Performance Nutrition VS Weight Loss Nutrition.
Often when I ask a client about their goals they usually revolve around performing better and losing weight.
Pretty much the same for the majority of us, right?
So what’s the issue here then? Surely these seem like logical goals?
They are, and there’s nothing wrong with them.
In performance sports it often pays off to be a little bit lighter: CrossFit and gymnastic efforts; weightlifting/powerlifting classes etc.
The issue lies in the approach required to achieve these goals.
You see, in order to lose weight we need to be in some form of a caloric deficit (taking in less energy than we burn). Whereas to increase performance we need to be in a caloric balance at least (if not a small surplus).
So then how do we achieve these goals simultaneously?
It can be tricky to do, and partly comes down to how long you have been training for.
Oftentimes it is best to focus on one or the other, and this is where nutritional periodisation comes in.
Prioritise weight loss in the ‘off-season’, where performance gains aren’t necessary. Then, when the target weight is achieved, a recovery/reverse diet can ensue.
This allows the weight loss to be maintained while picking the metabolism back up and improving strength/performance.
First let’s take a look at eating for fat/weight loss.
Nutrition for fat loss
If you’re a beginner (0-1.5/2 years training), then you’re much more likely to be able to put on muscle while in a caloric deficit, as long as you eat adequate protein to spare and build muscle tissue.
However, if you’re beyond the 2 year training mark, you’ll find it hard to build muscle while in a deficit. Again though, you can spare muscle tissue being lost as long as you eat enough protein (1-1.2g per lb of BW is the most agreed amount).
However, if this is your first time tracking your intake and paying attention to your nutrition, you may find that by regulating your intake you get a slight performance increase whilst being in the deficit.
No matter your level of training, you want to ensure that your deficit is as small as possible while still allowing fat loss.
This prevents loss of muscle tissue, increases dietary adherence, and lowers the risk of a rebound when you’re done losing weight. This also ensures that you can still eat a decent amount of carbohydrates to fuel your efforts in the gym.
For performance athletes focused on losing weight, the best macronutrient to lower is fat as long as you don’t go below the minimum amounts (around 10-15% of total calorie intake).
This allows plenty of carbohydrates in the diet to fuel the performance efforts, and also provides a large enough deficit (as fat is so calorific at 9kcals per gram).
As you lose weight, your body will begin to adapt to your intake. This is known as metabolic adaptation.
This means if your rate of weight loss slows, you’ll need to make adjustments to keep losing fat.
I would recommend a weight loss target of 1-1.5lbs per week, so that you’re still getting plenty of food for performance and muscle mass retention.
It is often quoted that 3,500kcals = 1 pound of weight. Although it isn’t as black and white as this, this is a good starting point.
So for a weight loss of 1lb per week you can aim for a 500kcal daily deficit.
No matter your weight loss goal, I would recommend a deficit for around 2-3 months before coming back to maintenance and having a break.
This not only will allow you to progress further, it also limits metabolic adaptation and keeps you sane!
So when you’ve reached your target, then the time comes to restore your metabolism, keep the weight off, and start fuelling your performance gains.
Nutrition for Performance
As mentioned earlier, performance increases requires caloric maintenance or even a slight surplus.
The body requires a certain amount of food in order to perform at it’s best, so you better fuel appropriately if you want optimal performance.
If you’re coming out of a weight loss diet, then bringing your calories up slowly is the key to avoiding weight rebound.
Start by adding in 200-250kcals per day each week and monitor your weight and how your body feels so that you don’t overdo it.
If you’re not trying to lose weight, and are focused solely on performance, then it’s worth tracking where you are now and how your body feels.
A lot of the time if we’ve chronically under eaten then our bodies will have simply adapted to this and gotten used to it.
If you feel tired all the time, sluggish in workouts, and have zero mojo, then you’re probably under eating.
This is common for a lot of performance athletes focusing on the highest quality foods and often avoiding a lot of carbohydrates.
My advice here would be to obviously eat more food, and especially carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are the optimal fuel source for intense training and glycolytic activity. It is also the preferred fuel source of the brain so can help in adequate CNS recovery and function.
If you’re a beginner trainee, you’ll often see some performance improvements while in a calorie deficit.
However, it is still best to try to lose fat when your performance needs are lowest (so far away from competitions/qualifiers).
You can then reach your target weight while being happy with muscle mass maintenance, and then slowly ramp things back up as your performance needs increase.
For those of us in performance sports, decreases in intake should be mostly from fats (though obviously personal preferences will affect dietary adherence), and increases should then come from dietary carbohydrates.
Stay tuned to how your body responds to your approach. Stay clued in to your energy, sleep, hunger, and performance and make decisions based on evidence, not what you hear may work.
If you’re reading the above and think your approach needs work, then get in touch 🙂
Thanks for reading, as always questions are welcome