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Seven Biggest Weight Loss Mistakes Triathletes Make

By Lindsay Zemba Leigh | Jan. 08, 2018, 4:10 p.m. (ET)


Triathletes work too hard in training to hinder their training and race performances with fueling mistakes. In general, triathletes are a knowledgeable and body-aware group, but they still often make some of the following mistakes with fueling and weight loss efforts.

1. Underfueling everyday nutrition: During the season, aim for no more than a 250-calorie deficit per day. Any more than this and our bodies may become under-fueled, setting us up for hunger and bingeing. Chronic underfueling can lead to a depressed immune system, slow recovery from workouts, fat preservation and decreased performance in both workouts and races. Listen to your body’s cues (it’s wise!) — eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and stick to whole foods packed full of nutrients. Slow and steady wins the weight loss race.

2. Underfueling workouts: Cutting calories during long workouts is never a good idea. Underfueling workouts will impede recovery, negatively impact how strong we feel and can perform during the workout, and can leave us ravenous later in the day and set us up for a binge. Plus, it’s important to train our guts in workouts the same way we train our muscles so race-day fueling is seamless.

3. Depriving ourselves: Not allowing ourselves favorite foods or treats once in a while can lead to binges. I firmly believe that “for every diet there is an equal and opposite binge,” as bestselling author Geneen Roth says. Even the word “diet” makes me want to run for chocolate. Stick to the 90/10 rule of eating healthy 90 percent of the time and allowing some treats 10 percent of the time. Or have those high-glycemic treats post workout when they’ll be absorbed and used to restock your glycogen stores instead of being stored as fat.

4. Cutting carbs: Carbs are still endurance athletes’ best friends. They are the most accessible source of energy and crucial for fueling and recovering from workouts. Outside of the workout window, stick to unpackaged, unrefined carbs like sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats, beans, fruit and vegetables, etc.

5. Counting calories: It can be helpful to log our food intake for a few weeks to see what our calorie count is, and what our macronutrient breakdown looks like, but there is no need to calorie count forever. Calorie counting can become tedious, create obsessive behaviors and is unnecessary long term. Eating a variety of whole, unpackaged foods while listening to your body’s hunger cues sounds simple, but it’s all you need.

6. Using weight instead of body composition: Most of us have a race weight in our head that we hold onto and feel we are fastest at. What if instead, we had a body fat percentage and muscle weight we held onto? This is much more productive and healthier, as you could strive for the race weight but have 5 percent less muscle than you had at the higher weight, losing power on the bike, and overall durability for the longer distances. The body fat scales may not be the most accurate, but they at least give us a relative scale to compare to over the months and years, and they are the easiest way to measure body fat and muscle on your own.

7. Comparison to others: We are all guilty of this one at one time or another, whether it is comparing race results, training techniques and volume, fueling tactics, body composition, etc. Social comparison is never healthy or productive. Every body is unique and has its own ideal body composition and fastest race weight. So, strive to be better than you were yesterday, last week, last year; not better than Sally.

Lindsay Zemba Leigh is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Level 2 Certified Coach. She’s also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified yoga instructor and certified nutrition coach. She coaches triathletes and runners with No Limits Endurance Coaching and loves helping athletes achieve their big dreams. You can contact her via email at 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.