In sports where athletes compete in weight divisions (e.g. lightweight rowing, weightlifting and combat sports) there is often pressure to manipulate body weight and fat levels to be able to compete in a lower weight category for a perceived competitive advantage. However, body type is largely determined by genetic factors and each person has a different capacity for leanness. Striving for an unrealistic body weight can present physical and mental health concerns and can ultimately impair performance. Athletes and coaches should work with Accredited Sports Dietitians to assess suitability for achieving a weight category and strategies to ‘make weight’ safely to avoid extreme strategies, such as severe food restriction, excessive exercise and dehydration—which can be dangerous and negatively affect performance.
Advice to practitioners & coaches
Current body weight, size and composition
Changes in body weight can be due to a change in fluid balance, food still being digested from the last meal, and changes in the level of muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and weight training. As body weight is a poor indicator of fatness in active people it is more useful to look at body composition in conjunction with weight rather than weight alone. Skinfold measures and/or dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans can provide additional information about lean mass and how much potential there is for reducing excess weight without compromising performance.
Athletes considering competing in a weight category sport should seek dietary advice from an Accredited Sports Dietitian, preferably one with experience in weight making sports to assess:
- Current dietary energy intake & balance
- Nutrition knowledge
- Previous experience with weight making
- May assess RMR (resting metabolic rate)
An Accredited Sports Dietitian or Sports Physician may also wish to refer an athlete to a psychologist for an assessment to determine if there are any risk factors for the development of eating disorders.
Advice to athletes
Planning for weight loss
- Work with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to determine the nutrition plan that will achieve desired weight goals as well as optimise performance
- Be realistic body weight and/or fat targets
- Train close to (within ~2kg) of your competition weight
- Avoid excessive weight gain in the off-season or when you are injured
- Avoid weighing or measuring yourself too often – it takes time (weeks) to see true change
- If you constantly worry or obsess about your weight or diet, seek support from an Accredited Sports Dietitian, doctor or psychologist
- Your training program should complement your weight (fat) loss strategies. Weight training may need modification if lean mass gain is an issue for making weight
- Protect your bones by including dairy products or other calcium rich foods in your diet
- Female athletes should seek a medical review if menstrual cycle becomes irregular or ceases
- Avoid dehydrating to ‘make weight’ as this can negatively impact performance and health
Making weight is a complex and delicate process to ensure that the nutrient requirements for training and optimal health are achieved, whilst working towards weight-specific goals. If you are unsure if you or your athlete is balancing both demands, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.
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