Athlete Weight Management

author : Nancy Clark
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As an athlete, you are unlikely obese, but you may have concerns about your weight or have relatives who struggle with their weight. To address the complexities of how to deal with undesired body fat, the Weight Management Group of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics held a conference (Indianapolis, April 2013). Here are some highlights.

Dieting and weight

•  An estimated 35% of all US adults are not only overfat but also pre-diabetic, including 50% of adults over 65 years. Relatives who have watched a loved one needlessly die from diabetes see first-hand the need to prevent themselves from going down the same road. There are clear benefits from eating wisely and exercising regularly! Losing just 5% of body weight can reduce health risks attributed to diabetes.

•  Most dieters want to lose weight quickly. The problem is that plan tends to backfire. You can lose weight fast or lose weight forever—but not lose weight fast and forever.

• Most dieters regain about two-thirds of their weight loss within a year and all of it within 3 to 5 years. Tips to maintain weight loss include: exercise regularly, eat fewer fatty foods, watch less TV, have strong social support, and sleep more than 5 hours a day.

• Chewing gum can help lean people consume fewer calories, but that is not the case for obese gum-chewers. (Perhaps the act of chewing increases their desire to eat?)

•  To stay on track, successful dieters should plan ahead by predicting everything that could possibly go wrong with their eating plan and develop strategies to deal with the unexpected. For example, if the waiter serves the salad soaked with dressing (not on the side, as requested), the dieter knows he can send it back, not eat it, or eat less of it.

• If you “blow your diet,” please don't hate yourself. Just regret you over-ate and learn from the experience. You learned to overeat for a reason. (For example, overindulging in birthday cake may have been your “last chance” to eat cake before your diet started again the next meal.) The better plan can be to enjoy a reasonable slice of cake for several days. You’ll feel less need to overindulge when you know you can have more cake the next day (just fit it into your calorie budget).

• Other success-promoting dietary habits include using portion-controlled foods and keeping food and weight records. High-tech diet aids include: tracking steps by wearing a pedometer (goal: 10,000 steps a day), and wearing an armband or other body-activity monitor that detects changes in activity over time. Some popular high-tech tools include New Lifestyles-1000 pedometer, FitBit Zip, and Nike Fuel Band.  (Note: Accuracy of the high-tech tool is less important than day-to-day reproducibility.)

• Websites or apps like FatSecret.com, CalorieKing.com, LoseIt.com, and MealLogger.com can also be helpful. In the near future, you'll be able to take a photo of your meal and an app will then calculate the calories. This info will be very helpful when eating in a restaurant with super-sized meals!

Food and weight

•  An estimated 80% of weight loss happens by eating fewer calories; 20% relates to exercise. You need to change your diet to lose weight and change your exercise to keep weight off.

• Overweight people tend to eat by time cues. Noon is lunchtime, regardless if the clock is significantly wrong!

• Adults may eat more of a food if it is deemed healthy. That is, subjects ate more oatmeal cookies when they were described as high fiber, high protein as compared to high sugar, high butter. And yes, even healthy high fiber and high protein calories count!

• In contrast, adolescents (who are heavily influenced by their peers) tend to eat less of a food labeled healthy.  For teens, eating carrots is just not as acceptable as eating chips. 

• People who eat a high protein diet (25% of calories) tend to eat fewer calories per day. A protein-rich breakfast with 25 to 35 g protein helps manage appetite for the rest of the day.

• The decline in hearty breakfasts mirrors the rise in obesity. Try eating an 800-calorie protein-rich breakfast and see what that does to your appetite for the rest of the day!  You'll undoubtedly notice you feel less need to “reward” yourself with evening treats.

• A 100-calorie portion of natural whole almonds actually has only 80 available calories due to digestibility. The same likely holds true for other high fiber, high fat “hard” foods, such as other kinds of nuts. People who frequently eat nuts are actually leaner than folks who avoid nuts; hence, you need not fear them as being “fattening” (in moderation, of course, as with all foods).

Exercise and weight

• Weight loss is about quality of life; exercise is about health. However, exercise strongly predicts who will be able to maintain their lost weight. While the reason for this is unknown, some researchers wonder if purposeful exercise allows the reduced obese person to eat more calories? (You know—the more you exercise, the more you can eat.) Or perhaps exercise is a marker of discipline and dedication to maintain a healthier eating style and lifestyle? 

• Lifting weights is a good entry point for unfit people who want to start exercising. First they get strong, and then they can add on the walking, jogging, and aerobic activities.

• Lifting weights reduces the loss of muscle that occurs with diet-only reducing plans and creates the same health benefits of slimming the waist-line and improving blood glucose levels (hence reducing the risk of diabetes).

• Because weight loss without exercise contributes to loss of muscles and bone-density, some health professionals advise against weight loss for older people. Instead they recommend that people over 60 years focus on adding on exercise rather than subtracting food. You are never too old to lift weights!

• An effective exercise program includes 110 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity and two times a week of lifting weights for about 20 minutes.

• Men who maintain a stable weight tend to be active about 70 minutes a day. In comparison, obese men are less active and likely to be frail. Do obese people become frail—or do frail people become obese?

The bottom line: Keep active, enjoy whole foods that are minimally procesed, live lean, and be well!


Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes in her private practice in the Boston-area (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Food Guide for Marathoners and Cyclist's Food Guide all offer additional weight management information. The books are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com. See also www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com

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date: June 7, 2013

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Nancy Clark

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, an internationally known sports nutritionist and nutrition author, is a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in nutrition for exercise, health and the nutritional management of eating disorders.

Author

avatarNancy Clark

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, an internationally known sports nutritionist and nutrition author, is a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in nutrition for exercise, health and the nutritional management of eating disorders.

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