In many sports, weight is a limiting factor and, especially in endurance disciplines (racing bicycle, mountain bike, alpine marathon), having a reduced body mass often has an advantage, especially if the athlete’s body composition is optimal (ratio between muscle mass and adipose tissue).
BUT HOW TO REDUCE FAT WITHOUT THIS LEADING TO A LOWER IN PERFORMANCE?
The “classic” way is to modify your diet, taking in fewer calories and carbohydrates than you usually do and at the same time increasing the range of training. This strategy is often successful in a short time and can result in significant weight loss in just a few days. In the medium term, however, this method is quite counterproductive, since the loss of body mass is mainly due to the depletion of glycogen stores, the loss of fluids, and the reduction of muscle mass. Athletes with a low-fat percentage, in particular, lose relatively more muscle mass than those with a normal fat percentage. This also reduces performance, especially in more intensive workouts above the aerobic threshold. At the same time, a significant reduction in energy metabolism can often be observed, which contributes to a net increase in the percentage of fat, even beyond the initial value, when eating normally again.
The alternative routes are based on a restriction of caloric intake, which leads to a maximum weight loss of 1 kilo per week. This is achieved with the so-called “intermittent fasting”, which consists of eating normally one day, then reducing the calorie intake by up to one third the next day. This method also fits in well with the “fuel for sport” approach, in which the diet and the percentage of carbohydrates take into account the respective training loads. On days when training is intense and prolonged the calorie intake and the percentage of carbohydrates remain at a normal or high level, while on the days of light or regenerative training, the calorie intake (and the percentage of carbohydrates) is significantly inferior. This strategy can be applied in the medium and long term and leads to an optimization of body composition and sports performance. When reducing calorie intake, however, it is necessary to ensure a sufficient supply of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. To reduce muscle mass as little as possible by applying this method in the long term, a sufficient protein intake must also be ensured. Recent studies predict a protein share significantly higher than 2 g per kg of weight.
- Athletes should know their body composition, as well as the variations in muscle mass and fat percentage in the different phases of training. In this way, it is possible to identify an “optimal body composition”. The efficiency of the various measures can thus be monitored based on this information.
- A restriction of caloric intake to reduce body mass and fat should not be too radical, but rather be oriented to the needs of the specific sport and the training load. Weight loss should not exceed one pound per week.
- Intermittent fasting can be well implemented in the medium and long term if sufficient availability of macro and micronutrients is guaranteed. In these stages, supplements can provide invaluable help.
- Sufficient protein intake helps achieve optimal body composition and maintain muscle mass.