Athletes seeking a healthy performance weight should eat a high fibre, low-fat diet balanced with their training regimen in order to maintain muscle while still burning fat, according to a report by an Oregon State University (OSU) researcher.
The United States now has a record number of overweight athletes, a population many think of as untouched by the obesity crisis. Nationally, more than 45 percent of high school linebackers are obese, and the number of overweight students entering college level-sports is increasing.
In a peer-reviewed literature review, OSU researcher Melinda Manore looked at the benefits of teaching athletes how to consume what she calls a low-energy-dense diet, or high-fibre, high-water, but lower-fat foods. She said too many athletes are pushed into fad diets or try to restrict calorie intake too much in a way that is unhealthy and unsustainable.
Depending on the sport, athletes may want to either lose weight without losing lean tissue, or gain weight, mostly lean tissue. This is difficult to do if you restrict caloric intake too dramatically or try to lose the weight too fast. Doing that also means athletes won't have the energy to exercise, or will feel tired and put themselves at risk of injury.
The researchers said an athlete's optimum body weight should include the following criteria:
- Weight that minimizes health risks and promotes good eating
- Weight that takes into consideration genetic makeup and family history
- Weight that is appropriate for age and level of physical development, including normal reproductive function in women
- Weight that can be maintained without constant dieting and restraining food intake
The researchers said it's important to adopt a low-energy-dense diet, which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages high in sugar and alcohol.
Other key points:
- Eat breakfast. Data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that 80 percent of people who lost at least 30 pounds in a year and kept it off were breakfast eaters. Eat a breakfast rich with high-fiber whole grains, fruit, high-quality protein such as egg whites, and low-fat dairy. Skip the processed cereals.
- Get plenty of protein. Most athletes get plenty of protein, but they may not be strategic about making sure to refuel after exercise, and spreading their protein intake throughout the day. Depending on the goals, some athletes may need to get as much as 30 percent of their calories from protein, but many get that in one large meal. Spreading that protein out throughout the day is a better strategy; and nuts, beans and legumes are a great source of protein, not just meat.
- Exercise regularly. This may seem obvious for an athlete, but many seasonal athletes can pack on pounds during off-seasons, making it that much harder to get performance-ready.
- Avoid fad diets. Combining severe calorie restriction with intense training can result in metabolic adaptions that actually can make it more difficult to lose weight. Severe weight loss also makes an athlete stressed out and tired, and that is never good for sport.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.