|For a sportsperson, carrying unnecessary weight will just hamper performance. 5 kilos of fat has the same effect as strapping a 5 kilo weight on your back. In some sports, even an extra 5 kilos of muscle is undesirable, if those muscles are not utilised for performance. So let’s look at some ways we can get lean without losing strength. Once again, there are lots of experts with lots of different opinions. But are they any good….
Professional Road Cyclists
You may have scanned Velo News eagerly for tips on how the pros get skinny. And you won’t have found much, because the professional cycling fraternity is pretty close-lipped about their performance secrets. We’ve pulled together any nuggets of info we could find, plus a little inside knowledge, and this is how we think they do it.
Firstly food – in the off season they eat pretty much what they want to, and get a bit out of shape, but hopefully not too much. Then when they start pre-season training they drastically cut back on calories, and most of what they do eat is carbohydrate – and carbs that are pretty low in food value at that : pasta, bread, etc. As you now know, carbohydrate is fuel, but doesn’t help build a strong body.
When this limited amount of food is combined with the second ingredient, long hours of exercise, energy has to come from somewhere. So bodyfat levels start to decrease, but so does muscle. That’s why most pro cyclists have very little upper body muscle – it’s not needed for cycling, so it wastes away. Pro cyclists don’t mind this too much, they don’t need the strength, so upper body muscle is just extra weight to carry round.
But the downside of this (apart from making them look like concentration camp inmates) is that this level of emaciation comes from malnutrition. It’s not just their muscles that are wasted – all of their body processes will be suffering. They can get away with it now, but in the future, their health will decline. How many pro cyclists continue to have good health after their racing years are over? I suspect not many.
The third ingredient is, of course, drugs. Drugs enable you to go like stink when your body hasn’t got any energy left. It is well known that many pro cyclists take drugs. Using drugs for performance is like buying results on hire purchase – you get instant action, but pay big time later. Despite what the UCI may say, there are probably not many pro cyclists who are drug free.
So, take performance enhancing drugs, ride for several hours a day and eat some rice, pasta and a few donuts, but not enough to stop feeling hungry. You’ll get skinny, sure as anything, but you’ll lose muscle and compromise your health. Is it worth it?
Body builders have a two phase lead in to competition. First, there’s the building stage. In this phase they want to build and shape as much muscle as possible. So they eat lots of protein, and a certain amount of carbs. Many of them don’t do a lot of aerobic exercise, so depending on how disciplined (or well-advised) they are, they will build lots of muscle, but will also put on a certain amount of fat. At this stage, they will almost certainly be using creatine, and a lot of them will be using steroids as well.
Then comes the paring down phase. Now they will want to get their body fat down as low as it will go, while sacrificing the minimum of muscle. So they cut their carbs down to next to nothing, and eat a high protein, low carb, low fat diet (eg. protein & non-starchy veges for every meal, supplemented with protein drinks). And they get on the treadmill and run. Drugs they are likely to take at this stage are stimulants and appetite depressants.
This has quite a different effect to the cycling regime. When you eat lots of protein & not much else, your body goes into a state called ketosis and has to burn fat. As long as you keep stressing your muscles and eating protein, you won’t lose too much muscle mass. It is important to drink huge amounts of water to wash away the toxic by-products of this kind of diet.
In the final day or so before competition, they will also deprive themselves of water, and probably take diuretics. By the time they get on stage, they are starving & dehydrated and as lean as it’s humanly possible to be.
These are two extreme ways to lose weight. Do you suppose there is a way we can get lean without sacrificing our health? I think there is, and I think it’s different for everybody.
Elsewhere in the website, we look at different dietary regimes which are aimed at improving your health and vitality, but which claim weight loss as a spin-off. Let’s now compare them, and see what common features they have.
At first glance these all look quite different, but they all have a high success rate for weight loss. When you look closer, you can see that most of the diets line up with one or other of the metabolic diets. Michael Colgan slots somewhere in the middle with quite high carbs, moderate protein, low fat – but note that it is dependent on your exercise program. The main exception is The Zone which advocates a specific balance of nutrients. My feeling is that we do each need a balance of the nutrients, but it differs from person to person.
So there is a pattern here. Part of that pattern is the diversity of human beings. There is no one thing that will work for everybody. But there are some general principles that will work for most people :
Also read my article on obesity and weight loss, for more aspects.