Less is more, more is less
In most cases being a leaner athlete will be beneficial to your sports performance. Our definition of “lean” is a lower body fat percentage with a high lean mass (muscle, bone, organs, water). It’s hard to define one specific body fat percentage for all athletes and it changes greatly between male and female athletes. However, as a general statement male athletes between 7-10% and female athletes between 15-18% (using the Jackson/Pollock 4 Caliper Method) tend to be more well rounded athletes. These athlete seem to be able to handle their own body better than others, mostly in part to having more weight that is “usable”.
If your an athlete within these ranges then being even leaner will likely hinder your performance. Do you think a competitive body builder or figure model is at their physical peak (in terms of sports performance) when they are on stage? In fact, they are probably at their weakest and very fragile. Yes you can be too lean. However, if your an athlete above these ranges then you may benefit from losing a bit of body fat and building some lean mass.
Focus on losing body fat first, you may find that by changing around what you eat you will put on some lean mass in the process. If you don’t put on some lean mass than the goal is to atleast maintain your current lean mass. Having less body fat is far more beneficial than having lots of lean mass but still having too much body fat, you can always add some lean mass after you’ve gotten down to a resonable body fat percentage.
Eat less, move more?
Many believe that losing body fat is as simple as calories in vs calories out. Now what we do know is that when you take in more energy than you burn, you gain weight. When you take in less energy than you burn, you lose weight. Simple right? Unfourtunately it’s a little more complicated than that. There are many factors that influence energy balance such as appetite, food consumed, calories absorbed, psychological factors, energy burned at rest, energy burned through exercise, energy burned through non-exercise activity, energy burned by metabolizing food, hormones, sleep, stress, medical conditions and medications.
Too often athletes take an extreme approach to the calories in vs calories out approach by eating alot less and exercising more. Athletes often do this by taking a simple reductionist approach by cutting out certain foods. This is dangerous for athletes (and most people) as it does not account for all the other factors mentioned above. Unfourtunatley, what tends to happen is athletes get burnt out due to the lack of energy and often under perform, get injured or rebound/gain more weight than before.
Quality vs Quantity
Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat, you should be focusing on how you can INCREASE the amount of nutritious foods you are eating. In most cases this leads to you feeling like your are eating MORE food. Hunger and satifaction are one of the biggest challenges of “dieting”, so don’t put yourself in a position to get too hunger. With a focus on whole unprocessed foods you’ll find they fill you up better and keep you fuller for longer than processed junk food. This often leads to you eating less overall calories in the long run, which leads to changes in body fat.
How to create the perfect meal
So how do you eat more nutritious foods? Keep it simple by breaking down nutritious food into four groups – protein, vegetables, smart carbs and healthy fats.
Eat more protein: Protein helps us repair and build new body tissues, is involved in the production of many molecules suchs as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and anti-bodies, it also helps you stay fuller for longer because of it’s slow digestion. High protein foods – beans, eggs, yoghurt, scallops, salmon, pork tenderloin, chicken breast, steak, prawns and red lentils.
Eat more vegetables: Vegetables are full of nutrients that your body loves such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Vegetables have a lot of volume, but not a lot of calories. So, they fill up your stomach without adding a lot of extra calories. This can help you control energy balance (calories in vs calories out), and help you lose body fat without feeling too hungry. Vegetables add fiber which helps us feel full, it feeds our intestinal bacteria, helps push things through our digestive tract, and helps to excrete unwanted waste products. Vegetables add wate which helps you stay hydrated. Here are just a few vegetables to try – broccoli, red cabbage, eggplant, carrots, brussel sprouts, capsicum, green beans, bok choy, spinach and kale.
Eat smart carbs: Smart carbs are whole food minimally processed starchy carbohydrates and fruits. Carbs get broken down into glucose which is essential to life as it provides fuel for the brain and central nervous system. Glucose is also the fuel for working muscles. Try some of these carbs at your next meal – spaghetti squash, red potatoes, banana, pumpkin, quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice, chickpeas, oranges, apples, melon.
Eat healthy fats: A “healthy fat” is relatively unprocessed fats from whole foods. Fats exert powerful effects within the body. We need adequate fat to support metabolism, cell signaling, the health of various body tissues, immunity, hormone production, and the absorption of many nutrients (such as vitamins A and D). Having enough fat will also help keep you feeling full between meals. Healthy fats you can add to your meals are – extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, butter, avocado, almonds, peanuts, coconut oil.
The combination of these four food groups increases your overall nutrient intake, keeps you fuller for longer, keeps you satisfied, gives you more energy, helps you recover from workouts and in the long run will help you get into better shape. There are millions of different combinations, simply choose one food from each group and let your imagination run wild. Here are a few good examples of meals you can create;
Beans + Broccoli + Spaghetti Squash + Olive Oil
Pork + Capsicum + Brown Rice + Chopped Peanuts
Salmon + Brussel Sprouts + Pumpkin + Almonds
Chicken + Green Beans + Sweet Potato + Seasme Oil
Red Lentils + Kale + Chickpeas + Coconut Oil