but I’m only keeping this up through September, and then I’ll sneak the occasional pizza, burger, or whatever else I’m craving while maintaining a generally healthier lifestyle.