First Up The Bad News - Losing Weight And Gaining Fitness Is Difficult To Combine
If you're looking to gain fitness and lose weight at the same time, don't aim to lose more than 0.5-1kg (1 to 2lb) of weight per week, otherwise your system will be depleted, you'll feel very flat when training and your fitness won't develop.
Generally speak it's easier to lose weight the fitter you are because with greater fitness your fat burning ability will increase and your reliance on carbohydrate will reduce. You will know when this starts to happen because you won't feel so desperate for food after a training session.
For that reason it's better to gain fitness first in a training program and aim to gradually lose weight later when you have first gained fitness. This naturally happens and it's no coincidence that most athletes become leaner as they become fitter even if they are not consciously trying to lose weight.
Developing A Good Fat Burning Engine
Do any exercise at any intensity level and you burn calories and can create calorie deficit. However, at higher intensities (e.g. CSS training) we mostly burn carbohydrate and this make us feel depleted and hungry. That's OK - and it certainly can work for weight loss - but it's less challenging to lose weight if we burn quite a lot of calories as fat during the training session. And that means swimming continuously at more steady effort levels.
In sports like running and (especially) cycling targeting this "steady pace" intensity for long periods of time is quite easy to do. However the culture of swimming encourages us to swim short distances with recovery between each swim. This does two things:
- It encourages you to push the pace and raise your intensity level because you are only covering a short distance and know you are going to get recovery time afterwards. Swimming at this higher intensity can easily lift you out of the fat burning zone and shift to carbohydrate.
- The lack of continuous swimming places little demand on your aerobic endurance and therefore your fat burning engine never develops properly.
We're not saying that you shouldn't do any swimming at higher intensities - far from it - but make sure you include some longer continuous swims of 800m or more in your weekly training to build that fat burning engine, even if you have to swim more slowly than you are used to doing.
In fact if you are training for an event this summer using a bespoke training plan in the Swim Smooth Guru or one of our waterproof training plans, you can safely follow the plans as normal as they include those longer aerobic swims you need. Just make sure you're controlling your pace well during the sessions - not starting too fast and blowing up!
Of course not only do you want to get your training right but there's plenty you can do in terms of diet to help you become leaner. We don't recommend doing anything too radical, just eating normal healthy balanced meals but make your key action to reduce the amount of sugar you consume - e.g. desserts, soft drinks / soda, cakes, fruit juice, chocolate, biscuits etc.
Doing so will regulate your appetite and keep your energy levels more consistent, meaning you are less likely to have a dip and reach for the cookie jar...
Unless you are swimming longer than 90 minutes you shouldn't really need energy drink or gels during your sessions either. Take water but avoid additional energy products unless you are training a large overall volume of training.
We also recommend you avoid taking too much caffeine which can create peaks and troughs of energy too - it's easy to become reliant on caffeine but it can often end up making you feel more tired overall.
In a nutshell, just eat normal regular food, just aim for low sugar (not low carb).
Above All Else, Be Consistent
Just like when you are training for fitness, make consistency your goal: consistent training, consistent diet, consistent rest and gradual consistent weight loss. Avoid "superman weeks" where you do huge amounts of training but then hit a massive energy low.
Train and eat at a level that you can sustain without undue struggle, enjoy your time in the water, stay healthy and that number on the scales will move slowly and consistently downwards...