Fitness Magazine

Can You Lose Weight and Still Train Hard? Part III: the Runner and the Bodybuilder

By Girlontheriver @girlontheriver

In my quest to find out whether you can lose weight and still train hard, I’ve talked to lightweight rowers and club rowers and the message has come through loud and clear that the answer is yes, so long as you’re disciplined and consistent. It can even – gasp – be fun. Today it’s the turn of the non-rowers – and I’ve come up with some pretty impressive ones, I think you’ll agree.

Up first is the fabulous Ursula Hirschkorn, a journalist, blogger and undisputed Queen of Weight Loss. She writes a brilliant and refreshingly candid blog, Run, Woman, Run and manages to make time for four small sons as well as training for this year’s London marathon. Impressed? You should be.

Can you lose weight and still train hard? Part III: the runner and the bodybuilderThis is what Ursula looked like before she started on her regime. Although claiming to be happy, she has since admitted that she wasn’t. As she wrote in a newspaper article about her experience, “Being fat is miserable, joyless and soul destroying and saps your confidence on a daily basis.”

Being a determined type, when Ursula decided to do something about it, she went about it with dogged persistence. And listen to this. In the space of one year, Ursula lost six stone in weight. Six stone! That’s 84lb, or 38.1 kg. In one year.

Ursula achieved this extraordinary feat without resorting to meal replacements or crazy regimes; she did it with good old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating.

Can you lose weight and still train hard? Part III: the runner and the bodybuilderAnd here’s what Ursula looks like now.

This is what she told me about combining diet with exercise:

” I knew that I was in for the long haul so I had to find a way to lose weight that I could live with, rather than feeling like I was going on a ‘diet’ that would come to  an end the moment I had lost the weight.

“I knew that I had to change my life entirely, which is why I decided on a mix of exercise and diet. It worked really well as my enthusiasm for getting fitter really gave me something to focus on when I was losing weight. It also gave me a new interest in life and a reason to get out of the house and do something for myself.

“I started off by entering a 5K run which went much better than I expected, followed by a couple of 10Ks and I am now training for the marathon.

“As for coping with hunger and training – well if you eat well that shouldn’t really happen. I eat all the time, three meals plus at least two snacks, but it’s all healthy stuff, low carb, high protein. I found that if I didn’t eat enough I actually didn’t lose as much as it tended to mean that my body started to store fat again.

“Though I do think the key to losing weight is not to think that doing lots of exercise means you can eat what you like. I never thought ‘Oh well I have been to the gym, so I can have a chocolate bar or a piece of cake’. Trouble is that if you take that approach it is so easy to eat away all the weight loss benefits of working out. I ate the same whether  I had been to the gym or not.

“This of course all came off the rails with the marathon as I simply can’t battle the hunger with this level of training. But I hear that putting on 5lbs when training for a marathon is pretty common. I just plan to get the run out of the way and then return to a more varied diet of exercise and bringing my eating back under control once the hunger of endurance training abates!”

For my second dose of inspiration, I turned to Nicola Joyce, a fitness journalist, copywriter and blogger, who writes the addictive blog The Fit Writer.

I think Nic would be the first to admit that when it comes to exercise, she’s a bit of an extremist. She used to be a cross channel swimmer and once swam right round the entire island of Jersey, so she doesn’t tend to do things by halves.

Can you lose weight and still train hard? Part III: the runner and the bodybuilderCross channel swimming requires a layer of body fat for insulation, and here’s what Nic looked like when she was training for her channel crossing – in her words, “muscley and fat”.

Ever up for a challenge, Nic moved on from swimming the channel, via triathlon, and eventually settled on natural (ie. non-steroidal) bodybuilding for her next endeavour. This required a huge change in her body composition. Although she’d always been muscular, she needed to build a lot of muscle and become extremely lean in order to display the muscles.

Bodybuilding involves an off season in which dietary restrictions are relaxed in order to build muscle and strength, and a preparation season in which body fat is lost in preparation for competitions (Nic calls this Notch Watch as she gradually tightens the notches in her training belt). Last year Nic embarked on her first season and managed the extraordinary feat, having started from scratch, of placing second and third in two British finals in 2011.

Can you lose weight and still train hard? Part III: the runner and the bodybuilderThis is what she looked at in competition – quite a difference, huh?

I caught up with Nic this week and this is the result of our chat:

GirlontheRiver: How do you feel at the beginning of the getting lean stage? Do you dread it or relish the challenge?

Nic: I was really fired up last year as I had a very clear goal and lots of support. It was very exciting! I had a clear picture of what I wanted to achieve (and what I thought/knew I’d end up looking like) and this was very motivating. This time round, there was a bit of dread – after all, the mind and body aren’t stupid and do have a memory! But along with the memories of how tough dieting and getting lean can be, I have the memories of how it feels to reach/exceed goals and hold that trophy. That drives me on. And, quite honestly, when I can calm my mind, get rid of the self-pity and have finished having a little “mental tantrum” about the injustices of dieting (insert sarcasm here: after all, it’s completely my choice and I can stop any time I want!), I realise that I actually quite enjoy it. I genuinely like the foods I eat, I like being healthy, I don’t like how I feel when I eat junk.

GirlontheRiver: What, briefly and roughly, does your diet consist of when you’re on notch watch?

Nic: It’s hard to be specific as it changes depending on training block/amount of cardio/leanness but in summary:

- carb cycling (typically 3 low carb, one “carb up” but carb up coming from decent sources like extra rice, potato, fruit – I can’t/don’t do all “cheat” days like some will, eating junk foods or takeaways etc, it just doesn’t work for me)- higher fats when lower carbs- lots of protein (around 2.5g per 1kg bodyweight), mostly from real food sources: chicken, turkey, some red meat (including wild/exotic meats), seafood and fish incl. oily fish, eggs, egg whites. Some protein powders when necessary (ie after training or if on the move)- lots of veg, particularly greens, leafy stuff, cruciferous- a bit of fruit, not too much- carbs around training (afterwards)- avoid processed, packaged, man-made foods as far as possible (being realistic!)- I avoid sugar, dairy (apart from butter), grains (apart from basmati rice) – even oats. They just don’t do it for me, leave me bloated and trigger off cravings.- a small calorie deficit- lots of water, black coffee, herbal tea- sport/health supplementsI try to get organic, grass-fed meat where possible, both for the health benefits but also from an ethical point of view. Some things I eat would be considered strange: I don’t eat toast, cereal or even oats for breakfast. Instead I tend to have meat and leafy greens or green veg with some fat (for example today was chicken cooked in a bit of butter, with cabbage and leek – yes, for breakfast). It’s what works for me!A lot of it is learning about your body, what works for you, what doesn’t. What makes you feel good and energised, what makes you feel bloated, lethargic, craving sweet things. Oats are a staple food for many bodybuilders, but I no longer have them in the house. They don’t do anything for me apart from make me feel sleepy and set off cravings for biscuits and cake! Strange, but that’s what I’ve learned.

GirlontheRiver: Do you change your exercise regime in order to get leaner e.g. introduce more cardio? 

Nic: Yes I bring cardio in to bump up fat loss, but don’t do too much otherwise there will be no “tricks left up my sleeve”. Most of my fat loss comes from the diet side of things, and strength/size/mass comes from how I train. Even weight training can have a cardio effect if you do it fast enough. Yesterday’s leg session was a massive hit to the metabolism/CNS – I felt like I’d run a 10k race or something!

GirlontheRiver: How do you get the balance right between losing weight and staying strong?

 Nic: I don’t seem to have this problem, quite honestly! I don’t know why. Even when I was dieting hard last year, right into the run up to shows, I was still lifting/pressing very heavy, and body composition tests showed I’d put on muscle even whilst in a caloric deficit. Praise be to the gods of good genetics! What does tend to “go” is over all energy levels. When very lean and dieting, I’ll have energy for a while at the gym then suddenly… it’s gone. And I can’t do any more (except just about walk home!)

GirlontheRiver: Do you struggle with feeling weak / feeling hungry during this phase? And, if so, how do you deal with this? Is it a case of MTFU?!!

 Nic: Yes – see above. You have to be kind to yourself, you are asking a lot of the body – and the mind. But not too kind, after all if you want to meet your goal, you have to get on with it. Reward and pamper yourself, just not with food (there are plenty of other ways). Enjoy what you do get to eat (I try not to eat cold chicken out of tupperware when I can eat freshly cooked chicken warm out of the oven). Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Praise yourself for your successes – either out loud or by writing it in a journal. Try to minimise other stresses. Learn to let go (of the housework or whatever can “give” for the period of time). And keep your eyes on the prize. You have to know why you’re doing this, it has to resonate with you. The results and rewards are worth it – every single second of it. And always remember, this is your choice. No-one is making you do it, and it’s not their fault!So, ladies and gents, there you have it. One sporting virgin who went from doing nothing to running a marathon, and one sports nut who can’t say no to a challenge. Both very different, but with a similar message. Can you lose weight and still train hard? Whether you’re a heavyweight rower, a lightweight rower, a bog-standard club rower, a runner, a bodybuilder or a couch potato aspiring to greater things, let me hear you say it… YES, YOU CAN!

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