There are various reasons as to why an athlete may desire to ascertain certain body weight and/or composition such as meeting a weight category), optimising performance (i.e. increasing power to weight ratio) or for aesthetic reasons (i.e. ballet, gymnastics etc). Similarly, there are many factors that may influence body mass including genetic predisposition, training level and/or intensity and relative energy cost, diet, behavioural and social factors, tapering for competition and/or periods of injury or illness.
Whilst there are many approaches to losing weight, athletes need to be particularly cautious in how they go about achieving weight loss as it may disrupt their ability to maintain a nutritious diet (putting some individuals at risk of deficiencies), while some diets can promote the loss of lean muscle mass, disturb menstrual and endocrine function, increase risk of illness and immunity, promote dehydration as well as negatively affect performance.
Although achieving weigh loss is an individual thing, and should ultimately be tailored around the athletes training schedule, tapering, competition and overall goals and lifestyle some of the following considerations may be useful:
One of the easiest way to achieve a low fat diet is to cut down on fat intake.
At 9kcal per gram compared to 4kcal for carbohydrates and protein it is evident that cutting back on your intake of fat is going to help you reduce 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
Although low-carb diets are often touted for weight loss, there is no evidence to suggest that they are superior, in fact, there is evidence to show the opposite. Carbohydrates are the most easily accessible fuel source for your body and can attenuate hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) which has been shown to effect perceived effort and performance. In addition, because glycogen is stored with water a reduction of carbohydrates may contribute to dehydration.
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. An example of this can be seen to the right.
Dehydration is not recommended as a weight loss strategy
Although some athletes attempt to “make weight” by using dehydration techniques this can have devastating consequences for the athlete such as increasing the risk of heat illness, loss of lean muscle mass, fatigue, nausea, headaches, 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 this is done in a safe and supervised manner, with no more than a 2-3% loss of body mass.
Be cautious of the use 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 may have negative effects on the nervous and cardiovascular systems which may affect performance, particularly for the “nervous” athletes and/or have long term health outcomes.