Cutting weight. One of the most difficult aspects of any athletic competition that uses weight classes. But how does one go about cutting weight? Is it through a pill? Some magic coffee? (No to both).
Even weight cutting aside, how does one maintain a healthy diet? What foods need to be eaten in order to properly fuel the athletic body?
For anyone who has had these questions, one unfortunate reality that must be faced is that the internet is loaded with bullshit. Seriously, everyone who has a new diet pill, or dieting method to sell intends to do just that. Google is not an athlete’s friend when it comes to sports nutrition.
So how does it work? That’s what this article intends to discuss, in very minor detail. If more knowledge is wanted after reading this, I highly recommend reaching out to a professional dietician, or sports nutritionist. What follows are merely the most basic aspects of sports nutrition.
Simple enough, really. A person needs to eat roughly the same amount of calories they would also use for energy; this is called a person’s Total Energy Expenditure (TEE). There are various methods to calculate TEE, none of which are absolutely perfect, as each individual is different, and no one has the same body. However, the basics of this can be found here.
Again, it’s basics; consume fewer calories than expended. This is referred to as a Hypocaloric Diet. There are various types of hypocaloric diets.
Very-Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD)
A popular one some athletes use in the off season. This is generally used
in the off season because of how low the calorie intake becomes. Usually, food is taken in liquid form (juices, protein shakes, etc.) in order to keep the intake nutrient-rich. While it technically meets the standards of a healthy diet (if the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals are ingested), it is not highly recommended, as a person will generally only consume around 800 calories per day using this method. This method is usually followed for 12-14 weeks, after which solid food is gradually able to be consumed again. This allows most people to lose 3-5 lbs per week. However, it is again advised that this only be done under the supervision of a professional dietician.
Low-Calorie Diet (LCD)
This sort of diet allows for between 1,000-1,500 calories to be consumed per day. Thankfully, it can be consumed in actual food and not merely juices. One issue that arises for athletes with this sort of diet is the loss of lean muscle mass. This is where macronutrients come into play. Within the 1,000-1,500 calories consumed per day, a fair portion of that ought to be protein. In fact, around 25% of the daily caloric intake should come from protein in order to better preserve lean muscle mass. Each athlete ought to pay close attention to their macronutrients in order to make sure they are eating what they need to in order to maintain their athletic abilities.
High-Carb, Low-Fat Diet
This sort of diet has fallen out of fashion in the general population and even among some athletes with the explosion of low-carb diets in the 90s. While there is some scientific evidence to back up this method of weight loss, there are a large number of variables involved in tracking carbohydrates, what types of carbohydrates are consumed, and level of daily activity. Much of the research was also only performed on obese individuals, and has little to say about the athletic population. Consensus on the matter is also still far from being reached.
High-Protein, Low Carb Diets
In the short-term, this diet works wonders. It sheds pounds of body-fat quickly while also helping an athlete maintain lean muscle mass. If a quick weight loss is wanted, this is the way to go. However, be aware that the law of diminishing returns applies to this sort of diet. If an athlete does not take care of their nutrition during the off season, using and re-using the High-Protein, Low-Carb Diets will cause an athlete to lose the weight more slowly each time they start the diet over again. Also, long-term studies have initially shown that this sort of diet produces the same long-term results as a High-Carb, Low-Fat Diet.
Speak with a professional. What’s outlined above is incredibly basic and does not even begin to touch on much of the necessary information needed to begin cutting weight (such as macronutrients needed, micronutrients, supplementation, resistance training [yes, you have to do it], or adapting your diet as your body changes). They can help create an individualized approach to an athlete’s weight and nutritional goals. Even if an athlete has no desire to cut weight, it is still important to know exactly the role nutrition plays in athletic performance.
All information derived from NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition