Ahhh, I need to lose weight!!
As an athlete, you probably feel that you work very hard to develop the necessary skills, resilience, stamina, power, speed and endurance to help you prepare for your upcoming athletic events. Developing the fitness to participate in a running or triathlon event requires a lot of training and it takes commitment and requires patience, so it's assumed that skipping workouts, being "all in" all the time, not caring, deviating from your training plan to do what other athletes are doing, or haphazardly guessing your way through training are not effective ways to reach your race day goals. You simply become inconsistent with training, you lose confidence in what you are doing and you may compromise your health.
Is nutrition an important component of your training?
If you don't work at healthy eating, you miss out on one of the best opportunities to improve your performance and to keep your body in good health. To perform at your best, your body needs to function at it's best and the best fuel comes from a healthy, balanced and well-planned and timed diet.
So what's an athlete to do if weight loss is a goal, alongside performance/fitness improvements? And for the purpose of this article, I'm speaking about weight loss that brings you to a healthy weight and not weight loss for aesthetics, to show off your abs or to tone up your butt or to lose a few vanity pounds.
I can't say it enough but eating a healthy diet as an athlete is not easy. When your time is limited, you are exhausted from training, energy expenditure is high, you get up early to workout and your appetite is ever-so unpredictable, energy comes and goes and you are tired and sore, developing the SKILLS to maintain a healthy diet as an athlete takes a lot of work.
Most athletes would rather put the time into training than to work on improving dietary habits but this strategy does not work. You see, if you don't work on developing healthy eating habits in your early season, how do you expect to carry healthy habits with you as your training volume and intensity increase as the season progresses?
Healthy eating and performance fueling requires education, trial and error, a lot of planning, commitment, organization and an open-mind. Most athletes need help to learn how to eat healthy as an athlete. Because of this, there are many credible professionals that specialize in helping athletes learn how to eat a healthy diet and how to eat for performance, so that you can develop healthy daily habits and smart fueling and hydration strategies in order to make the best food choices possible throughout the day and before, during and after workouts, in order to reach athletic excellence.
With so much nutritional advice available at your fingertips and a lot of overly confident nutrition experts, it's important that in your attempt to lose weight, you understand and accept that there are significant physical, psychological, emotional and social changes associated with dieting. Asking an athlete to restrict calories, starve the body of nutrients or avoid/restrict carbohydrates, when energy expenditure is high, can cause great emotional, cognitive and behavioral symptoms that are performance and health limiting....NOT ENHANCING. Intentional or not, when athletes do not "eat enough", the body systems become compromised and you feel horrible.
Dieting, or restrictive eating, may cause food obsessions, social isolation, fatigue, weakness, hormonal issues, bone loss, irritability, body temperature changes, anxiety, depression, low blood sugar, sleep disturbances and the desire or motivation that you once had to do what you love to do with your body is no longer a driving force to keep you present in your sport. Instead, your mind is obsessed with your body and not on performance or health.
Seeing that so many negative physical and psychological issues develop when exercise and nutrition are taken to the extreme, there must be a stop to all of this talk on "righteous, good vs bad, eliminate whole food groups, sugar is bad, don't use sport nutrition, fasted workout" eating. This is NOT a healthy approach to weight loss. Sadly, there are far too many misinformed athletes that do not have a good perspective on what is needed in the diet and before, during and after workouts, in order to keep the body in good health while working for fitness improvements.
As for the athletes who ignore fad diets and work hard to organize and plan the diet in order to eat "enough" and fine-tune details like proper fueling and hydration for individual needs (often working with a sport dietitian), well, those are the athletes to look-up to on race day because not only are they having a lot of fun in training but they are fit, fast, healthy and prepared on race day. These athletes don't diet or obsess about body image, but they give themselves permission to eat, indulge and fuel for performance and well, a better overall quality of life.
If you are trying to lose weight for health and/or performance reasons, you should not have to devote every minute of your day eating or training as you try to lose weight. And never should you have to use extreme exercise and food restriction in order to achieve or to maintain your "goal" weight.
It makes me so sad to hear that there are so many athletes who feel so unhappy with their body shape, size or weight. Worrying all day about what to or not to eat, trying not to eat "too much" and grinding out workouts on empty just to look differently. When you restrict yourself from food, you don't become a better athlete. Instead, you become weak, tired and withdrawn. Extreme exercising to burn calories or to reward yourself with food is not performance enhancing and it's not health promoting. You can't perform well with this type of lifestyle. You may think that you look fitter but you may not be able to do much with your body. The mindset to be "thinner to be a winner" is not worth the price that your body has to pay when you are energy deprived and trying to train consistently.
Seeing that there is a safe way and an unhealthy way to lose weight, ask yourself the following YES or NO questions to see if you are taking a smart approach to weight loss?
-You have drastically cut out a significant amount of calories?
-You are avoiding specific food groups?
-You are frustrated that you are not losing weight fast enough?
-You are intentionally avoiding taking in calories before and during workouts?
-You have your weight on your mind when you are working out?
-You are finding yourself overeating on the weekends because you "deserve it"?
-You feel irritable and moody, often low in energy and hungry?
-You feel confident that you can maintain this type of diet for the rest of your life, and be happy?
A smart eating approach maintains energy levels as you change your body composition. A smart eating approach does not negatively affect your health.
A smart eating approach does not limit you from food groups.
A smart eating approach keeps you training consistently.
A smart eating approach helps you get fit, fast and strong.
A smart eating approach is sustainable and sets you up for a lifestyle of healthy eating habits.
If you have recently found yourself saying "Ahhh, I need to lose weight!!" remind yourself that it won't come from a diet, weight will not rapidly fall off, there's no quick fix and you can't maintain good health and optimize your performance with a rigid and restrictive style of eating.
Not sure if you can safely and confidently lose weight on your own, without affecting your health and/or performance?
Don't use forums and the internet for advice.
Reach out to a Board Certified Sport Dietitian for help.