The control of bodyweight, especially bodyfat, is highly prized in most sports. There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost from having excessive amounts of fat on your body. Even athletes who must have high bodyweights to compete, such as football linemen and Heavyweight wrestlers, need to be concerned with their bodyfat levels.
Bodyfat slows down the athlete by increasing the amount of nonproductive weight he or she must carry during the performance of a sports movement. In bodybuilding it also hides the muscularity, placing the athlete at great competitive disadvantage. The way to achieve a low level of bodyfat for a competition with the smallest possible loss in lean muscle tissue is to maintain a diet program that is reasonably controlled all year round.
You have no doubt seen bodybuilders who gain large amounts of weight in the off-season only to go on crash diets and lose most of it for a show. It was once felt that this bulk/cut system permitted greater amounts of muscle growth compared to a relatively strict year-round diet program. Bodybuilders who took steroids were notorious for bulking and cutting. In the off-season they would fill up on everything that passed in front of their faces, figuring that this way they were assuring themselves of the greatest possible benefit from the drugs they were taking. Of course, when they dieted for a competition, they would then take even more drugs to maintain as much muscle as possible while they drastically reduced their food intake to make up for the excess of their previous overeating.
As it turns out, this bulk/cut system is not the best muscle-building program even for an athlete on drugs. It is definitely not recommended for the natural athlete. The best way to achieve your sport goals is to keep to a diet that provides you with the nutrients you need, but only in the amounts that you need them throughout the entire year. Excess consumption of calories in the off-season is not only pointless, but actually counterproductive.
Studies have shown that weight-loss programs always result in a loss of some muscle tissue along with the fat, especially when exercise is not included as part of the diet program. As a result, any time that you try to drop those pounds or kilograms for a competition, you will inevitably lose muscle. The best way to minimize this loss in muscle weight and muscle mass is to never gain excess fat in the first place. And the way to do that, of course, is by controlling your food consumption so you never take in more calories than your body needs.
There is no question that this requires discipline. Nobody said athletic excellence would be easy. Yet by following a few simple rules, you should be able to achieve your dietary objectives without a great deal of hassle.
Here are some guidelines for controlling your bodyweight:
Count your calories all year. This may sound like a radical concept, but it really isn’t once you think about it. It makes a lot of sense theoretically, and since it only takes a few minutes a day to do the arithmetic, why not give it a try?
Counting calories is the most effective system for controlling your bodyweight.
Counting your calories in the off-season ensures that you make the greatest gains toward your sport goals without pointless fat buildup. Counting them during the competition season guarantees steady and accurate progress toward the fat-reduction goals you have set without a needless loss in lean muscle. When you think about it, that’s a small investment to make to ensure that you get all you possibly can from your hardcore training.
Treat yourself to a splurge a day. Counting calories does not mean you have to lead a life of puritanical virtue, eating food that only a rabbit could love. While you should always watch your fat, salt and sugar intake, you can still have a splurge a day without “breaking the rules” and getting overwhelming feelings of guilt. Everyone has his or her own idea of a splurge, and these ideas can vary over time. The important thing to remember is that a splurge per day is fine as long as you limit the quantity of food involved.
If you go out with friends and they order pizza, it’s okay to have a slice or two (unless your contest is just around the corner, of course!). Just count the calories in what you eat and add it to your total for the day. If the pizza pushes you over the top of your calorie count for that day, take the excess calories off tomorrow’s total. Better yet, if you know you are going out for pizza later, save some room in your calorie count for the splurge. Chances are that you will find a modest splurge to be well within your diet parameters for the day. Let reason be your guide. It will make your diet a lot more interesting and will ensure that you stick to it over the long term.
Always include aerobic exercise in your program to control bodyweight. Studies have shown that when bodybuilders combined dieting with aerobic exercise they lost less muscle tissue than when they tried to lose all of their weight through dieting alone. Therefore, you should always include aerobic exercise in your diet program. For weight reduction purposes all you need are 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic activity per day to get results. The increased energy expenditure required by this activity, combined with a modest calorie reduction of 10 percent, trims off excess bodyfat while keeping your muscles full and ready for action.
Since aerobics enhance your cardiovascular fitness and help raise your basal metabolic rate, it is also a good idea to incorporate some aerobic training into your year-round program. This may run counter to what you have heard in the gym, but it has been shown in scientific studies that a moderate amount of aerobics (one to 1 1/2 hours per week) has no negative effect on your strength or muscle development. Greater amounts of aerobics can impact strength, however, so keep track of the quantity of aerobics you do.
When trying to lose fat, alternate periods of high-calorie days and low-calorie days so that your metabolism does not slow down. The body is an incredible machine. When faced with a situation that it interprets as famine, it conserves needed energy by lowering the basal metabolic rate and increasing the efficiency at which food is utilized by the body. It also tries to hold on to the fat stores, sensing that they may be needed in the future for critical energy reserves if the famine continues. These safeguards have no doubt gotten us to where we are today instead of at some dead end on the tree of evolution, yet they can play havoc with the diet plans of bodybuilders if they are not recognized and worked into the diet program.
Earlier it was noted that the most effective diet program includes a modest (10 percent) reduction in calories tied to an increase in aerobic activity. Yet in order to ensure that the body does not interpret this calorie reduction as the start of a famine condition, it is necessary to “fool” your body by alternating periods of high- and low-calorie days in your diet. That way it is hard for the body to decide what is going on, and the metabolic rate will decline at a slower rate.
For example, if you are currently eating 3,000 calories per day, you would begin your fat-reducing diet by setting your average daily calorie level at 2,700. Instead of eating 2,700 calories every day, however, you would alternate two-day periods of 2,900 and 2,500 calories (200 calories above and below your weekly
average). For instance, you might eat 2,900 calories on Monday and Tuesday, 2,500 on Wednesday and Thursday, etc. This gives your body something close to the calorie level it was used to half the time and should put a brake on the slowing down of your metabolism. The higher your metabolic rate, of course, the more fat you will bum at a given caloric intake, so make it a point to include this daily roller coaster in your diet. It really can make a difference.
The guidelines indicated above are geared toward the average athlete and will produce very good results for that person. Still, everyone is different. If you lose more than two pounds of bodyweight per week, you are dieting too severely. Increase your caloric intake, reduce your aerobics somewhat, or both.
On the other hand, if your metabolism is on the slow side, you may find that you need a somewhat greater caloric reduction to reach your final weight goal. Take your time, though, and don’t rush it. Stay with the guidelines noted above until they no longer produce additional results. If you lose two pounds the first week, you may very well lose an additional two pounds the second week with the exact same calorie count.
As in many things patience is a virtue in dieting. Don’t expect results overnight, because if you try to get them that quickly you will knock your metabolism out of kilter and wind up retaining fat. Look at body-weight control as a long-term venture. Most people who lose weight rapidly put it back on just as swiftly, and often they have proportionally more fat and less muscle fiber than they had to begin with. Slow and steady wins the race. Let that principle be your guide, and you will never again have a problem with controlling your bodyweight.