For athletes, losing weight means getting a competitive edge over opponents. Unfortunately, losing weight isn't as easy when you're a professional athlete; lose too much weight too quickly and endurance levels could suffer. To diet right, here are six ways athletes lose weight to avoid ruining their performance--and how you can follow in their footsteps.
1. Count Calories
"Weight loss is about calories," says Christopher D. Jensen, a nutrition and epidemiology researcher. "If you consume more calories than you expend on a daily basis, you gain weight." On the contrary, if you want to lose weight, then you must consume fewer calories than you expend.
If you want to lose weight, then calorie counting is necessary for healthy, long-term weight loss. Don't aim for a big calorie deficit, however--Jensen recommends decreasing your calorie needs by 500-750 calories per day, though it may vary depending on your weight, muscle mass, and activity level. I recommend asking a nutritionist to determine your calorie needs.
2. Concentrate on Macronutrient Intake
As well as counting calories, athletes also need to consume an optimal macronutrient intake to maintain effective performance levels. Macronutrients are nutrients you need in mass quantities which provide energy, such as protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) recommends the following guidelines:
Carbohydrates: Approximately 55 to 70 percent of a person's total calories should come from carbohydrates.
Fat: 15 percent of all calories should come from fat as a minimum; ideally between 20 to 25 percent.
Protein: Needs vary depending on an athlete's needs. Athletes who are involved in strength-training sports will need substantially more protein.
3. Eat Healthy
For athletes, eating a healthy diet is just as important as meeting their calorie and macronutrient needs. There aren't any surprising recommendations here: Simply focus on eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat, and lean meat. Most foods should be minimally processed; trans fats should also be kept to a minimum.
4. Avoid Dietary Aids
Some athletes use or abuse dietary aids, such as ephedrine or diuretics, to rapidly increase weight loss, but it's hardly a smart strategy. Most dietary aids have few benefits; some can even cause health problems due to excess amounts of caffeine and other agents that may affect blood pressure or hydration levels. It's best to stick to a healthy diet plan and limit use of supplements to performance-enhancing aids, such as pre-workout shakes or energy bars.
5. Increase Aerobic Exercise
As an aid to a healthy diet program, additional aerobic exercise can increase your caloric deficit, improving weight loss. Recommendation: To get leaner, aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, working out in 30 to 90 minutes intervals. Need a bigger calorie burn? Then consider also adding in high intensity interval training (HIIT), a type of interval workout.
6. Check Your Body Fat
Before losing weight, make sure your body fat percentage isn't below 20 percent, the minimum amount recommended for healthy adult women. If your body fat is higher than this, then it's okay to lose weight--but make sure your diet doesn't take you any lower than this percentage, otherwise it may cause serious hormonal problems, such as amenorrhea.
With the exception of macronutrients, weight loss does not differ much between athletes and regular people--instead, what matters more is consistency and a healthy diet plan.