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. The practice of cutting weight — a 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 often 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, may 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. Fluid losses exceeding 2% body weight can interfere with cognitive function and aerobic exercise 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 low-fat or fat-free 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 balance some of the other items on your plate with lower calorie options, just make sure to limit sources of added sugars and solid fats. A balanced eating plan not only offers necessary nutrition, it also may help you feel more satisfied.
- Trim Away Extra Calories
Fried foods carry a lot of extra calories with little nutritional benefit. Instead, choose more filling options, such as a baked potato instead of French fries or potato chips.
- Tackle the Treats
Soda, candy and other desserts are often high in added sugars. While these items may fit into an active athlete's eating style, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping added sugars under 10% of our daily calories. Limiting sources of added sugars may also help maintain a competitive weight.
- Snack Smart
Foods that contain both carbohydrate and protein are good bets for keeping your body fueled. If you are snacking more than once or twice a day, you may want to pay extra attention to the types of foods you’re eating or you could 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.
Jill Castle, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert.
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