I've lost faith in traditional diets. I can pretty much say I've tried most of them over the years. None of them do a very good job of teaching you how to maintain or keep the weight off so you always seem to snap back to being fat!
What I've learned over the years is pretty simple. Be active, minimize processed foods, eat more cleanly, and your weight will fall where it is supposed to be! Diet is more a life long commitment.
What I do believe in is some sort of diet periodization. Just like how we, as endurance athletes, periodize our workouts to peak for our most important races, we can peak with our diets. If we do this in a "clean eating" manor, you will hit that race weight just in time for those Spring races, be well fueled for your races, and maintain a pretty healthy weight range all year round.
I usually only break the periods into three phases.
1- The in season phase Spring through Fall. In this phase you want to eat cleanly and have a moderate amount of healthy carbs. Preferably from whole grains, brown rice, fruits, and natural foods.
2- The winter phase. This is where you want to eliminate carbs, sugar and alcohol. Eat sugary fruits sparingly and mostly after workouts. No pasta, potatoes, or sugar. Workout with water only. Try a sweet potato for fuel in long rides 2 hours or more) or after them. Mix a fruit smoothie with whey protein that has very low sugar/carb content. Eat lots of lean meats and vege's and nuts. For little treats occasionally indulge in a glass if red wine, and small amounts if dark chocolate.
3- The pre race, or peak phases. About a week or two before races you'll want to add in a bit more carbs like while wheat pastas and brown rice.
Besides being a good guide for endurance athletes, what does this diet accomplish?
Theoretically, the winter phase trains your body to burn fat more efficiently. There have been a number of studies that say fat is the bodies most efficient source if fuel. Late in those endurance races our bodies have run out of carbs/sugars to burn and can't process what we feed it in time to burn it as fuel. So our bodies resort to burning fat for fuel.
The other phases maintain a healthy weight and keep you properly fueled for your races.
Now....in all honesty I have no proof that this actually works except my own experience. Last year was the first time I used this winter phase. All I can say is I saw a noticeable difference late in races and long workouts. I had far less issues with fatigue, cramping and my body seemed to get stronger as the days went on. I also didn't seem to need as much fuel during long workouts. I got down to my lowest weight since high school by Spring last year, while still gaining power and speed across all 3 of my workout disciplines. So I'd have to say that I'm a believer in this type of periodization for diet for more reasons than one!
Next post I'm going to talk about a general meal plan for day to day eating and outline some ideas for prep and successful management of healthy eating.