Weight Loss Strategies That Work For Masters Athletes

Mug-shot-223x300Science over many years has shown that weight control comes down to one key concept – a negative energy balance. That is, fewer calories or kilojoules in and / or more calories or kilojoules out. I like to call it the “Maths Diet”!

Exercise scientists have suggested that athletes should lose weight gradually (0.5-1.0 kg/week), in the off-season, use weight training and endurance training exercise to do it, lower food and energy intake by about 500 calories (2100 kJ) per day, and avoid rapid weight loss strategies such as spas and saunas, fad diets, and fatty foods.

An energy deficit of 3500 Calories (14,700 kilojoules) leads to the loss of one pound (approx 0.5 kg) of body fat, which can be safely achieved in one week by a daily deficit of 500 Calories (2,100 kilojoules).  Exercise scientists have come up with the acronym, GOWADA, to highlight the major factors to consider for healthy weight loss in athletes of any age:

  • Gradual – Rapid weight loss is more likely to cause loss of muscle and bone tissue as well as carbohydrate fuel, and promote undesirable changes in hormones, metabolic rate, energy levels and mood.  Sports Dieticians recommend a weight loss of 0.5-1.0 kg/week which equates to 2,100-4,200 kJ/day or 500-1,000 Calories/day.
  • Off-season – If possible, significant weight loss should occur during the off-season to avoid an energy drain that can compromise training and skill development during the competitive season.
  • Weight-training – For the older athlete, research has shown that older people that undertake weight training can increase metabolic rate as well as burn energy while weight training. It also has the advantage of reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass to benefit performance, particularly in speed and power events. In type II diabetics, weight training also helps improve insulin action.
  • Activity Some athletes may be able to increase their calorie burning by adding aerobic conditioning.  While low intensity aerobic work appears “best”, higher intensity exercise that can be sustained for 30-60 minutes may be more beneficial although it may place an overweight aging athlete more at risk of injury or cardiac problems.
  • Diet – For many, diet will be the focus of weight loss efforts. Research shows that adequate carbohydrate (6-8 g/kg/day), protein (1.5-2 g/kg/day), vitamins and minerals (at least 100% of RDA), and a low fat (15-25% of energy) diet of about 500 kcal/day (2100 kJ/day) less than required for maintaining body weight is best for weight loss. This will lead to a weight loss of approximately 0.5-1.0kg/week.  Foods high in fibre and/or having a low glycemic index (see Chapter 16 of The Masters Athlete) may help reduce the desire to eat.
  • Avoid Although tempting for rapid results, dehydration in spas/saunas, fad diets, supplements, and drugs should never be used for weight loss for both health and performance reasons.  We should also avoid fatty foods and limit fatty add-ons such as sour cream, high-fat salad dressings, butter and margarine.

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