Athletes and Weight Loss

Athletes & Weight Loss

If you are considering trying to lose weight, it is strongly recommended that you do so only after consultation with, and under the supervision of, a health professional or trainer. A personal consultation with an appropriate professional can help you set realistic weight loss goals and is your best assurance of designing a weight loss plan which is appropriate for you and which will be safe and effective.

Tim Wierman of Nutrition Education Services suggests the following as safe and effective weight loss tips for athletes:

  1. Do not diet; Diets don't work - Diets deprive the athlete of needed calories and essential nutrients. These calories and nutrients (vitamins & minerals) fuel the brain and muscles during exercise. Many diets also deprive the person of their favorite foods and beverages.
  2. The athlete should never consume less than 1200 to 1500 calories per day. A lack of caloric intake (energy) may result in poor athletic performance. Starving the body of calories will only have a negative effect on a weight management program.
  3. Weight loss should be gradual and should not exceed 1 to 2 pounds per week. A slow weight loss will result in permanent weight loss.
  4. The athlete must not become obsessed with total body weight. When a person exercises (weight lifting, etc.) while trying to lose weight, they gain lean body weight (muscle) and lose body fat but their overall body weight may remain the same. The athlete should measure their weight loss success by their percentage (%) of body fat.
  5. Not everyone can be trim and lean like a ballerina or a body builder. A person needs to accept the "genes" their parents dealt them. All the dieting in the world won't change a person's genetic make-up.
  6. Set realistic and attainable long-term weight management goals.
  7. Diet pills, frozen entrees, and liquid diets ARE NOT the answer to safe and effective permanent weight loss. Rather, nutrition education, changes in lifestyle, and increased activity level will result in permanent weight loss and improved health.
  8. An athlete should know their "maintenance" number, the total number of calories a person needs each day in order to maintain their present body weight. To calculate an athlete's "maintenance" number, multiply his or her body weight by 13 if they are inactive (studying, reading, typing, and watching TV,) and 15 if they are active (walking, climbing stairs, light housework, etc.) Next, add the number of calories the athlete burns-off during a typical training session.

For an athlete to lose weight, he or she must reduce their caloric intake by 500 to 1000 calories per day from their "maintenance" number. If his or her "maintenance" number is less than 2500 calories, the caloric reduction should be no more than 500 to 600 calories per day. If their "maintenance" number is more than 2500 calories, the athlete may reduce his or her caloric intake by as many as 1000 calories per day. Since one pound of body fat = 3500 calories, reducing the caloric intake by 500 calories per day over 7 days should result in a 1 pound weight loss and reducing the diet by 1000 calories per day should result in a 2 pound weight loss per week.

  1. Be patient! You don't gain excess body fat overnight so don't expect to lose it all in one week
  2. Consider:
    • WHAT you eat (select nutrient dense high carbohydrate, low-fat foods instead of "empty calorie" and high fat foods.)
    • WHEN you eat (eat 3-5 small meals throughout the day and ALWAYS eat breakfast; avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime.)
    • WHERE you eat (eat in a stress free and relaxed environment, this will allow a person to eat slowly and enjoy the meal.)
    • WHY you eat (eat because you are hungry not because you are bored, stressed, or lonely.


Wierman, T., Eat To Compete: An Athletes Sports Nutrition Program Nutrition Education Services, West Chester, PA (1993)

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