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Coach Kaehler: Weight Matters for Endurance Athletes
Guidelines for safe and effective weight management
posted on October 5, 2011

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Monitoring will help ensure that you’re only losing body fat, and not lean mass.
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Are you headed up or down with your weight? Or are you right where you want to be? Two of the most common questions I get from high school rowers concern weight loss and gain. No matter what your level of rowing is, monitoring your body composition is a great idea. Key considerations for weight management are your percentage of lean body mass (%LM) and your percentage of body fat (%BF). Recent studies on endurance athletes confirm that improving your %LM lead to improved performance on cycling and running ergometers (when measuring maximum effort (ml/kg/min) achieved) and improved anaerobic threshold (the delay to the onset of blood lactate level spike at 4.0 mmol).

Whatever your weight goals are -- loss or gain -- the key question is how to properly improve your %LM while you alter your body weight. To effectively monitor your %LM, you’ll need an initial body composition test to establish your baseline %BF and %LM values, followed by regular testing throughout your training and diet program. Testing every several weeks will allow you to adjust your program if necessary, to stay on track with your weight goals.

Cutting weight is a common activity for many endurance athletes. Done properly, it can lead to great results. Done improperly, however, it can lead to disastrous results. Generally, the quicker the weight loss, the greater the likelihood of decreasing your performance, especially if you’re losing lean body mass. Loss of lean mass especially in high school athletes not only reduces their performance, but can also impede their natural growth. Many schools now require athletes to be measured preseason for %BF and overall body weight to ensure changes are safely controlled. If your program is not doing this, it might be worth looking into.

Another question I’m often asked by high school athletes and parents is how to gain body weight. To increase your %LM, you must consider three key factors including diet, rest and strength training. Regarding nutrition, athletes must examine their overall diet, as well as carefully monitor their intake before, during and after each training session. A good rule of thumb is to ensure you get at least 20 grams of protein (whey is always a good choice) with about 80 grams of carbohydrates immediately after each training session. Also, eating healthy snacks between meals will prevent your body from starving for essential building blocks, and ensure you’re getting the fuel you need to train effectively.

Adequate rest is also essential to helping the body recover from training and to building lean body mass. A minimum of eight hours of sleep is critical for a developing body. The importance of rest is further supported by studies showing that hormone levels are also adversely affected by a lack of sleep. While high school is very challenging with homework, practice and other commitments, maintaining a disciplined schedule will help ensure that sleep is not compromised.

Strength training is the last component necessary to maximize your chances of increasing your %LM while training in an endurance sport. Adding two sessions of strength training per week will also help build lean body mass, especially if you get the appropriate rest and consume a protein / carbohydrate meal immediately after training.

Whether you’re trying to increase, decrease, or maintain your body mass, careful attention to diet, rest and strength training can lead to better performance on race day. Recent studies show that increasing %LM improves both maximum effort as well as anaerobic threshold performances in endurance athletes. Monitoring your values will help ensure that you’re only losing body fat, and not lean mass, and keep you on track with your athletic goals.


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row2k author
Bob Kaehler
Bob Kaehler (Coach Kaehler) is a three-time U.S. Olympian, four-time World Champion rower. Coach Kaehler now devotes his efforts to his true passion of health, fitness, and athletic performance.

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