Last updated on April 27th, 2021
Last week I shared with you what the build cycle is and how to fuel for it as an OCR athlete. I will continue to focus on this training cycle for the next few weeks, with today’s focus on fat loss.
I’m being contacted regularly by athletes when they are 4-12 weeks out from a race, asking for help losing weight and with fat loss. Unfortunately, I am always having to explain to them that they’ve already missed the boat by the time they are in the build cycle of their training periodization.
Another misconception I frequently see is athletes thinking they can, or should be able to, perform at 100 percent at every single race they sign up for. I’ve seen athletes compete in a 5k one weekend and a marathon-distance race the following weekend thinking both races can be peak performance, but that’s just not the case.
If you’re an elite athlete looking to get your best placement possible, you need to carefully schedule your A, B and C races. This means having a long-term schedule with build cycles and a taper before you race. You should only have 2-3 A races per year, which includes a four-month training period and 2-3-week taper.
If you’re mixing in some B races during your training for A races, a one-week taper is recommended. Your C races need a 1-2-day taper. The B and C races are really just training opportunities for your peak races, so you should not be attempting to go balls to the wall. Focus on technique instead.
This means you are not training the exact same way all year. Training cycles will vary in specificity, volume and intensity to make sure you don’t peak too early or get injured. There’s also a right time and a wrong time to focus on fat loss.
Fat Loss is not Recommended
Knowing your race schedule and your training periodization is critical, so that we can develop a proper nutrition periodization for you based on these cycles.
The build cycle is not the time for fat loss. I repeat. The build cycle is NOT the time for fat loss.
During the build cycle, you are building intensity which means your calorie requirements will increase to match the output of energy and so that you can recover optimally.
Fat loss attempts could result in poor recovery from training because of inadequate glycogen replenishment. It could also result in compromised lean body mass and decreased energy. While your body fat may decrease naturally due to the training intensity of this cycle, you should not be actively trying to lose weight.
When to Prioritize Fat Loss
The optimal times to consider fat loss are during the transition cycle or preparation cycle.
The transition cycle is your annual period of rest (at the end of the season) where you train to maintain your aerobic conditioning but at a very reduced intensity level. During this cycle, you are consuming the least amount of carbohydrates and overall calories.
Many athletes make the mistake of not decreasing their calories and end up gaining weight during this training cycle. Often, I see athletes take this time to indulge like crazy BECAUSE it’s the off season and then comes that e-mail or phone call 4-12 weeks before their race when they are desperately wanting to lose that excess fat and weight.
It’s okay, and in fact, recommended, for elite athletes with very low body fat percentages to gain a little bit of weight during this cycle. Staying at too low of a body fat percentage for too long is not healthy. But if you’re an elite or competitive athlete interested in fat loss, this is when you can start to focus on that goal.
The preparation cycle is the 16-20 weeks that begins your training cycle and is designed to develop your aerobic endurance, muscular strength and flexibility. Workouts in this cycle are relatively long and low in intensity, which means you are burning a greater percentage of fat.
Because of this, the preparation cycle is the best time of the year to prioritize fat loss without a significant compromise in your recovery.
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