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Getting to Racing Weight

We all struggle with managing weight, even more so for those challenged with family, work and a hectic training schedule.  Hopefully this very good article by James Beckinsale can shed a bit of light on a subject which often gets overly complicated (when it does not need to be).
Nutrition for Triathlon

Getting to Racing Weight

Carrying a couple of extra kilograms of bodyweight a few weeks out from your first major race leaves no time to reduce the deficit in a healthy and performance enhancing way. The fat or obese person can probably just increase their exercise level and hey, the fat count will drop off. However, you are probably a different animal, training hard or at the very least above ‘normal’ and for the most part eating quite well. So how do you go about hitting your optimal weight?

Weight (fat) loss from an athletic perspective cannot just be about nil by mouth as this will limit your performance in training, and anyway 95% of ‘crash’ diets fail in the first few weeks. Instead you must attack fat loss with an holistic approach with optimum nutrition and exercise intensity. We know that fat loss will only occur when energy output exceeds energy intake, regardless of the diet’s macro nutrient mixture (fad diets that will not work long term).

So, why don’t the diets work?

A prudent dietary approach to weight loss unbalances the energy equation just enough to cause change. Therefore, by reducing energy intake by around 500 kcal below daily energy expenditure will produce greater fat loss in relation to the energy deficit (you must be able to train/ recover) than a more severe energy-restricted diet. It has also been show that to crash diet the body restricts the amount of fat being burnt (which is after all our aim).

So, should you just go out and train as hard as you can, eating as little as possible? It’s so much easier than that, especially for your first two phases of training (base I & base II).

These phases teach the body to utilise its own fat stores for energy production. This can only be done (initially), at a moderate to low intensity (aerobic/ LSD). Once you start exercising hard (breathing hard) your body will predominantly use the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen).

Benefits of harder workouts

The benefit of harder sessions with regards to weight loss is that your metabolic rate will stay higher for longer post hard workouts; however this is again using the calories that are readily available at the time.

Fat/carbohydrate: From a calorific perspective as you know, fat yields much more energy than carbohydrate and will only be burnt in the presents of oxygen (aerobic). This is one of the reasons we really start to use it during longer and longer endurance events (effort has to be moderate). Importantly it’s also why, if you work too hard during endurance events without refueling, you will bonk due to running out of readily available energy (glycogen) and not being able to tap into your abundance of fat stores.

A body’s daily calorific requirements are determined by three factors:

  1. Resting metabolic rate (RMR),
  2. Thermogenesis (calories required for heat production)
  3. Physical activity

Water then fat

In a generalized trend, during the first week of a calorie controlled diet around 70% of the weight loss is water. In weeks 2-3 it becomes 70% fat loss, 20% water and 10% protein and finally in week 4 it can be 85% fat loss with around 15% from protein (McArdle, Katch and Katch 2001).

Weight in muscle

As triathletes, if we go from a couple of weeks of pre-winter recovery into winter training increasing our exercise levels, we will inevitably increase our muscle tone. If we were to go through a heavy period of strength training or a power phase the effect could be to increase muscle bulk (this should only be minimal) and thus possibly see increase in weight. This could be seen as detrimental to our performance (decreased economy), however don’t react negatively to muscle tone/ bulk if it is going to increase your performance – check the clock!

The opposite side to the above situation is when you restrict your calorie intake so much that you start to loose fat-free mass and this can lead to a drop off in performance/strength, Again, check the clock/ power meter.

The nitty gritty

So how do we go about calculating the number of calories we need per day? This is a tough one, as most normalized tables take into account your BMI (Body Mass Index), which in my view is a load of cods wallop! For example, a 5ft5 body builder with 6% body fat weighing in at 80kgs would come up as obese on a BMI scale, so as you can see this does not work for athletes.

Another method that can be used provides a couple of ‘intensity levels’ you have to mark yourself against; 1 being low, 2 is moderate and 3 is heavy. However, ‘heavy’ could be manual labour… So what about the age-group triathlete who goes to work all day on a building site and still trains 12 hours per week? Or the ironman athlete doing 20-30+ hours of endurance training per week? It’s far too generic a method and does not give a good indication of the true work load carried out per day.

So we need to be a little bit more specific; the example below is the method I have used for some time now and it works quite well.

Weight goal for performance Please note, this is just an example to show the figures and not a prescription! The optimum percentage figures for fat in male and female elite triathletes were given as 5-12% and 8-15% respectively by Wilmore and Costill in 1999.

Weight 72.6kg
Relative fat 25% (measured with calipers or underwater weighing is the most effective)
Fat weight 18.2kg (weight x 25%)
Fat free weight 54.4kg (weight – fat weight)
Relative fat goal 18% (= 82% fat-free)
Weight goal 66.3kg (fat-free weight ÷ 81%)
Weight loss goal 6.3kg

Healthy deficit

Athletes should aim to lose no more than 0.5 – 1kg per week, losing more weight could lead to losses in fat-free mass. Once you reach your upper limit of your goal weight you should look for supervision form a professional to help reduce weigh further and this should be done at an even slower rate (less that 0.5kg per week, again not to have a detrimental effect on performance). In order to change your weight by 0.5kg per week you must decrease your intake by 200 – 500 kcal per day.

Holistic approach

You do not have to start counting and measuring out each potion of food like a body builder. If you feel you are over fat (weight), get a professional to measure your body fat percentage (use calipers or underwater weighing), then make some basic changes.

  • Simply eat a well balanced diet
  • Snack on fruit/ veg, health snacks (low GI if not training)
  • Cut down on carbs prior to bed (salad/veg/protein is energy enough)
  • Eat little and often (never eat until you are full or stuffed)
  • Keep blood sugar balanced throughout the day (little and often)
  • Eat as naturally as possible (no hydrogenated fat, E numbers, etc)
  • Cut down on booze (one small glass of wine is 90 calories)
  • Get into good sleep patterns (you only release growth hormone during sleep)
  • De-stress
  • Stay hydrated

As soon as you stop over-eating (as per the majority of the western population), which is what you must have been doing if you are carrying too much fat, give it a bit of time and you will see your fat-weight start to come down.

It still takes discipline not to say “Oh that was a hard bike session, I’ll have some chocolate or other high calorific treat now,” which means you fill yourself up on foods with low nutritional benefit instead of healthy/good stuff. The other killer, if you don’t replenish energy during long rides/ runs and bonk, is that you get back home and gorge yourself on sweet stuff!

Insulin spike

Foods with a high glycemic (GI) index (white rice, pasta, cakes, sweets) are often accompanied by a spike of insulin. The excessive insulin pulls too much glucose from the blood causing fatigue, hunger, and usually additional sugar cravings. This cycle continues throughout the day impeding the use of fats as a fuel and ultimately leading to weight gain. This does not mean all high GI carbohydrates are bad and should be avoided. High glycemic index foods are very beneficial when consumed prior to, during, and following exercise (Thomas W. Nesser, PhD, CSCS).

Look after the nutritional part of your day to day life as this is where you will make a massive difference to your performance long term. The bottom line is that you need to be happy to perform and if not having any treats or crash dieting is not going to make you happy, be sensible and seek professional advice if you feel you need it.

Please keep in mind that I am not an expert on nutrition and these are just my thoughts (with some research) as a coach, on how to get to race weight sensibly. If there are experts out there who are doing things differently I would love to hear about it.

18 week Marathon Package Plans

Having coached hundreds of athletes over the marathon distance we know how to get you into pb shape to tackle the 26.2 mile marathon distance.  Our marathon plans are designed around the athlete rather than a generic one size fits all plan.

Ascent Marathon package plans cost €180 and the following is covered under the plan,

  • Initial client consultation
  • Custom built plan released in 4 week segments
  • Once a week communication with coach to review progress
  • Race planning leading up to the marathon
  • Race day planning and execution
  • Nutrition & Hydration advice

If you want to give yourself the best chance possible to reach your potential over the marathon distance then get in touch with us on, on Twitter @AscentSportsCo or on Facebook at

The low down on Long Progression Runs

What is the best type of long run to be doing I hear you ask?  Slow and easy, some at marathon pace, some at threshold pace?  Of course it can differ depending on what you are targeting for your race season but one thing is certain, there should be some progression running built into your long run, the reasons why we will explain further in this article.

Progression running, what is it?

A progression run is a run in which you begin at a slow easy pace and then look to gradually increase your pace to finish faster than you started out. There are a number of different types of progression runs which we will outline in this article and each of them have a slightly different goal from the session.

Some can be focussed on developing speed and endurance, building fitness or sharpening up for races.  One of the benefits of progression runs is they can effectively improve your race fitness without requiring additional recovery time.  They also add an interesting variety to your weekly training programme and break up the monotony of a long slow run.

How will I benefit from Progression Runs?

Now we need to understand how we will see benefits from progression running.  There are a number of reasons but the main four are as follows,

    • Correct use of Progression runs results in very little fatigue compared to if you were doing a really hard tempo or interval session.  Progression runs can allow you to do some faster running but in a way that will not leave you feeling fatigued and a session with which you can recover quickly from.
  • Reducing the risk of injury.  By starting off slow it allows time for the muscles to warm up and primes the physiological pathways that will be used for faster running later on in the session.  If you try running fast from the start of a run before your muscular, respiratory and circulatory systems can warm up, you not only run the risk of injury but you also greatly increase lactic acid production by stressing your anaerobic system too much.
  • Given the nature of progression runs it allows you to increase volume of stamina focused training.  Given that additional stamina focussed training will result in a fitter athlete it makes sense to start creating opportunities to introduce progression running into your training programme.
  • Longer progression runs can be effective ways to increase mechanical efficiency by forcing a runner to increase stride length and cadence while the body is fatigued and form has started to deteriorate.  This is even more useful over longer distances from 10k upwards when form becomes ragged towards the end of a race

How do I measure my effort?

Effort can be measured as follows on your progression runs,

  • RPE  (Rated Perceived Exertion) Normally starting off easy around an RPE between 2-5 and sometimes extending yourself up to 6-8 by the end of the run.
  • Pace – If you know what your threshold pace is then you should be able to work out your pace zones.  Starting off easy in zone 1-2 and building it up towards zone 3-5.
  • Heart Rate – As per pace if you have established your LTHR then you would follow the same zones starting off low and increasing the effort.

After a few of these sessions you should soon be able to run these progression runs by feel.

Different approaches to Progression Runs

Easy Progression Run

These are often run without the athlete even being aware of it. Naturally enough runners tend to start out slower than they ordinarily would because of fatigue and possibly some soreness.  After they warm up pace can start to creep up.

Mid-Range Progression Run

Medium to long in length, these workouts are geared at boosting the aerobic system by adding an increased aerobic stimulus once the body starts to tire halfway through a run. Studies have shown when a runner increases aerobic resistance after they’ve become glycogen-depleted (in other words, start running low on fuel), the body produces considerably more aerobic enzymes, which in turn helps the body do a better job of processing lactate. The net result is that it allows you to run at a faster pace longer before you fatigue. The mid-range progression run helps prevent long runs from becoming tight, monotonous shuffles in which the stride length gets too short and neuromuscular timing goes flat.

Pre-Marathon Progression Runs

These are harder and longer progression runs that typically involve running at half-marathon race pace or faster for extended periods of time. They are used to briefly stimulate the aerobic and metabolic systems, but without putting either system in too much distress. These types of progression run allow a runner to simulate the pace and some of the fatigue of a race without complete breakdown that an extended hard effort might bring on.

Threshold Progression Runs

These types of workouts will help boost your race-day fitness thresholds by running hard for relatively short distances at speeds faster than race pace with short rest.


As the name suggests, you break your run down into three equal parts. For the first third, you run at a relatively slow, comfortable pace. As you progress to the second third of the run, your pace will have gradually increased to your normal steady running pace. Over the last third of the run, you increase your speed so that you’re running a strong, comfortably hard pace, this would normally correspond to between marathon and half marathon pace.  This strong running significantly improves your stamina which raises the pace you can run before you begin to rapidly accumulate lactic acid.

Fast finish

To perform this type of progression run you run 70-85% of your run at an easy pace.  As you approach the last 15%-30% of the run you start to pick up the pace.  This pace would typically start out at HM pace, moving down to 10k pace with the last few minutes at 5k pace.  These type of runs work best on shorter planned long runs given the high level intensity towards the end.  These runs are exhilarating yet don’t require a long recovery. They are fast enough to really stimulate your Speed and Sprinting ability (muscle recruitment, coordination, mental focus and lactic acid tolerance) but short enough that you will feel no lasting effect on your next run.  This type of run should be saved until you have mastered the others.

Final Thoughts

Try incorporating progression runs into your training program and you will notice a signficant improvement in your run fitness and performance without a lengthy recovery. The workouts not only add variety but also make the sessions more fun & interesting than a slow, boring long training run.

Setting out your stall for 2015

At this time of year people often take stock of how their year went, evaluating how they performed in training and races and what can be done better for next year.  For some they will be content, for others they will already be planning 2015 and putting their wrongs right.

For many, December and in particular January is a time for planning, for others its full of New Years resolutions and promises to yourself.  For a lot of people when they plan ahead their training and race calendar for the year they do so with good intentions.  What is often the case when in “planning mode” is people set unrealistic and unsustainable plans.  Yeah sure you might get through the first few weeks or even months full of gusto but the majority of the time people will fall by the wayside and burn out, let down by poor planning and over exuberance.

There are a few factors to take into account when setting out your stall for 2015

Goal setting

Every successful person has set goals which have driven and directed their efforts in their quest to be the best they can be.

  • Goal setting helps to focus attention and it is critical to maintain and enhance motivation.
  • Goal setting gives direction both in the short-term and the long-term, you can see success as you achieve your short and long-term goals.
  • Enhances persistence
  • Encourages the individual to develop strategies for achieving their goals

However goal setting must be implemented correctly,

  • Goals should be realistic, stretching and challenging but achievable with the right approach
  • Goals should be specific
  • Goals should be measurable, that old chestnut “what gets measured gets done”
  • Goals should be split between short and long-term, often people perform and work better when working towards a long-term goal, from losing weight, gaining fitness or improving your 10k time.  Using the short terms goals as stepping-stones to success along the way.


For any training plan or race schedule it needs to be sustainable.  No point in overdoing it in January and putting in too many hours when your long-term goal is 9 or 12 months away.  Life circumstances need to be taken into account also.  Of course someone with a flexible job and no commitments will have more training time available than someone with a busy job, wife and 4 kids at home.  Making sustainable plans needs to factor in not only the training but life circumstances surrounding the athlete.


Often overlooked but should never be forgotten.  When setting out your stall for the year keep your training and races enjoyable.  If you are doing something that is not enjoyable you should look to change it up.  We often spend a long time training, if you are not enjoying it you will soon lose that hunger in your belly.  Linked to the above point on sustainability if it’s not enjoyable, the bike, runners or speedos will be packed away by March not to be seen until next year, do not be that Winter Warrior!


Some people struggle with the planning, scheduling of races and goal setting for the year.  This is where a coach comes into play.  They will look at your short and long-term goals, review your sporting history, identify limiters to achieving your goals and start laying down a road map on how to achieve those goals.  A coach takes the guesswork out of it and takes a view of each individual and their life circumstances, the end result should be a plan which will,

  • Help you identify and achieve your goals
  • Ensure your training is structured and sustainable
  • Ensure there is enough variety in the plan to ensure you enjoy yourself along the way (well apart from those really tough sessions)

If anyone needs some guidance and help with “Setting out their stall for 2015” drop us an email @ and we will be glad to help you.

Why is Strength & Conditioning so important for the aspiring athlete

Many clients ask why is it so important to have S&C built into their training programmes, these 3 simple reasons alone tell us why.

1. Injury prevention
A good S&C programme should address flexibility issues. It should also help with addressing or eliminating any muscle imbalances which could lead to injuries and an athlete being sidelined for weeks or even months. A car chassis is an important part of a car, look after yours!

2. Stronger athletes
Who would have guessed it, stronger you say? It makes logical sense that focussing on S&C in the long term will make you a stronger athlete. It does not replace running, cycling or swimming but adds to it. A well developed S&C programme will target areas of the body that sometimes get overlooked in training. It should make you feel noticeably stronger and help deal with the constant training stress placed on the body.

3. Faster athletes
Increases in strength, flexibility and sport specific demands allow athletes to create more force with each step. Combined with good running mechanics, a S&C program allows athletes to work longer and harder in developing their skills resulting in an increase in acceleration and speed.

You can be sure if you are an Ascent athlete, S&C is an area we do not neglect, we help build a more resilient, stronger and faster athlete.

Ascent Sports Coaching

Inspiration corner

“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” – Mike Ditka

“Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.” – Jim Valvano

“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” – Dan Gable

“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” – Muhammad Ali

“What do do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” – Dean Smith

“If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.” – Mario Andretti

“Win If You Can, Lose If You Must, But NEVER QUIT!” – Cameron Trammell

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” – Pat Riley

“If you can believe it, the mind can achieve it.” – Ronnie Lott

“Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” – Lou Holtz

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.” – Carl Lewis