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Achieving Optimal Body Weight Without Compromising Performance

Athletes come in many shapes and sizes, and for some sports, reducing your body weight may be of benefit. For example, meeting a weight category for boxing, optimising your performance by increasing your power to weight ratio, or aesthetic reasons like ballet or gymnastics. However, losing weight in the wrong way can effect the nutritional quality of your diet and put your health and/or performance at risk. In addition, there are numerous negative potential consequences that may occur when consuming less energy than the amount which your body requires for normal physiological functioning. This may include the loss of lean mass and/or bone density, disrupted menstrual cycle and endocrine function, increased risk of illness and negative immune outcomes and promote dehydration. Whilst achieving an optimal body weight will vary from person to person, here are some hints on ways it can be attained:

Minimise Fat Intake:

Fat has 9 calories per gram, whilst carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Cutting back on your fat intake is a good way to maintain your overall energy intake without compromising your intake of carbohydrates, protein and/or micronutrients and minerals.

Low carbohydrate diets are not the best option for athletes:

Whilst there is much hype that a low carb diet is the best option for weight loss, the evidence in fact suggests the opposite. Carbohydrates are the most easily accessible fuel source and their consumption can prevent the onset of low blood sugar, which can then effect performance. In addition, because glycogen is stored with water, a reduction of carbohydrate intake may contribute to dehydration.

Dehydration is not a weight loss strategy:

Using dehydration to reduce weight may have devastating consequences such as increasing the risk of heat illness, loss of lean muscle mass, fatigue, nausea, headaches and impairment of kidney function and electrolyte balance. Although it is possible to drop some water weight prior to a weigh-in through dietary strategies, it is essential that this is done in a safe and supervised manner, with no more than a 2-3% loss of body mass.

Periodise your diet around your training schedule:

Just as coaches will often periodise training, this is also a suitable way to achieve weight loss without compromising on performance and allowing adequate intake when you need it.

Be cautious of weight loss supplements:

If you are an elite level athlete you need to be particularly cautious of supplements as there is a potential for contamination. In addition, many weight loss supplements contain ingredients which may have negative effects on the nervous and cardiovascular systems. This may affect performance, particularly for those “nervous” athletes, as well as lead to potential long term negative health outcomes.

Rebekah Alcock
Accredit Practicing Dietitian
Recover Sports Medicine
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