Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Endurance Training & the Sleeve

A lot of people ask me how I can get in the calories I need to in order to train for endurance events with a sleeve. In the early days after most weight loss surgeries, most people have trouble getting in their 800 calories a day and can't imagine eating 1200 or 1600 let alone 2000, 3000 or more.

However, as people who struggle with regain know, over time it gets all too easy... you learn what you have to do to get in the food you need and/or want. The trick for me is to figure out how to eat enough to fuel my workouts, but not in a way that I am breaking all the good habits I learned when I was only able to eat a small amount. A secondary goal is to not to wake up the Carb Monster with his incessant cravings.

I have a number of strategies that are divided into three types of eating: Bariatric Eating, Fueling and Indulgences.


Bariatric Eating
First, I have a routine that I've worked out that gets me around 1500-1700 calorie a day (my maintenance calories) from what I think of as regular eating. I have my go-to foods and I have a sense for what works and what doesn't. I call this bariatric eating and it follows the bariatric eating rules for the most part.

I avoid sugary foods. I avoid grazing. I don't drink with my meals. Protein first. If you've had weight loss surgery, you know the drill. (If you haven't, but still struggle with your weight, these aren't bad rules to live by even for the unaltered. They really help you be satisfied with a smaller amount of healthy food.)

This is my basic eating that would continue unchanged if I suddenly stopped working out for some reason. I might have to lower the calories as my beautiful muscles slowly wasted away and my BMR went down, but the basics of this part of my eating wouldn't change.

Fueling
Then we have what I call fueling. This is the eating that is designed to fuel my workouts and it's all about survival, not bonking and adequate recovery. This part of my eating life is very much like any other endurance athletes and not much like the recommendations for bariatric eating.

My goal for fueling is to replace 200-300 calories an hour during the workout as I've figured out over time that my tummy can’t handle more without GI issues. (Most people can eat more, but 200-300 seems to be my limit.)

On the run it is all fluid -- some water, but a lot of sports drink, usually Infinit. On the bike, I add in food of some sort - usually Powerbar Engery Bites and/or Gu Roctane. (Plus my Ride mix of Infinit has protein in it.) But sometimes I go for real food as well -- cheese sticks, bananas, protein bars, and trail mix are all foods that are easy to carry, easy to get down while drinking, and don't fight with my tummy.

I also do a pre-workout snack most days and always a post-workout recovery snack designed to help with muscle repair. The pre-workout snack is carb based and it might not happen if I’ve recently eaten one of my regular snacks or meals. The recovery snack is a combination of protein and carbs and I try to have it within 30-60 min. of working out as studies have shown this is optimal for muscle repair and adequate recovery.

Ideally, the calories consumed by fueling equal the calories burned by working out. But, the longer the workout, the less likely this is to happen. If I'm running, I can easily burn 600-700 calories and hour while I can only replace 200-300 of those. So I get behind. For shorter workouts, the danger is to consume too much so for a lot of those I will drink water and only do the recovery snack.

Any differences -- positive or negative -- get made up by adjustments to bariatric eating and indulgences.

You may have worked this out already, but you can see that I'm breaking quite a few bariatric "rules" with my workout nutrition. These include:

Drinking your calories
It's impossible to replace the fluid you sweat out and get in the calories you need without drinking a sports drink on longer workouts. For short workouts, water is fine, but workouts over an hour need at least electrolytes and, the longer you go, the more you need carbs and, eventually, protein.

If you can't eat when you workout (and a lot of people can't, especially on the run), you have to drink your calories. Even if you can eat while you workout, you probably want to drink your calories, as it just works better.

It also often works better to start drinking your calories early on. Yes, you don't absolutely need to but an extra hour or two of consuming calories means you are less likely to end your day 500-1000 calories short of what you burned or – worse – bonk at the end of the workout due to inadequate nutrition.

Drinking while eating
If you need to get in 300 calories in an hour and you have to drink constantly to stay hydrated, you can't eat a gel and then wait 30-60 minutes to drink or you'll end up dehydrated. Fortunately, you don't have to as gels are the ultimate slider food. Which leads to more broken rules:

Avoiding slider foods, caffeine and sugar
Eating to fuel workouts is all about the slider foods. I can't eat an entire protein bar and then start drinking right away. But I can gnaw on an Energy Bite and then immediately drink. Because I can't guzzle down 4-6 oz. of fluid at time, I have to drink pretty much the entire time I'm racing, too. So mixing slider foods in with all that fluid is essential.

My favorite gel is Gu Roctane, preferably a flavor with caffeine, and my second favorite is any regular Gu that has caffeine. Yes, I said caffeine. It really helps your performance. I know most programs say to avoid it and I do -- during my bariatric eating. But, in a race or a long workout, a shot of caffeine every hour or caffeine in your sports drink is essential. (On the bike I do both, in fact.)

The gels (or blocks, shots, beans or whatever your favorite is) are also full of sugar. But your body needs it. Running a marathon is not the time to be worried about complex carbs. This is probably why most people with bypasses can consume this stuff in a race and not dump. It's actually an appropriate time to eat it as your body needs an efficient source of energy and a slab of simple carbs is generally exactly what it needs.

Three meals a day
The final rule I am breaking is to limit my eating to three meals a day. First of all, this rule really doesn't work for anyone who is consuming more than a limited amount of calories. If my maintenance calories were 1000-1200, then three meals would be perfect. But I generally can only get in 100-400 calories per "meal" and I need 1500-1700 total for the day, not counting what I’ve burned in exercise.

You don't need a PhD in math to see that this just isn't going to work. So I eat 5-6 meals and snacks during my bariatric eating. When you throw in my fueling, I can be eating as much as 6-9 times a day!

Indulgences
My final type of eating is what I think of as the indulgences. These are the trickiest part. If you want successfully maintain a weight loss, you need to figure out your indulgences. It's not realistic to think that you will never eat any food again that isn't part of a low calorie diet.

You need to figure out how often you can eat these things and still maintain a healthy lifestyle. Indulge too often and the weight comes back on. Not often enough and you are setting yourself up a major fall at some point -- just going nuts with the junk and losing control, sometimes for a long period of time.

Neither of those is good, in my opinion. It's certainly not how thin people eat. So I have my froyo and my brownies (often together) and I occasionally eat fried foods or dessert at a party. Even more occasionally, I consume alcohol. I have these things, but I don't have a lot and I don't have them very often. Do I have them more than I should? That's a matter of opinion.

The thing is, when you workout 10 hours a week, you can eat a lot more indulgences than if you don't. At one point, I tried not to use any of the calories I burned in exercise to supplement my indulgence allotment. I was worried about the day that I couldn’t exercise this much and didn’t want to develop “bad habits.” But that approach just wasn’t realistic. I realized I was letting my perfectionist side worry so much about the future that I wasn’t enjoying the present. So I let up a bit.

As a result, I did gain some weight this winter when I was working out less due to the weather and my injury. I did beat myself up a bit about it, too, and I was worried that I'd just keep eating and gaining even after my workouts increased. But that didn't happen. Instead, it worked out just like it does for most endurance athletes.

I went up three pounds and my body fat percentage went up. Then the season started, I got into full workout mode, and the weight came off and the body fat percentage went down. I anticipate something similar happening next winter. Hopefully, I'll learn to roll with it and not torture myself as much as I did this past winter. Because that was mentally exhausting!

Another danger is that you indulge enough that you start to crave carbs – usually unhealthy ones -- and suddenly your weekly indulgences are daily ones. I've definitely done that. Frankly, I can get away with it during the season, but I can't in the winter. The good news is that I've always been able to get control back and usually fairly swiftly. That stuff just has a limited appeal for me now and a few days of dessert every night is enough to put me off dessert for a while.

Summary
So that's how I do it. I know other people have other approaches. But this works for me for the most part so I'm going to keep going it. The only difference is that this summer I am going to try eating to my hunger instead of to the numbers on my online food diary. This means some days I'll eat more than those numbers say I burned and some days I'll eat less. I want to see if I can self-regulate instead of eat largely in response to outside stimulus such as numbers in my food journal. But I'll still record everything so I can go back and see what I did and figure out what worked and what didn't.
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