I often spot a little pattern with peoples training and weight loss journeys.
In particular weight loss. We’ll call him Sam. Sam decides he wants to lose weight and improve his fitness and decides the best way to go about this is to eat fewer calories and do lots of exercise.
So, he starts to eat say 1400 per day and then start training with long runs, hiit training and heavy weights for about an hour 6 days per week. According to his Fitbit he’s burning around 3500kcal per day. Sam thinks “great I’m smashing this calorie deficit lark!” For around 4-5 weeks he keeps up this regime and of course he losing weight-Well Done Sam! However Sam is starting to feel increasingly run down and lethargic and he seems to be aching constantly. He starting to struggle in his training and the weights aren’t going up any more and his run times aren’t progressing. Then he gets the flu and its game over.
It’s such a shame as Sam was doing so well.
Unfortunately what Sam didn’t consider when he began this weight loss journey was that in order to train that hard you need fuel.
Which can be a confusing message when you’re trying to lose weight and are quite rightly basing this weight loss on achieving a calorie deficit.
However training for weight loss and training for performance are two different things.
If you ask any Athlete who competes at a weight based sport –Bodybuilding or boxing for example; they will tell you that the serious weight cutting weeks are really tough as the drop in calories combined with a tough training schedule makes them exhausted. These guys also make time to properly relax and recover rather than cracking on with a full time job and a social life.
At its basic function food is fuel. We need it to power our brain, organs etc. along with physical activity. If we restrict calories our bodies decide to try and conserve the fuel for important things like our organs so we don’t have the fuel to be more active. If we push through that’s fine for a few weeks as yes we can burn some fat but continual training like this eventually just leads to burn out.
Now this is not to say you shouldn’t restrict calories if you want to exercise, in fact you absolutely do need a calorie deficit but it is to get you to consider exactly which of your goals is more important and fuel accordingly and therefore train accordingly.
Personally I only ask clients to create a calorie deficit of around 20-30% from their maintenance calories with regards to food. Then if they exercise and find themselves increasingly hungry or more tired add in an extra snack of around 100-200 cals and work from there.
With regards to training it makes sense that Bodybuilders in particular tend to do long slow cardio such as walking, as this is much less taxing on the body than HIIT training but can be done for an hour or so to create a calorie deficit of a couple of hundred calories per day on top of the calorie restriction.
If you’re focus is to improve your physical strength and performance then I’m not saying you can’t also lose weight at the same time, but you will have to make your deficit from food much smaller in order to fuel your exercise performance.
You have to really listen to what your body is telling you. If you are training hard on fewer calories and start to feel sluggish, sore and run down you might want to take 1-2 training sessions out per week or focus more on your nutrition and recovery.
If your primary goal is weight loss, then of course move around more, take up some exercise but there is no need to start the training diary of an athlete.