What to consider when approaching weight loss as an athlete

Posted on April 23, 2019 by

The body doesn’t like to change weight rapidly; it takes time to increase or reduce body weight healthily and for long term results.

Extreme dietary attempts for fast weight loss and changes to body composition can be harmful and increase the risk of illness or injury, especially with a high training load. Successful fat loss and avoiding yo-yo diets requires realistic goals and applying consistent good eating habits with a practical and positive attitude towards food and lifestyle.

Most of all, it has to be right for you to be sustainable and part of your lifestyle to continue good habits. If you are changing your life around to suit your diet, then it may not be as healthy as you think.


Find a balance

To lose weight you need to consume slightly less energy than what your body is using each day to live and train. It doesn’t mean eat as little as possible, it’s different for each person and body type to find the right balance of having enough energy to live and train without an excess which gets stored as fat.

While it sounds simple, the body becomes quite sensitive when it receives a lot less energy than what it needs to function. If too much energy is restricted from the body it will hang on to the energy it gets from food, and will slow down metabolism, which in turn reduces the total amount of energy you need each day and can contribute to impaired physiological function of major system in the body, impacting health and performance.

If you’re in a constant negative energy balance and continuing to cut more and more food out of the diet to keep losing weight you limit exposure to the other important parts of food like vitamins, minerals, fibre and other nutrients.

Think of it this way, if you have money regularly going into your bank account you can spend money a lot more freely, compared to a situation when you don’t know when the next pay cheque is coming in so you hold on to what you have. Much like energy, you have to reassure the body it can use its stores as fuel rather than save them for continued periods of low energy.


Areas to consider for success

In the same way everyone doesn’t do the same training program; maintaining weight and reaching body composition goals is not ‘one diet fits all’. It may need to change day to day specific to individual needs and energy demands of that day.

Food and dietary requirements will vary depending on training times, body size and type, sport, energy needs, annual training cycles and health demands. Plus, it’s not just what is on the plate, considerations need to be made to reassess dietary requirements through modifications in meal times, type and amount of food eaten. You should as well as consider eating habits if eating on the go or under stress.

Taking ownership over dietary patterns will help create confidence in your own healthy food choices rather than being influenced by media and society on what you ‘should’ eat. Be honest with your eating habits and be open to challenging what you think you can and can’t change. If you do want or need to lose weight it won’t happen through wishing that you could.


11 tips for reaching a suitable weight

  1. Discuss with your coaches a realistic weight/body fat level which is maintainable and healthy to train and compete. This will also help form a meal plan and direction.
  2. Keep meals and food choices balanced including choices of wholegrain carbohydrates, lean protein and lots of vegetables.
  3. Fat is important in the diet, however, it is energy dense, reducing obvious sources, especially saturated fat, can reduce total energy without removing a large volume of food.
  4. Portion sizes of any foods shouldn’t be too big, eat often in smaller amounts so you are never really stuffed full.
  5. When eating out or away from home, use visual cues to assess portion sizes so they aren’t bigger than normal.
  6. Allow yourself a few treats occasionally, find a balance to include small amounts of what you like to avoid bingeing later.
  7. Its good to increase your food intake during high levels of training so you have flexibility to then reduce intake when training is also reduced.
  8. Weight loss should be gradual with 0.5 – 1 kg per week; this may still be too rapid but is more likely to be sustainable.
  9. Don’t skip meals, especially around training as it will make you hungrier and more likely to pick or overcompensate on the wrong foods later in the day when you aren’t being as active.
  10. Weight can fluctuate around 2kg a day with changes in fluid loads so if weighing yourself regularly do it at a consistent time in the day for a more accurate comparison of real weight.
  11. Be positive, weight loss won’t happen instantly, so back yourself that you are doing the right thing and it will happen.


If you want or need to alter your weight or body composition for your sport, there are ways to do it so energy levels and performance aren’t sacrificed.

For an individualised plan discuss your requirements with a sports dietitian.


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