Weight loss and performance enhancement have long been topics discussed amongst the athletic population, but since becoming a keen cyclist, they’re ones I hear about a lot. This, along with many other nutrition myths and dilemmas, are topics that I aim to bust and resolve via these blogs and through my performance nutrition services e.g. 1-2-1 coaching.
Before I get into dropping some knowledge bombs on how to start your weight loss journey, we need to address some important facts about weight loss. As always, we don’t just dive into the deep end.
I have included some nice visuals below that hopefully explain an important area of performance nutrition: energy balance. Of the three images, one is balanced weight (left), one is weight gain (middle) and one is weight loss (right). These illustrate how weight is maintained, gained and lost through the power of food and drink (energy) intake.
Taken from: Wordpress.com
Now we have the simple terms, let’s unravel this a little more. What these diagrams or this method does not show you, are the many other factors that play an active role in influencing changes in bodyweight. What I mean by this is, when we’re attempting to lose weight, quite often people just think of exercise and food, right? Yeah, you’d be right identifying them both as important factors within the energy balance equation, but there are other factors we have to consider. For example, have you heard of:
Adaptive thermogenesis (AT) e.g. heat, cold – energy we lose through changes in temperature? The body has a great way of adapting to its environment and will constantly do this to maintain a dynamic state of equilibrium. For example, when you’re hot, you will naturally sweat, ergo, dissipating heat, losing energy and when you’re cold, you will often shiver, the body’s natural response to creating heat, utilising energy in the process.
Non-exercise active thermogenesis (N.E.A.T) this includes any unplanned physical activity e.g. gardening, walking the dog or taking the stairs instead of lifts etc.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), this will be the types of food you’re consuming and the energy the body uses to break it down. Some foods take longer to digest and require more energy to breakdown than others.
Ye Olde Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimum requirement of energy we need in order to support homeostasis – basically to keep us ticking over and support normal bodily functions.
The classic, Physical activity – of course, probably one of the most commonly known methods of expending energy. This will often be planned activity e.g. your normal training schedule. To reduce fat mass, we don’t just want to focus on cycling, we also need to consider including resistance-based exercise. Knowing that skeletal muscle is metabolically active, we want to try and retain as much of this as possible when focusing on fat loss. Therefore, engaging in resistance-based exercise is a win.
Every day is a school day, right!? So, the next time you think about how energy is being lost, best to consider more than just physical activity.
When exploring this area and weight loss as a specific focus point with any athletes I work with, we recognise that there’s more to it than just calories in and calories out. We can’t just throw around suggestions of how to reduce kcal and increase physical activity in order for the weight to start magically dropping off. If someone is promising this, they are likely to be cowboy nutritionists, you know, the ones who call themselves nutritionists after they’ve done a weekend online course and you see them holding up their certificate, which they think gives them a licence to practice…it’s so disappointing.
What I am getting at is, because this weight loss business is so popular, it’s too easy for someone to look at someone they know or see often e.g. Sally from your Tuesday night circuits class who is following the latest trendy diet, or Bob from work, who shed 10kg in 4 weeks because he cut out carbs, more specifically chocolate and bread (serious question, why is it always these two that get attacked, they’re like the best two!….I’m getting distracted again aren’t I!?) Ok real talk (using slang because I’m down with the kids) - there MUST be an acknowledgment, conversation, or a critical discussion that reviews more than just food in and exercise. What about underpinning health conditions, life stresses, family history, food intolerances, exercise addiction, occupation demands, eating conditions and many more?
So far, we’ve covered some of the important factors to consider for weight (fat) loss. Now we can explore some tips for weight loss. These will be sharp shooting and straight to the point, promise.
Identify key contributors!
- This does not mean cut out chocolate, wine, crisps, biscuits, beer or bread! Manage them, identify why they’re being over consumed, when, and by how much? If you acknowledge some of these questions, you can begin to reflect on why they’re being over consumed and thinking about how you can reduce them, whilst still keeping them in your diet, or better, using them to help you fuel your training or aid your recovery.
Eat your protein!
- There is lots of evidence around the benefits of increasing protein intake between 1.6-2.2g/kg/BW (more has been suggested but research continues to explore higher amounts. The figures I have highlighted are good to start with) to support weight loss efforts. If you can, stagger the consumption throughout the day to make targets more achievable. If you’re veggie/vegan, a little more advanced planning will be required but you can still meet similar targets, if needed. The increase in protein will naturally increase satiety and support muscle protein synthesis to help with muscle recovery, repair and growth.
Keep an eye on the liquid kcals!
- Be mindful with this one. Many athletes I have worked with forget the kcals they consume through fluids. For the amateur athletes, alcohol tends to be more popular - see how you can manage this whilst keeping it in your diet. Life is still to be enjoyed, so consider when you will enjoy it the most and how it can be avoided around exercise, so performance isn’t affected. Acknowledge your water intake. Consider carrying a water bottle around with you everywhere you go, or keep a litre bottle topped up on your workstation: this makes it easier to hit water targets but also distracts you from reaching from other higher kcal fluids when you might be misinterpreting hunger for thirst!
Eat your veggies!
- Such a classic but it its always relevant! Look to increase your non-starchy carbohydrates e.g. fruit and vegetables. This way, you’re reducing the number of calories you’re consuming, but could also see an increase in food volume at mealtimes. You will naturally be increasing the amount of nutrient-rich foods with a high fibre content, which is great for the digestive system and also increases satiety. Just be careful on timings when you’re consuming high volume of veggies as the increase in fibre around exercise could cause gastrointestinal issues.
Fuel the work required!
- Look to consume foods higher in sugar before, during and after exercise. This way, you can still enjoy them in your diet by using them to fuel up, ready to get the most out of your training sessions or to support recovery rates, particularly when exercise is regular and intense.
- This also includes acknowledging your output. Is today a low, medium or high day? Are you double training or do you have a date with the sofa and Netflix for the day? This is particularly important to factor into your daily intake when looking to lose weight. Kcal intake should be adjusted according to your daily activities/expenditure.
Calorie deficit, calorie deficit, calorie deficit!
- We went through how the energy balance scales work at the beginning of the blog, so by now we all know that a calorie deficit is essential for you to lose weight, no matter what diet you’re following or what foods you are eating. Knowing your BMR figures and what your daily expenditures are is also useful to identify target kcal intake. Anyone looking for help with these figures, give me a shout!
Lastly, work with an accredited and registered sports dietitian/nutritionist!
- They might cost a little more but consider the investment. You will get tools, skills, knowledge and the accountability that will support you long-term. Not just a quick fix that will leave you worse off and likely result in you coming back to only spend more money. Invest in yourself, invest in your health and watch your performance take off.
To the finish line! Please allow me to thank you again for taking the time to read my blog - I hope you have taken something from it and found it useful in some way. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Finally - please leave some feedback. Your feedback is vital in supporting my development as a practitioner – you can do this via my feedback tab on my website. Feel free to also leave requests for future blog topics :-).
See you again soon!