Episode 31 - Why You're Not Losing Weight

Why You're Not Losing Weight

3 reasons why you aren’t losing weight, despite training the house down.

Are you frustrated you can’t seem to reach your body composition goals? You train more than most people but still have a little excess body fat to lose. Are you constantly trying to eat a little less to burn more fat and end up starving all the time? Or absolutely wrecked after training?

That is definitely no way to live 🙅🏻‍♀️

Listen in as I give you 3 reasons why leaning up seems elusive. It may not be as complicated as you think 😉

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Episode Transcription

Episode 31 - Why You're Not Losing Weight

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, the show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian, and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy to digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  00:44
Hello and welcome to today's episode. Before we jump in, can I ask you a favor? Could you spend 30 to 60 seconds and just leave me a review in either Apple podcast and you can also do this now in Spotify. I would love to know where you're listening from, what you like getting out of the podcast, because it really helps me to direct the content so that I'm providing lots of great value for you and giving you what you want to know about. So I'd love to hear from you. Please say hi, leave me a little review and tell me where you're listening from. Okay, let's get straight into it.

Taryn Richardson  01:20
Today's episode is some tips for me and some ideas around why you're maybe not losing weight despite doing loads of triathlon training. It's come up a fair bit lately with the Triathlon Nutrition Academy athletes and some of the clients I've seen in private practice, and also just conversations I've had with people as well. People are really struggling with why they're doing all this training, you know, as endurance athletes, we do a lot of hours of training, and you're still not the ideal body composition that you want to be - or you feel like you have a couple of kilos of body fat to lose.

Taryn Richardson  01:56
So I have some thoughts on that. And I've been having this conversation over and over and over again lately. So I thought I'd jump on the podcast and just talk you through some of my thoughts because it can be really quite frustrating. As triathletes, we train for three disciplines, not one. We fit a lot of training hours into a week and often have to juggle full-time work, and family commitments too. So I hear you, I hear how frustrating that is. But let me run you through some things. And if any of them resonate with you, then you might need to start looking at what you're doing nutritionally.

Taryn Richardson  02:32
What I found with the people I've been speaking to lately is that they are trying to scale back, they are trying to drop body fat, and they're starving all the time, and they're under fueling. And cutting carbs is very common. Carbs are not the devil - they're okay if you're an endurance athlete. You need to make friends with carbohydrates. But if you've maybe done a fitness or a Gym Challenge before, carbs are made out to be really evil. And for a gym-based program, you don't need anywhere near as much carbohydrate as you do compared to somebody that swims and cycles and runs.

Taryn Richardson  03:10
So it works for those Gym Challenge programs. And they're also about getting like a really sick before and after photo as well. So they're going to starve you to death because it's only eight weeks and they know that you can do that for eight weeks. But it doesn't teach you how to eat. Your breakfast on a Gym Challenge type program might be six egg whites for breakfast. And that's it, which is 1. not balanced 2. not maintainable and 3. it doesn't teach you how to actually eat. What do you do after the challenge is finished? Do you keep eating six egg whites for breakfast? Hell no. That is not living.

Taryn Richardson  03:46
So if you potentially have that in your history and are a little bit afraid of carbohydrates, or maybe are not having enough carbohydrates, that might be something to look at. But let me go through three reasons why you may not be losing weight despite training the house down.

Taryn Richardson  04:02
Number one, you can't out-train a bad diet. I know I'm a Dietitian, but even people that train for 18 hours a week can still hold body fat that they don't necessarily want. Because your body is really smart at recalibrating. If you do more training, it'll make you more hungry and make you eat more. And it's the food choices that you're choosing in those times of absolute starvation, “give me something now”, they may not be ideal.

Taryn Richardson  04:35
When we talk about things like running and cycling, they're generally pretty high energy burning sports. Running you literally have to put one foot in front of the other to go anywhere. It's really hard to cheat. Cycling, assuming you can cheat a little bit, you can push the pedals down on the bike and roll for a bit or you can suck onto a wheel or hang on for dear life. And swimming the same - you can stroke and glide for a bit, where compared to running where you're putting one foot in front of the other, there's no way to cheat that.

Taryn Richardson  05:04
So you might be feeling hungry all the time and you might feel like you've earned it or you've deserved it or you've burned heaps of calories because your watch has told you that you have. But are you maybe overestimating how much you've actually burned? And over-compensated for that with food? Do you treat yourself because you exercise? Or do you have that mentality of like I trained really hard today, so I get to eat whatever the hell I want?

Taryn Richardson  05:31
To lose body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. It's as simple as that. You need to consume less energy than you're burning. But the types of foods that you're consuming are really important as well, because you might burn the equivalent of say, a Big Mac meal. But does that mean you should eat a Big Mac meal? Probably not.

Taryn Richardson  05:54
Because everything we eat and drink affects our performance. So you need to decide if you're driving a beat up Honda and putting the cheap economy fuel in your car. Or are you driving a souped-up high-performance power engine? Something like a Tesla or a Ferrari or I drive a Jeep, whatever you want to drive. Decide what type of high-performance engine you have and you need to put the expensive premium fuel in.

Taryn Richardson  06:21
I'm not saying food needs to be expensive, but you need to not eat crap food. Treat your body with the respect that it deserves. It's okay if you indulge occasionally, we're all human. You know food’s meant to be enjoyed, it's meant to be social, you're meant to enjoy the process of eating and food should taste good. But eat mindfully when you do eat those indulgent foods. Really connect with and taste and savour what you're putting in your mouth. Because that's going to help you register and connect with that occasion of eating and get so much more benefit out of eating it when you do make those choices.

Taryn Richardson  06:59
But then your baseline should be consistent, healthy whole foods. We shouldn't be eating indulgent, sort of, I hate the word “treat”, but we shouldn't be eating that junk food on a daily basis, even if you're training a lot. There are ways to get calories in if you've got really high-calorie needs without having to resort to Mars Bars and other crap.

Taryn Richardson  07:22
So your baseline should be really nice and balanced, coming from whole foods and real foods, because that is going to help your overall performance and show you that you are driving a high-performance machine - your body - you know your temple? You're not driving a beat-up Honda and putting the cheap economy fuel in. Because you might feel like you can get away with it, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll perform well if you are treating your body badly.

Taryn Richardson  07:50
So I want you to focus on real foods to fuel training, with a nice balance of carbohydrates and protein-rich foods at your main meals and snacks with lots of colourful bits. You know, fresh fruit, lots of vegetables, the more colours the better, because we want to be aiming for at least 30 different types of plant foods in a week. Rather than just getting stuck in the rut of ordering or buying the same vegetables day in day out. Instead of getting always, you know, carrots and zucchinis and eggplants and capsicum and that's it, not a lot of variety.

Taryn Richardson  08:20
Next time you go to the fruit and veggie shop grab something different that you haven't used before or something you wouldn't normally buy. Just to increase that plant base variety. We want to make sure we're including some moderate amounts of healthy fats too. So things like avocados and nuts and seeds and olive oil and oily fish. So our deep-sea fatty fish, things like Herring and Tuna and Mackerel. They are really good for us -  they have good anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and they're good for our brain. They help to reduce our bad cholesterol.

Taryn Richardson  08:51
And fats can also help you feel fuller for longer, so don't be afraid of fat. That message was kind of the 80s vibe - all fat’s bad, don't eat fat. We do need fat to survive, we need a certain amount per day, otherwise, we'll die. Because fat is what's holding every single cell wall together. So we need it for stability in our body.

Taryn Richardson  09:13
So you can't out-train a bad diet. It is impossible. Even if you think you can get away with it, where if you burn a lot of calories because you're doing a lot of training and it doesn't have any consequence on your weight. Think about the high-performance machine and what type of fuel you're putting in. Are you treating it with respect? Or are you putting the cheap fuel in your beat-up Honda? Apologies if anyone drives a Honda.

Taryn Richardson  09:35
Alright and my second thought around this is what do you do outside of training? Do you drive a desk for work? Do you sit still all day long on Zoom meetings like everyone at the moment? Or are you really physical for work and on your feet all day? A lot of triathletes are quite sedentary outside of training hours. So you smash yourself in your training and then outside of that, you sit still and you try not to do too much, and you're trying to rest and relax.

Taryn Richardson  10:02
But when it comes to how many calories we burn overall for the day, there is more than just exercise and what we eat. So I wanted to break that down a little bit for you. So when it comes to our total daily energy expenditure, the biggest component comes from our Basal Metabolic Rate. So that's our metabolic rate at rest, like when we're just lying still. The majority of what we burn each day comes from simply just being - breathing, our heart pumping, our lungs and our diaphragm contracting so we can breathe. That is where the biggest amount of energy in our day comes from.

Taryn Richardson  10:42
And I find a lot of people under eating to their Basal Metabolic Rate. So you can estimate - you can jump online and grab some estimates or some calculators to figure out what your metabolic rate is for your height and your weight and your age and your gender. They are prediction equations, so just be mindful of that. But a lot of people will come to me on, like, a 500 calorie diet and wonder why they're not losing weight. It's like ‘duh’ - that's below your Basal Metabolic Rate! You're not even giving your body enough fuel to survive its, like, daily processes, let alone throwing training in on top of that. So that is a big component of what our daily energy expenditure is.

Taryn Richardson  11:21
And then we've got our Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. So that's what we burn when we're just doing our activities of daily living. So walking around, walking the dog, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, doing the washing, whatever you're doing that is incidental. And that's called NEAT, N-E-A-T. A lot of triathletes don't do a lot of this.

Taryn Richardson  11:44
So their activities of daily living just moving around and doing stuff is relatively low. Particularly if you sit at a desk all day for work, and you try and rest outside of training, then this may account for only, like, 10% of your overall energy for the day. It can be really high in some people - if you have a physical labour sort of job, then this can be huge. So think about what your NEAT is - your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. And can you increase that? If you're struggling to drop body fat, do you need to move more on a regular basis rather than just training for an hour or two or three a day and then being a sloth otherwise?

Taryn Richardson  12:27
And then we have our Exercise Activity Thermogenesis - so the amount of calories that we're burning during exercise. And obviously, that depends on what type of session you're doing, the intensity, the duration and so that can vary a lot for triathletes. And one of the things I like to teach people in Triathlon Nutrition Academy is to understand what an easy session is, a hard session is, a moderate session is and how to eat to support different types of training days. Because that's one of the key things you need to do as a triathlete. When you train for three disciplines, you can't eat the same thing day in day out when your training load is totally different across the week.

Taryn Richardson  13:06
So our Exercise Activity Thermogenesis accounts for anywhere between maybe 10 up to 30% of our total daily energy expenditure. Obviously, it's a range, it varies from person to person. If you're just doing a 30 to a 45-minute easy run, that's not going to be a lot of calories burned compared to going and doing a four hour, hard, hilly ride with a run off the bike. Obviously, you're going to burn more calories in that. So your Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is going to be a range and it's going to change every day and have periodisation across the week and your season.

Taryn Richardson  13:41
And the final component to how many calories we burn in a day is called the Thermic Effect of Food. And that accounts for about 10% of our total daily energy expenditure. You know how when you eat a meal and you kind of get a bit hot? Particularly in the summer? It's your body burning up when you eat something to help digest and break down those calories. That's pretty cool. So that accounts for 10% of what you burn on a day to day basis. So your Basal Metabolic Rate is about, sort of, 60 to 75%. The Thermic Effect of Feeding is about 10 and then the other two vary widely for people.

Taryn Richardson  14:21
So we've got our NEAT - our Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It could be about 15%, it could be less, it could be way more depending on how active you are outside of exercise. And then our Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is again a range - 10 to 30% potentially, depending on how much training you're doing.

Taryn Richardson  14:41
So I just wanted to explain that because it helps you to understand if you're eating to what you actually need, or you're completely overeating, or for some people they're under-eating. So do you need to eat more - to eat in at least enough for your Basal Metabolic Rate - let alone training on top of that? Or flip side, are you completely sedentary outside of training? And you're kind of overcompensating for the training with too much food? If you sit a lot, try and move more outside of training and that'll help increase the amount of energy you burn on a day to day basis.

Taryn Richardson  15:21
And to kind of get an estimate for what you burn in sessions - you can track this with something like a heart rate monitor. They are a rough guide though, so don't take those numbers as exact. They're based on prediction equations and standard algorithms, so they're not super accurate, exact figures. But they can give you a really good guide on the scale of different sessions that you do. All right, this is what the number is for a really easy session. This is what the number is for really hard, long sessions. Then you can track the amount of energy for different types of training days and get a sense for what days are easier versus harder training days. And then take a look at what you're doing outside of training.

Taryn Richardson  16:04
So that might be another reason why you're not necessarily losing weight. You are very sedentary outside of your actual exercise session. And then my third thought, which I touched on there - is are you under eating? Are you legitimately eating below your Basal Metabolic Rate? Some indicators that this might be you, might be that you've got niggly injuries all the time. They may not necessarily be bony injuries, they might be soft tissue or ligament or tendon type injuries. That can be an indicator that you're under-eating, and not necessarily under-eating every single day, but they're certainly days that you're under-eating.

Taryn Richardson  16:41
Are your male and female sex hormones out of whack? So for a female, we're looking at oestrogen. Have you got a regular normal menstrual cycle? You know, somebody that's not on a pill or a Mirena or anything like that, that is affecting menstrual cycles. If you're a naturally menstruating female, do you have that happening? Or is it being impacted? Is it late and long and delayed? Is it really light and only goes for a couple of days? Or is it missing altogether? That would definitely be a red flag that you're under-eating.

Taryn Richardson  17:18
And for males who don't have that really visual sign of something going awry, you can check your testosterone levels and see what's going on there. And also just have a think about your libido. Now not the funnest thing for me to talk to you about on a podcast. Low libido is an indicator that your energy availability is low. And it's one of the things that you can monitor as a male without having to have, say, a menstrual cycle that's a visual sign of what's going on.

Taryn Richardson  17:44
Are you trying to cut carbs too hard? Carbs get such a bad rap in the media. And particularly I find with the re-emergence of the low carb, high fat, type diets, they are still going off. Carbs are not bad. A lot of people overeat the wrong kinds of carbohydrates, though. Like people overeat junk food and have massive portions of pasta and rice and pizza and hot chips and all those sorts of things that are very carbohydrate-dense. And then you cut out carbohydrates, which automatically cuts out all those things, and you see success because you've cut out so much junk in your diet.

Taryn Richardson  18:25
And along with that carbohydrate comes a whole whack of fat as well if we're choosing those sorts of foods. So don't blame carbohydrates as the devil and the problem here. In an ideal scenario, your carbohydrate intake should be periodised across the week, depending on what your training program looks like and what your goals are. So you shouldn't eat the same amount of carbohydrates on a rest day, versus a really hard double session day. It should look totally different. And that's one of the things that I teach my athletes inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy - is how to actually do that. And we spend a fair bit of time developing a meal plan for them that's periodised to their training program.

Taryn Richardson  19:04
So the types of carbohydrates are really important as well. We don't want to be eating all the junk crap. We want to choose quality, whole food type of carbohydrates. Things that are wholemeal and whole grain and real food sources. So things like rice and pasta and noodles are totally fine. It's just the portion size and understanding how much is right for you. A lot of people overeat these foods because they're easy to eat, carb sources. Try and have potato and sweet potato, there's nothing wrong with potato, it gets such a bad rap. It's actually less carbohydrate-dense than sweet potato. Go for something like brown rice over white rice. Fresh fruit and dairy and legumes are other great carbohydrate sources that we shouldn't be afraid of.

Taryn Richardson  19:51
If you take any sort of sports drink or gel or bar, you're eating carbohydrates. And they're more packaged, commercial sports products, they're not even real food half the time. So it's all about balance, right? And are you under-eating and then playing catch up later? Like, are you trying to scale your nutrition back around training sessions, not eating during sessions, because you think that'll burn more fat? Maybe not having great ideal recovery nutrition after training as well, because your appetite's blunted and you feel like if you don't eat you'll burn more? Let me tell you, that's not going to end well. Because chances are, if you do that, you will play catch up later.

Taryn Richardson  20:28
Your body's going to send out all those hunger hormones and say, “Hang on a minute, you put me into a hole here, I'm going to make you starving and I'm going to make you go and open the cupboard and grab a packet of barbecue shapes, or chips, or whatever it is, and eat them till they're gone”. Hands up, if that's you.

Taryn Richardson  20:49
The body's really smart at maintaining itself. So if you put it into a hole, and you reduce your glycogen stores, and then don't replace them, your body's like, hang on a minute, we need to sort this out before you train again. I'm going to make you hungry, make you crave really carb rich foods, and you will play catch up later. And the chances of you playing catch up to a nice balanced level are really slim. You're going to overeat in that occasion and eat more calories than you burned because you didn't feed yourself properly around your training sessions.

Taryn Richardson  21:22
So that would be three thoughts I have for you. If you're really wondering why you're not losing weight with training. Have you got a really poor diet? Because you can't out-train a bad one. Do you just not eat the right foods at the right times? What do you do outside of training? Are you relatively sedentary? Could you move a little bit more? Could you get up from your desk more often to go to grab a glass of water? Could you park your car further away? All of those sorts of strategies. Could you go for a walk at lunchtime instead of sitting on your butt in front of your computer eating your lunch? I know that you probably train a lot and you're tired. But increasing that incidental exercise will increase your overall daily energy expenditure and it'll help making losing body fat a little bit easier.

Taryn Richardson  22:06
Or are you under-eating? Are you somebody that legitimately eats below your Basal Metabolic Rate and your body has just kind of shut down in a way. It's sluggish, it's not working properly, you're not firing on all cylinders. You're not driving a performance engine. You're getting little niggly injuries all the time, your menstrual cycle is maybe being affected or your libido is low if you're a male. Go and get your sex hormones checked - for females get your female sex hormones checked. Males get their male sex hormones checked. And make sure that they're okay. I will do a whole episode on RED-S - RED-S if this is you.

Taryn Richardson  22:10
And don't be afraid of carbohydrates. As an endurance athlete, you need carbohydrates. You need to make peace with carbohydrates and include it every day. Now, I'm not saying eat carbohydrates to the cows come home. You need to understand how to periodise it to your training. You need a certain amount on lighter days, you need a certain amount on moderate days and then really hard long brick or race type days, you're going to need a different amount there as well.

Taryn Richardson  23:16
And that is the key to triathlon nutrition - is understanding how to do that for your training program. And that will constantly evolve. It'll be different when you're heading into a key race. It'll be different when you're just in your offseason if you have an offseason. It is one of the key things that I teach my Triathlon Nutrition Academy athletes how to do because it is so pivotal to everything. To managing your body composition, to having energy, to pushing in the back end of sessions and recovering quickly so you can back up and go again soon.

Taryn Richardson  23:47
So if any of that resonated with you, please reach out - send me an Insta DM or flick us an email or join the Dietitian Approved Crew Facebook Group and let me know how you're feeling. I know that this is not an isolated thing for some people. It's really quite common, which is why I wanted to make this episode because I've been having a lot of these conversations with athletes lately.

Taryn Richardson  24:06
And if you're not the ideal body composition that you want to be or you think you should be, then do some work with your nutrition. Whether you're not eating the right things at the right times and then playing catch up and overeating later, that's pretty common. Or just not eating the right foods as well.

Taryn Richardson  24:27
I guess I'm a Dietitian, I come from a healthy background or mindset. And I really believe in foods first before supplements and magic pills and one-percenters. Because your day to day diet is where you're going to get the best bang for your buck. What you do consistently day in, day out, is going to have massive implications on your performance compared to that one tiny thing that you might do during a session or just before a race. That is a single occurrence, it doesn't compound over time very quickly. But the choices you make on a day to day basis do.

Taryn Richardson  25:03
Automate some of these things. We want to make them just pure habits so you don't have to think about it, you don't have to stress about what you're doing. Get yourself a plan so you understand exactly what to eat and when to get the most out of your high-performance engine. I call it the 'Supercharged Triathlete' because I want you to feel like you're driving a Ferrari or a Tesla, or whatever it is that you know, rocks your sausage. I'm not a car person, but you might have a car that you just love.

Taryn Richardson  25:33
And I want you to print a photo out of your high-performance engine. Pick a car that you're like, ”Yes, that is sick”, pop it somewhere that you can see regularly. Put it on your mirror in the bathroom. Put it in your diary for work or on your computer screen. Put it somewhere that you can see it regularly as, like, a subliminal message to say I'm driving this high-performance machine, I'm not driving a beat-up Honda and putting cheap fuel in it.

Taryn Richardson  25:52
I want that message to sink in and I want it to become habitual, so that day to day, you're doing the right things with your nutrition so that you're the body composition that you want to be and you're capable of. But you're also feeling good about that - it's not a struggle, you don't feel like you're on a diet. You're not restricting anything or any food group, because it's the daily habits compounded over time that you'll have the most success with.

Taryn Richardson  26:21
And if you need help, go and check out my website at dietitianapproved.com. Make sure you spell dietitian with two T's I'll link it in the show notes. Or if you're looking for a community of triathletes, you can high five and learn this stuff along the way - then head to dietitianapproved.com/academy and come and join us inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy. Doors are closed at the moment but you can pop your details in there to jump on the waitlist and then you know exactly when doors open next. Alright, I'll talk to you soon.


Taryn Richardson  26:56
Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned. Email me at [email protected]. You could also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media at @dietitian.approved so I can give you a shout out too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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