Weight Loss For Athletes

Christopher D. Jensen, PhD, MPH, RD

Many athletes think about losing weight for different reasons. Dropping weight can be advantageous because it increases your power‐to‐weight ratio, meaning the amount of power you can generate in relation to your weight. Losing weight can have performance benefits, but only if it is done correctly. Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows it’s not an easy task.

Learn how athletes can lose weight, everything from when to begin in your training cycle, what approaches to try, and practical strategies to help you be successful.

Things to Keep in Mind

Losing Weight is Hard:

There’s no magic way to lose weight. Knowing that, weight loss is about calories. If you consume more calories than you expend on a daily basis, you gain weight. If your calorie intake is the same as the number of calories you use, then your weight remains the same. And if you want to lose weight, you need to expend more calories than you take in.

When To Do It:

The best time to implement weight loss is during your offseason. In‐season is not the time to drop weight because the combination of strenuous exercise and cutting calories will have serious impacts on your performance. A realistic goal is to lose about 1 lb per week. To do this you will need a calorie deficit or shortage of about 500‐700 calories every day. Plan accordingly based on your training schedule to lose weight and be ready for full training once your season begins again.

Don’t Lose Your Muscle

Because your goal is to lose fat and not just lose weight, you need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. Losing muscle will happen, but controlling your calorie intake, training for at least an hour daily at 60‐70% of your maximum heart rate, and using broad focus resistance training for different muscle groups will help you maintain muscle during weight loss.

Try These Weight Loss Strategies

Think about implementing the following strategies in your weight loss program:

  1. Don’t skip meals – Our body senses if calories are in short supply and slows down your metabolism. Try to spread out your calorie intake throughout the day.
  2. Forgo full‐fat dairy foods – Choose low‐fat or nonfat dairy foods instead of the full‐fat versions.
  3. Get it on the side – Ask for dressings, gravies, and sauces on the side so you can choose how much to use.
  4. Don’t drink your calories – Try to avoid soft drinks and fruit juices. Fruit juices have a few more vitamins but just as many calories.
  5. Eat foods that fill you up, not out – Start your meal with a soup, a salad, or a plate of steamed vegetables. This will help ease your hunger and leave you more satisfied having eaten fewer calories by the end of the meal.
  6. Don’t skimp on protein – You need protein to maintain muscle mass. Make sure to consume about 0.7‐0.9g of protein per lb of body weight each day.
  7. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed – Pay attention when you eat and stop when you are satisfied. Try eating a bit slower so your brain will have more time to sense when your body is full.
  8. Avoid mindless munching – Eat only when you are truly hungry or have something low in calories like apple slices, carrot sticks, or pretzels if you need to have the sensation of eating.

About The Author

Dr. Jensen manages health-related research studies at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Northern California. He is also a sports nutrition writer and has years of experience in the design and testing of sports nutrition products. Dr. Jensen is a recreational runner and former basketball player.

Fun Fact: Chris loves running on the beach and playing the drums.

Information presented by PowerBar is intended to impart general sports nutrition and training information. PowerBar is not engaged in rendering medical advice or services. Be sure to consult your doctor as needed, including when undertaking a new diet or training program. Advance consultation with your doctor is particularly important if you are under eighteen (18), pregnant, breastfeeding, or have health problems. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on PowerBar’s site.