Weight Loss in all Types of Sports

Joëlle Flück 3. September 2019

Naturally, body weight fluctuates with each training phase. Then, how may one achieve ideal weight for a competition ahead without a drop in peak performance?

Presented by Swiss Sports Nutrition Society

Gaining Healthy Body Weight

Depending on the type of sports, an athlete‘s typical body weight throughout any given time, is much higher than the weight aimed for during a competition. However, it is not recommendable to keep a lower than optimal body weight over a longer period of time. It may cause an increased risk of injury, leading to pain, and possibly resulting in other related illnesses. The difference in  average weight to competition level weight may not be more than 3%. A need to lose more than 3% of total body weight may pose an additional health risk. In a case like that, the athlete may do a reality check to find out whether achieving a goal within a given time frame is desirable at all costs.

Age and current fitness level play a very significant role as well. Best, if ideal weight for competition may be achieved without changing to a very restrictive diet. Needless to say, an athlete should stay away from developing an eating disorder, or even display disordered eating patterns and behaviors. Anyone who‘s weight fluctuates constantly, may have an unrealistic vision regarding their ideal body weight loss for competition.

Factors Regulating a Balance in Energy

A variety of factors have a strong influence on the balance of energy intake and energy consumption. Per day consumption of energy depends largely on one’s personal resting metabolic rate (RMR), relates to age, gender, muscle mass, and even stress and hormone level. For an athlete, it may vary from 1,300 to 2,500 kcal per day. Add any kind of activity to the RMR over the course of the day, may be an everyday workout such as home- or yard work, being in motion such as cycling to work or climbing stairs, or actively pursuing any type of sports. This formula allows to roughly calculate and estimate just how much one‘s body actually needs in order to maintain a healthy and balanced energy level.




What to Watch Out For during the Weight Loss Process

Generally, one likes to lose as much weight as possible in a short amount of time. For athletes, this is not a wise choice at all, and may not be considered as a viable option. Energy balance in the negative not only increases the risk of losing key body mass fat, but muscle mass as well. In turn, this may affect peak performance levels. One of many scientific studies show that with a weight reduction of only 0.7% per week, more muscle mass is kept than with a reduction of 1.7% over the same period of time (Garth et al 2011). Excessive energy restriction breaks down peak performance levels. It lowers muscle strength, reduces glycogen storage and creates a lack of focus and concentration. Injuries due to increased tiredness may cause further body detoriation, in particular, if low bone density or iron deficiency come into play. Special attention is required to psychological factors, including the emotional state of an athlete at any given time. So, in short, cutting down on more than 500 to 700 kcal per day is not advised during an intense training phase.

Protein intake is very crucial. Reduced energy consumption may lead to a reduced protein intake per se, while in fact, the recommended daily protein intake for an athlete is way higher: 1.4 to 1.7 g per kg body weight, compared to 0.8 g per kg of body weight to ensure the keep of a higher proportion of muscle mass (Mettler et al 2010). In order for the body to have sufficient amounts of protein, and to build and to repair muscle mass, it is essential to spread out protein intake throughout a 24h day. 

For athletes, the right timing of all food intake is key. Definitely, carbohydrates provide fuel in the process of improving intensity and quality in training. At least five servings of vegetables and fruits may satisfy the recommended level of micro-nutrients.

Simple Suggestions:

  • Avoid cutting down more than 500 to 700 kcal per day
  • Make sure protein intake is sufficient = 1.4 to 1.7 g per kg body weight; for additional weight loss increase to 1.9 to 2.1 g per kg body weight
  • During training phase, adapt nutrition to specific purpose regarding duration, scope, intensity, overall goals
  • Eat carbohydrate rich meals before starting a training segment to boost intensity and quality training level; in particular during interval and high-intensity interval training, competitions, training different techniques, ect.
  • Consider not losing too much weight within a short period of time (<5 kg in 12 weeks)
  • Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet following the food pyramid
  • For athletes with ambitious goals, qualified sports nutrition specialists are at their service, ready to pair optimal training goals with well-balanced nutrition plans.