If you are a serious (or even recreational) athlete, you want to get faster. That is, after all, the name of the game. And for many of us, getting faster often means losing weight, which can be a tricky endeavour when you are also trying to nail your workouts and perform well at races and events.
While you definitely want to “weigh less,” you also don’t want to lose any precious muscle that also helps you go faster. There are many theories and different approaches to this dilemma but I think the best place to start is with how fast you lose the weight.
Research confirms that people who lose weight slowly lose less lean muscle than those who lose weight more quickly.
Sadly, in all the research that Monica Reinagel and I did while developing our Weighless.life program, we found that virtually all of the studies out there define “slow weight loss” as 1-2 pounds per week. The problem with 1-2 pounds per week is that most people can’t lose body fat anywhere near that quickly which means – muscle loss.
Adjusting the speed of weight loss to one that matches the pace of actual fat loss (which for most people is about 2-3 pounds per month) has turned out to be a huge game changer for athletes who are looking to hit their optimal race weight.
Sure, it may take them longer to lose the pounds than it would on a more typical weight loss program, but their bodies will actually look and feel like they’ve lost more than 5 pounds – I mean that even outside of their sport.
People who lose fat exclusively, report being able to wear clothes that they used to have trouble fitting into even if their weight on the scale hasn’t changed all that much.
Where’s the Evidence?
If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, my program partner, Monica, wrote a big post with all the science over at Nutrition Over Easy but to sum it up, science has found again and again that reducing calories by 10% (and increasing daily movement) led to similar overall weight loss – but less lean muscle loss – than reducing calories by 20% or more.
They also found that weight regain was much less common when the original weight loss was slow and based on lifestyle interventions rather than willpower and/or restrictive dieting.
My Suggested Approach?
Losing weight slowly is not only a great way to preserve muscle mass and maintain metabolism but it also to gives you more time and energy to practice the skills and acquire the habits that will help you also maintain athletic performance.
Plus the changes that you need to make to lose weight very slowly are the same changes that will be required to maintain that new lower weight throughout the season, not just when you are at the peak of your training.
Let’s say you want to lose two pounds per week, well you would have to drop your caloric intake by about 40%. That’s a spicy meatball! Eating 40% less means that you are going to be hungry, it’s going to tax your willpower, and it’s definitely going to disrupt your ability to train to a significant degree.
And again, you’re likely to be losing a significant amount of muscle tissue when you’re losing weight that quickly. And that is not cool.
At the end of the month, you may have lost 8-10 pounds of body weight but realistically only 2 or 2 ½ pounds of of that is body fat.
So what I suggest instead is to aim to lose half a pound a week? This would require closer to that 10% drop in calories that I mentioned before. Now that is far less restrictive and it won’t have as large an impact on the energy you need for your training and racing.
The Weighless Program
Over at Weighless.life, Monica Reinagel and I teach our clients the huge behavioural advantages of this slow and steady style. If you are making these minimalist adjustments to your energy balance, it is a lot less stressful (physically and mentally) and it also means that you can stay in the game (as well as your sport) instead of constantly falling off the wagon. This also seriously decreases the possibility of rebound weight gain, which we all know sucks.
If I do say so myself, what we are teaching over at Weighless.Life really is a complete paradigm shift. There is no diet or exercise program, and when we tell people that they won’t lose more than half a pound per week, they kind of freak out. That is until they realize that losing weight slowly really is the best way to achieve permanent fat loss while maintaining your athletic performance.
We currently have ~250 people who have been using this method for between 6 months and a year in the Weighless coaching program and they are seeing stellar results.
If you want to find out more,
head to Weighless.Life to get the inside scoop.