A common focus (or struggle) for athletes is losing weight (or changing body composition) while trying to improve fitness.
It may seem effortless for an athlete to lose weight while training for an endurance event because of the extreme energy expenditure experienced on a day-to-day basis but in truth, many athletes struggle to lose weight despite exercising 8-20+ hours a week.
In my opinion, there's no shortage of proper education on how to nourish and fuel the athlete. The problem lies in application. Athletes often fail to properly time nutrition with training and plan out a well balanced diet and thus, there's always a struggle to maximize fitness, health and body composition throughout a training/racing season. In other words, most athletes don't eat enough of the right foods at the right times. I also blame the lack of time, focus and energy that athletes give to the daily diet relative to the time, focus and energy that is given to training. Most athletes fail to create sustainable healthy eating habits because well, nutrition is just not a priority until it really needs to become one.
Like many things in life, healthy eating habits require education but also a lot of trial and error, planning ahead, commitment, organization and flexibility. If you are willing to work for your performance goals, you should also be willing to work on your diet - in a healthy, non-extreme manner. The key word here is "work" - it's not a quick fix or elimination diet but instead, a constant work in progress.
With so much nutritional advice available at your fingertips and ears these days, not to mention a lot of overly confident food gurus, I recommend to not get your nutrition tips from non-credible blogs, forums, podcasts, interviews, magazines and experts. Thanks to social media, anyone can claim to be an 'expert'. Year after year, I see a common trend of athletes trying to adhere of extreme methods of eating and fueling in order to change body composition while trying to train for an athletic event because they read about it somewhere on the internet.
When an athlete has weight (too much) on his/her mind, there's a good chance that an extreme approach will be taken. Restrictive eating has issues; it may cause food obsessions, social isolation, fatigue, weakness, hormonal issues, bone loss, irritability, anxiety, depression, low blood sugar, sleep disturbances and low energy to name a few. Many negative physical and psychological issues develop when weight loss methods are taken to the extreme yet athletes continue to seek a quick fix/extreme approach.
If you are currently abiding by food laws, adhering to a good food/bad food list eliminating whole food groups, avoiding anything with sugar in it, not using sport nutrition to become more fat adapted or considering going keto, ask yourself why you are choosing the extreme approach? Is this style of eating/fueling sustainable for the rest of your life? Your diet does not have to be (and should not be) all or nothing.
Sadly, there are far too many misinformed athletes and unqualified professionals following and prescribing extreme styles of eating (or not eating) in an effort to help athletes lose weight without considering the health implications of extreme dietary recommendations.
If you feel unhappy with your body shape, size or weight and worry all day about what to or not to eat all in an effort to look differently, remind yourself that when you restrict yourself from food, you don't become a better athlete. Instead, you become weak, tired and withdrawn. Food is your fuel. Food is your medicine.
Seeing that there are safe, responsible and healthy ways to change body composition and many unsafe, irresponsible and unhealthy ways to change body composition, I encourage you to ask yourself the following YES or NO questions to see if your weight is too much on your mind as it relates to your current eating habits?
- You have drastically cut out a significant amount of calories in an effort to lose weight?
- You have recently cut out specific food groups or macronutrients from your diet?
- You are constantly comparing your current body image to a leaner version of yourself (or another athlete), assuming that if you weighed less, you would be faster/better?
- You are intentionally avoiding consuming calories before and during workouts in order to become fat adapted?
- You don't want to properly refuel post workout because you want to keep your body in a calorie deficit?
- Your weight loss goal is often a primary motivator to start and finish workouts, no matter how exhausted, tired or fatigued you feel?
- You are finding yourself overeating on the weekends because you "deserve it" yet restricting during the week?
- You find yourself irritable, moody, low in energy and sometimes have difficulty focusing/concentrating?
- You are almost positive that you can't maintain your current style of eating for the rest of your life but you are determined to reach your weight loss goal at any cost?
As you embark on another year/season of exercising/training with weight loss on your mind, remind yourself that you can not maintain good health and optimize your performance with a rigid and restrictive style of eating.
If you feel you could benefit from a change in body composition/weight for health and/or performance, don't use forums and the internet for advice. Reach out to a Board Certified Sport Dietitian for help.