How just a little weight loss can go a long way
I’ll be the first to admit it’s easy to let a few pounds sneak on over the winter. I think it has less to do with outright laziness and more to do with how great it is to read a good book next to the fireplace on a cold, snowy day. The opportunity to feast without (immediate) remorse around the holidays doesn’t help. It’s not until we try that first real hike or bike ride of the spring that it becomes obvious we’re a little off our game.
The more weight we’re packing on our frames, the more work it is to be physically active — that’s obvious. More insidious is the fact that a few extra pounds can increase your risk for injuries, especially to the body parts that are doing the heavy lifting. Hikers, for example, are adding four pounds of pressure to their knees for every pound they add on. Doing the math indicates that losing five pounds will reduce over 20 pounds of pressure from your knees with each step.
Likewise, the strain on hand tendons and forearms for rock climbers is drastically increased with a five-pound gain, leading to quicker burnout and greater chance for injury.
It is easy to overreact to modest “winter weight” gain by declaring a plan to lose 10, 15, 20 pounds and to lose it now! Unless you are already seriously overweight, those numbers are going to be very difficult to hit, especially if you have stayed physically active throughout the winter. The only time I naturally lost 10 pounds — without a gimmicky diet or weight loss supplement — was the summer I worked on a Colorado hiking guidebook. I ate well and was hiking around seven hours per day six days a week and even then it took a good three months.
More realistically, aiming to lose five pounds — without giving yourself a deadline — is a better way to create healthy habits that you can actually sustain over time. Chances are that longer days and warmer temps are already inspiring you to get back out on that bike and dust off the old running shoes, so you already have an advantage. Regular physical activity is an important part of the equation and will build strength and skill in your sport.
Taken on a very basic level, the math is simple: You need to burn more calories on a regular basis than you consume. The problem with quick-fix diets is that they often work by denying your body essential nutrients. Jenna Anding, Ph.D., registered and licensed dietitian and associate department head for the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Texas A&M University says, “Losing 20 pounds in two weeks is not healthy; nutrition experts recommend a weekly weight loss of no more than two pounds per week.”
A good middle ground for one to two pounds of weight loss per week is to count your calories. A modest daily intake of 1,600-1,800 calories per day, coupled with exercise of at least 30 minutes, is a formula that won’t leave you starving, or at least it won’t feel so bad after the first day or two. However, if it were merely a matter of numbers, I would gladly eat 1,800 calories of cupcakes without hesitation. There’s more to it than that.
What you eat is equally as important. Nutritionist Mariah Ehlert of the blog KALE (Keep Active, Live Energetically) Nutrition points out that cutting certain foods out of your diet can be a great help.
“The biggest enemies of weight gain and inflammation are sugar and processed foods,” she says. “Most people have the extra weight either due to a nutritional imbalance or food intolerance. Cut back on processed foods and increasing ‘real food’ [food made up of one ingredient, basically] will help balance out the nutrient need of the body.”
A great deal of the foods we get our carbohydrates from fall into the category of processed foods.
“Try to get carbs from vegetable sources versus processed sources: think legumes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, squash instead of pasta/bread/cereal,” says Ehlert. It makes sense that the body will run its best when powered by the optimal fuels.
So now that you have a diet plan and are dedicating yourself to regular exercise, what kind of results can you expect?
For runners, studies have shown that extra weight exerts its penalty not so much when accelerating the total body mass, rather in the increased weight the body has to support between every stride. That extra energy to stabilize and support adds up over time — in one study, an extra five pounds meant a 90-second loss over a distance of 5 kilometers.
For cyclists, losing five pounds may contribute to immediate results. A study from James C. Martin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Utah tested a 160-pound rider on a 7 percent grade hill over 5 kilometers. His results showed that, for every 5 pounds added, it would take additional 30 seconds to complete the climb.
Finally, rock climbers will immediately feel the benefit of being five pounds lighter. Besides taking stress off the specific muscles of the hands, arms, legs and feet, it is easier to balance the body when there is less of it.
And the less the weigh, the easier it will be for your belayer to catch a fall.
The great thing when aiming for five pounds of weight loss is that it is a realistic and attainable goal that doesn’t require a drastic change in lifestyle. A little more discipline when eating and avoiding processed foods and sugar along with regular exercise will do the trick. And once you feel better, even these things get easier. Better performance and injury prevention are great goals in themselves and it only takes a loss of five pounds to get on track.