Integrating Weight Loss Strategies for Optimal Health and Performance

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There are countless situations where someone might want to lower the number on their scale, in response industries have made billions of dollars selling different techniques on how to shed weight. In part 1 of this article series, we dove into the factors that actually matter when it comes to manipulating the number on the scale, whether it be trying to lose or gain weight. In this part, we are going to focus on strategies to most efficiently lose weight while also reaching your performance/fitness goals.

As mentioned, there are endless scenarios where someone might want to lose weight. For starters, the obesity rate in the United States is 40%, and much of the general population might agree that they need to shed a couple pounds. Aside from that, it may also be extremely beneficial for athletes to try to lose weight to increase their performance, depending on the person and their situation. Whether it be a wrestler trying to have the advantage by dropping a weight class, a gym bro getting ready for cutting season, or a field/court sport athlete trying to lose weight to get faster, jump higher, and move more efficiently. Losing weight can be very advantageous for some athletes if done properly, and not at the sacrifice of their performance.

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If we remember from part 1, the relationship between two factors determines which direction the scale tips: Energy Expenditure vs Energy Intake. We also learned that in order to lose weight, energy expenditure needs to be higher than our energy intake, defined as a caloric deficit. Based on this, we can lose weight by increasing our energy expenditure, decreasing our energy intake, or both. The goal should always be to optimize the relationship between these two factors. In other words, we want to make sure we are taking in energy via high quality food sources and making great use of that energy by living an active lifestyle. Let’s go over some ways to optimize both factors in a way that will drop the number on the scale without the sacrifice of performance, muscle mass, or other important health and performance attributes.

Energy Intake:

  1. Calculate Caloric Needs: Determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) by considering your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and your activity level. As mentioned in the previous part of this article series, BMR can be quite difficult to get an accurate measure on. Instead of trying to find out exact metabolic numbers, take more consideration into what your current habits are and then work backwards from there. One strategy to do this is to log your food for a week, no matter how perfect or imperfect it may be, it can give you a better sense of what your current state is and where you can improve. When logging, you may see some inconsistency and notice that some days you eat more calories than others. In that case, take the average calorie intake throughout the week. After doing this you can then reverse engineer from there. Aim for a moderate deficit of 250-500 calories per day and slowly progress over time.
  2. Control Portion Sizes: A practical tip for those who aren’t interested in/able to calculate their numbers. Try reducing the size of your plate, bowl, container, etc. This way you have no choice but to eat less because you cannot physically fit the same amount of food that you could with the containers that you are used to. 
  3. Prioritize Protein Intake: Protein is crucial for muscle preservation and repair. Consume an adequate amount of high-quality protein sources like lean meats, fish, poultry, dairy, and plant-based options. While trying to lose weight and restricting diet/controlling portions, it is crucial that protein intake is NOT sacrificed. Aim for 1.2-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, adjusting based on your activity level and goals.
  4. Opt for Nutrient-Dense Foods: Nutrient density is defined as the ratio between the amount of calories in a particular food and the amount of nutrients in that food. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are extremely nutrient-dense because they have low calories but a ton of nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods fulfill dietary needs without excess calories. Other examples include whole grains and lean proteins.
  5. Control Carbohydrate Intake: Adjust carbohydrate consumption based on your activity level and training intensity. Carbs provide energy for workouts. Prioritize complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables for sustained energy.
  6. Include Healthy Fats: Incorporate healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Fats support overall health and can help you feel satiated. Pay attention to portion sizes, as fats are calorie-dense.
  7. Meal Timing and Frequency: Distribute your calorie intake evenly throughout the day, including pre- and post-workout meals. Eating every 3-4 hours can help maintain energy levels and prevent overeating later in the day.
  8. Hydrate Wisely: Stay adequately hydrated, as dehydration can affect both muscle function and performance. Be mindful of sugary sports drinks; opt for water or electrolyte-rich options when necessary.
  9. Rest and Recovery: Prioritize sleep and recovery to support muscle repair and overall well-being. Overtraining can hinder performance and muscle preservation, so strike a balance between training and recovery. 

Energy Expenditure:

  1. Increase your physical activity:Obviously! It is extremely important that you are consistently active when trying to lose weight. Make sure that you do some sort of physical activity and check the exercise box every single day.  Eliminate the stigma that exercise needs to be for 60-90 minutes every single day. You can have extremely effective workouts in just 15 minutes. On the days you are not doing intense training make sure to go for a walk, ride a bike, incorporate low intensity exercise, clean the house, etc.. Whatever it may be, something is better than nothing; make it a point to do something active every single day.
  2. Incorporate Strength Training: This is extremely important for athletes and general population alike. Muscle tissue burns calories at rest which supports weight loss. It is also critical to strength train while on your weight loss journey if you do not want to lose muscle mass. Many people have the worry that if they lose weight then they will lose muscle. This is true if they do not incorporate strength training into their routine. The human body does not care about holding on to muscle mass if it does not need to. The second it senses a decrease in energy intake it will shed off one of the highest energy-costing tissues in the body which is muscle mass, unless you give it a reason to hold on to it. When you strength train, you are exposing your body to a specific stressor that it must respond and adapt to. When you lift weights, you damage your muscles, your body responds by saying “we need to be ready for this next time it occurs” and utilizes a lot of its energy to rebuild and hold on to that muscle mass for the next occurrence. Without that stress response, there is no reason for your body to hold on to all that extra muscle mass. 
  3.  Keep Training Specific To Your Goal: As an athlete, losing weight can be extremely beneficial for some people to increase their performance. Being lighter may be advantageous if trying to get faster, jump higher, or move more efficiently on the field or court. However, you will not see substantial improvements just by losing weight alone. In order to maximize your performance results and get closer to your goals, it is critical that your training pushes you in the direction you are trying to go while making changes to your body weight. If you are trying to get faster or jump higher, you should be sprinting or jumping often. If you want to get stronger (which yes it is highly possible to get stronger while losing weight), you need to be lifting heavy weight. In summary, your training needs to be in accordance with your goals to best see results. It is important to consult with a sports performance coach or health professional when doing so.

The journey to weight loss can be a bumpy and confusing road. It can be super complicated, confusing, and frustrating with all the information out there and shortcuts that people try to sell. It is very beneficial to become process-oriented. Focus on doing the right things that will move you in the proper direction one day at a time. Do not try to accomplish too much in too short of time. If you get off track one day, get back on track the next day. Weight loss is a result-oriented goal - our body weight is not going to magically drop. It is within our benefit to focus on process-related habits and achieve an overall state of healthy living, as opposed to being over-consumed by the number on the scale. Many people may potentially achieve their weight loss goals just by increasing their activity levels and practicing consistent exercise habits. If you're an athlete who is already highly active, it is important to keep your goals in mind during your training and not allow weight loss to come at the sacrifice of your performance. Losing weight can be extremely beneficial for athletes to increase their sports performance, and can be life-changing for anybody. It is crucial we do this in a gradual manner and in a fashion that will optimize all factors important to living a healthy life. If you found this article helpful please let us know and stay tuned for part 3 where we discuss strategies to best gain weight in order to increase our performance and health.


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