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Lean and Mean, Part I

By Jason Gootman and Will Kirousis

Just the facts:

  1. Losing five pounds of body fat, assuming that all other factors remain the same, will improve your bike split by 1-3 minutes in an Olympic-distance triathlon, 2-6 minutes in a half-iron-distance triathlon, and 4-12 minutes in an iron-distance triathlon. (The hillier the course, the greater the time savings will be.)
  2. For every pound of body fat you lose, you will take two seconds per mile off your running pace, assuming that all other factors remain the same. Five pounds gets you 10 seconds per mile. Ten pounds gets you 20 seconds per mile. That’s over two minutes in an Olympic-distance triathlon, four minutes in a half-iron-distance triathlon, and eight minutes in an iron-distance triathlon.
  3. Excess body fat increases impact forces when running, which increases injury risk. Conversely, being lean reduces impact forces and reduces injury risk.

leanIf you have body fat to lose, losing it will make you faster. You probably already know this, but are you as lean as you want to be? It can be challenging to get and stay lean, but there’s good news. Many people mistakenly believe that being lean only comes with great self-restraint and sacrifice. Sure, you can’t sit around all day and eat Doritos, but you’re a triathlete — we know you’re not doing that.

The key to you getting leaner and staying lean can likely be found by doing a few things better. The truth is that being lean is a natural byproduct of living well. In this two-part article, we will share six things you can do right away to boost your wellness, naturally get leaner, and race faster!

Consume Enough Protein for You
Protein is used to repair tissue throughout your body. When you work out, you break down tissue; when you sleep and rest, you rebuild that tissue. Where do you think the building blocks for that construction project come from? From the food you eat, in particular the protein-rich foods! Since your body needs this protein for cellular repair, if you are not getting enough, among other problems, you will experience a dysfunctional satiety response. When you don’t get adequate protein, you will remain hungry after meals and throughout the day. For many people, this leads to both overeating and bad meal/snack choices.

On the other hand, when you get enough protein, you will help to restore an optimal satiety response. In this state, you will eat when you are hungry and you will not eat when you are not hungry like children do. You will not need supreme willpower to not overeat.

As a triathlete, you need about 0.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. The best source of protein is meat (finfish, shellfish, poultry, beef, game meat, or other meat; muscle meat or organ meat). Meat from wild or naturally raised animals is best. If you are a vegetarian, you should work with a nutritionist to ensure that you are meeting your protein needs.

The following table gives you a practical breakdown of how many ounces of meat to eat at each meal each day. It’s important that you take in protein-rich foods throughout the day as your body needs a steady supply. Consider this per-meal amount a minimum. If you are hungry for more meat, trust your cravings and have more. Note that you will get some of your daily protein from the plant foods you eat. At up to one meal per day, you can have two or more eggs instead of meat.

Recommended Meat Intake


Meat (Ounces/Meal)

< 131 Pounds


131-160 Pounds


161-190 Pounds


> 190 Pounds


A guide to the above chart: we use a rule of thumb that an ounce of meat has six grams of protein. If that is true:

  • 1 once of meat = 6 grams of protein
  • 5 ounces of meat = 30 grams of protein
  • 15 ounces of meat (5 ounces per meal for three meals) = 90 grams of protein (the table in the article is ounces of meat per meal)

Eat a Very Nutrient-Dense Diet
The other factor that plays a large role in your satiety response is the nutrient density of your diet.

What’s nutrient density? Take all of the calories of energy that you consume in a day and then look at the amount of nutrients in the diet. How much vitamin C is there per 100 calories? How much zinc? Vitamin A? Iron? Calcium? Fiber? Two people can both consume 3,000 calories of energy in a day and one can have much higher levels of these and other nutrients. That person’s diet is more nutrient-dense.

The nutrients you consume are used both in metabolism (which helps you workout better) and in tissue repair (which improves workout recovery). You can think of high nutrient density as getting a higher rate of return on money you invest. For the same amount of calories consumed, you get more nutrients. And nutrient density really helps with satiety.

Let’s consider an example. Let’s say you sit down to dinner at a restaurant and they serve a big bowl of rolls. What’s your experience? You can’t stop eating, right? You drive yourself crazy and punish yourself telling yourself that you just don’t have the willpower to stop eating them. But that’s not even close to the full story. A big part of what’s going on is physiological! Those rolls have very little fiber, no protein and are nutrient-sparse overall. You need fiber for normal digestive function and other purposes. You need protein to rebuild muscle and other tissue. You need vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients for a myriad of functions. When you eat those rolls, you get some calories of energy, but virtually nothing else! So what does your body do? It tells you to keep eating! Not because it’s working against you, because it’s working for you! It wants you to get the nutrients you need. The opposite happens when you eat a nutrient-dense meal. You feel satisfied and you easily stop eating when you’re full.

To eat a nutrient-dense diet:

  1. Eat meat (see above). Meat is particularly rich in iron, zinc, and other minerals. If you don’t eat meat, make sure you are working with a nutritionist to make sure you are not missing elements key to your diet.
  2. Load up on non-starchy vegetables (cucumbers, kale, radishes, bell peppers, broccoli, etc.). Make non-starchy vegetables part of every meal. Have big salads. Have steamed, grilled, roasted vegetables.
  3. Get some of your carbohydrate from fruit. Many people hear carbohydrate and immediately think bread and pasta. Fruit (berries, melons, apples, etc.) is a great source of carbohydrate. Fruit is also loaded with micronutrients, much more than is found in bagels and rice, so it contributes nicely to nutrient-dense diet.
  4. Eat avocados, nuts, and seeds. These fat-rich foods are also good sources of micronutrients.
  5. Make water your primary beverage. Most other drinks are high in calories, but devoid of nutrients.
  6. Eat mostly food (not altered by humans), not food products (made in a factory). Food (salmon, apples, cashews, etc.) beats food products (granola bars, breakfast cereals, frozen burritos, etc.) every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Stay tuned for the next four tips in part II of this series in next week’s Multisport Zone.