Sports nutrition not only enables you to stoke your furnace with the best energy-boosting and recovery-enhancing food, but it also gives you the tools to understand the inner workings of your physiology, including how to achieve optimal body composition. Why is that important? Because at some point in your life, you may have to cut weight — perhaps to make weight at a martial arts tournament or just to shape up for the summer.
The worst thing about cutting weight is, when it’s required, it often has to be done quickly. You need to take pains to do it right so you maintain the strength and stamina you worked so hard to build.
As soon as you learn that need to lose weight, you should start eating and training for that goal. Forget sweatsuits and saunas — they serve a purpose only on the day of the weigh-in because all they do is decrease the amount of water in your body. Unchecked, even partial dehydration can lead to exhaustion and weakness.
Likewise, forget fasting. Blindly cutting your caloric intake can leave you feeling drained and unable to perform the way you normally do. For healthy weight loss, don’t restrict your food intake to the point at which you’re no longer getting enough nutrients. You need fuel to function.
Instead of cutting out your energy source, you should refine it by cutting out “empty calorie” foods. Example: Replace a serving of French fries with vegetables. Small adjustments like this can help you trim the excess while keeping muscle and energy levels intact. How is that possible? Because fat has approximately twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and protein.
Your next step is to boost your metabolism, which means teaching your body to consistently use the food you eat to produce energy. That will make you burn more calories for longer periods, which leads to weight loss. Bonus: It will also help you maintain the energy you need to train hard without risking neuromuscular damage.
In part, your metabolism is determined by your age and genetics, which means there’s only so much you can do to alter it. However, metabolism is also dependant on your exertion level and the frequency with which you eat.
As a martial artist, you train regularly. If you need to cut weight, you can always up the frequency of your workouts. Obviously, you can adjust your daily food intake. If your schedule permits, consider eating six times a day: two or three smaller snacks in addition to three or four well-portioned, nutritious meals. The last thing you want to do is skip meals because it will have the opposite effect — it will tell your body it needs to conserve energy and hold onto fat.
When you’re planning your meals, try to combine protein with complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. If you’re having trouble making six meals a day, consider cutting your three large meals in half. Instead of stuffing yourself at breakfast or dinner, split those meals so you can eat every three to four hours. A snack can be a serving of fruit or nuts, a nutritional drink or an energy bar. Just keep track of the calorie count so you can shoot for 100 to 400 calories per snack.
Cutting weight is a lot like martial arts training: It’s not easy, but when it’s approached in a proven, scientific way, the benefits far outweigh the effort you put in.
Story by Dasha Libin, MS, CSCS