Brace yourself…here is a lot of info! I love your question because it involves strategy and transition in your lifestyle. There are several topics to go over so I will hit a few of them quickly and go more in depth on the minimum number of carbohydrates you should be taking in while training hard.
First, that small amount of fat you can’t manage to get rid of will not go away via endurance training. We do thin out, yes, but unfortunately allot of novice endurance athletes, even competitive endurance athletes are thin and lean, but still manage to have a soft gut. You may have heard this is mainly diet. This is true and we will go into that in a moment; however, the other part of this equation is workout style. In order to blast that fat you need to do heart rate threshold training, aka high intensity training. You can do this both on the track and in the gym and this compliments your triathlon goal. The idea is to increase your metabolism and ability to maintain a high heart rate over a long period of time. This is uncomfortable for your body and it can take it 15 minutes to 48 hours to recover to a normal metabolic state. Over time you manipulate your resting heart rate and recovery patterns and start burning more calories during your resting periods decreasing your body mass index. Contrary to what you might have been programed to think, this is good for your triathlon training. Part of completing the task successfully is increasing your tolerance levels to strenuous activity, which you are going to face no doubt. For a little more on this subject check out these postings: Quick Training Tip: focus on after workout burned calories for the cut-ness and Design exercise programs that dine on ‘whoop-ass fajitas’ seasoned with your tears.
Eating Clean. I understand you are taking out white flour sources (gluten products). This is highly recommended and I eat the same way. I will tell you that I feel great. Less bloating, more energy, and leaner. This is part of an ‘eat clean’ concept. Try my 30-day Challenge. It is an intro to Paleo of sorts and a good recommendation for what you are doing. This will require other management concepts if you are training hard as you will be hungry! I would like to mention pairing this with Protein Lean & Green Monster Smoothies (I post recipes often) to maximize ‘healthy carbs and to curve your hunger while gaining nutrients and energy. This will keep you lean, healthy, and energized.
Regarding The Challenge, balance is always the key. You want lean protein and whole unprocessed carbs.
So, since you mentioned you are cutting certain carbs and possibly minimizing them altogether it is important to note that eating lean and clean does not call for no carbs. In fact it doesn’t say anything like that. It does say “no white flour” and no flour products at all after 4pm. Otherwise you should be taking in fruits and veggies as your carbs after 4pm. So, here are your good carbs that you can eat all day and still be on the 30-day challenge: Fruits and Veggies, Beans & Legumes, Nuts & Seeds, and Whole Grains(not after 4pm per 30-day Challenge). Figuring out which carbs to eat before and after 4pm will require some trial and error, but what helps me is learning a few things that definitely work and to have enough menu options to make everyday a little different yet keep my overall diet pretty consistent and uncomplicated. I hope this gives you some direction.
Minimum number of carbohydrates (carbs). The quick and easy answer on the absolute requirement for carbohydrates is zero grams per day. There are claims to the contrary, but there is no actual physiological requirement for dietary carbohydrate. Even the RDA handbook acknowledges this…then goes to mention you should eat carbs. Note that an essential nutrient is defined as: Any nutrient that is required for survival and can’t be made by the body. Dietary carbohydrate is not an essential nutrient. The body is able to make as much glucose as the brain and the few other tissues need on a day-to-day basis from other sources. This is not enough for training and endurance sport, but for survival the net amount needed is zero.
So, what happens when you don’t eat carbs and exercise? Basically, your body uses an amino acid for energy when there is not a sufficient supply of fats and carbs to burn for energy. So, your body must convert the amino acid to a useable form of energy and the way to do this is by taking the nitrogen atom and releasing it from the amino acid molecule. The remains of the amino acid is then further converted into glucose and used as fuel for your body. In order to get rid of the excess nitrogen, your body typically processes the nitrogen in your kidneys. Urea is the bi-product and is then excreted in the urine. In your case, most likely your kidneys cannot handle the load of nitrogen, so the nitrogen is being excreted as ammonia in your sweat. This can sometimes cause you to smell like ammonia. In short, your body is breaking down protein to produce energy and you are going to lose muscle mass. Although appealing on the scale, this wont be appealing for your triathlon goal. The other thing you may want to avoid is ketosis. I won’t go into that subject, but it basically describes a situation where the body uses ketones for fuel. Ketones are an alternative energy source to glucose when it’s not available. When ketones build up in the bloodstream beyond a certain point, a condition called ketosis is said to develop. Dietary ketosis is not dangerous and is it’s adaptation by the body to total starvation. Many people don’t function well in ketosis and bout states of mental distraction and lack of focus. With that said…here are some basic numbers to guide you:
Depending on your protein intake, a basic minimum for carbs lies around 50 grams/day if you wish to not break down much protein but you want to manage in ketosis. To avoid ketosis you will need a minimum of 100-120 grams per day. I do want to mention I don’t like those numbers and would not recommend them, especially for your goal.
Basic Carb Numbers: An average moderate carb diet might contain +/- 1 g/lb of carbohydrate. A typical high-carbohydrate diet would, of course contain more than that being around +/-2-3 g/lb or more. An average recommendation for endurance athletes are in the +/- 3-4 g/lb ball park. You can do this and avoid gluten (wheats) by taking your carbs via fruits, legumes, and veggies and I highly recommend it.
Protein Numbers: For protein it is a little more straight forward. Here is how to determine how much you need.
Weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = weight in kg
Then, take your weight in kg x 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm.
Use a lower number if you are in good health and are sedentary (i.e., 0.8). Use a higher number (between 1 and 1.8) if you are involved in consistent and intense weight or endurance training.
Good LUCK! ~Coach.
LOVINGyourself is PUSHINGyourself.