Body Mass and Running Performance

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 03:33 |
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My current morning routine usually incorporates a quick body mass check on the bathroom scale. Most often it indicates my level of hydration but it also serves as my wake up call. To run fast and minimize impact trauma, the lighter you are the better. Of course that makes sense, but you also need to understand that there is an acceptable weight gain in the off-season, an ideal training weight and a target body weight for your peak race.

Over the winter months, most athletes gain body weight in the form of fat mass. Sometimes, an athlete can actually gain lean body mass due to less cardiovascular exercise and more resistance training. However, most often if an athlete maintains a 60% or more focus on aerobic exercise, in particular running, the weight gain is usually fat mass. I believe an acceptable gain in the off-season is 5-6% of your race weight. If you find yourself greater than 6% you will need to begin the process of reaching this weight immediately. An overloaded body mass can increase the probability of structure issues if proper progression is not implemented in training. In addition, the effort to lose more than 6% is very substantial with many sacrifices and strong will power for extended periods. Too long of a process can be the recipe for acceptance and missing your target race weight.  Once you reach this 5% weight, never, never, let it creep up! Hence, my morning weigh-ins for a wake up call.

Most of us do not know our race weights. I suppose you can reflect back to the year you ran the fastest or even back to the body weight you were at high school graduation. But the best and most accurate method of determining your race weight is to have a body composition done by a certified fitness instructor. I prefer the tape measure and calipers method with at least 7 skin folds in the calculation. Scales that indicate percent fat are very unreliable and lack validity. The other advantage of a professional body composition (use of steel Lufkin measuring tape and Harpenden calipers) is investigating specific sight measurements and comparing those sites from one test to the next. Make sure you get the same practitioner each time to maximize reliability. Your composition should be checked once every 2 months and 3-4 times within the last 8 weeks of your goal race.

Race weight could be more accurately expressed as a percentage fat and lean body mass. To run fast, elite males are 6-8% while elite females are 12-15%. Lower in not better. Poor health can result if you try to lean up too much. My off season and training percent fat is 10% at 150 pounds with 135 pounds of lean body mass. Just before my goal race, I weigh in at 142 pounds and have a percent fat of 7% with 131 pounds of lean body mass. Due to the mathematic calculation, lean body mass tends to drop slightly as you near your race state.  I have clear and finite weight goals to achieve which puts another piece of the performance puzzle in place. Warning, this drop in body mass is not easy for anyone! Temptations, cravings and emotional feedings need to be restrained with much will power. The questions is, what are you willing to do to have a best ever season?

For every pound of mass that you lose, you are likely to require less energy to run at your intended pace (increased running economy). Or, you may be able to extend the time or distance at which you can sustain a strong effort. Either way, these are fantastic improvements caused mostly by strategic eating and will power. I have seen with the loss of 5 pounds, a drop of 10 beats in heart rate at the same pace without significant training adaptation. So in the large picture of reaching your season potential, dropping body mass could be more of a factor than training more often.

In the midst of your training season, I recommend maintaining an acceptable body mass that is 3-5% greater than your race weight. This will allow your body to maintain good health, add additional resistance for structural strength and increase the “value” of your training with increased work. As you near 8 weeks before your goal race, you must begin the process of dropping fat mass and maintaining health and performance.  This process must be done slowly and methodically. Most often the loss of fat is directly related to your nutrition and eating habits but the additional intensity in your final preparation will compliment your eating modifications.

As I lose fat mass within the last 8 weeks, I often will add weight when training to overload and create a more demanding workout. I often use ankles weight and a weight vest during hill repeats and stair sessions (vertical gain training). I try to delay the sensation of “being light and fast” until 2-3 weeks away from my goal race. At this time I will usually test my new running economy and evaluate my performance on routine training sessions or routes. Most often the feedback is extremely positive and the confidence soars.

In a nutshell, here are some ideas for leaning up to race your best.

  • Every calorie counts; food for fuel only, no emotional eating
  • Do not eat late at night, >100 calories past 8pm
  • No additional calories in preparation, such as spreads or oils
  • Focus on fuel and hydration during and after workouts
  • Smaller main meals with more roughage
  • More supplementation in the form of essential oils and amino acids such as L glutamine and possibly protein powders
  • Multi vitamin to cover any micro nutrient deficiencies
  • Never eat to feel full, just to satisfy the hunger or recovery needs
  • Hydrate with water but add minerals, no calories
  • Make sure you are getting iron and calcium rich foods each day

Most often body mass manipulation is overlooked when preparing for your race season.  A professional body composition will shed some light on your current body state and where you need to be before race season. With 8 weeks remaining until your goal race, not only do you sharpen your training but also you clean up you nutrition. The results will be a new, lighter and faster you that will translate into personal triumph.

©TriMaster 2013


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Calvin Zaryski

CoachCal has been coaching for over 30 years. Not just focusing on athletes, but on individuals whose goals range from climbing Mount Everest to recapturing the power of active living.


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