Is Depriving Yourself Of Calories In Training A Good Idea?

  • By Matt Dixon
  • Published 16 hours ago

Triathlon coach Matt Dixon answers a question about utilizing fat as a source of energy by reducing calorie intake during long workouts.

Q: I have heard that to teach the body to utilize fat as a source of energy you should deprive yourself of calories during lower-intensity, longer workouts. What do you think of this theoryis it a smart option for the amateur triathlete?

A: Lets first look at how nutrition fits as an overall component of training. Many athletes and coaches fall into the trap of viewing each component of training as singular entities acting mutually exclusive of other factors. The art of creating a successful approach to training is to always maintain a broad view of the interrelating factors of performance. For example, any training program employed will only be successful if it is balanced with the other life factors that provide stress to you as an individual. A successful training program should be integrated into life, not simply sit on top of life. With this lens, your approach to nutrition will either be a great supporter of training and health (if done correctly) or an additional stressor on your system (if done incorrectly, in terms of quality, quantity and timing). So, as we delve into answering this question, its important to maintain a broad view of how nutrition fits in the overall training spectrum.

Your question is related less to nutrition and more to fueling, and that is an important distinction for an endurance athlete. I refer to nutrition as the daily calories you take in through your main meals spread throughout the day. These calories provide the vast majority of your nutrients, building blocks (proteins) and oils (fats). Fueling refers to the calories that you consume during and immediately following exercise, and the primary purpose of these calories is to fuel training. Your successful performance during any workout, recovery from the workout, pursuit of optimal body composition, and support of training in terms of stress reduction, stems from fueling. This is the most important factor in nutrition for an endurance athlete to get right, but its also the one area in which most athletes underconsume relative to energy costs. The primary fuel that your body utilizes during training is glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrate. No matter how trained at utilizing fat you become, you will always utilize plenty of your stored glycogen in activity. Failure to replenish those stores during and following activity activates a series of negative and highly stressful events in the body. An accumulation of these events results in impaired recovery, a possible retention of fat and long-term loss of muscle, and an increase in overall stress on your system.

RELATED: Planning An Ironman Nutrition Strategy[1]

The peer-reviewed research focusing on carbohydrate deprivation during low-intensity exercise shows that there likely is an increase of lipid (fat) utilization. So, at first glance, it would seem like a good decision to limit carbs during a long, low-intensity training session, but here lies the problem of simply applying myopic scientific findings into real-life training approaches. As a coach I have experimented with fat deprivation in training before and, ultimately, have never seen positive long-term results. The overall stress created by reduced fueling has always resulted in a decline in training performance, impaired recovery and an increased frequency of illness and loss of motivation for training. In the big picture it does not add up to progressive performance improvements.

I recommend you take a longer term and global view of your training nutrition. Fuel every workout by wrapping the sessions with carbohydrates, get in your proteins, oils and nutrients (veggies and fruits), and allow the accumulation of training load, consistently applied, to increase your endurance and ability to utilize fat as a fuel source. You will be a better-trained, healthier and well-recovered athlete for it.

RELATED: Matt Dixons Tips For Recovering Right[2]

Matt Dixon is an exercise physiologist, former professional triathlete, elite coach and the owner of the San Francisco-based Purplepatch Fitness[3].

FILED UNDER: Nutrition / Weight Loss[4][5]TAGS: low calorie workouts / Matt Dixon / Perform / triathlon nutrition / Using fat as energy[6][7][8][9][10]


  1. ^ RELATED: Planning An Ironman Nutrition Strategy (triathlon.competitor.com)
  2. ^ RELATED: Matt Dixons Tips For Recovering Right (triathlon.competitor.com)
  3. ^ Purplepatch Fitness (www.purplepatchfitness.com)
  4. ^ View all posts in Nutrition (triathlon.competitor.com)
  5. ^ View all posts in Weight Loss (triathlon.competitor.com)
  6. ^ low calorie workouts (triathlon.competitor.com)
  7. ^ Matt Dixon (triathlon.competitor.com)
  8. ^ Perform (triathlon.competitor.com)
  9. ^ triathlon nutrition (triathlon.competitor.com)
  10. ^ Using fat as energy (triathlon.competitor.com)

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    • March 14, 2014

    Help With Teen Fat Loss Tips? I am 16, about 5 foot 6 and weigh about 128 pounds. I know I am a healthy weight, but I wish to get rid of the fat around my stomach.

    I have been running twice daily, totally 30 mins a day, and I have been eating healthier.

    Any tips on how to lose the fat around my stomach? Personal weight loss stories welcome.

    1. Reply

      I’m 15 and last summer I tried to lose weight. Well I did but I gained it back because after school when I get home I eat chips. XD So anyway. What I did was, I avoided bread and rice and other foods like that ’cause I hear they can cause fat even if they’re healthy. And then try doing other kinds of exercise. I did 40 mins. of exercise 4x a week including using the jump rope, using my aunt’s elliptical trainer, dancing, doing sit ups & stuff. So like in 40 minutes I get to do a whole lot of different kinds of exercise. And drink lots of water. Like if you’re hungry, but it isn’t exactly time for breakfast lunch or dinner yet, just drink a whole lot of water. Your belly might get big from drinking that much, but once you pee, it all comes out. You don’t gain fat from water, I think.

      So that was what I did. I didn’t really measure my weight tho, because what I was aiming for was a smaller waistline, and I was able to do so. I think I lost like 4-5 inches in like a month & a half. I was happy with that. Too bad I have to do it all over again because I gained it back when school started again. XD Also keep a tally of your weight for every two weeks. And you can see if it works or not.

      Good luck! 🙂 Hope I helped.

  1. Reply

    Diet And Exercise Tips For Weight And Fat Loss? I’m 15, 5’5″ and 225 pounds.My BMI is 36%. I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go jogging, come home, work out on one muscle a day, and go to school, come home and workout some more. I been doing this exercise plan for about 3 days.

    Breakfast: A fruit and yogurt
    Lunch: Deli Sandwich containing Turkey, Lettuce, Tomato, and Onions
    Dinner: A Large serving of food and vegetables

    Any Diet and exercise tips for weight and fat loss?
    My goal is 195 ponds by the end of this year.
    I’m 15, 5’5″ and 225 pounds and my goal is 195 by the end of this year.My BMI is 36%. I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go jogging, come home, work out on one muscle a day, and go to school, come home and workout some more. I been doing this exercise plan for about 3 days.

    Breakfast: A fruit and yogurt
    Lunch: Deli Sandwich containing Turkey, Lettuce, Tomato, and Onions
    Dinner: A Large serving of food and vegetables

    Any Diet and exercise tips for weight and fat loss?
    My goal is 195 ponds by the end of this year.
    My goal is 195 ponds by the end of this year.
    My goal is 195 ponds by the end of this year.

    1. Reply

      3 Secret Tips to Dropping the Pounds


      Prepare Your Meals Ahead Of Time

      If you are that person who is always on the go, you will need to set a side a small amount of time to prepare your lunches , meals and snacks before your mad week begins. Use some of your down time hours to prepare healthy meals and snacks that you can take with you on the go, or eat at home. Tupperware is really great to use for storing all you prepared meals

      This will save you a lot of time, and help you not have to settle for eating fast food everyday.


      Eat Smarter At Restaurants

      None of us can escape going out to restaurants with family, friends, or for special occasions. Depending on what restaurant you go to it can sometimes be difficult to find something that’s not loaded with all kinds of fat.

      Try to make the healthiest choice that you can make. You can even ask for half portions. Also try to remember to chew your food a lot slower (the faster you chew the more you’ll eat ). This will help you to get full without going over board. And, also try to remember to chew gum after each meal.

      Chewing gum will help you digest your food much faster, which will also help you to burn more calories.


      Use Fat Burners

      Natural fat burners like, green tea extract, lemon Juice, lime juice, beet juice, carrot juice are excellent fat burners to add to your daily routine.

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