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Weight Loss Tips for Athletes

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

Why do some athletes want to lose weight?

Athletes are often under a lot of pressure to be at a certain weight for some sports. These sports include dance, gymnastics, diving, or figure skating. This often causes athletes to lose weight in unhealthy ways (skipping meals, using diet pills or laxatives, or vomiting). Unhealthy dieting can lead to unhealthy eating habits or eating disorders (anorexia or bulimia). Unhealthy dieting and heavy exercise may also affect menstrual cycles and bone health in women. It may also affect the growth and development of young athletes.

What is a healthy weight loss goal?

A safe weight loss goal is 1 to 2 pounds per week. Allow plenty of time before an event to lose weight safely. Losing too much weight too quickly can hurt your performance and cause health problems. It can also cause you to lose muscle along with fat. The best time to try to lose weight is during the off season or at the start of the season, before a competition. Resistance training may limit loss of muscle as you lose fat. Ask your dietitian or healthcare provider to help you choose a weight loss goal that is right for your height, age, and activity level.

What is a healthy meal plan for an athlete?

Eat a variety of healthy foods that are low in calories during regular meals and snacks. Do not skip meals. The following are suggested amounts of the carbohydrate, protein, and fat you may need each day. Your dietitian can tell you how many calories and nutrients you need each day.

Healthy Foods
  • Fat is important because it provides energy and vitamins. You need 20% to 35% of your total daily calories to come from fat. For example, a man who needs about 2900 calories per day would need 725 fat calories each day. There are both healthy fats and unhealthy fats in foods. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about different types of fat and the total amount of fat you should have.
  • Carbohydrate is the main source of energy your body uses during exercise. The amount you need depends on your daily calorie needs and the sport that you do. It also depends on whether you are male or female. Athletes need 6 to 10 grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram of body weight. To find your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. Then multiply this number by your carbohydrate needs. For example, if you weigh 70 kilograms, you would need 420 to 700 grams of carbohydrate each day.
  • Protein helps to build and repair muscle, produce hormones, boost your immune system, and replace blood cells. The amount of protein you need is only slightly higher than the amount suggested for people who do not exercise. Endurance athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams for each kilogram of body weight per day. Athletes who do strength training (such as lifting weights) need 1.2 to 1.7 grams for each kilogram of body weight per day. People can usually meet their needs for protein by following a balanced meal plan. Good sources of protein are lean meats, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, and beans. Protein or amino acid supplements are not needed if you follow a healthy and balanced meal plan.
    Sources of Protein

How can I safely decrease calories?

To lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, eat about 500 calories less than you normally do each day. Below are some ideas on how to decrease calories.

  • Eat smaller portions. You can do this by using a smaller plate. You can also use the plate rule for portion sizes. Place vegetables on ½ of your plate. Put a protein food on ¼ of your plate. Place a carbohydrate on the other ¼ of your plate.
  • Avoid second helpings. At restaurants, split your meal with someone else, or take half of the meal home with you.
  • Cut down on liquids and foods that are high in sugar and fat. Examples of high-sugar liquids and foods are soda, sweetened drinks, and candy. High-fat foods and liquids include whole milk, potato chips, fried foods, mayonnaise, and pastries (cookies and cake).
  • Eat healthy snacks between meals to avoid getting very hungry. This will help you avoid overeating during meals. Eat a carbohydrate snack about 1 hour before exercise to give you energy and keep you from getting hungry. Some examples of snacks that have carbohydrates include a low-fat bran muffin, banana, apple, or yogurt.

What are some healthy foods I can include in my meal plan?

  • Eat low-fat dairy and lean protein foods. Drink 1% or skim milk. Eat low-fat cottage cheese, yogurt, and cheese. Eat fish, chicken or turkey without skin, and lean cuts of meat. Trim all visible fat from meat before you cook it. Choose eggs and egg whites.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber, such as whole-wheat foods (bread, tortillas, crackers), beans, and legumes. Choose high-fiber cereals that are low in calories (less than 150 calories per serving), such as oatmeal. Add high-fiber foods to your diet slowly if you do not normally eat them. If you add high-fiber foods to your diet too quickly, you may have bloating, gas, and stomach discomfort.

  • Include whole-grain carbohydrates and a lean protein food in each of your meals and snacks. These foods may help you stay full longer.
  • Choose low-calorie healthy snacks, such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and grains (such as a granola bar).

What liquids should I drink?

  • Drink calorie-free or low-calorie drinks, such as water and low-calorie sports drinks. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can cause serious health problems. Athletes have higher liquid needs because they lose water through sweat.
  • Always carry water with you during long exercise sessions. You can wear a special bag or belt made to carry water on your back or around your waist. Drink sports drinks during exercise sessions that last longer than 1 hour. The best way to check if you are drinking enough liquids is to check the color of your urine. Urine should be clear or very light yellow, with little or no smell. If your urine is dark or smells strong, you may not be drinking enough.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You feel weak or dizzy.
  • You lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time.
  • You have questions or concerns about your weight loss plan.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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