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The Body Fat Game

As I discussed in Back in the Game, I have some serious discipline to follow for the next seven weeks: maintaining a 500+ calorie per day deficit. I have done it before, but it it not easy!

The issue and the goal

At a portly 180 pounds as of July 8, this is simply too heavy for EC. While a weight of 174 would be a handicap, it would be acceptable. Therefore I must shed six pounds in ~6 weeks (last year I was 168 just before EC in late September).

I have 40 days to lose the fat. A pound of body fat is 3500 calories. Therefore, I must average a caloric deficit of 525 calories per day for 40 days to lose six pounds of body fat, or 700 calories per day to lose 8 pounds of body fat.

The discipline required to maintain 500-700 calorie deficits every day is intense, let alone doing so while gaining fitness and avoiding muscle loss.

Still, it is a key goal, because every extra pound equates to ~3-4 minutes of time over the course of all that climbing in EC. And body fat is an insulator that retards heat loss, a serious issue in an obscenely hot race in August.

As the graph shows, I am well over racing weight. This sucks up hills. Click for a larger graph.

Weight loss chart trend

The caloric expenditure is also in a clear downtrend in 2012. Heck I can’t believe the intense training I did last year, hitting “burns” of over 2000 calories per day. I am simply not physically fit enough right now to sustain that kind of training load.

Weight loss chart trend

Tricks to fool the hunger demon

The main trick I have to offer is this: a 500 calorie deficit per day is much easier to achieve if the total caloric needs are 3500 or so (2100 base + 1400 burn).—this is a deficit of about 14% (500/3500).

Attempting to cheat the body of 500 calories (eating 1600 on a normal diet of 2100) is not something I would want to attempt—that’s a deficit of 24% and the body pretty much does not want to die, and so all sorts of efficiencies kick in, hunger kicks in, muscle is lost, etc. Self defeating and a very bad plan even in the medium run.

By making the caloric deficit a smaller percentage, the body is much more friendly to the goal. Tactics:

  • Include one big ride per week which results in a 1500-2000 calorie deficit for the day (this means a 4-6 hour ride). I can’t eat all this back in one day, nor do I feel a hunger demand to do so.
  • Make sure that on a three day basis that 500 cal/day deficit is maintained (preferably more following the big ride).
  • At certain times, the body will say “enough!”. Eat some extra on that day. Countervailing forces kick in by attempting to deny a hunger reality: after all, the body does need calories to repair and grow also.
  • Think in cyclical terms: steady deficit - big deficit - overeat for 1 day, repeat. Just watch the average: so long as the average is a deficit, the fat will get burned off.

How it goes:

Three days in, the calorie deficit is on track (left axis). But yesterday my legs said “uncle!”. The tricky business is being in great shape so one can run a big training load (and recover). Problem is, if one is in great shape, the body fat is already burned off! The key is paying attention to sleep and recovery, and backing off as needed.

After about a week, such a graph starts to become more and more useful, because the trends can be seen. Body weight (right axis, top points) fluctuates day to day by up to several pounds, so it is critical to use a graph or day to day variations will be pyschologically challenging (“I’m up a pound today”).

Belated effort to reduce body fat for 2013 Everest Challenge by caloric deficit via increased training


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