Losing weight and specific needs with training

After returning to Las Vegas, I gained about 15 pounds before arresting what was clearly not a positive trend.

I have since lost about 5 of those extra pounds and am working on the rest, while also training for the Vancouver Marathon. I had to first correct the most important factor behind that weight change: Diet. I like my family’s home cooking, but they like to eat too much. I had to correct any controllable eating patterns I had fallen into, and eat better quality food as well as eat less of it.

I had eating patterns that made sense for me living in Chicago, where I traveled everywhere on foot and trained at a higher volume of running than now. Living in Las Vegas, where I now need to drive just about everywhere, and didn’t need to walk nearly as much, I needed to pare down how much I ate.

Still, even ramping up mileage in training for Vancouver, even now that life’s gotten a lot busier between my CPT study and work demands… I struggle quite a bit to get my scale weight to move downward.

I decided to look towards history for answers… and by history I mean my own personal history:

I took a look at my health stats from my fittest time as a runner: 2017, when I ran races galore, and really ramped up my mileage volume. Plus, as I recall, my weight was at its lowest healthy level.

Thankfully, all my Fitbit records from 2016-2019 still exist (my Blaze tracker died in September and I now use a Garmin Vivosmart 4). This allowed me to go back and look at my key stats: My calories burned each day, my logged weight, all my workouts, as well as all the food I religiously logged during each day.

I had a pretty good idea of how much I was running and walking, plus what I weighed. That data would not shed much insight. What I wanted to know was what exactly I was eating.

I decided to look at July 2017, a month where I ran 170 miles and know that I was in more of a day to day routine.

It turned out, back in July 2017… I was eating like trash, compared to how I eat today! Sure, I had a good quantity of healthy home cooked food, but I also ate a lot of processed food, frozen pizza, breakfast sandwiches, bread and snacks. Between all that, I was pounding over 3000 calories a day. Even when I read myself the dietary riot act over weighing 184 pounds last month… I was already eating a far cleaner, healthier diet and far fewer calories on average than back in 2017.

My biggest diet offense in January was that I snacked on junk food a bit more than I should, and that some home cooking was fried or contained not-so-healthy ingredients.

Home cooking also made it harder to count calories. Living alone in Chicago, I could itemize every portion and only needed to estimate if I went out to eat and had an unfamiliar entree. Living in Las Vegas with family, they often cook larger batches for several people, and without the ability to measure out every ingredient I was often left to take an educated guess.

The real key issue, however, lay in my daily calorie burn: In Chicago during my busy times, I burned an average of 3400 calories a day, 1300 calories above my estimated basal metabolic rate (BMR: what you body would burn if at rest the entire day). This was not just from running but from all the walking in Chicago I had to routinely do:

  • To go to the store or do anything else at all away from home, I had to walk several blocks.
  • To go to work I had to walk half a mile to the Addison train station. If I wanted to catch the train at a more convenient station I’d have to walk farther.
  • Once my train arrived in Evanston for work, I had to walk another half mile or more to get to work. If I left the office to do anything (including lunch), I had to walk quite a bit more.
  • I utilized a standing desk at work, so I was on my feet the entire day. That’s a lot of passive isometric lower-body work.

All of this added up to substantially more calories burned per day than I burn now. Today I average about 700-750 calories burned over BMR, and that’s after having ramped up my activity in the last couple months. During the previous, lighter months, my average daily burn might have been closer to 2300-2400 calories per day. That’s a huge drop from 3400!

The obvious culprit is driving. In Las Vegas, walking to get anywhere is mostly impractical. There isn’t much of a transit system (sorry, RTC, you’re not that useful out where I live). You drive (or get driven) just about everywhere. This eliminated miles of daily walking, and might even account for the entire difference in my overall calorie burn.

So, even with improvements and reductions in my diet, it’s become easier to gain weight and harder to lose it since I returned to Las Vegas. (All this never minds the effects of age, though that was not a problem back in 2017-2018, and I can’t imagine the aging process could hit me THAT hard in two years.)

So now I’ve seen the problem: I don’t burn as many calories naturally as before, and even with diet improvements I need to find more ways to burn calories, without running myself into the ground.

What is the subsequent solution? Vegas has no shortage of lean, fit, healthy adults. The local lifestyle is no death sentence to weight management and fitness. Many others here are able to live healthy lives.

And yes, as I ramp up mileage for Vancouver 2020, each extra mile per week can help bridge the gap. But an estimated extra 1500-2500 burned calories per week won’t bridge the entire gap. I have to make other fundamental changes.

One benefit of CPT training is I now have many more reasons to strength train and cross train at the gym: I need to master a variety of exercises and approaches as part of my education. I have learned a lot about fundamental training, and am putting that knowledge to use with myself.

Resistance and cross training alone won’t burn many calories. While we know about the afterburn effect of workouts, the extra fat calories burned after workouts isn’t substantial.

However, the key benefit to learning about the human body is I’m making my strength and cross training much more efficient.

I talked before about the value of training with purpose. You get more out of your basic, easy workouts when you approach them with a focused training goal.

I talked before about how most runners and run coaches take a generalized approach to strength training, doing a particular set of exercises with a general goal of improving runner-specific strength. Everyone in a group or everyone a coach coaches may practice the same exercises. None of it is individual-specific, even though we all have our own bodies, histories, contexts, imbalances and training needs.

If I gained one substantial lesson from my CPT training, it’s that everyone starting a new training regiment should begin with stabilization work and focus on improving their muscular imbalances. From there you advance over time towards more complex strength and power work, but the key is to start with phase one. Most newcomers start in what would be phase 2 or 3, whether they run, lift weights, go to any fitness class or gym setting to get in shape, etc. It’s a big reason:

  • People get injured
  • People don’t stick with a new exercise plan
  • People get discouraged or overwhelmed
  • People hit quick initial plateaus and fail to see much improvement after a while, often while experiencing all of the above.

I freely admit I’ve been as guilty of this in all of my training as anyone else. If nothing else I’m glad I finally see the folly of that spelled out and explained. I’m glad that now I’ve learned a better approach that can help not just myself but other runners.

With more focused strength and flexibility training, I can specifically improve my efficiency when running. This will allow me to cover more ground and finish workouts in less time, in many cases with less effort (never mind the benefit of faster running on race day). This in turn will help me burn more calories per effort, plus will give me more energy and space to do more as desired, which itself will burn more calories, etc.

I’ll have more to say about this over time. But as a runner, making improvements to your strength and flexibility training will help your running over time. The more specific that training is to your needs, the greater benefits you will see over time.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue work on myself.

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