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Maintain Your Lean, Mean Racing Machine

By Gale Bernhardt
For Active.com

If you are looking for those magic nutrition tips to drop 10 pounds in two weeks, don't read this column.

wok If you expect fast results from a highly restrictive or prescriptive diet, it's not here.

If you are interested in a life-long eating strategy that has sustainable results, read on.

Early in the season typically means more athletes than usual will pay me a visit or give me a call to review training plans and diets. These two topics are closely intertwined, and in this column I'll focus on sharing some of the nutrition and eating tips with you that have helped others.

Tip #1: Think about your diet and nutrition plan as a long-term goal.

You will never reach your full potential as an athlete if you are not healthy. Solid nutrition builds a healthy body.

Tip #2: Enjoy food.

While eating fresh vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy products might be close to a religion for some people, they may not be the only food products you want to consume while on earth. If you enjoy things like chocolate, cookies, adult beverages, or chips, there are ways to build those treats into a healthy eating plan without feeling like you've committed food sins.

The 80-20 rule applies to eating, I believe. If you eat nutritionally dense foods 80 percent of the time, 20 percent of your diet can take a diversion to treats without significant negative consequences.

Tip #3: There is no perfect plan for everyone, find what works for you.

Some people can deliver outstanding health scores (blood profiles, blood pressure and other health checks) eating red meat five days a week and others cannot. Find a nutrition strategy that works to combine optimizing your overall health with enjoyment and what fits into your lifestyle.

Tip #4: Think about your calorie balance like a bank account.

Each day you have a baseline calorie expenditure—the calories it takes to keep you going on a daily basis. To sustain being a regular person, each day you need approximately 30 calories per kilogram of body weight. To find your weight in kilograms, take weight in pounds and divide by 2.2. For example, if weight is 140 pounds, weight in kilograms is 140/2.2 = 63.6 or 64 kg.

To find daily caloric needs, take 64 x 30 = 1920 calories. At 140 pounds, it takes roughly 80 calories per hour (1920 calories per 24 hours) to fuel your body. Of course the exact value changes depending on if you are awake and active or sleeping, but 80 calories per hour is a good start.

Modify this base formula when appropriate:

1) Add more calories (about 100 to 300) to the daily total if you lead an active lifestyle. Subtract calories if your lifestyle is low-activity.

The following modifiers are gross values that include exercise expenditure and the base energy expenditure:

2) Add about 0.15 to 0.17 calories per minute, per kilogram of body weight, for cycling. (For example, 0.17 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 653 calories needed for an hour of fast cycling.)

3) Add about 0.1 calories per minute, per kilogram of body weight, for strength training. (For example, 0.1 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 384 calories needed for an hour of strength training.)

4) Add about 0.13–0.16 calories per minute, per kilogram of body weight, for swimming. (For example, 0.16 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 614 calories needed for an hour of fast swimming.)

5) Add about 0.14–0.29 calories per minute (roughly the range from an 11 minute pace per mile to a 5 minute, 30 second pace per mile), per kilogram of body weight, for running. (For example, 0.2 calories/minute-kilogram x 60 minutes x 64 kilograms equals 768 calories needed for an hour of fast running.)

If you weigh 140 pounds and you did a killer-hard, one-hour bike workout, your calorie expense account for the day is roughly your base needs plus your exercise calories. Don't forget to remove your base calories from the hourly exercise number: 1920 calories + (653 - 80) = 2493.

Eat anything you please, within your budget.

Tip #5: Calibrate base rate and exercise if possible.

While the formulas contained in Tip #4 are a good start, you need to find ways to hone in on what you are really expending when you exercise and what you expend during normal activity.

Keep track of what you eat for about three days to see what you are consuming to maintain your current weight.

One way to calibrate exercise is with a power meter that displays calories burned for a workout or kilojoules expended during the workout. (They are roughly one in the same.) If your power meter says you only burned 400 calories for an hour of a high-intensity workout, that needs to be taken into your budget consideration. You will begin to know what exercise intensity is worth 400 calories per hour and what exercise is worth 600 calories per hour.

Some heart rate monitors estimate calories burned during a workout. However, some athletes have reported to me that these values are close for them, while others have said it is way off. Consider this number another piece of data.

Tip #6: Calibrate your eyeballs.

Some athletes have reputations of measuring or weighing food all the time. While this works for them, constantly measuring and weighing food would drive other people crazy. If you are an athlete that does not like to weigh and measure meals and you find you are gaining or losing weight when you don't intend to, calibrate your eyeballs every once and awhile.

What I mean by this is if, when serving yourself one cup of a particular food, you actually put 1.5 cups on your plate, your eyeballs need calibration.

Measure and weigh your food portions for three to seven days to get your eyeballs calibrated and then stop. Know that you may need to recalibrate from time to time.

Tip #7: Eat for the weight you want to be.

Here is where the life-long strategy comes into effect. If you currently weigh 160 pounds but you want to weigh 140, eat as though you are currently at 140 pounds using the formulas in Tip #4. What this does is establish the healthy eating habits it takes to maintain your lean, mean, racing machine over the long haul.

It will take time, but eventually you will reduce your weight from 160 to 140 and keep it there.

Tip #8: Monitor your daily account balance, but be accountable for weekly performance.

There are going to be some days you eat more than you need to for one reason or another. There are also going to be days where you exercise more and expend more calories than you burn. Eating 200 calories too many on one day is no big deal if you expend an extra 200 within the next couple of days.

Tip #9: Plan to weigh three to eight pounds more in the winter.

Some athletes drive themselves crazy trying to maintain race weight in the winter, when they are exercising less. While you shouldn't go wild eating like a bear planning to hibernate all winter, don't stress about a few pounds more in the off season.

Tip #10: Nutrition and exercise are choices. Choose to be healthy and fit.

You don't have to be a racer to have a lean, mean machine of a body. And you don't have to be a sedentary person.

Eating healthy foods, enjoying treats and exercising a body that was meant to move are personal choices. Make choices that serve your long-term vision for yourself.

Tip #11: Monitor health, weight, and performance and anticipate changing something when your benchmark measures do not meet your goals.

It is the case for most people that you will need, and want, to make changes to your nutrition plan from time to time. Monitor your overall health status annually, your weight weekly and your athletic stats to decide when to make changes. Give your body at least two weeks for the changes to have a measurable affect.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, clickhere. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed. 

This article originally appeared on Active.com—your source for event information, training plans, expert advice, and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.

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