How Weight Loss Can Improve Your Athletic Performance

Achieved incorrectly, weight loss can quickly become a negative factor

How Weight Loss Can Improve Your Athletic Performance

Many factors can influence athletic performance. Genetics, training, age, gender — the list is endless. Often a coach will recommend an adult athlete lose a few pounds as a way to improve overall performance.

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Decreasing body fat may improve overall performance for your individual sport. But when achieved incorrectly, weight loss can quickly become a negative factor.

How weight loss influences performance

Weight loss can positively impact performance because it directly affects energy expenditure. A person with a heavier body weight has a higher energy demand for activities than a person with a lighter body weight. This means that the heavier person will need to do a greater amount of work to achieve the same goal.

Less weight is particularly beneficial in sports such as endurance running, because the chances of running out of energy are less likely for a lighter person. Those athletes who maintain a healthy body weight along with a proper diet may have a performance advantage because of the lower energy cost during activity. Not only do lower energy costs translate to improved endurance; they also increase speed and agility.

Decreased body fat is beneficial in certain sports such as gymnastics, wrestling, swimming, dance, weight lifting and ice skating. Athletes involved in these sports can be judged on appearance as well as performance.

A lean physique

Many factors influence an athlete’s body weight. Diet and training can be adjusted easily to suit the athlete’s needs. Genetics, however, cannot be changed.

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Just as some athletes do not have the physique to carry a large amount of muscle, other athletes naturally carry more body fat than other athletes in their sport, regardless of diet and exercise.

Unless you set realistic goals for weight loss and body fat percentage, your athletic performance will be poor — and more important — serious health issues can arise.

The best time to try to lose weight

Although your body fat may decrease naturally during in-season training, that is not the time to lose a significant amount of weight and/or body fat. Extreme weight loss during the season can lead to loss of muscle, which will negatively affect your performance in any sport.

Your body needs to be fueled appropriately for optimal performance, so calories should not be restricted to any large degree during the season.

Off-season training is the time to address issues such as weight, as you focus on maintaining your fitness level and allow for recovery time. The most effective way to lose weight is to decrease calories and increase activity. Restricting calories is safer when your activity levels are more moderate.

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How much weight to lose

It is usually safe to assume that you can lose one to two pounds per week without losing muscle mass.

Talk with your physician, athletic trainer or other healthcare professional to determine a safe amount of weight for you to lose. It’s best to speak to someone outside your sport to gain an unbiased opinion.

Read more expert advice from Christopher Travers, MS, on his blog.

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Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS, is an exercise physiologist on staff for both Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health.
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