Weight Loss Strategies for Athletes

Weight Loss Strategies for Athletes

Weight Loss Strategies for Athletes

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  • July 2, 2018

I'm a big believer that weight loss is a bad goal. Over the years I've seen countless people fail in my hands and among the hundreds of trainers I've worked with because of that primary focus.

For the extremely competitive group, trust you're training, work hard and your body will usually find that appropriate racing/competition weight provided stress levels are managed. Don't starve yourself to cut extra weight, just focus on adding more whole fresh food to your diet. Adding more beneficial foods has better results than taking items away and restricting yourself. Lack of food can lead to poor training, and as a result poor results in competition.

For individuals who are not as competitive but still like train and push themselves, most of the success stories I have seen over the years is when people choose goals that are bigger than weight loss alone.

I want to be able to run a half marathon by the end of summer.

I want to be able to run a clean obstacle course race without any penalties.

I want to have the fitness to do a long trek in Nepal.

Goals like this are easy to measure and in the process of training, weight loss is a by-product, and the training is always fun. You are constantly improving in some aspect. If the focus is weight loss the number often doesn't change quickly enough to keep people excited and motivated to continue their training.

Now of course if you are training for an event, often the lighter you are the faster you will be able to run and the less out of breath you'll be when climbing hills. So it's understandable that this is a desired outcome. However when looked at in the light of improving performance with weight loss being part of the process, it's much more sustainable mentally for the long term.

Traditionally in order to lose weight people starve themselves and over exercise. This occurs for as long as the individual can stand it. Then when motivation waivers or energy is lost they are right back where they started now overfeeding themselves from the deprivation, under exercising due to lack of energy and dealing with a slower metabolism (temporary) from poor dietary practices. As we seen from the Biggest Losers study that strategy never works long term. It's as close to impossible as it can get in terms of sustaining weight loss.

There's quite a bit of research on results of following different diets. One of the biggest studies in particular done recently with 609 participants comparing the success over a low fat vs. low carb diet over the course of a year (1). The low fat group lost 11.7lbs the low carb lost 13.2lbs. What does this tell us? Whichever diet you do doesn't matter. And this wasn't the only study to tell us this (2). The most common denominator is the ability to stick to the diet and be consistent. So instead of following the latest fad diet, such as keto, carnivore or only eating sticks and twigs. Find something you can stick to for most meals of the week for essentially the rest of your life. Create a realistic routine, and keep your weight down long term. 

Keto, and other low carbohydrate diets appear to have the most benefit in terms of weight loss initially. However the effect is due to a lost of body water. That’s what happens when you reduce carbohydrates. It's not all-actual body fat, which is what you are trying to reduce. There is no significant advantage over time, which is worth sacrificing performance. To record, no Olympic goal medals have been won on low carbohydrate diets. Except maybe curling.

Yo yo dieting also increases your risk of overall mortality. When people come off a diet and begin the overfeeding process, surface fat levels (subcutaneous) only have so much room to store energy and don't have enough time to create new fat cells. As a result the fat can end up going directly to the visceral area around the organs, which increases your risk of a variety of diseases. This would be fine if you could come off a diet and slip back into normal eating patterns. However that's not typically what happens. As we seen from the Biggest Loser study mentioned earlier, leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full was found to be almost non-existent in the blood stream post restriction. It could take some time before your appetite returns to normal. In the process your body will fight you to put the weight back on.

In regards to performance there's also a good chance you lost muscle tissue when restricting your food. Muscle is very hard to gain, and reduction in muscle will likely affect your performance in a negative way, not to mention your metabolism. If you have a way to measure fat loss vs. weight loss, you'll have a much better indicator of the results and whether you are training and eating sensibly.

Patience is key, and today it seems to be a rare trait in 2018.

If fat loss is essential while training for competition, the following are two methods I use for my athletes to help encourage some accelerated results while allowing their body to have adequate fuel for performance.

Number 1
Carb cycling. For an non-exerciser to a moderate exercisers I would recommend a day on then a day off. For someone who needs the energy for their workouts I suggest 2 days on 1 day off. I take the average of 7 days in terms of grams of carbs of what my clients normally eat and half it for their low day. I also try and line their low day up with a recovery day or with zone 1 - zone 2 training.

Number 2
Eat the majority of carbs post workout. At this point your body will take most of the load and transport it into the muscle cells refuelling glycogen for future energy use. For example if you are consuming 200-300 grams of carbs that day, consume upwards of 75% within 3 hours post workout. Consume the rest pre or in the morning for breakfast. Then get a small amount of carbs throughout the day through non-starchy vegetables with protein and fat.

Other tips which help when you are trying to lose weight sensibly:

#1 Unfollow anyone on instagram that makes money by showing off their sexy bodies. Instead replace it with people who are striving to lift heavier, and run further. MUCH more inspiring and likely its going to motivate you to work harder. Also add lots of animal, and meme accounts. It's much nicer to walk away from your phone with a smile than disappointment in how your body looks in comparison to others. Or avoid it all together. Social media was originally meant to connect people. Now companies use it to make you to feel self conscious about yourself so you buy products. If you don't have control in limiting your use, it's not healthy for your overall body image.

#2 If your goals are important to you, prioritize your training. One of my good training buddies has a wife, 2 kids and a busy banking job. He never struggles with weight because he makes it work, while at same time spending plenty of time with his family and exceling at his career. Theirs really no excuse. If you say you don't have time you are really just getting in your own way. Things always come up. You just don't want it bad enough. Sit down and write out a plan for yourself or go see a professional like me :). Without a target you’re bound to miss the mark. If you realize you don't want it bad enough to put the work in that's fine as well. Don't stress yourself out over it, any exercise or healthy food selection is going to be better than nothing in terms of making you feel good and improving your health.

#3 Train with people who are better than you. Always have some to chase. Working out with people who you are fitter than all of the time or by yourself will reduce the likelihood you will work as hard as you could. Yeah your ego may take a beating initially, but you'll feel pretty damn good in your competition when you see your improvement. You'll also likely look better in the mirror.

(1) https://examine.com/nutrition/ low-fat-vs-low-carb-for- weight-loss/
(2) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1900510

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Josh Stryde B.Kin (Hons), CSNN Holistic Nutrition Consultantâ„¢, Precision Nutrition Level 1, PTS

Josh has been working and educating in the fitness Industry for over 10 years. He has seen his greatest success by arming his clients with knowledge and allowing them to active role when working towards their goals. Without knowing why you are eating the way you are eating, or why you are following a particular workout routine it becomes difficult to stay consistent.

Spartan Team Canada 2017
Team PVL 2017/2018
20+ OCR podium finishes


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