Weight loss for athletes: best strategies, foods to avoid, motivation and more
Weight loss for athletes: best strategies, foods to avoid, motivation and more
Focusing on nutrition for performance, it’s easy to skip straight to protein, fats, carbs and the best diets for both fueling and recovery. These are the pillars of great nutrition, health and athletic ability. Get them right and you’re on the road to new PBs (PRs for all our American readers) and more. But there is an even bigger gain waiting for many of us and that’s weight loss. Which is why today we’re looking at weight loss for athletes, how to do it right, and how to avoid the quick-fix pandemic and create sustainable changes that last.
Weight loss for athletes: why bother
This one’s simple - the more weight you carry around, the more effort you need to shift it. So if you’re well over your sensible racing weight it’s going to be like driving your car about with the handbrake on. Drop some excess and your power to weight ratio will improve, making you faster for the same effort - it's one of the biggest performance gains going.
Beyond this, too much spare tyre is highly correlated with a host of serious health issues from diabetes and hypertension to heart disease and arthritis. Losing the excess won’t just make you faster, it will also be one of the biggest health benefits you can give yourself.
Weight loss for athletes: what’s the target?
For context, let’s look at what isn’t the target.
Looking like an Olympic athlete, a Crossfit world champ, a Tour de France cyclist or some ripped movie star is all very well, but it’s unlikely to be healthy in the real world. Those extremities are exactly that - extremities, created by insanely focused lives, training regimes and conditions.
Unless you too are a genetically gifted freak who’s spent their life focusing on one thing and one thing only, or have the time and money to employ an army of personal trainers, dieticians and nutritionists, these bodies are both unrealistic and unhealthy.
Instead, all you want is to lose the jiggle when you run, fit comfortably into clothes you like, and feel good about yourself naked. That’s all there is to it. This provides a broad enough target zone to be achievable, with enough focus to know what you’re aiming for.
Drop weight to your sensible sweet spot and go faster, easier. You'll also cope better in the heat too (shaved head optional)
Weight loss for athletes: how to do it
There are three core strategies for cutting weight well as an athlete, and by 'well' here we mean ‘healthily’ and ‘sustainably’. Here they are in reverse order from most, to least, hard core.
Fasting means not eating or drinking any calories for a fixed period. 24-hour to 7-day fasts are the most common stretches and while results for both health and weight loss can be incredible, this is not something to be taken lightly. It is physically and mentally challenging in the extreme, particularly as you go beyond 48 hours, and it’s also a subject that needs a lot of research and even medical advice before taking on, again particularly if you go beyond 48 hours.
The other thing fasting should not be seen as is a silver bullet. It’s not something you kill yourself doing a few days of for a result and then never touch again. That approach is only a fast track to an eating disorder and is to be avoided at all costs.
Instead, fasting should be incorporated as a tool in your performance toolbox to be deployed regularly and in small doses. Intermittent fasting is a great place to start if this sounds like something you’d like to try.
The last key point with fasting and training is to know that the two do not mix well and the balance between fasting and training is one that needs treading very carefully.
Juicing: keep it simple, keep it fresh and keep it real for optimal results
Fasting makes juicing look very attractive. For juicing all you do is swap your daily food for juiced fruit and veg instead. It’s an excellent way to rest the digestive system and let the body get in some great healing, while also being a great weight loss aid. Again, it needs doing properly and here are the basics.
Quality is everything which means you want to be making all of your juices yourself from whole fruits and vegetables only. This is so you get all of the nutrients and all of the fibre you can - the nutrient density really matters because at a time when you’ll be eating way less you need to make sure that what you do consume really counts, while the fibre is essential for regulating the absorbption of the natural sugars in your juices.
As with fasting, you only drink water, and just like fasting you’re also going to feel pretty lousy during the juicing period, especially if this is your first time trying it.
The advantage juicing has over fasting though is that it’s comparatively much easier to fit into your life and can go hand in hand with light training too if you’re careful. As long as you’ve got a decent blender and a ton of fruit and veg in the cupboard, plus some handy resealable bottles, you can blitz up a day’s juice in no time and deploy as needed. These recipes are a good place to start.
The absolute best place to get started learning more about juicing is via the excellent documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead which makes the subject accessible and realistic and is an enjoyable and eye-opening watch in it’s own right.
3 Ditching the animal products and going plant based
Dropping meat, fish and dairy from your diet for a period has huge benefits and for most is also a great way to lose that stubborn bit of spare tyre that simply won’t budge. It needs commitment but the results can be stunning, and there’s no need to stop training either. In many cases you don’t need to eat fewer calories, you just need to swap where those calories come from.
Of course, if you swap your regular meals for chips, crisps and doughnuts it won’t work. You’ll be 100% plant-based and won’t be consuming a single animal product, but junk food is still junk food and the results from eating it don't change.
Build your diet on purely wholefood sources however and it’s a different story. This is where the results come flooding in given time. This is easier than both fasting and juicing, but making the switch - even for temporarily - is still challenging. Don’t be disheartened if you get it wrong a few times on the path to getting it working.
This blog post goes into way more detail on a plant-based diet for athletes and how to go about it, while Rich Roll’s podcast is great resource for any endurance athlete looking to upgrade their diet to a plant based one, as is the site No Meat Athlete.
Weight loss for athletes: beware the landmines
These are the small things that will blow up your best intentions most quickly. Avoid these when fasting, juicing or dropping the animal products and your chances of success will skyrocket.
- Sodas and soft drinks: liquid calories of the worst kind, best avoided, forever
- Salad dressing: hides innocently on your healthy salad looking cute, is normally about as good for you as ice cream. When eating out, always ask for dressings on the side, that way if it does turn out to be a cream/cheese/sugar disaster your salad hasn’t been ruined. Olive oil and salt is all the dressing you need
- Processed foods: heavily processed and in a packet? Run! Whether it’s obvious junk like a Pot Noodle or posh junk like a ‘finest’ ready meal from a trendy supermarket shelf, processed food never helps weight loss or performance
- Sports nutrition: far too much - as in over 95% - of the sports nutrition today is as bad for you as sodas and junk processed foods. Heavily sugared, heavily sweetened, synthetic and artificial it takes every dodgy trick of the food and pharmaceutical industries and portrays a healthy image while delivering a health time bomb. It’s because so much of it is so bad that we founded 33Shake in the first place
- Alcohol: more liquid calories, and no low-calorie options
- Low/no-fat and low/no-sugar products: the low/no-fat ones just got sugar, sweeteners and junk added into them instead of the fat, while the low/no-sugar ones got packed with sweeteners. All are less healthy than their full fat/sugar counterparts
Weight loss for athletes: motivation
This is the hardest part to manage, but the simplest to execute. The golden rule is to think longterm.
You’re looking to create change that lasts over months or even years and sticks, not to drop every ounce of weight and hit your perfect athletic body in weeks before bouncing back to normal thanks to a diet regime so hard core even supermodels would think twice.
Instead aim for visible and tangible change over a six-month period. Do this and achieving results that keep you motivated is way easier.
The best way to keep motivated through this period to cross the chasm from early enthusiasm, through the trough of disappointment as you don’t turn into a chiseled Adonis overnight, and safely onto the other side of success, speed and performance is to couple the longterm view we’ve already described with a weekly selfie snapshot in your underwear and a hop on the scales.
The key is combining the photo and the scale session into a weekly routine.
The photo provides a much clearer reflection of your progress than your mind will. Your mind will often be unhelpful, as you ask it how well you’re doing and it tells you that you suck. As such when you look in the mirror you then see no results. Ignore your monkey mind, it is not on your side.
Instead, stick to your weight loss plan, and stick to your weekly photo. At the end of each month compare the shots. Here you’ll see what you’re really achieving and can tell your monkey mind to stick it. 1-0 to you.
The weekly scale session does a similar trick. Just remember that if you’re training through all this too, muscle weighs more than fat. So you can be seriously changing your body shape (the photos will prove this) without nudging the scale numbers down as you increase your ratio of muscle to fat.
Take the longterm view, build the changes sustainably, enjoyably and gradually and welcome to the dawn of a new upgraded you
And that folks is the core of weight loss for athletes. Have a great one, let us know how you get on and if you need the finest sports nutrition packed only with the most powerful and nutrient dense whole foods to support your training as you cut the weight, we’ve always got your back.