Sometimes an athlete needs to trim a few pounds to get ready for competition, especially for sports such as rowing and wrestling which have weight classes. Cutting weight — or dramatic weight loss in a short period of time — is not a healthy way to reach this goal, and isn't recommended for young athletes.
Some athletes believe that cutting weight will improve their athletic performance, but dramatic and fast weight loss has the opposite effect. Over-exercising to quickly lose weight uses up stored muscle fuel and may leave athletes depleted when it comes time to compete. Extreme dieting or calorie restriction makes needed nutrients, such as carbohydrates, sparse. And, fasting or not eating for an extended period can lead to dehydration and loss of strength and stamina.
Other ways to hasten weight loss such as wearing a rubber suit, "sweating it out" in a sauna or taking diuretics may lead to dehydration. While dehydration will result in weight loss, it also may negatively affect athletic performance. Studies show that a 150-pound athlete who loses 3 pounds through sweat may experience cramping, early fatigue and blunted athletic performance.
Healthy Ways to Manage Weight
The secret to making weight cutoffs is staying at a healthy weight all season long. Follow these six tips to safely stay ready for competition.
- Schedule Eating
Believe it or not, the best way to keep an athlete's appetite satisfied and provide important nutrients to muscles is to eat with a routine. Try to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at about the same time each day, and work in nutritious snacks in between. Never skip meals, as this may promote hunger and lead to poor food choices and overeating.
- Balance the Food Groups
A variety of foods are important to a healthful diet and peak performance. Make sure to include dairy or other calcium-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein foods in everyday eating and at each meal. Load up half your plate with fruits and veggies and you'll naturally downgrade the calorie impact. Remember, a balanced diet not only offers up necessary nutrition, it also may help you feel more satisfied.
- Trim Away the Fat
Fried foods such as French fries and potato chips carry a lot of calories because they are high in fat. Instead, choose a baked potato and you'll cut unneeded calories from your diet.
- Tackle the Treats
Foods such as soda, candy and other desserts with added sugars carry calories but few nutrients. While one or two of these items can fit into an active athlete's diet each day, staying at a competitive weight means you'll need to keep a cap on them. And, if you're trying to lose extra pounds, cutting back on treats will help get the job done.
- Eat Smart Snacks
Foods that contain carbohydrates and protein are good bets for keeping your body fueled. If you are snacking more than once or twice a day, you may be getting too many calories from snacks. Be smart with snacks — let them top off your energy tank, offer important nutrition and, above all, don't let them take over your diet. Try these nutritious snack options: an apple and peanut butter; Greek yogurt; whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk; a protein bar; or raw vegetables and cheese.
- Eat Mindfully
When you're hungry, it's easy to overeat. Pay attention to your internal fullness cues while you eat and focus on your food rather than a screen. Eating appropriate portions will help you stay on track with your overall calorie intake.
Remember, if you're carrying some extra weight, work on gradually losing it through the season rather than all at once before a competition or weigh in.