With the new year coming up goals are definitely on the mind. On most people’s list is the goal to be thinner. However if you are an athlete the way you want to lose weight might be a little different from the average joe’s. Weight loss for athletes isn’t so much about the loss of weight as it is about the kind of weight that is being lost — or more precisely your power-to-weight ratio. Your power-to-weight ratio is how much power you can exert given how much you weigh. So to increase your power-to-weight ratio you need to either gain muscle, lose fat or both. Or in other words increase your lean body mass.
You can drop a few pounds of water weight quickly but that’ll do little to improve your sport performance. Losing fat, not muscle is especially important in sports like wrestling, gymnastics, and cycling. (1) Increasing lean body mass for athletes mainly means decreasing how many calories you consume and changing the kinds of foods you eat but it can also mean doing exercises that promote muscle growth. When thinking about changing your lean body mass it is important to think about calories. Calorie requirements are different for each athlete. (2) However as a general guideline you want to use about 500–1,000 kcal/day more than you consume. (3) You’ve got to be careful when restricting calories. Restricting how much energy you get in your diet affects hormones levels, ability to heal, and weight loss. (4) For those of us who are more concerned with being healthy and being able to climb mountains in our 70’s than looking healthy while doing as little as possible, here are some tips.
Let your inner carnivore out. There’s no shame in sinking your teeth into a good piece of meat. Eating lots of meat while decreasing calorie intake helps you maintain your muscle while burning fat. (5) The Recommended Daily Allowance for Protein is 0.8 g per day but for athletes especially strength training athletes it is appropriate to eat 2-3 times that amount. (6) Higher protein diets have been shown to be effective in promoting weight loss. (7) So buy some more steak and eat to your hearts content.
Eating Fiber has been proven to boost your metabolism and keep you from being hungry for longer. (8) All the fruits and veggies that we grew up loathing our parents for trying to make us eat are great sources of fiber. Getting enough fiber in your diet can help you from overeating and keep you feeling happy, full and energized for a long, long time.
Keeping hydrated isn’t just important for obvious reasons. Drinking water before a meal can help you consume up to 22% fewer calories. (9) And drinking water while exercising helps you endure longer. To keep hydrated drink approximately 17 to 20 fl oz of water 2 – 3 hours before exercising and then 7 to 10 fl oz of water while exercising. (10) This has been proven as the best way to keep hydrated.
Gradually stop eating carbohydrates
I hate when people make carbs out to be the enemy. Carbs provide a good source of quick energy. Give a kid a candy bar and you can see for yourself how much energy those things contain. Carbohydrates are crucial to eat when exercising a lot. (11) Even on carb-restricted diets athletes should try to eat .5 -.7 grams of carbs for every pound of fat after each intense work-out. (12) So when you want to lower your lean body mass a bit it’s best not to cut out all carbohydrates. Cutting back too drastically on all carbs can reduce your muscular endurance and overall physical performance. (13)
Cut back on fat
You know that saying “you are what you eat”, well that isn’t exactly true. Nutritionists suggest that even when dieting you should get at least 15% of your energy from fat. (14) However the typical American gets about 35% of their energy from fat. (15) So while it would certainly be unhealthy to cut fat completely out of your diet foregoing a cheeseburger or donut will help you lose fat and maintain muscle.
It is easy to think that fasting is only for the most devout but intermittent fasting has been proven to to increase insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, and your lifespan. (3) While fasting would typically imply eating less, intermittent fasting is different from just skipping a few meals. By reducing the frequency of the meals you eat your body expects to eat less frequently and you use more of the energy kept in your fat store. (16) So overtime it is likely you’d get less hungry and lose more fat.
Work hard, play hard. While it’s true that simply playing sports is a great way to reach the recommended daily quota of 30 minutes of exercise, set by the CDC, actually changing your lean body mass can be improved by strength training. (3) Strength training has been proven over endurance training to help you lose weight. Strength training improves insulin resistance and stimulates muscle protein synthesis. (17,18) Muscle protein synthesis is the ability for your body to make more proteins and repair damage to muscle. (19) Strength training can give you that extra edge over your competitors.
Low level cardio
To get to peak exercise performance lots of endurance athletes train using low level cardio. (20) Using low level cardio helps you to exercise for longer without getting tired and while you work out at a lower intensity you use more of your long term energy — your fat storage! (21) Low level cardio is a great way to make sure you are using more energy then you are eating.
Getting a good night sleep
It’s tempting when trying to lose weight quickly to skip sleep and spend an extra hour or two at the gym. The best way to lose weight is to do so gradually. Losing a pound a week is a healthy way to make sure you’re losing fat not muscle. (21) So don’t skip sleeping. Not getting enough sleep makes you hungry and weakens your ability to perform. (22,23)
A word of caution
Sports are good. They help us keep active but there is such a thing as being too passionate about your sport, if being passionate means you are devoted to doing whatever it takes, even starving yourself. (24,25) To lose weight safely talk to weight loss professionals who will help you achieve a competitive weight that will allow you to meet your energy and nutritional needs without harming yourself. (26)
Keep healthy while working on your health goals. Gaining muscle and losing fat is the best way to improve performance in sports. Eating protein, fiber and drinking plenty of water can help ensure that you are maintaining muscle and ease hunger pains while eating less. Limiting carbohydrates and fats help you lose extra fat. Proper exercise can help you gain and maintain muscle. Life is an endurance race, sticking with the basics (diet and exercise) will get you far. Continuing to exercise regularly, eat right, and get sufficient sleep may seem like really basic things but in life’s marathon they make all the difference.
If you are really serious about making weightless one of your new years resolutions ensure that your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and trackable.