Weight Loss & Athletic Performance

Weight Loss & Performance
Whether we’re talking about weight gain and performance or weight loss and performance, the same rule is true: weight loss must be slow and controlled in order to NOT sacrifice lean tissue (e.g. muscle) or compromise performance. Unfortunately, too often young athletes trying to “make weight” have a tendency to be behind schedule, forcing drastic measures. Losing weight quickly, for example more than 2 lbs/week, can cause severe energy drops, lack of desire to train, poor training sessions and loss of lean body mass (LBM). In fact, humans losing weight under normal conditions, even if it’s done slowly, lose approximately one-quarter pound of muscle for every pound of weight lost. (And by the way, when gaining weight the reverse is generally true for non-exercising adults - it’s generally three quarters fat and one quarter muscle). Therefore, to avoid the loss of LBM, weight control programs for athletes are structured and adjusted differently than commercial weight loss programs.

Your simple rule: the faster the weight loss, the greater the chance of negatively affecting performance. Ideally, proper weight loss, if needed, should improve performance because you can gain muscle while losing fat/weight. This allows you to move faster (because you’re stronger and lighter) and last longer.

Rate of weight loss
In order to protect performance gains, lean body mass and maintenance of desired body fat or weight loss, ideally no one should try to lose more than a pound weekly. Or – your calorie intake should be no greater than 20% less than the amount of calories you burn. This allows a greater rate of weight loss for more overweight individuals and a slower rate for leaner athletes. In either scenario, if you are already fairly lean or as you approach your goal, weight loss should slow down.

Note: losing a pound weekly requires that you consume an average of 500 fewer calories a day than your body uses. Keep in mind that as you lose weight, you burn fewer calories - when all things are equal. In other words, because you are moving less body mass in all activities, you use fewer calories to perform the work. This requires continual diet or activity adjustments in order to avoid plateaus and continue reducing weight.

Overview of general weight loss for performance athletes
Below are basic guidelines with individual specifics: use your dotFIT program to design your personalized weight/fat loss program based on the date you need to accomplish it by. Once your exact starting plan is formulated, simply follow the instructions generated by your weekly weight and/or body fat entry and you will attain the goal on time.

General Nutrient Guidelines
Protein: not less than 1 gram per pound of body weight daily and possibly more (see Protein and Calorie Reduction below).*
Carbohydrate: generally not lower than 40-50 percent of total calories unless dictated by time constraints.
Fat: generally not less than 20 percent of total calories.

Dietary support (supplements): at bare minimum, take a daily multivitamin and mineral formula and use your pre/post training formulas. Supplementing the diet during weight loss is more important than normal. The loss of food nutrients due to a reduced calorie intake combined with increased activity is common during weight loss and can cause or accelerate the loss of lean body mass. This is the primary rationale for supplying nutrients without increasing calories – i.e. supplementation.

Goal setting, monitoring and adjustments
When using body fat measurements to determine fat loss, measurements should be taken biweekly. Results are quantified in pounds of body fat lost or gained, not total weight changes.

Weekly goal: lose 1-2 pound per week or approximately 1% body fat every two weeks. Your target daily calorie intake will be slightly lower (~20%) than your daily burn, allowing you to lose at least one pound per week without compromising performance gains. The more overweight, the greater the allowed weekly loss as long as a 2 pound/week rate is not exceeded.

Monitoring: weigh/measure in the same clothing, at the same time and on the same scale. Take care to also use the same method or device for body fat measurements. If necessary (see below) only adjust calories in or out every seven days.

Adjustments: a measurable or visual reduction in body fat and/or weight should take place in a fairly consistent manner such as a decrease in circumference inches, and/or the desired average decrease in weight or body fat per week. If progress stops or slows dramatically, one or a mixture of the following adjustments will be necessary to re-start the process:
  • Increase daily activities (e.g. daily steps or other non-athletic/exercise activities)
    • Standing and pacing burns 2-3 times more calories than sitting for the same time period
    • There are approximately 2000-2500 steps (depending on stride length) in a mile. Walking 2000 steps will burn ~75-150 more calories (depending on individual size) than sitting for the same time and only takes ~20-30min and can be done anywhere, even in the office, while on the phone or watching TV
  • Increase workout time or intensity
  • Decrease food intake approximately 200 to 300 calories per day or remove a small portion of your largest* meal

Repeat the process any time weight or body fat is stable for at least one week. Always remember if you stop losing weight/fat you need to eat less, move more or a combination of the two regardless of what you read or hear from others. Once you have achieved your body composition goals, increase your calorie intake, decrease activities or a combination of the two in order to maintain desired weight.
*Protein and calorie reduction

Due to the body’s need for protein to maintain and build muscle, athletes should not decrease this nutrient below their recommendations. Therefore, if calories must be continually lowered in order to accomplish a certain weight or body fat level, fats and/or carbohydrates must be reduced.  In fact, during severe dieting as with bodybuilders or athletes attempting to hurriedly make weight, protein requirements may increase because protein can be used for both energy and maintaining LBM while fats and carbohydrates cannot. A high protein intake would be a very temporary adjustment until the desired body fat/weight level is accomplished at which time the athlete would return to normal recommendations in order to optimize training induced strength, size and performance gains. It’s important to note that proper fluid levels are crucial with a high protein intake and dieting, therefore, athletes should hydrate properly before, during and after exercise.

Final note
Hopefully you will not need to participate in a weight loss routine during your athletic career, especially young, growing athletes. Improper weight loss can compromise many natural developing areas including your final adult height. The perfect scenario is that you naturally reach your best playing weight each year, including through your growth years, by maintaining the proper eating habits we have discussed in many of the previous articles. Body weight, primarily lean body mass, should generally be increasing while body fat remains in a healthy range until your early 20s. For strength, power and size athletes, muscular weight can increase throughout their competitive careers when done properly. If weight loss becomes necessary, take it slow and plan ahead as described above. Do not participate in commercial weight loss programs, simply follow your dotFIT Performance program and you will achieve the necessary reduction while maintaining improvements in performance.


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