How to lose excess weight for triathlons

There’s no question that shedding any excess weight will help you race faster says 6x Ironman world champ Dave Scott. Here he shares some ideas about how to approach this.

Vegetarian diet. Credit: Peggy Greb, USDA ARS [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no question that shedding any excess weight will help you race faster – so here are some ideas about how to approach this.


When we look at endurance performance and we look at the best endurance athletes, all of them are lean. Lean body mass is really key, because lean mass is functional mass and there’s a couple of reasons for this. Aerobically and anaerobically, the body has its highest output when it’s not lugging around extra body mass. Increase that body mass index and we have a tendency to falter. Your 02 content goes up a little bit, the load on your heart is much greater, you can’t dissipate your heat as well, particularly in a hot or humid race, and consequently the discipline most affected by this is the run.

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You can get away with carrying a bit of weight on the swim, as well as on the bike if the course isn’t too hilly, but heavier triathletes aren’t going to go as fast. So the reality is, if you cut down that mass and your lean body mass goes up just a tad, you can be more functional.

But when you get to the run, there’s no question about it – it can be very difficult to run hard when you’re carrying too much extra fat. So if you’ve got some around your stomach or your hips, which is very common, then you need to pare it off. I know that this is challenging, so let me give you a few suggestions.

Firstly, try to make sure you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lot of people think they do already, but ask yourself if you actually do? Or are you skipping and snacking? Then, try to eliminate the small snacks or grazing throughout the day. Eating regular meals really sets your hunger and satiety hormones, grehlin and leptin, which are there to tell you when you’re full. If you’re constantly grazing, thinking ‘I’m exercising, so therefore I need to eat’, you never really set those cues with your stomach and your brain – and that’s really paramount in guiding weight loss.


Next, we want to try and wean ourselves off a lot of the simple carbohydrates that we consume, as well as the total volume of carbs. So look at two things – what carbs and processed foods are you eating? Because both of those things affect your gut health.

Lastly, think about how are you distributing your calories throughout the day? Between breakfast, lunch, dinner and maybe a post-exercise meal if the intensity is high enough? We want to make sure the distribution is right. Simply put, if we allocate 25% each to breakfast, lunch and dinner, then we’ve got another 25% to have somewhere during the day. But we want to have 2 to 2.5 hours between each meal where we’re not grazing or snacking. Also, take a look at your exercise load and where you don’t want to put that extra 25% is right before you go to bed. You might be just about ready for bed and thinking ‘I’m hungry, so I’m going to have that chocolate cake and bowl of ice cream to top off my day’ – that’s a bad, bad mistake!

Eating something really sweet and high in carbs at night will elevate the cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone. This naturally goes up with exercise and with mental or emotional stress, but we don’t want to elevate it at night. That dose of sugar also lowers the human growth hormone, which consequently lowers testosterone. This increases our propensity for putting on body fat. Ideally, you should go to bed slightly hungry, so you have that longer window of time between eating dinner and breakfast.

If you’re regularly having a snack at night, choose a healthy fat or protein, but eliminate the carbohydrate and start to whittle down the portion size.


One last thing. Portion size is really key. There are lots of cool studies looking at people who repeat-visit buffets – they always take way more than they think they do. So the key with any meal is to just take a portion, then decide ‘that’s it’ and not eat any more than you’ve put on your plate.

Dave Scott is the first 6x IRONMAN World Champion and a Master Coach of IRONMAN U.  As the founder of the Dave Scott Multisport Institute, he dedicates himself to making triathletes of all levels faster and more efficient.  Learn more at


More by the master Dave Scott

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Dave Scott’s strength and conditioning training plan for triathletes

Dave Scott on how goal-setting can help you focus when going long