Leaner and meaner
There are many way to lose body fat, a simple google search of “how to lose body fat” will return 250,000,000 results. However, as an athlete you need to know more than just simply losing extra lard off your body, you need to know why it may be beneficial and ultimately how it’s going to make you a better athlete. A great place to start is to define your sporting goals, what do you want to achieve in your sport? From here you can decide whether losing body fat is going to be beneficial for you and help you achieve those goals.
The benefits of being leaner
The are certainly a few benefits of reducing body fat for sports performance which includes;
Improved relative strength: Being absolutely strong is one thing but being relativley strong compared to your body weight is a game changer for athlets. If you go from 100kg and 20% body fat to 90kg and 15% will maintaining the same strength levels you’ve now become a more relativley strong athlete. Research has shown that relative strength is a key indicator to sports performance, and even reducing the chances of getting injured.
Improved muscle to fat ratio: Most athletes need a higher muscle to fat ratio. Sumo wrestling and strongman may be the expetion here because they use pure mass to move other mass around. They still need a large amount of muscle mass to produce great force but having extra weight can definitely help them in a mass vs mass sport. Most other athletes are better off having much lower body fat percentages to make it easier to move their mass.
Leaner = Faster/Fitter: Fat is non-functional from a movement perspective, it doesn’t help you move better, faster or for longer. Your muscles are the functional units that move your body, so having less fat and more muscle makes it easier for you to move. A better ratio will allow you to improve speed, agility and fitness.
Improved efficency: Having less non-functional weight on your body allows you to do the same amount of work with less effort, which overtime will lead to improved speed, agility and fitness. Try adding a weight vest and then go for a run, you’ll see that being a little bit heavier is a lot more challenging.
Injury prevention: Running, jumping, changing direction all require lots of force and good body control. Extra fat mass puts you at a greater risk when doing these activities as it doesn’t contribute to anything the movements except make you slower. If you are able to handle your own body weight you are much less likely to get hurt.
Risk vs reward
There is some risks involved to trying to lose body fat while you’re playing sport. Going onto fad diets where you go into severe calorie restriction, will hinder your training performance, and increase your risk of injury. Nutrition is so essential for an athletes performance as it provides the energy to complete hard training and provides the nutrients to recover from that training. If you restrict your calories too much your reducing the amount of energy you have for training and starving the body of the essential nutrients it needs to recover. When trying to lose body fat you have to make sure it is at not cost to your performance if anything you should be seeing improvements in most areas of your performance. It’s important to keep track of your performance metrics – strength, speed, power, agility, fitness, while reducing body fat. If they are all improving or atleast staying the same while your losing body fat then the nutrition plan is working, if any of them start to be impacted you need to reassess what your doing. If done properly you should see no decrease in performance.
As an athlete it’s unlikely you’ll need to add more exercise to help you lose body fat, in fact your exercise is for performance purposes only not to lose fat. If you do add in more exercise make sure it also helps improve your sports performance in some way e.g. extra low intensity cardio can double as a recovery session as well as extra caloric expenditure. If you want to lose body fat a good place to start is with your eating habits. Good nutrition will not only assist you in your body composition goal it can also improve your energy, stamina and recovery. A good nutrition plan has 3 focuses – improving performance, body composition and health. If any of these a comprimised then you’ve got a bad nutrition plan. Start working on eating habits by looking at what you need to know and your current limiting factors e.g. what’s your knowledge about food timing, type, portions and partitioning. If you don’t know where to start than seek help from someone who knows what their doing.