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Posts Tagged ‘can you lose weight and still train hard?’

In my quest to find out whether you can lose weight and still train hard, I’ve talked to lightweight rowers and club rowers and the message has come through loud and clear that the answer is yes, so long as you’re disciplined and consistent. It can even – gasp – be fun. Today it’s the turn of the non-rowers – and I’ve come up with some pretty impressive ones, I think you’ll agree.

Up first is the fabulous Ursula Hirschkorn, a journalist, blogger and undisputed Queen of Weight Loss. She writes a brilliant and refreshingly candid blog, Run, Woman, Run and manages to make time for four small sons as well as training for this year’s London marathon. Impressed? You should be.

This is what Ursula looked like before she started on her regime. Although claiming to be happy, she has since admitted that she wasn’t. As she wrote in a newspaper article about her experience, “Being fat is miserable, joyless and soul destroying and saps your confidence on a daily basis.”

Being a determined type, when Ursula decided to do something about it, she went about it with dogged persistence. And listen to this. In the space of one year, Ursula lost six stone in weight. Six stone! That’s 84lb, or 38.1 kg. In one year.

Ursula achieved this extraordinary feat without resorting to meal replacements or crazy regimes; she did it with good old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating.

And here’s what Ursula looks like now.

This is what she told me about combining diet with exercise:

” I knew that I was in for the long haul so I had to find a way to lose weight that I could live with, rather than feeling like I was going on a ‘diet’ that would come to  an end the moment I had lost the weight.

“I knew that I had to change my life entirely, which is why I decided on a mix of exercise and diet. It worked really well as my enthusiasm for getting fitter really gave me something to focus on when I was losing weight. It also gave me a new interest in life and a reason to get out of the house and do something for myself.

“I started off by entering a 5K run which went much better than I expected, followed by a couple of 10Ks and I am now training for the marathon.

“As for coping with hunger and training – well if you eat well that shouldn’t really happen. I eat all the time, three meals plus at least two snacks, but it’s all healthy stuff, low carb, high protein. I found that if I didn’t eat enough I actually didn’t lose as much as it tended to mean that my body started to store fat again.

“Though I do think the key to losing weight is not to think that doing lots of exercise means you can eat what you like. I never thought ‘Oh well I have been to the gym, so I can have a chocolate bar or a piece of cake’. Trouble is that if you take that approach it is so easy to eat away all the weight loss benefits of working out. I ate the same whether  I had been to the gym or not.

“This of course all came off the rails with the marathon as I simply can’t battle the hunger with this level of training. But I hear that putting on 5lbs when training for a marathon is pretty common. I just plan to get the run out of the way and then return to a more varied diet of exercise and bringing my eating back under control once the hunger of endurance training abates!”

For my second dose of inspiration, I turned to Nicola Joyce, a fitness journalist, copywriter and blogger, who writes the addictive blog The Fit Writer.

I think Nic would be the first to admit that when it comes to exercise, she’s a bit of an extremist. She used to be a cross channel swimmer and once swam right round the entire island of Jersey, so she doesn’t tend to do things by halves.

Cross channel swimming requires a layer of body fat for insulation, and here’s what Nic looked like when she was training for her channel crossing – in her words, “muscley and fat”.

Ever up for a challenge, Nic moved on from swimming the channel, via triathlon, and eventually settled on natural (ie. non-steroidal) bodybuilding for her next endeavour. This required a huge change in her body composition. Although she’d always been muscular, she needed to build a lot of muscle and become extremely lean in order to display the muscles.

Bodybuilding involves an off season in which dietary restrictions are relaxed in order to build muscle and strength, and a preparation season in which body fat is lost in preparation for competitions (Nic calls this Notch Watch as she gradually tightens the notches in her training belt). Last year Nic embarked on her first season and managed the extraordinary feat, having started from scratch, of placing second and third in two British finals in 2011.

This is what she looked at in competition – quite a difference, huh?

I caught up with Nic this week and this is the result of our chat:

GirlontheRiver: How do you feel at the beginning of the getting lean stage? Do you dread it or relish the challenge?

Nic: I was really fired up last year as I had a very clear goal and lots of support. It was very exciting! I had a clear picture of what I wanted to achieve (and what I thought/knew I’d end up looking like) and this was very motivating. This time round, there was a bit of dread – after all, the mind and body aren’t stupid and do have a memory! But along with the memories of how tough dieting and getting lean can be, I have the memories of how it feels to reach/exceed goals and hold that trophy. That drives me on. And, quite honestly, when I can calm my mind, get rid of the self-pity and have finished having a little “mental tantrum” about the injustices of dieting (insert sarcasm here: after all, it’s completely my choice and I can stop any time I want!), I realise that I actually quite enjoy it. I genuinely like the foods I eat, I like being healthy, I don’t like how I feel when I eat junk.

GirlontheRiver: What, briefly and roughly, does your diet consist of when you’re on notch watch?

Nic: It’s hard to be specific as it changes depending on training block/amount of cardio/leanness but in summary:

 
– carb cycling (typically 3 low carb, one “carb up” but carb up coming from decent sources like extra rice, potato, fruit – I can’t/don’t do all “cheat” days like some will, eating junk foods or takeaways etc, it just doesn’t work for me)
– higher fats when lower carbs
– lots of protein (around 2.5g per 1kg bodyweight), mostly from real food sources: chicken, turkey, some red meat (including wild/exotic meats), seafood and fish incl. oily fish, eggs, egg whites. Some protein powders when necessary (ie after training or if on the move)
– lots of veg, particularly greens, leafy stuff, cruciferous
– a bit of fruit, not too much
– carbs around training (afterwards)
– avoid processed, packaged, man-made foods as far as possible (being realistic!)
– I avoid sugar, dairy (apart from butter), grains (apart from basmati rice) – even oats. They just don’t do it for me, leave me bloated and trigger off cravings.
– a small calorie deficit
– lots of water, black coffee, herbal tea
– sport/health supplements
 
I try to get organic, grass-fed meat where possible, both for the health benefits but also from an ethical point of view. 
 
Some things I eat would be considered strange: I don’t eat toast, cereal or even oats for breakfast. Instead I tend to have meat and leafy greens or green veg with some fat (for example today was chicken cooked in a bit of butter, with cabbage and leek – yes, for breakfast). It’s what works for me!
 
A lot of it is learning about your body, what works for you, what doesn’t. What makes you feel good and energised, what makes you feel bloated, lethargic, craving sweet things. Oats are a staple food for many bodybuilders, but I no longer have them in the house. They don’t do anything for me apart from make me feel sleepy and set off cravings for biscuits and cake! Strange, but that’s what I’ve learned.

GirlontheRiver: Do you change your exercise regime in order to get leaner e.g. introduce more cardio? 

Nic: Yes I bring cardio in to bump up fat loss, but don’t do too much otherwise there will be no “tricks left up my sleeve”. Most of my fat loss comes from the diet side of things, and strength/size/mass comes from how I train. Even weight training can have a cardio effect if you do it fast enough. Yesterday’s leg session was a massive hit to the metabolism/CNS – I felt like I’d run a 10k race or something!

GirlontheRiver: How do you get the balance right between losing weight and staying strong?

 Nic: I don’t seem to have this problem, quite honestly! I don’t know why. Even when I was dieting hard last year, right into the run up to shows, I was still lifting/pressing very heavy, and body composition tests showed I’d put on muscle even whilst in a caloric deficit. Praise be to the gods of good genetics! What does tend to “go” is over all energy levels. When very lean and dieting, I’ll have energy for a while at the gym then suddenly… it’s gone. And I can’t do any more (except just about walk home!)

GirlontheRiver: Do you struggle with feeling weak / feeling hungry during this phase? And, if so, how do you deal with this? Is it a case of MTFU?!!

 Nic: Yes – see above. You have to be kind to yourself, you are asking a lot of the body – and the mind. But not too kind, after all if you want to meet your goal, you have to get on with it. Reward and pamper yourself, just not with food (there are plenty of other ways). Enjoy what you do get to eat (I try not to eat cold chicken out of tupperware when I can eat freshly cooked chicken warm out of the oven). Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Praise yourself for your successes – either out loud or by writing it in a journal. Try to minimise other stresses. Learn to let go (of the housework or whatever can “give” for the period of time). And keep your eyes on the prize. You have to know why you’re doing this, it has to resonate with you. The results and rewards are worth it – every single second of it. And always remember, this is your choice. No-one is making you do it, and it’s not their fault!
So, ladies and gents, there you have it. One sporting virgin who went from doing nothing to running a marathon, and one sports nut who can’t say no to a challenge. Both very different, but with a similar message. Can you lose weight and still train hard? Whether you’re a heavyweight rower, a lightweight rower, a bog-standard club rower, a runner, a bodybuilder or a couch potato aspiring to greater things, let me hear you say it… YES, YOU CAN!
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So yesterday we heard from some lightweight rowers about their quest to stay strong and stay trim. But what about the rest of us? Let’s face it; in the real world, most of us aren’t lightweight and most of us have to devote large amounts of our time to jobs and families. But wait! All is not lost. Can you lose weight and still train hard? I’ve spoken to two club rowers whose answer is a defiant “yes”.

Alison Brighton, Runcorn Rowing Club

Alison is a single sculler who has managed to lose an impressive 10% of her body weight whilst still hitting her rowing targets. Here’s how she did it:

“I had put 10kg back on after losing a lot of weight through the first part of my NQT year – I was up to about 82 or 83 kg, which is scary being female and also a problem when your boat is a 70kg boat.

“After rigging it really, really high so I could tap down over my quads, and changing my coach, my weight came down through volume – hours and hours and hours of steady state from about November through to March, working within a heart rate range which was set from my resting HR and a maximum from racing or a 2k (forget which).

“I was doing weights etc. as well, but very little on the erg thanks to a dodgy back and the ‘magic’ formula of 1-2 sessions a week of  about 10 being anything over ‘steady’. I believe this is closer to the ratio that GB squad do – masses of steady state relative to higher rating work (and that can mean 24+ apparently!)

“Foodwise – I was eating normal (large meals) plus making sure I ate/ drank something for recovery straight after training. I got fed up of the sight of large piles of pasta and feeling like I couldn’t eat enough to get through it.

“I was down to 74kg ish for Henley Women’s Regatta, although I wanted to get down to 72 really.

“This year, I’ve done much less steady state, due to change in coaching emphasis and being much further away from my club. Result: back up to about 78kg before I had a stomach bug. I’m about 76kg now (in reach of ‘race’ weight)

“But, really, I didn’t think much about food, other than whether it would make me feel sick before training (scrambled egg, tuna, anything with onion) and whether I had eaten enough.

“Once I decide if I’m actually in any state to race this season, after whatever last race is, going to go back to steady state, and make sure I get the miles in. It’s what works for me, for fitness, for technique, confidence in my boat and of course being lighter (am never going to be light!)”

Next up is my very lovely friend:

Julia Oliva, ladies’ vice-Captain, Monmouth RC

Some say she is the power behind the Olympic throne, and that Lord Coe leaves love-lorn messages on her voicemail. All we know is she’s called the Jools.

Jools took a more diet-based approach to losing weight and has lost a staggering amount of weight since November 2011. I’ve seen her on the gym and on the water and can vouch for the fact that she has lost nothing in energy. Here’s what she told me:

“S’easy! For lunch and dinner, fill a plate with gorgeous leaves, rocket, tasty herbs, etc., top with a low cal dressing and find a small gap on the same plate to  put whatever you fancy in the high protein/quality carb/low fat range. My favourites are salmon fillet topped with red pesto, chicken breast with green pesto. Go easy on the trash carbs and ‘up’ the protein – for satiation – I’m convinced that protein makes you feel fuller longer. When I say fill your plate with veggies – I mean fill your plate!

“That means for the Sunday roast too – start with a plate full of broccoli, carrots, beans, cauli etc then add your lean meat, finding enough room to just squeeze in 1 roast potato – to savour it 🙂
“This even goes for a curry – pile on some veg, add the meat/sauce, then squeeze in a heaped tablespoon of rice 🙂 You can eat the same as the family, just change the ratios.
“Eat whatever fruits you like between meals.

“I’ve lost 20 lbs since November and never really felt hungry.

“Drink loadsa water.

“Weigh yourself daily – yeah I know that the diet sheets say once a week, but there’s plenty of research out there that shows that daily weighers have more success at losing weight and keeping it off.

“…..And emotionally (I think this is an important one)  – don’t feel that you’re punishing yourself and resent being on a diet – love it! Realise that you’re going to be on the diet for 6 months – some people say ‘lifestyle change’ but I don’t think that means much. So set a SMART goal for 6 months’ time, with a couple of mini goals in between and work towards it. One bad day doesn’t mean ‘end of diet’, just have an extra lean day the next day. 

“Also remember that this is a good thing that you’re doing, but your body doesn’t think so as it prefers to be fat – again research available. So if you’ve been overweight before, your body will try to regain that state making it more difficult for you, for about a year after starting a diet 😦
“It’s a battle between body and you – win it ;)”
Huge thanks to Alison and Jools for sharing their secrets. By the way, if you’re looking out for Jools at any regattas this summer, she’ll be the one in the fetching leopard-print leggings.
So, we’ve had the lightweight rowers and we’ve had the club rowers, but – ever mindful of my audience – I know that not all of Girl on the River’s readers are rowers. So tomorrow I’m going to bring you Part III, with a runner who has lost mahoosive amounts of weight whilst training for various running events, and a bodybuilder who successfully got lean for her competition. Can you lose weight and still train hard? You betcha.

 

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