Weight loss, body fat and athletes

There is perhaps no other topic in nutrition that creates such debate and opinion as weight loss, particularly body fat loss. There are many reasons that athletes and active people may wish to reduce their body fat including improving their power to weight ratio, agility, speed and/or endurance. The rules of some sports also dictate body weight categories and aesthetic requirements as part of the selection or judging process. Although reducing body fat can have beneficial effects on performance, because of the widespread popularity of weight loss amongst the general population, there are now numerous diets and ‘weight loss experts’ promoted in magazines, newspapers, television commercials, internet blogs and across social media sites. This can create enormous confusion and has the potential to undo all the hard training that athletes put in if they take the wrong approach or look for quick fixes.

What can happen if I get my weight loss strategy wrong?

The goal of most (if not all) weight loss plans is to create a negative energy balance where more energy is used than consumed by the body. There are many ways to achieve a negative energy balance and often diets promote cutting out entire food groups (particularly carbohydrates and dairy foods) to do this. While this might result in some quick weight loss initially, unfortunately, this loss is usually short term and unsustainable and weight lost is quickly regained. Diets that eliminate whole food groups or are heavily energy restricted can also negatively impact performance by impairing fuelling and recovery, preventing athletes from achieving their potential during training or competition. They can also impair immune function and increase injury risk, meaning that valuable training sessions or events are missed due to illness or injury.

What are some good tips for reducing body fat the right way?

There is more than one way to achieve your body composition and weight goals. Working with an Accredited Sports Dietitian is an important first step in making sure you have an individualised plan that works for you (without compromising your performance). However, here are a few general tips that may help you get started:

  • Be wary of fad diets or diets that eliminate whole food groups, successful weight loss (and maintenance) requires long term solutions
  • Fuel & recover appropriately around training sessions to avoid impacting the quality or adaptations from sessions
  • Use filling, but low kilojoule, foods (e.g. salad, berries, soup) to bulk up your meals
  • Include protein at meals and snacks to help manage appetite and reduce muscle loss
  • Limit high energy foods (e.g. soft drink, chocolate, take-away, desserts, alcohol, etc)
  • Be aware of non-hungry eating (e.g. boredom, procrastination…)
  • Be patient and persistent! Results don’t happen overnight.

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