4 Tips: How Weight Change Impacts Athletic Performance

4 Tips: How Weight Change Impacts Athletic Performance

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As a Sports Dietitian, every day in my office athletes want to change their bodies. Whether they want to “get BIG” or “lean out,” each goal comes with its own challenges.  Many athletes strive to find the “perfect” body for their performance, when in many cases they are already living in just the right vessel.


Tip #1: Restricted calories can lead to decreased performance.

Lowering your caloric intake will decrease the amount of energy you have in the “gas tank” — leading to longer recovery times and potential for increased risk for injury.  Your body stores energy in its muscles and liver as glycogen, which it gets from food.   This glycogen/energy is ready for action when you need it.  However, a decrease in caloric intake can lead to reduced energy reserves and therefore, less than optimal performance on the field, track or court.  As athletes we try to push ourselves to the max every day; but without a full tank of gas, our best just isn’t possible.

In addition to decreased energy reserves, if a body is not getting adequate fuel it will donate muscle protein to energy needs.  This sacrifice can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and a decrease in strength — not usually a training goal for athletes.



Tip #2: Gaining muscle can be uncomfortable.

First, there is the eating part.  You MUST eat more than you feel comfortable with (sometimes a LOT more) in order to gain weight.  Adding extra food to the stomach can cause discomfort and can be challenging to fit into a training schedule.

Second, there is the added-weight part.  When a body adds mass, carrying around extra weight can be, well, uncomfortable. Balance and agility are both challenged and can result in decreased performance, at least initially.


Tip #3: Fixating on weight can lead to disordered eating.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “Most eating disorders begin with a diet.” When an athlete becomes overly concerned with weight, it can begin to consume their life.  From time spent on the Internet reading (often inaccurate) information about weight loss (or gain); to money spent purchasing products that promise to boost performance one million percent — it is all too easy to fall into this time-sucking trap.  The plethora of information clutters the mind and leaves athletes wondering what to believe.  Research shows eating disorders and disordered eating are significantly more prevalent in athletes.  Coaches, parents, athletic staff and teammates need to be on alert for rapid changes in behavior and weight that may signal disordered eating.


Tip #4: Lower body weight does not equal increased performance. 

Many coaches and athletes tout lower (or higher) body weight as better for performance.  In certain situations this statement may be true — a football lineman needs to gain mass to hold his ground or a wrestler needs to lose fat to make a weight class.  However, in most cases, research will not support changing body weight as a performance enhancer.  Individual differences in genetics and lifestyle must be considered and a professional should be consulted before body changing recommendations are put in place.


Athlete Speak:

“So, I talked with my healthcare professionals and I have decided that changing my weight might benefit my performance.  What is the healthiest way?”

WINFORUM Experts Say:

  1. Work with a Board Certified Sports Dietitian in your area. Focus on performance and not weight. Be respectful of genetics.
  2. Accomplish weight changes in the off-season to minimize discomfort and performance challenges.
  3. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh foods including fruits, veggies, dairy, nuts, oils and lean proteins. Try not to eliminate food groups and listen to your body for its unique needs.

3 Key Points to Nutrition

The first in a series of videos shot at WIAA’s Coaches School in Yakima, Sports Dietitian Emily Edison describes her 3 key points to better nutrition for student athletes. To find more information or to see more videos, go to WINForum.org.


About the author

Emily Edison, owner and founder of Momentum Nutrition & Fitness, is a recognized expert in the areas of sports nutrition and disordered eating, with over 17 years of experience as a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. Her philosophy centers around fueling with whole foods and eating intuitively, empowering people to eat for performance, improve vitality, and develop a positive relationship with food and body.