How an Olympic Runner Hits Race Weight


The least enviable spotlight of Hilary Stellingwerff’s operating profession is that she barely missed being a part of one of many dirtiest races in history. The Canadian middle-distance star completed 6th in her 1,500-meter semifinal on the 2012 Olympics, 1 place and an agonizing 10th of a 2d from an automated spot within the ultimate. Since then, six of the highest 9 finishers in that ultimate, together with the gold and silver medalists, have examined optimistic for medication. She was robbed.

But that race was only one second in a protracted and strikingly constant profession. Stellingwerff ran between 4:05 and 4:08 for 1,500 meters yearly between 2005 and 2016, apart from 2014 (when she was pregnant) and 2015 (when she ran 4:10 whereas coming back from being pregnant). She ran 4:05 in 3 totally different years: 2006, 2012, and 2016—the latter 2 years corresponding with Olympic appearances, together with a clutch 4:05 in that ill-fated Olympic semi. Stellingwerff delivered her finest performances when the stakes had been highest.

At a convention a couple of years in the past, I obtained a glimpse of the meticulous strategy behind her consistency and her capability to peak on the proper time. Her husband and coach, Trent Stellingwerff, a physiologist on the Canadian Institute of Sport Pacific in Victoria, introduced a number of years of detailed knowledge on her physique weight. It was a humorous second, as everybody within the viewers silently (or audibly) questioned what would occur in the event that they introduced their partner’s lavatory scale historical past to a roomful of strangers. But it was additionally very illuminating. There was nothing unintentional about Hilary’s development.

Trent has now published a fuller report of that knowledge, up to date via 2016, within the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Metabolism. It’s a uncommon peek on the nitty-gritty particulars of an Olympic athlete’s preparations—and an vital alternative to speak a few delicate matter, as a result of physique weight, sports activities efficiency, and well being are interrelated in ways in which result in serious problems for lots of athletes.

Let’s begin with essentially the most putting visible within the paper. The vertical axis exhibits the sum of eight skin-fold measurements, from which you’ll be able to estimate physique fats share. The horizontal axis exhibits time, with peak competitors durations shaded. The stars point out the bottom in-competition skin-fold measurement from every season.

(International Journal of Sport and Exercise Metabolism)

It’s not an ideal sine wave, nevertheless it’s remarkably shut. Hilary systematically allowed her weight and physique fats to extend throughout every low season, after which introduced it again down for competitors. The focused weight fluctuations had been on the order of two to 4 p.c in every cycle.

Why does this matter? “Data is emerging to suggest that it is not sustainable from a health and/or performance perspective to be at peak body composition year-round,” Trent writes, “so body composition needs to be strategically periodized.” In different phrases, you’ll be able to’t be race-fit on a regular basis otherwise you’ll get sick or injured.

One of the outstanding issues about Hilary’s profession is that she sustained solely 2 accidents that precipitated her to overlook at the least every week of coaching. That’s astounding. Repeated DEXA scans throughout her profession discovered that she had above-normal bone density. She had regular menstrual cycles (fewer than 3 missed durations per 12 months) throughout a five-year interval when she wasn’t taking contraception capsules. Her iron ranges had been enviable, with common ferritin of 91 uG/L. For an elite endurance athlete who was apparently plotting her weight to the ounce, Hilary was strikingly wholesome.

So how did the Stellingwerffs do it? Trent outlines some key sensible factors:

  • They centered on the idea of “energy availability,” which entails estimating the energy required to gasoline no matter coaching you’re doing plus meet your fundamental metabolic wants. During noncompetition durations, they made certain Hilary was assembly this threshold.
  • To get all the way down to competitors weight—a quantity they settled on annually based mostly on the collected expertise of earlier years—they took a gradual strategy. They tried to succeed in the objective in six to eight weeks, aiming for a every day caloric deficit of about 300 energy.
  • The first tactic to realize this caloric deficit was easy: Cut again on sweets and fats. They additionally periodized Hilary’s consuming on a micro scale, guaranteeing that she was adequately fueled on arduous exercise days, however slicing again on snacks and carbohydrate portion sizes on simple coaching days.
  • To keep away from dropping an excessive amount of muscle in the course of the weight-loss section, additionally they ramped up the proportion of protein in her food plan; Trent cites a objective of two to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight. This strategy seems to have labored, as Hilary’s mid-thigh girth remained unchanged between competitors and low season measurements, regardless of a median 2.1 p.c lack of physique weight and a decreased physique fats share from 12.9 to 10.6 p.c.

There is, after all, a hazard in making an attempt to extract knowledge from or emulate the feats of Olympic athletes—particularly since most of us don’t have an in-house physiologist to maintain a detailed eye on our well being. Weight is an especially fraught matter, significantly (though not exclusively) for feminine athletes. Don’t get hung up on weight or make the error of equating “thin” with “fast.”

If something, I believe there are 2 helpful messages to take from this. One is that no matter your “race weight,” you shouldn’t attempt to maintain it on a regular basis. Give your self durations of time if you’re slightly heavier. (It’s even potential, Stellingwerff speculates, that coaching for a part of the 12 months whereas carrying a couple of additional kilos can provide an additional coaching stimulus—the equal of a weighted vest.)

The different takeaway is the concept of periodizing your meals consumption on a day-to-day foundation in response to your particular coaching wants. As I famous in a recent piece, the present American College of Sports Medicine position statement on diet and athletic efficiency means that carbohydrate consumption ought to be larger on arduous coaching days and fewer on simple days—a follow that two-thirds of elite distance runners in a study earlier this year reported following, however so far as I can inform hasn’t actually unfold to most people.

In the tip, although, the largest takeaway for me is unimaginable respect for Hilary’s profession. I’ve recognized each Hilary and Trent for a few years now and contemplate them mates, so I believe it’s okay to say this: Hilary’s standing as a two-time Olympian (and, in my eyes, an Olympic finalist) was by no means inevitable. As a longtime observer of the Canadian observe scene, I’ve seen quite a lot of girls come and go who had, on the floor at the least, as a lot potential for world-class success as she did. But Hilary was the epitome of constant development and clutch efficiency. This case examine offers 1 small window into the unimaginable quantity of meticulous preparation and arduous work that went into an incredible profession—so congrats, Hilary!

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(Editor references)

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