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A Triathlete's Correspondence to Santa by Ben Greenfield

Posted Jan 11 2009 2:51pm

Weight-training-for-weight-lossDear Santa,

I was bad over the Holidays. Despite a pretty good training protocol, I basically ate everything in sight. Now I have a spare tire around my waistline and I’m trying to figure out how to shed it quickly. Any advice?

Dear Triathlete,

Good news. I have some proprietary fat-loss techniques that we use up here with some of the Elves that go berserk on the tiramisu at our annual North Pole potluck.

We also have some bigger-boned reindeer that have really improved their power-to-weight ratio using these same fat-loss strategies. Heck, after eight hundred Christmases with a solid 24 hour diet of chocolate chip cookies and very large glasses of milk, I myself have had to buckle down at the New Year on many occasions. So in no particular order, here are my top three fat loss techniques:

1. Eat during your training.

Have you ever tried struggling through a multi-hour indoor cycling session with as little sustenance as possible? Or perhaps headed out for a 15 mile run in the snow with only one gel, just in case you really, really need it? Struggling through the last 15 minutes of the training session light-headed and dizzy, you must have burnt boatloads of fat, right? Wrong. While it may feel like this strategy burn is a great way to deplete the body of storage energy, in reality you’re doing just the opposite. Training “starved” actually decreases the amount of calories burnt during your training session, while also limiting potential intensity and harming recovery.

As a matter of fact, when you do consume carbohydrate during a training session, your body actually burns more fat and a greater number of overall calories. This may seem counterintuitive, but multiple research studies have observed increased fat burning in the presence of caloric (carbohydrate) intake during exercise. In the same way that starving your body during the day decreases your resting metabolic rate, starving your body during exercise decreases your exercise metabolic rate.

So during your next few months of training sessions, remember this core principle of physiology: fat burns in the flame of carbohydrate. Now you know how to get rid of that giant log of fruitcake from your dear Aunt – consume it piece by piece during your long workouts! Or you could just donate it to science.

Track 2. Perform a 15-20 minute morning workout, sans breakfast.

When you wake up in the morning after an overnight fast, your body has primarily burnt through the liver’s carbohydrate stores, and has ample muscle glycogen (storage carbohydrate) to use as energy. During a window of time prior to breakfast, you can actually jump-start the weight loss process by exercising in your body’s “fat-burning” intensity zone for a brief period of time. This is usually about 50-60% intensity. You will not bonk, because your muscles can still supply the small amount of necessary carbohydrate energy to maintain exercise.

You must, however, not perform a long, marathon-style workout in this pre-breakfast window, or you will be ravenous afterwards and more likely to overeat and store fat. So stick to a brief, sustainable, fat-burning workout, and do it every morning until you have achieved your goal weight. No excuses.

You must understand that there is no research that has studied this “fat-burning” window. At least, we’re not aware of any up here in the North Pole. However, I myself, as well as dozens of fat-loss Elf clients (yes, there are actually Elves that need to lose weight), have been able to shed several pounds in a 2-4 week period of time when utilizing this strategy. We’re not quite sure why it works, but it does.

Strength 3. Lift weights

Certainly I would not argue that weightlifting has been shown to significantly enhance triathlon performance, because it hasn’t (let' s save this can of worms for another day). But, when added to a cardiovascular exercise program, weightlifting has been shown to significantly increase metabolic rate and fat-free body mass. In other words, it is a great way to get lean. Perhaps not quite as good as our distinct strategy of cage fighting a Polar bear, but definitely more risk-free.

Think of it this way: your body must burn more calories to sustain a fiber of muscle vs. a droplet a fat. By adding more muscle fibers to your body, you increase your metabolic rate, and burn more calories during the day, even when you’re not exercising. Wouldn’t it be nice to watch the big football game and know you’re blazing through an extra 25 calories per hour? A good weightlifting set:rep scheme for “hypertrophy” (an increase in the size of muscle cells), is three to five sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. Try to choose multi-joint motions, like squat-to-overhead-press, pull-ups, walking lunges, and deadlifts. By lifting weights for just 20-30 minutes three times per week, you can significantly increase your proportion of lean muscle to fat, and subsequently lose weight. And you wouldn’t believe how a few extra medicine ball lifts can help when it comes time to hoist a giant toy bag into a sled.

Obviously, there are a great many ways to lose fat. These are just a few of the more effective strategies that can be implemented by an athlete, whether in the off-season or in the process of preparing for a race. We’ll save reindeer tipping, elf curling, sled pushing, snow shoveling, and North Pole dancing for a later discussion.

Jumpingontobike Editor' s Note: This very useful advice was provided to Santa from his personal trainer and North Pole Icicleman triathlon winning athlete Ben Greenfield.

You can find more great advice from Ben on his personal Blog by clicking HERE or visit his web site HERE for optimized nutrition and personal fitness programs.

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