Rule No. 3: Gain weight (on purpose)
You may be thinking, “well that’ll happen anyway,” but intentionally putting on 8–12 per cent of your body weight can be a huge performance enhancer, says nutrition and performance coach Krista Austin, Ph.D., who has worked with Olympic-level athletes such as Laura Bennett and Meb Keflezighi. If gaining then losing weight sounds easier said than done, don’t worry—using a weighted vest can have the same hypergravity training benefits.
“Triathletes like to sit around at a certain weight and body composition all the time,” Austin says. “But research shows you can in fact put extra weight on and get training adaptations. And you can get that adaptation while not working so hard on your food, which I think psychologically gives people a break.”
Say your racing weight is 65kg. During the winter you get up to 70kg. By training at a heavier weight you’re teaching your body to recruit more motor neurons and muscle fibres, kind of like recruiting more people to work on the assembly line. When your body gets back to 65, the workers have less work to do, so they last longer before they tire. Muscles work the same way. When you lose the 5kg, you don’t need as much oxygen and can get more kilogrammes to the gallon.
Austin uses this hypergravity method for athletes who can’t train at altitude, or with 800m runners or sprint triathletes who don’t benefit from altitude training but need some form of adaptation. She’ll have them add in more calories at a time not normally used for eating, such as an ice cream sundae before bed (seriously). They’ll sit heavier for a couple of months while training at a lower volume and intensity, then she’ll simply have them cut out the excess ice cream when the season rolls around.
Many of Austin’s athletes start to feel benefits from carrying around a few extra kilogrammes. Some will see higher power outputs or will start sleeping better (the “best performance enhancer,” according to Austin), and ultimately wind up competing at a higher weight.