Starve your body, starve your performance!
By AccSD Hannah Every-Hall - 5/3/2014
Avoiding crash dieting and make weight for competition the right way
As we move towards the culmination of the domestic rowing season with the National Championships in a couple of weeks, hopefully most athletes’ weight management strategies have already been put into practice. Ideally optimising body composition has occurred during the later part of the ‘off season’ and the early part of the competition season. However if this is not the case or athletes are looking for some last minute fine tuning to ensure they meet their competition weight requirements, there are a number of nutrition strategies that can be used to achieve small, temporary weight loss.
Weight loss in all areas of nutrition is multi faceted and making weight with athletes is no different. This information and advice largely reflects my own personal experiences as a national and international lightweight rower over 10 years along with my expertise gained from working as an Accredited Sports Dietitian with a variety of weight making sports in private practice. It’s important that each athlete determines their own individual strategies and works closely with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to achieve the most successful outcomes.
Acute weight making strategies
Some possible acute weight making strategies as listed below. It should be reinforced that these strategies should only be followed for the 48-72 hours leading into competition and are not representative of the ideal diet to support optimal training.
- Low residue/fibre diet
- This is a method of manipulating a diet to minimise fibre intake as much as possible
- Generally followed for a period of 24-72 hours.
- A low-residue/ fibre diet may achieve 300-750g weight loss through emptying the gastrointestinal contents but considerable variation in weight loss occurs from athlete to athlete
- It may lead to changes in mood and disposition of the athlete so practice is paramount.
- Salt restriction
- Reducing salt intake by limiting foods high in salt and avoiding adding salt to meals can help minimise fluid retention and therefore contribute to acute weight loss
- Fluid restriction
- Restricting the amount of fluid ingested should be limited the final day before competition and only be considered away from training sessions
- Fluid restriction (as opposed to sweating) may retain more electrolytes, thus allowing more rapid re-hydration after weigh-in
- Be aware that studies show any fluid loss greater than 2-3% of body weight will likely result in impaired performance as well as being a danger to your overall health
- Best done as close to ‘weigh in’ as possible. Could be treated or thought of as a warm up session
- Swift, smart and practiced rehydration techniques should be used
- Increasing exercise load
- This should be done in close consultation with coaches as a large increase in training load may significantly impair overall performance
Practice makes perfect
As with training, practicing different nutrition tactics is paramount. They need to be tried and tested before implementing them into a competition setting. It is important that these strategies are practiced under similar conditions (as close as possible) to a competition scenario to ensure you have confidence in their success and know how you will respond. Practicing these strategies has the added benefit of allowing you to know how much weight is lost with each different technique, what foods and fluids work best for you and how you actually feel prior to competition. You don’t want to undo all the hours of training you’ve done feeling lousy and negatively affecting your performance because you changed your dietary intake causing you unnecessary discomfort.
Don’t forget that what you do after weigh in matters
In order to facilitate optimal rehydration and recovery after you weigh in an appropriate strategy and plan is paramount. This also needs to be practiced and refined. High carbohydrate foods and fluids should be prioritised to ensure that fuel (glycogen) stores are ready to go for racing. Hydration is also incredibly important for replacing any fluids lost in the making weigh process. The use of sports drinks, meal replacement drinks or smoothies can be helpful as they provide both fluid and carbohydrate in one.
Everyone is different
Every athlete will do something slightly different, and what is good for one is not necessarily good for another. Once you have determined what strategies work best for you, be confident with your plan. Know that you have trained and practiced weight making techniques effectively with good response, and do your best to block out the outside noise.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
If you have left the weight making to the last minute, seek the advice of an Accredited Sports Dietitian to guide you through the process as safely and in as best condition possible.
Overlooked your weight management plans this season? Learn from it and plan ahead for next season remembering that optimising body composition starts in the off-season. Sit down with an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you and periodise your weight management plan. Set goals together. Have clear weight targets to achieve throughout the whole season – usually small steps are much easier to achieve than looking at the final goal. Identify time points where different weight management strategies can be practiced without impacting upon important competitions or periods of important/ intense training blocks. Determine what strategies work best for you, both for long term steady weight loss and acute race day options.
Remember, there are a range of weight making sports, each with their own set of rules and regulations for competition. These range from wrestling, rowing, boxing and weightlifting through to jockeys and combat sports. It is imperative that you work with someone who understands the sport specific rules and procedures before starting with planning of weight management.
For more information on making weight, chect out SDA’s factsheet http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/MakingWeight.pdf
To find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you, click this link http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/findasportsdietitian