The off season is the best time to lose weight for your sport (yes, even through the holidays!)
Athletes often make the mistake of focusing on losing weight in the peak of their season. But this is when they are also working toward performing their best and dedicating the most time and effort to their training.
Training adaptations will be compromised when in a calorie deficit.
It is more difficult to maintain and grow muscle mass, maintain and restore glycogen, and consume enough micro-nutrients to sustain a heavy and challenging training load when one is intentionally restricting calories. Therefore, the best time to focus on weight loss is during the ‘off season’ or the early base training period for endurance athletes.
For many endurance athletes, the off season is in the winter months, which happen to coincide with the holidays. This poses a challenge when culturally we generally consume more than we normally would, let alone less.
It is important to note that for some athletes, putting on weight can be helpful during the off season to sustain high mileage training (base training for road and mountain biking) and to prevent illness. This often happens naturally when the racing and training volume decreases after the season is over and athletes take a break from training.
Weight loss science has been shown to be the most effective when losing 0.5-2 lbs per week1.
This ensures that fat mass rather than lean mass (muscle and skeletal) is lost and also that the weight is more likely to stay off rather than come back. Fad and crash diets, which propose losing large amounts of weight in a short period of time, often fail. These diets fail mainly because they are not sustainable or designed to ensure that the weight stays off.
A few tips to help sustain a low-calorie diet during the holidays and maintain athletic performance:
Maintain adequate protein levels.
Research shows that consuming up to 2 g/kg body-weight protein per day is helpful for athletes when in a calorie deficit to continue to maintain and increase muscle mass. For a 150 lbs person, this is up to 136 g of protein per day. Eat foods high in protein: meats, sea foods, low and nonfat dairy products, eggs, and soy products. A favorite of mine is to use Cocoa Elite’s Everyday Whey. This product provides a low calorie, high-quality protein source to ensure adequate protein intake and performance improvements.
Limit the number of holiday sweets, but don’t go cold turkey.
Completely eliminating treats and high-calorie low-nutrient dense foods (cookies, cakes, candy) is not recommended. This tactic can be effective for athletic performance and losing weight, but it can provide a sense of deprivation and is not typically sustainable. Have tastings of desserts (just a bite or two), split desserts with friends, or limit to 200 calories of sweets per day.
Keep a food diary.
Record your food consumption using an app like My Fitness Pal. It’s an easy way to track calories and macro-nutrients. This ensures that all calories and protein needs are prioritized. This also helps bring awareness to the types of food and amount one is consuming.
Bring healthy low-calorie high-nutrient dishes to holiday parties and get togethers.
Adding color to the holiday assortment with fruit and vegetable dishes allows for healthy options and more variety to choose from when at these engagements. Try bringing a salad with dried cranberries and toasted chestnuts as a fun healthy holiday dish.
1 Turocy PS, DePalma BF, Horswill CA, et al. National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: Safe weight loss and maintenance practices in sport and exercise. J Athletic Train. 2011; 46(3): 322-336.
Kristen Arnold is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. She has a Master’s in Human Nutrition from The Ohio State University. Kristen also owns a private practice nutrition counseling business focusing on performance nutrition for athletes.
In addition, she coaches for Red Kite Coaching. Kristen coaches entry-level to national elite-level cyclists in mountain, road, and cyclocross bike racing. Kristen is also a professional cyclist for Velo Classic p/b Stan’s NoTubes domestic elite women’s cycling team. She competes in national-level races across the USA and Canada.
In 2016, Kristen placed 4th overall in the Intelligentsia Cup powered by SRAM. In addition, Kristen earned a 7th place finish in GC at the Green Mountain Stage Race.
Contact her here: Kristen Arnold.
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